Christmas is a particularly difficult time of the year for those parents who do not have their children with them. At the charity I work for, Solihull Action through Advocacy, for many of the parents we support it may be that the children are in foster care, or waiting for a family to adopt them and whichever way you look at it, whether parents haven`t done a very good job of parenting or whether they just haven`t had the right kind of help that they need, Christmas can be a very lonely time and a time when many tears are shed behind closed doors.
I was thinking today of a family I supported a few years ago whose child had been adopted. Unusually, the family were given leave by the court to see their child once a year. This is hardly ever an arrangement which the courts agree to and for most children who are forcibly adopted in the UK, once the paperwork is signed that`s it, they don`t get to keep in touch with their birth parents at all other than through letter box contact. Letter box contact means you get to write to your child perhaps once or twice a year and so long as you don`t write things like, “me and dad love you so much” or, “we miss you very much,” (because such sentences are immediately censored,) then letter box contact is entirely at the discretion of the adoptive parents. In other words, you can write to your child and the adoptive parents can just put your card or letter straight into the bin.
For the family I am talking about here, there were always issues over contact which happened to be at Christmas. It was often not arranged for all kinds of reasons, the adoptive parents were too busy, the person supervising the contact could not make it, the children`s social worker was too busy to co-ordinate the contact and so on. It was a bitter blow to the family when this happened and they generally had to wait until the new year, for their contact to take place.
There were other issues too that were perennial, mostly relating to the way the professionals spoke to the birth mum and dad. They always felt that they were being spoken down to and belittled which is of course why advocacy is of such importance. One of the most upsetting things for the family was that during meetings, the adoptive parents always referred to themselves as their child`s mum and dad. Quite understandably, the birth mum and dad would become distressed about this and open mouthed, say to me, “But they are not their mum and dad – we are!” When you have a learning disability, it`s very hard to understand what the law says and how it is applied.
One Christmas a contact meeting had been set up which was a Christmas miracle for this family. I telephoned the social worker and asked, just as a modest suggestion, “Do you think that the adoptive parents might call themselves that very thing during the contact meeting, just for the purpose of the meeting? It would help lessen the distress the family feel when the adopters call themselves mum and dad.”
Back came the response which I felt was sadly lacking in compassion, “Certainly not, these parents have been made mum and dad legally, in a court of law. We would not expect them to call themselves adoptive parents under any circumstances.” So that told me then.
I thought, “boy, you`re all heart.” but of course I am highly professional so I wouldn`t dream of actually saying this aloud.
It just made me think, the recent Equalities Act in the UK asks for people to make reasonable adjustments for anyone with a learning disability, so that they are better able to accept and deal with whatever life may throw at them and so that they are treated fairly and justly. I would have hoped that this small and unobtrusive request could have been interpreted as a `reasonable adjustment,` for a one hour meeting once a year.
But sigh…… who am I? Just a foolish advocate who doesn`t know the law and has to have it explained to them by a social worker who is much more clever than I. And another thing –
Bah Christmas humbug!