The state first took a role in my life before I was even born. A court order was made to remove me from my mother at birth and I spent the first days of my life on a Special Care Baby Unit waiting for a foster care placement. A family was found who would become my foster Mum and Dad and those were the parents I knew until I was almost two.
Due to my birth family’s background social workers described me as a ‘hard to place’ child for adoption but an adoptive family was found and I was sent off to adjust to a new life. We had happy times but there were also some ongoing pressures and my adoptive Dad became quite unwell over a long period of time. Most families would have struggled but adoptive ones can be particularly vulnerable to breakdown and ultimately that’s what happened. At the age of 16, the local authority deemed me as being ‘intentionally homeless’ and I was mostly estranged from my adoptive family. I want to tell you about this because I know there are other people who experience their own adoptive family breakdown and our stories need to be told.
When looking up the term care experienced, there are a few different definitions. The majority though state it means someone who has spent some or all of their life under local authority care whether that be foster, residential or kinship care. Often adoption doesn’t feature in the definition however many adoptees have spent some of their lives in care too. Sometimes before the adoption. Sometimes before AND after if they experience adoption disruption as well. My own understanding of care experience includes adoption too. Our time in care still happened and although adoption should provide permanency, truthfully it doesn’t always occur like this.
What most care experienced people have in common is that we have are no longer able to live with our birth parents and arrangements are made for others to take on the parenting role, which is similar to adoption. Although I may have had adoptive parents, which in some ways provided a sense of permanency it didn’t last forever and being able to identify with my own ‘care experience’ has helped me to make sense of that. I remember reading about Who Cares? Scotland almost ten years ago and thinking perhaps that I might get involved with them only to be unsure about whether I was ‘Care Experienced enough’. It turns out that being involved with Who Care’s Scotland these past two years, and becoming a member, has really helped me understand my own care journey by meeting others. There needs to be some ‘flexibility of thinking’ when it comes to the term Care Experienced to be inclusive of adoption for those feel the need to identify with it. I know that makes it hard for policy people and academics but fitting my right to an identity around cold definitions has gone on for too long.
If you don’t have personal experience of adoption, your view of it has probably been shaped by others and depends on what generation you come from. Where adoption used to be something shameful and not to be talked about, we have somehow managed to turn the sadness of adopted people into entertainment.
Whether it’s Surprise Surprise with Holly Willoughby or Long Lost Family with Nicky Campbell and Davina McCall, we get to cry along when brothers and sisters who were separated at a young age be reunited. We gasp at the moment they lock eyes with each other from the other end of a bridge. We cheer for them when we see that they have met up again and started to get to know their new family in the update at the end. And we never once think that the only reason we are watching this is because the state made a decision to separate them and sever their relationship.
Happy ever after. Reunification. A final piece of closure.
Not everything works out that way. Sometimes, adoption breaks down and people are left with the reality of losing a second family. That’s what happened to me. And because I was over 16 when this happened, I wasn’t entitled to anything. Even though I had spent time in care before I was adopted, no one seemed interested. The state made it clear that its role in my life was finished. I was left to pick up the pieces and try to create a future for myself out of what felt like nothing.
I know this happens to other people but there are limited figures for how often this occurs and often no official record will be made. There’s a whole population of people in Scotland, and across the world, just being left to get on with it on their own. We are registering as homeless, as needing financial assistance, as experiencing poor mental health with the exact same authorities that placed us in care. And no one remembers us.
In Scotland, we have laws that I’ve heard people call world leading. “Corporate Parenting” is the idea that all public bodies and even all Government Ministers have responsibilities to Care Experienced people. It seems like those ended when I became adopted and I want to see that gap closed.
I think that the corporate parents who initially place a young person in care, and then approve their adoptive placement, need to take responsibility for providing adequate and consistent support, for as long as is needed, when it doesn’t work out. No matter how complicated the breakdown, and no matter their age, every young person deserves to be supported rather than left to navigate young adulthood alone.
When I had nowhere to live, I registered as homeless.
Nowhere was available immediately, so I relied on the kindness of friends. It was suggested that I think about supported accommodation, where another person would play a mixture of landlord and carer. It was so far away from what I wanted and needed. When I was offered it, I said no. My reasons for that didn’t seem important. I was marked down as a refuser of support and fell off the radar.
In the media now, when I read about adoption disruption, it is almost without fail from the adoptive parents’ perspective. I’ve listened to and read about the heartbreak and pain that they have suffered, sending their children back into care. I have not heard nearly enough about the pain that adoptees experience being told they are no longer welcome in the family that they called their own. I have not read about the hurt that they feel being sent back to a foster home, a residential unit or turned out onto the street or a friend’s sofa because the family that made a choice to have them is being allowed to change their mind.
I sometimes wonder how many of the homeless population have had a breakdown in adoption. When adoption severs your ties to your biological family and you no longer fit back into the care system, you find yourself questioning “where do I belong”?
There is a drive across the western world to take children into care younger and to find them an adoptive family sooner. I know that this is hard to hear but I think there will be more stories like mine, and more people left feeling like they don’t belong anywhere, unless we act now. Sometimes placements break down and aren’t sustainable.
What everyone needs to do now is recognise and invest in the journey that young people will go on following disruption. We can’t keep leaving people like me to just go it alone. If the law, policies or practices are getting in the way of people who have been adopted reaching their potential, then they have to change.