Contact

The subject of contact has been prominent in our house this week for a few reasons. My involvement in it has got me thinking about the importance of contact in general and how it is of multi-faceted benefit. There are benefits not just to the child in the centre of it all but to those around him and those on the receiving end of the contact too.

The first thing that happened was that we decided that Little Bear had asked us enough times now if he could see his Foster Carers and we needed to listen. It has always been in a casual way – mentioned one day then not for weeks and usually mentioned in passing.

Initially, when Little Bear first moved in, it was an active decision on our part that he wouldn’t speak to them for a while. The transition had been quite rushed and Little Bear hadn’t seemed to miss his Foster Carers Karen and Bob at all. If he did it wasn’t in a way that he could verbalise or even that he shed tears over. It felt odd.

It was only after about 6 months that Little Bear started to mention them and then it was usually when he was displeased with us.

During the first months my own feelings about Karen and Bob were very confused. They had been lovely to us – very friendly and welcoming and they had gone out of their way to include Big Bear and ease his distress when Introductions proved very hard on him. However, I also felt angry about various aspects of Little Bear’s development that clearly hadn’t been nurtured or developed in their care. I was upset that he should have been further ahead than he was after such a long time with them. I knew he had the potential to be further on because he was literally flourishing in front of my eyes. I was upset that his tongue was cracked from dehydration; he didn’t know what fruits or vegetables were and was having to take laxatives for his sluggish digestion. He hadn’t learned to do basic things like walk holding hands and was used to playing in his room with the light on in the middle of the night. I was upset that we had to start parenting from scratch, down to teaching him his own name and getting him to follow even a basic instruction.

We had our work cut out and I honestly didn’t know if I could speak to Karen and Bob or what I would say to them if I did.

I suppose if I’m really honest I was also worried about our attachments at that point. I genuinely think speaking to them or seeing them could have broken the fragile bond that we were gradually forming with Little Bear. I guess some of my motivations for not having contact were selfish.

However, I always intended that in the longer term we would have some sort of contact for Little Bear’s sake. I do think children should be able to stay in touch with their Foster Carers but I also think this should very much be taken on a case by case basis and directed by the child. I sent occasional messages and Christmas cards etc. I thought Karen and Bob might have sent Little Bear a birthday or Christmas card but they didn’t. Perhaps they weren’t bothered about him anymore?

More recently I have known that the time was coming when instead of just allowing Little Bear to talk about Karen and Bob and affirming that it really is ok for him to miss them, I would need to go one step further. I would need to facilitate him speaking with them and possibly seeing them. All of a sudden I felt ok to make this happen. I didn’t think it would threaten our bond at all. And moreover I wanted him to have the opportunity.

So recently I contacted them to see how they felt about it. I was surprised by how keen they were and how happy my text had made them. The phone call took place and I was surprised by how nice it was to hear their voices. An adopters relationship with foster carers is unique I think and can’t really be likened to any other type of relationship. After all, you don’t usually move into a stranger’s house for a week or so and then take away the child they have been caring for. It is a very unusual dynamic.

For us, it turns out, it is a dynamic in which despite not speaking to them for 2 years and having very mixed feelings about the care they provided our son (though I know they didn’t do any of it purposefully) we are still able to have an easy and comfortable conversation. It was lovely to hear how they and their family are doing and also their genuine joy in hearing about Little Bear. It seems as though they do think about him and wonder about him but don’t want to intrude into our lives by getting in touch to ask us about him. I have made it clear that we would not see that type of contact as an intrusion and would welcome it.

I think the phone call was important for them. They needed the contact.

Little Bear needed the contact and wanted it but was quite discombobulated by it. When Grizzly asked him why he wanted to speak to Karen and Bob he said, “Because they used to love me”, which really hit the nail on the head in the brilliantly simple way that Little Bear does. It also meant we were able to explain that they haven’t stopped loving him and I’m sure the phone call helped with proving that.

Little Bear didn’t talk to Karen and Bob for long though he did tell them he would like to see them. Although he was a bit all over the place whilst I was on the phone, the behavioural fall-out that we expected afterwards didn’t materialise. I think for him, the wait was the right thing to do.

I was also surprised that Big Bear was really keen to talk to Karen and Bob and he too got a lot from the conversation. I suppose that Bob and Karen are a part of his brother’s past that he is a part of too, in a way that Little Bear’s birth family are not. He remembers being in their home and the kindness they showed him.

All in all, I think our first foray into making contact with Bob and Karen was really positive and I genuinely hope it will lead to more chats and possibly even a meet up. The whole thing has just served to illustrate that in adoption nothing is black and white; nothing is purely bad or purely good. Most things are a weird swirl of greys – a very complex mix of positives and negatives that cannot be separated into neat piles. Once you embrace the grey swirl, rather than being upset by the negatives or viewing the positives through a rose-tinted lens, things seem much easier to navigate.

And when it comes to complex grey swirls, nothing is more complex or swirly than our relationship with the other people we need to maintain contact with: Little Bear’s Birth Parents. It is Letterbox time so I have been thinking a lot about Sian and Joseph too. When I last wrote about this it was to say that we had requested an update that I didn’t think we would ever get. Miraculously we did get an update (to which Sian and Joseph had to consent) and it gave us the clearest picture we’ve had of them to date. The update also included information about Little Bear’s birth siblings.

What was brilliant about it was the insight it gave us into how they are all coping with Little Bear’s adoption and what some of their worries and preoccupations are. This has made writing Letterbox letters so much easier and has allowed me to tailor the letters to address their anxieties. Last year (our first experience of Letterbox) I think I felt quite vulnerable in my relationship with Little Bear and the thought of Sian and Joseph alone was enough to jiggle my confidence, let alone having to write to them.

This year I feel very different. This time I feel the responsibility of playing my part in helping them to cope with the loss of their son. That is not something I thought I would ever feel or say. I feel the same about supporting Little Bear’s birth siblings. Luckily they have sent us some specific questions and we have answered those. The letter to Sian and Joseph has been harder but I have tried to anticipate their concerns and address them as best I can. I have made sure they know Little Bear knows he is adopted and that we talk about them.

It is suddenly very obvious to me how important the contact is for them. At this stage I would say it is more important for them than it is for Little Bear, though I anticipate his need for it to grow as he does.

I think our role in it all is quite different to how I used to think of it. The contact is not about us. First and foremost it is about Little Bear and trying to future-proof as much as possible. Secondary to that, we might actually be able to make a difference in Sian and Joseph and the siblings’ lives if we can put our own feelings aside and think carefully about what they need from us. This is where good social work is crucial and why I really feel that allowing us updates is so vital. It is a road that has to be walked with caution but one that I am hopeful about travelling.

A crucial part of our update was that it would be okay for us to meet Sian and Joseph (we had previously been told we couldn’t) so now we need to think long and hard about whether to go ahead and do it. I rather suspect we will but therein lays a massive grey swirly mire to wade through.

I would say that adoption has about fifty shades of grey but that would conjure up the wrong image entirely. It’s grey and swirly and the black and white is inextricably tangled. Lets stick with that.

 

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Contact

Birth Parents

It is letterbox time again, here at Bear HQ which has got me thinking about Little Bear’s birth parents, Sian and Joseph. I have to confess that I am feeling quite discombobulated about the whole thing. I am confused about how I feel about them, how I should feel about them and what I should do going forwards. Brace yourselves readers while I blog it out.

So, last year’s Letterbox was, in my opinion, a bit of a cock up. You can read about it here: Letterbox Update In short, I suspect that the letter I wrote languished upon a disorganised Social Worker’s desk for the best part of 7 months before even an attempt was made to get it to its rightful destination. At the time I was upset about it because I felt it wasn’t fair for Sian and Joseph. If I was them and the only contact I had with the child I had given birth to was an annual letter, I would really want my letter. I would want it when I knew it was due. No doubt they drew all sorts of conclusions as to why we hadn’t bothered to send it.

Sian and Joseph didn’t reply to the letter, which I felt was a bit strange as they both attended court and showed signs of wanting to do the best they could in the current circumstances for Little Bear. Several months after his birthday we did receive some birthday cards from them (which no doubt had been sent at the right time but had also languished in the mountainous pile of paperwork on the desk). In the card Sian had written that she was sorry for not replying to our letter, she just didn’t have the words.

I felt sad once again reading that statement. Of course she doesn’t have the words, she is probably heart-broken; she is potentially never going to see her youngest child again. For me, rightly or wrongly, that sentence says “help me”. It says, “I have no idea how to go about writing this letter, though I do really want to”. And, if as I suspect, Sian also has speech and language difficulties like Little Bear, not only will she be struggling metaphorically to find the words but literally too.

In order to try to right the wrongs of last year and get us back on track this year, I contacted said disorganised Social Worker before our Letterbox was due. I suggested (again) that Sian and Joseph might need some help with Letterbox. I also asked how they are and how Little Bear’s birth siblings are.

Now this is where things get murky and I get very confused. I know that they can’t tell us much about how things are as it would be a breach of confidentiality. Obviously I am not asking them to do that. I am not asking for Joseph and Sian’s place of employment, inside leg measurement or bank details. All I really want to know is are they vaguely ok? Are they dead? Are they in prison? Are they homeless? Are they rampaging around the country trying to locate Little Bear? I just feel that it would be useful, as an adopter, to have a vague sense of whether they are functioning in their lives or not. I would also like to know whether they pose any danger to Little Bear or us or not. I have no real sense of this due to the paucity of information in my possession.

I suppose I have half an eye on the future, when Little Bear might decide he wants to track them down. I need a sense of who exactly these people are. They could make attempts to find him before then. But would they? I have literally no idea.

Anyway, so I posed the ‘how are they?’ question. The Social Worker (who gives Social Workers in general a bad name) initially ignored my question. I had asked it on the phone several months ago and now again by e-mail. She eventually did respond to my e-mail but not the part about Sian and Joseph. So I asked again. This time she said that she was going to ask their Social Worker to contact them to ask if they can share more information with us. This was not what I envisaged happening.

If I were them I might well tell Social Services to F off. It makes us seem like really nosy so and sos and they must wonder what on earth we want to know and why. It also makes me wonder if what I am asking for is out of the ordinary. Am I living in some sort of dream world where I don’t actually need to know this information? A basic, “yes they’re fine, nothing has really changed” or “they are having a difficult time at the moment” or “I don’t think they’ve really accepted the adoption” or “they seem to have moved on with their lives” would have sufficed.

I can’t help thinking that I’ve annoyed said Social Worker with my persistent questions and that she is being purposefully obstructive. I definitely think that Social Services would have much preferred it if we had just adopted a child from their LA care and run off into the sunset, never to bother them again.

Not able to keep my mouth shut, I also persevered on the point about supporting Sian and Joseph with Letterbox. Apparently if they want some support they can come to the Post Adoption Support Team and ask for it. I find the idea of them actually doing that completely unrealistic. Why would they come, cap in hand, to the very people who removed their children, to ask for help? Surely the days of them feeling that Social Services can help them are long gone? I have been living a delusional fantasy that there might be some sort of follow up or after-care for people who have lost their children. Surely it would be more beneficial for society to try to support birth parents, help them to grieve, help them with moving on whilst trying to keep them on the straight and narrow? Surely losing your children is a big precipitating factor for other issues such as mental health difficulties or drug or alcohol addiction?

However, recent thinking has left me reflective. Evidently my utopian view of social work is unrealistic in the context of austerity and cuts to services. I don’t suppose social workers do have time to be keeping track of where birth parents have got to and what they are up to at the moment. I guess they do have to prioritise families that still have children in them. And the question that burns most on my lips: why am I taking the birth parents side in all this anyway?

I think that had Sian and Joseph physically or sexually abused Little Bear I would be a lot clearer on my feelings towards them. I wouldn’t have the same sense of loyalty and I certainly wouldn’t feel sorry for them. I don’t mean to belittle the neglect that they did inflict on Little Bear, because I know only too well the long term and pernicious consequences of it. However, I do think it is possible to unknowingly or accidentally neglect someone in a way that you certainly couldn’t accidentally sexually abuse someone. It is not Sian’s fault that she herself had a shitty upbringing and is not equipped with the skills to parent. I keep coming back to the fact that it is a very unfortunate set of circumstances and foolishly or not, I do feel sorry for them. I feel a perverse moral duty to do the right thing by them, despite the fact that they have caused my son’s developmental trauma.

I suppose, on a human level, I know they must be suffering and I don’t want that for anyone. And also, despite anything that happens, we are already inextricably linked by the fact that their son is our son.

I do wonder whether I might not have such a rose-tinted view if I was furnished with a little bit more information though. After all, people do not have their children removed from their care for just a little bit of carelessness.

The thing is where do we go now? We have always said that we would be open to the idea of meeting Sian and Joseph but if we can’t even get Letterbox sorted it is hard to see how we might be able to work towards that. Is my pro-active (if perfect world) approach to the Social Worker causing us more problems? Is her communication with Sian and Joseph impacting on their opinion and willingness to work with us? Are we ever going to move forwards?

I’m starting to think that I’m wasting my energy. Perhaps I should just send our Letterbox contribution off into the deep blue yonder and think no more about it?

This is about Little Bear though. What is best for him? That is the crux of my thinking and is so difficult to answer because I just don’t think I have enough information to say. At the very least I want to be able to tell him that we tried and, to the consternation of a certain social worker, I can honestly say that we have.

In the unlikely event that we ever get an answer to our questions I will let you know.

 

*Please don’t think that my rant-y-ness over this Social Worker indicates any sort of anti-social work stance. I know many fabulous ones and we have been extremely well supported at this end. I am just particularly irked by this one.

 

 

Birth Parents

Letterbox Update

I last wrote about Letterbox back in September when I was trying to figure out how to send our first letter (see First Experience of Letterbox). At the time I was struggling to get hold of Little Bear’s Social Worker to get the information I needed. Nevertheless the letters were written and sent off.

After a week or so I e-mailed to check they had arrived safely. Getting a response was tricky as always and I e-mailed several more times before we got confirmation that they had been received by Social Services.

The next thing I wanted to ensure was that they actually found their way to Little Bear’s birth family. I could just imagine them knowing to expect a letter around September time and waiting with nervous anticipation each time the postman came. I didn’t trust the Social Worker in question to get the letter to them in a timely fashion and I felt strongly that it wasn’t fair. This would be Sian and Joseph’s (my blog name for Little Bear’s birth parents) first contact since Little Bear had been adopted and I felt it was an important one.

I have been nagging and nagging like a stubborn puppy for 7 months now without a response (other than an out of office or a promise of doing it next week). This is all I have wanted to know:

  • Had Little Bear’s birth parents and siblings received their letters?
  • What was the response?
  • Would we be getting a reply? If not, what support would Little Bear’s birth parents be getting?

Finally, after A LOT of perseverance on our part and that of our Social Worker, we have finally had a response. Sian and Joseph HAVE received their letter. I don’t know how they are or what impact the letter had on them. They have sent a birthday card to Little Bear though and in it they wrote a little note. It says they are sorry they haven’t written: they cannot find the words. I can understand that totally. At least they have attempted some communication with us even if just to explain that they can’t manage more. I am wondering what we could do to make it easier for them next time.

They also wrote that they are pleased Little Bear is loved as much as they love him. I felt when we got The Adoption Order and they went to court but didn’t contest it that Sian and Joseph were somehow giving us permission to be Little Bear’s parents. I feel this more strongly now. As weird as it may sound, it feels as though there is the start of a positive bond between us. We would still like to meet them if that ever becomes an option.

We have also received a letter from the long-term foster carers of some of Little Bear’s siblings. I suspect it was written several months ago, in direct reply to our letter but has been mysteriously buried somewhere on Little Bear’s Social Worker’s desk for quite some time. It is a nice letter and we can tell that the boys are well cared for and thriving in the placement which is reassuring. The Social Worker wasn’t able to give me an update on the other siblings so I have asked for one.

I find it quite tricky knowing how much I can ask and what sort of information they are allowed to share with us. It makes sense to me that we should know something, at least whether they are settled because we might need to know what has gone on for them if anything changes in the future. And, whether it makes sense or not, I do care about them and want to know that they are okay. I know we have never met them but as their brother is now our son, there is an undeniable link between us.

I also find the time delay in receiving everything difficult. It would feel very strange and conspicuous to present Little Bear with his birthday card several months after his birthday. He knows it isn’t his birthday now so receiving a card from his birth family would seem a lot more normal if it arrived at the same time as the rest of his birthday post.

I think on this occasion we will need to put the card and letters away in his box for when he’s older, not least because Sian and Joseph have signed the card “Mum and Dad” again. We have already spoken with his Social Worker about this and asked that they use their first names to be consistent with the Life Story Book and to minimise confusion. I don’t blame Sian and Joseph for this: I rather suspect the Social Worker has avoided speaking with them about it. I also suspect she generally avoids them and they won’t have had any support in coping with their grief or support in communicating with us. I do wonder how it would be if we could “cut out the middle man” but there are obvious difficulties with that.

It isn’t long now until this year’s official Letterbox season and like last year I’m feeling strangely keen to write. I am only hoping that this time it won’t result in another 7 months of pestering to make the right things happen. I thought we had agreed to writing once per year, not spending nigh on a year trying to organise it.

 

Letterbox Update

First Experience of Letterbox

I can remember, ages ago, sitting in a review meeting agreeing we would send our Letterbox letter in September each year. I can also remember asking if we would be reminded and someone half laughing at me and telling me quite clearly that remembering was my responsibility. Henceforth “September” and “Letterbox” have been etched on my mental blackboard.

As the summer holidays drew to a close I was conscious that September was fast approaching and began mentally writing said letter. In doing so I realised I had absolutely no idea how to go about sending my letter. Was there a specific format I should follow? Were there any rules on envelopes or labelling? Where did I actually send it to?

I duly e-mailed Little Bear’s Social Worker to find out.

As with all correspondence in that direction, a reply took a while to materialise. Reading between the lines no formal Letterbox arrangement has actually been set up, despite us and Little Bear’s birth parents agreeing to one. I’m not too sure what would have happened if I hadn’t chased it… Nothing?

Anyhow, we have an interim plan for this year until the case is formally allocated to a worker at some unknown point in the future.

I can also remember, some months ago, agreeing that we would be willing to receive birthday cards and the like from birth parents and siblings and that instead of them sitting in the social work case file, we would use our discretion over whether to share them with Little Bear now or keep them safe for the future ourselves. Nothing materialised so I assumed nothing had been sent.

However, my recent e-mail regarding Letterbox has evidently nudged somebody into action and the cards that were sent have now been “found”.

Little Bear’s Social Worker said she would forward them to us along with a card from one of his siblings. She reported that his Social Worker has been doing some Life Story work with him as he is finding it difficult to get his head around Little Bear being adopted. She felt it would help if he could send his card to Little Bear and we could acknowledge its safe receipt in our Letterbox contact.

I really feel for Little Bear’s siblings – it must be so strange for them that their plan is long term foster care and that just one of their siblings has been adopted. I wonder how that makes them feel. Of course we could accept the card if that would help.

The Social Worker also asked us if we would receive cards from some other more distant relatives. We drew the line at that because we had never agreed to Letterbox with anyone other than birth parents and siblings and we had no idea who these people were. We felt she probably shouldn’t have accepted these cards in the first place.

At the weekend the package arrived. As much as I know that contact with Little Bear’s birth family is important and that it will benefit him in the future and that we are lucky they are engaging with it, I have to be honest and say that I find it unsettling. I think it’s because seeing their writing and the cards they have chosen (and touching something that they too have touched) is a very tangible reminder that they DO exist.

Obviously they do exist. I knew there would be “other” parents in the mix when I signed up to adoption. I knew there was likely to be some level of contact with them. I agreed/agree that there should be. It’s just, for adoption to really work, you need to start seeing this new addition as yours: your own child. And I do. Little Bear feels very much like he’s mine. When a child is yours and you love them and plan to be their parent forever, you don’t then really want to think about them being somebody else’s. That is the paradox for me. When that letter drops onto the mat you are immediately reminded that your child was not always yours and it is disquieting.

I have never been more suspicious of an envelope. It lay on the worktop, unopened, taunting me for the best part of a day before I could extricate myself from the boys long enough to open it in private.

The cards had been carefully chosen, with wording hinting at seeing Little Bear again. They were signed “mummy and daddy” which did nothing to assuage my unsettled feelings. My instinct was that it was an inappropriate way to sign the cards, given the circumstances, although I could understand why they had. I handed them to Grizzly later without saying anything and he separately drew the same conclusion. In his short lifetime, Little Bear has had 3 mummies and 3 daddies. That is extremely confusing and gives him a very skewed idea of what a mummy or daddy is.

We have put the cards safely away and have contacted the Social Worker again to ask that birth parents refer to themselves as such or by their first names. That is how they are referred to in the Life Story book. I’m sure they won’t like it and I’m sorry for that but my priority has to be Little Bear. His life has been confusing enough already.

We decided to give the card from his sibling to Little Bear. This was not a straightforward decision for several reasons. Firstly, Little Bear doesn’t yet realise that he has a birth family. Full stop. He had contact with them until shortly before we began introductions but I’m not sure that anybody explained who they were and when I’ve shown him the Life Story book he doesn’t show any recognition of them. Secondly, I feel it’s too soon to announce “this came from your brother” (one of the ones you don’t know about yet) because Little Bear hasn’t got the language ability to understand the complex explanation I would have to give or to ask the multitude of questions he would surely have. However, we knew there would be a danger in not starting this type of work yet and I did want to honour the wishes of his sibling. In the end we concluded that we would give it him and say it came from X (the name of his brother) then show him who that was in the Life Story book. Hopefully this would begin to make his sibling’s names familiar and would lay the groundwork for future conversations.

In order for this plan to work, I would need Big Bear to know about it otherwise he would blurt out something different and we’d be in a pickle. Therein lay another difficult conversation.

Big Bear didn’t originally know that Little Bear had any siblings. After a while it started to feel like a Thing: a secret Thing that shouldn’t actually be a secret so we told him. Big Bear was pretty nonplussed about it and said very little. It was quite an unusual response from him as he’s very chatty and enquiring. Perhaps he would reflect on it and ask more questions later we though. But he didn’t. I knew he wouldn’t have forgotten though as he never forgets anything.

When the package arrived I explained to him as casually as possible what was in it and how we were planning to handle it. His reaction was, again, minimal. This time though I could tell it was because talking about Little Bear’s siblings was making him feel uncomfortable. He confessed to Grizzly that it “made him feel weird”. He couldn’t find a way to verbalise it further but I think I get it.

We have all put so much effort into developing a good relationship between our 2 bears. Big Bear has had to really put himself out there and allow himself to accept having a sibling and then learn to trust him. That trust has built and strengthened and cemented their brotherly bond. Big Bear has allowed himself to love his brother and is very proud of him. Big Bear feels that Little Bear is HIS brother. Like me he has that sense of ownership. It is very hard for him to hear that Little Bear is anyone else’s brother. I suspect that receiving the post from the siblings put Big Bear on the back foot, making his position as Big Brother feel usurped.

This adoption business is complicated.

Anyhow, after considering all angles and having had all our difficult chats, we gave the card to Little Bear. He was very pleased to get his own post, especially as it was covered in stickers. He showed zero recognition when I said who it was from and thought I meant a boy from his school. I showed him the Life Story book and he went back to watching TV.

On this occasion I think Little Bear has been the least affected by the contact with his birth family. I’m sure at some point, in the not too distant future, that will change.

I have left the card up on the shelf in case he wants to ask anything or look at it again but he has paid it zero attention.

What remains is for me to actually write our Letterbox contributions. I have begun and I’ve found it pretty challenging. I can’t help but try to put myself in his siblings and birth parent’s shoes. It is difficult to fully get inside their heads though as I can’t imagine my children going to live somewhere else or being in circumstances where I would allow that to happen. I think I would want a positive (but not braggy) letter about my child being happy, healthy and enjoying themselves. I think I’d want to know they were progressing but might find too much talk of their delays accusatory.

I probably need to stop overthinking it and just write it. Grizzly will ruthlessly edit it and then I can wait with baited breath for the next emotionally loaded envelope to arrive…

First Experience of Letterbox