IT was with great sadness that I read Meg Henderson’s article (“I was deceived by adoption agencies – and now my daughter is dead”, The Herald, October 5). The tragedy of two young lives shattered by terrible beginnings and mental illness as well as the heartbreak for Ms Henderson and her husband was hard to read. The pain and suffering endured by all in that family was eloquently and powerfully expressed in the article. Grief upon grief.
That said, having recently adopted our third child (our first two being birth children) my wife and I have had a quite different experience of the adoption process and indeed the role in that played by social services. It is difficult from the article to date the timings of Meg Henderson’s adoption of her daughters but it would seem that it was more than 30 years ago. We adopted our son two years ago, that being the culmination of a process that itself lasted approximately two years. That process involved a series of preparation classes (which were brutally frank in respect of some of the risks attendant to adoption), a detailed home study, a social worker spending time with our birth children, time spent with a doctor who had examined the little boy who became our son and the opportunity to meet parents who had already adopted and were willing to share their experiences. We were also encouraged to be extremely honest about what challenges we could (and could not) cope with in adopting a child. There was also a formal legal process that is too long and convoluted to explain here.
My wife and I could not speak more highly of the social worker we worked with. She was professional, diligent and honest. At all times she was perfectly clear that her duty was to act in the best interests of the children who are in the care of the local authority. That is right in principle and was true in practice. Social workers receive their share of criticism when things go wrong (in the midst of extraordinarily difficult situations); we should also give them great credit for many successful interventions that never make the pages of any newspaper. She is an outstanding professional.
Adopting a child is certainly a decision that brings risk and many unknowns. The process we went through made those risks very clear and provided a great deal of preparation and support to my wife and me, but risks remain nonetheless. It is also important to look at this from my son’s perspective. He has come from an environment of neglect which would have severely damaged him had social services not intervened. He is now part of a loving family with a mum and dad and siblings who love him dearly. He is also greatly loved by grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and others. We are blessed to be part of a church that has taken him into their hearts (along with many other children who are a precious part of that community). Adoption, for our son, is actually very low risk.
Adoption and fostering represent tremendous opportunities to bring wholeness and renewal to the very broken society in which we live. I would encourage any of your readers who would consider such a course to find out more.
Name and address supplied.
I FOUND Meg Henderson’s account of the damage wrought in her family by adoption to be compelling and resonant of our own experience. As an adoptive father of two boys who are now adults, I can recognise many of the behaviours she describes. I believe that our society has to rethink its attitude to abortion and to recognise the real nature of adoption in the 21st century.
When we adopted our elder boy as a baby in 1980 there was no discussion of the potential psychological effects of being an adopted child. All the focus was on our suitability as potential adoptive parents and there was an assumption that providing a loving home would assure success.
When we adopted our younger boy at the age of two in 1987, we were given some information about the difficult circumstances of his early years and the medical background of his birth mother. However we were left to find out and consider for ourselves the likely effect of his history on his future with us. We still believed that love would suffice.
Through contact with other adoptive parents I know that our experience was widely shared. The disconnect that exists between the child and its adoptive parents can vary by individual, but it is apparent that changing social attitudes have exacerbated the situation.
In the bad old days children put forward for adoption were often illegitimate and given up because of the stigma of illegitimacy. This resulted in most adoptions taking place with very young children who had limited experience of life before adoption. I believe that this made it easier to bridge that disconnect but by no means certain.
In the present age, say since the 1970s, society’s attitude has changed. Illegitimacy no longer carries that stigma and social work intervention aims to support the birth parents to provide a natural home environment for the child. I welcome this more liberal trend but it has a downside. Whether we like it or not, this shift in attitudes has exposed more children to home environments where unstable relationships, coping failures and often substance abuse result in children being psychologically or physically damaged, sometimes both. A large proportion of children now being put forward for adoption have suffered such damage in their early formative years.
Who among us could resist the human impulse to take in these damaged children and try to make their lives better, to give them the happy childhood that we had? Only those who comprehend the nature and likely consequences of the damage suffered by these children will draw back, and very few potential adoptive parents can take that objective view.
I contend that dealing with the manifestations of that damage and attempting to heal these wounds is beyond most parents and we need to stop pretending otherwise. I offer no easy solutions but it is plain to see that the current approach is not working. While the main casualties are the children, the collateral damage to adoptive families like that of Meg Henderson is huge and is largely ignored. I appeal to our social work leaders to address this issue with urgency.
Name and address supplied.