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Sunday, 26 February 2012

Symbolic, Mopedic and Loaded......

When I started this entry I kept hitting the wrong note, and soon realised that writing about the issue of trans racial adoption in anything less than a fairly neutral tone makes you sound wrong. Over the top, wounded, angry, and in my case, stupid.

That's why its taken three days of dithering to get this up on the net. I think that is more comment than I can make here. It's a big topic, it's the current Coalition government are trying to change the established view of social workers and professionals. I urge you to have a snout around and see the different arguments.

I'll make my musings on the subject brief.

During our assessment to see whether we were culturally sensitive to our own daughters needs (you may recall she is dual heritage) it was commented that our house did not in any way reflect her ethnicity.

I will be honest with you. My wife and I share few tastes. We love Jesus, we love Radiohead, we love good and drink, we love holidays in France, and we love pre war architecture and décor, but it pretty much stops there. I would rather eat my eyeballs than watch anything set on a moor in 1785, and she thinks Johnny Moped are pants. I think anybody who can open an album with a field recording of a moped and an imaginary race are geniuses. Anyhow.

At the time we were living in a house built in 1930 and we had attempted to do it out in sympathy with that period, celebrating our new found unity in loving Art Deco. Reflecting our daughters culture in our decor was just not on our radar. We enjoy French themes but don’t make it part of our daily world (you try sipping cafe au lait in a Luton pavement Tabac).

Im just trying to say that, as Adrian Plass puts it, "the truth is a funny, ragged little thing"

My step daughter sees her Dad and her half siblings regularly, and certainly engages with her cultural identity. She has identified with her black side side more than her white side, if one dares put it so crudely, by the friends she keeps (majority non white), her music (generally R'n' B, and rap, which of course comes from a plethora of ethicity of artists, but has its roots in black culture), and her general trend in literature. Which is great. But the fact is, her Dad is more English than I am, if judged by his routines. He wears pyjamas. He wears slippers. He has a Sunday roast every Sunday. He has an allotment. He votes. He lives in Stoke Podges. He has kept in touch with all his childhood friends and has never moved far from his roots. I don’t do any of that.

The lack of her black cultural artefacts and daily metanarrative in our house in no way suggests that her roots are not cherished or discussed. But to suggest that we somehow need visual props to make this clear is a tokenism. Our Christianity is central to our lives, but I don’t think we have a cross in the house. We celebrate the fact we don’t have to endure centralised dogma like our Catholic and Orthodox brethren, but that doesn’t mean I have a 3D picture of Martin Luther over the mantelpiece. For the record I think 99% of the Reformers were psychotic and heretical anyway. Not being funny, but would you go for a beer with John Calvin? 


Earlier I explained due to the fact we wanted a sibling group of three, and had the ingredients of being able to adopt non white UK children (due to our daughter, our non white UK friends and multicultural area, school, mix etc) we were classed as “special adopters”. This was what the assessing social worker was exploring.

The back story to why this is so important is that until very recently white adopters took on non white children, without a thought (generally speaking) to their identity and cultural background.

The Britain I grew up in as a child (1970's to early 1980's) was racist to the core, subtly or overtly, and if I knew it as an unenlightened working class child growing up in Hertfordshire and Cumbria, imagine how clear it was to every body else. I briefly also lived in Botswana as a child, in a small white minority. And whilst that small window came with privileges and a nice “escape any time” button, I still learnt first hand racism, bullying, and misunderstanding.

One especially "stand out" memory was at school. Being white, I therefore did sweating and burning under the scorching sun in a way most of my black peers didn't. The class was reading "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and every time the character "Redskin Joe" appeared, they would point at me and howl with laughter. My self regard was compressed to esteemless coal. Although part of me thinks that was funny.

Laugh. Go on.
So if that hurt, imagine being black in 1978 and grafted into a family on a white estate, a white school, feeling your difference every day and having no way to reconcile that difference with people sharing your same heritage. And having to watch Jim Davidson and Alf Garnett at home.

One sad story that highlights the issues of UK trans racial adoption can be found here:   

In order to preclude such experiences and further damage already emotionally vulnerable children, trans cultural adoption in Britain has been at best a tricky subject and often considered taboo. The natural consequence of this has been a disproportionate number of non white UK children remaining in the care system. If there were relatively equal numbers of non UK white adopters going forward you would understand how a handbrake on trans racial adoption would have a logic. But the care system is equally as culturally dysmorphic. Its all very well to observe that two Ghanaian children are not well matched to a white Glasgow couple who have never left the UK. But bear in mind it is highly likely those Ghanaian children are living with Lithuanian foster carers; their fourth foster carers in two years, the others being Bangladeshi, Hungarian, and white Irish.

Or Martians, in my experience as a social worker. There were some seriously messed up foster carers. Ugly as home made soup, as well.

What happened in the final instance was that we were passed to adopt “mixed race” children, but not “dual heritage” children.  We were pretty crushed, and felt it to be a damning indictment on a some kind of failure in bringing up our own daughter.

The only “logic” we have ever gleaned from this is that a darker shade of skin would obviously show people our children were not the fruit of our loins. But you can tell that anyway; the kids we have now are olive skinned and brown eyes; we both have blue eyes, pale skin with reddish hair tendencies. Or as I said throughout my childhood- "Its not ginger, its Spanish Copper". 

Anyway, it turned out our kids had a mystery heritage the social workers had missed in their assessments. One birth grandmother was half Samoan. Look. How do would you match children to exact match adopters in a "right on" way? How far does it have to go? To the molecular DNA level? It would turn into ****ing Jurassic Park.

Work that one out
Heres another story. In “Be my Parent” magazine we came across a beautiful group of dual heritage siblings. They had a black social worker, who as you can imagine was very aware of their needs and was a natural advocate. 

We approached him and at first, until we explained our backstory as white foster carers, he was sceptical. But then he was interested. Very interested. But what happened is that our crusading assessing social worker scuppered the potential match by saying we weren’t suitable due to the above stipulation- quarter black, or out. He protested. He wanted to take it further, and go over her head. 

But we were in that position of being impacted by somebody with an experience (being non white, and very read up) against our argument. And we didn’t want to fight the person best placed to match us. Plus by then we had developed that guilt and embarrassment that kicks in when two people who are really passionate about what they're talking about start to fight over things to do with you. Think wedding and two drunk mother in laws.

I have already said the whole issue of trans racial adoption is loaded. In 1972 the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) passed “a resolution vehemently opposing transracial adoption. The vigor with which this position was advanced can be seen from the statement of the 1972 resolution:
“Black children should be placed only with black families whether in foster care or adoption. Black children belong physically, psychologically and culturally in black families in order that they receive the total sense of themselves and develop a sound projection of their future . . . . Black children in white homes are cut off from the healthy development of themselves as black people . . . . We have committed ourselves to go back to our communities and work to end this particular form of genocide"
The language seems extreme until you see some of the stories that inspired it. Here is a précis of what went on in Australia seemingly well into the 1970’s.

Here are some numbers to crunch to add into the mix:

The number of children in care in England has increased slightly from 64,400 last year to 65,520 this year

Although falling, a quarter of looked-after children still obtain no qualifications and a further quarter obtain fewer than five GCSEs or equivalent. These proportions are much greater than for children as a whole.  For example, the half not obtain fewer than five GCSEs or equivalent compares to less than one in ten children as a whole.  It should, however, be remembered that the majority of the looked-after children have some form of special educational needs.

A third of previously looked-after children are not in education, employment or training at age 19.

Childrens care proceedings across England spiralled to a record high of 903 court applications last month (January 2012)

Councils spend an average of £40,000 per child per year on foster placements

Accoring to a recent Guardian article, for one inner city London Borough the borough pays a carer between £330-£350 a week per child. If they are forced to go to an agency it costs around £700

A stable experience of the care system over 14 years – where the child enters early, has fewer family placements and stays for longer – can cost £354,053 to children’s services.

An unstable experience over 7 years – where the child enters the care system later and experiences multiple moves between foster carers and has poor mental health - can cost £393,579, a difference of £41,526. Looked after children who leave care early, at age 16, tend to do less well in education, employment and health than those who leave care later….. Child A - who leaves care at 18 with good mental health and strong relationships, then goes on to university and finds a job - could cost the state £20,119 between age 16 and age 30. This is compared to the £111,923 that Child B, who leaves care aged 16.5, with poor mental health and no qualifications could cost the state between age 16 and age 30

Those the brokes, man. And the costs of kids not being adopted- the overt costs, that is. I can't even bear to think of the emotional damage.

The children's local authority needn't of worried about that kind of money. Financially, our package amounted to £500 cash for baby supplies and buggy, extended maternity leave, and a bit of therapy. And two Fun Size Mars Bars. Warm.

Im not kidding.

Anyway. Back at the ranch, we were now classed as bona fide adopters. We kept looking. We made several telephone enquires and found so many of the children we liked in the magazines had been matched, or the case had progressed beyond a chance for us to be considered.

You're never sure what to do with the emotions because you get broody and excited all at once, in a way perhaps parents to be of biological children never can be. Because you can make somthing happen just by applying will and its strangely akin to ringing up for a lovely house you saw in a magazine. You get involved in this incredibly powerful creation myth that starts with you calling a team desk in Tower Hamlets, and ends (in your head) with you being a grandfather or something, and running through a cornfield throwing a child in the air. At least thats what part of you thinks, and then when those children have been matched or withdrawn or thrown into some dire court delay, you move on to the next and the next after sibling group that- and the others are never mentioned again. Lost. All those discussions and poring over their profiles.

A cocktail of emotions and strange power and enablements. I cant even describe it. 

We saw some amazing videos of sibling groups and had a couple of social workers round from distant local authorities, and in all those cases it seemed really positive. One case fell through. One case- the one above- we were denied going further into. The other case seemed to be a green light- a boy and girl sibling group, the sister with a very likely pending diagnosis of a debilitating muscle disease, and her older brother. Bizarrely, he had been filmed at his school fancy dress disco dressed as Satan. We were smitten.

Choosing is hard. How do you do it? How can you choose a double future- yours as a couple, and the kids- from the strength of a photo, a blurb and a bit more blurb later?  The only way I could deal with such responsibility is say to myself I was merely responding to choices presented. I always felt out of my depth and confused. 

Just as we were about to take this latter sibling group into second gear, we had a phone call.

Who the hell reads a story about "Redskin Joe" anyway?

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