A peek inside the world of adoption breakdowns
Feelingmumyet is a British parenting blogger. In 2015, she and her husband adopted two brothers, aged six and five, who had experienced breakdowns in previous foster placements, as well as an adoption breakdown. Indeed, FMY – she and her husband wish to remain anonymous – is mum No.5 to these boys, and each day is a multi-layered battle that only a precious few can understand.
The Dad Website caught up with the couple for a chat – and a sobering glimpse into the world of adoption breakdowns.
Thanks for your time, guys. I’ll ask the most direct question first: Why did you go down the adoption route rather than have your own children – which, unlike many adopters, you could have done?
Mum: I wanted to adopt for as long as I could remember; I think it started when I heard stories that in China with their one-child policy, most people want a healthy boy so if they have a girl or a disabled child they put them up for adoption or into orphanages. I remember I was so saddened and outraged that I wanted to rescue all those children.
That feeling defined my future, I guess, because for most of my adult life I worked as a volunteer for various charities in four different continents (sadly not in Australia) and I experienced first-hand the challenges children in orphanages go through.
Hubby and I met in Africa while we both worked for an international relief organization and we got married there. We have friends who adopted from African orphanages, but we felt that there are lots of children in the UK as well who need loving homes and parents so we decided to come back and start a domestic adoption.
Dad: When I first started dating my wife she said she’d always wanted to adopt children; I always wanted to have children. For me it was no difference if we had children by birth or adoption. We looked at international adoption [but] the costs involved made that not possible so we looked within the UK. For me it was more about providing children with a stable home and a change in their future hopes.
Could you quickly take us through the process of becoming an adopter?
Mum: I imagine it’s slightly different in each country, but the main points should be the same. The most important thing to understand is that social workers are looking for new parents for the children – and not children for people who want to be parents. Therefore the assessment phase is very detailed, very intensive and very intrusive.
After our initial phone call two social workers came to our house for a quick home study, then we were enrolled in a two-day ‘Introduction to Adoption’ course where I guess the main aim was to check if we were really sure about this.
Once we said we were still interested a four-to-five month intensive assessment started with lots of probing questions into our lives, from early childhood, family and school to past relationships, our life as a couple and expectations of our future family.
Six months after our first phone call we went to Panel where a group of people (Social workers, adopters, school teachers, medical advisors and a lawyer) decided if we would be suitable adopters for the kind of children we indicated we could care for.
Dad: We wanted to adopt two boys, siblings, aged five and above, because we knew that most people want babies or as young as possible and usually no two boys together, so the system is full of such siblings who wait for a very long time and with each day passing their chances of a loving family are diminishing. I think the Panel couldn’t believe that such people exist so they were very happy to approve us. After that it didn’t take long for social workers from all around the country to send us profiles of children in their care. It was very overwhelming for us.
Mum: The boys were aged five and six when they moved in with us; now they are seven and eight.
Dad: They moved in and in two days the older one had a birthday. We just met them, we had no idea how to be a parent to them and we had to organize a birthday party for him, we didn’t know who to invite as the boys were from a different city. It was very strange. We just celebrated another of his birthdays.
The most important thing to understand is that social workers are looking for new parents for the children – and not children for people who want to be parents.
Could you elaborate a little on what constitutes a “hard to place” child?
Dad: Most people don’t want older children, especially not two older boys. They are labelled “hard to place”. I understand on some levels why people don’t choose them: they come with massive baggage; they remember much more; and two boys can be a challenge in a loving birth family as well, I am told (I have a brother; ask my mother, ha-ha).
Mum: Our children clearly remember their first mum and dad, grandparents too, they also remember the horror they went through while living with them. But they weren’t at fault for any of the bad things that happened to them, and we really came from the angle of trying to help children who don’t have loving homes. So it wasn’t a question that we would choose them – there was no queue of potential adopters for them. (I have friends who have been waiting more than three years now for a baby to adopt; on the other hand, for some cute children’s profiles there is sometimes a long list of potential adopters competing.)
What are the main causes of adoption breakdowns, and how common are they?
Mum: There are lots of reasons, really. Lack of adequate training for the new parents (parenting traumatized children is very different than parenting emotionally healthy children and it requires specialized training that is not cheap!) is a major one.
Lack of support from Social Services is another major factor and I am not talking about money here. Our children need therapy to make sense of their past, to understand that they are not at fault for the bad things that happened to them; their brains need to be re-wired. Often the neglect or abuse makes them respond violently to people around them. My boys physically attacked me several times; they destroyed our furniture; they hurt other children in the playground; they behave in an ‘antisocial’ and ‘disruptive’ way in school. All these factors put a massive strain on our life.
Dad: They say “our marriage was fine until we had children”. This is exponentially true for us. The boys brought their PTSD, untreated trauma and developmental-delay into our house and they took their anger out on us. Later they would apologise and frankly they had no idea why they went on a rampage, they just had too many big feelings inside of them and they couldn’t keep it in any more so they exploded. We came very close to a placement breakdown. In a way the children subconsciously tried to sabotage their own future.
Mum: I don’t think there are many official stats. Placements break down on a daily basis, about one-third of adoptive families struggle and come close to a breakdown very regularly. After the Adoption Order is granted, I think about five per cent of adoptions break down.
What are some of the major challenges you’ve faced?
Mum: As stated previously, Child-on-Parent-Violence (CPV) was a huge issue for us. The hardest bit, I think, is when I tell this to my friends; I show them the bruises on me and they simply can’t believe that these sweet little boys are capable of doing that. Of course their trauma affects us on a daily basis; I lift my hand towards my son’s face to stroke him and he pulls his face away because his first instinct is to escape a potential beating. A child’s first instinct should be coming closer for a hug or physical contact with his loving mum.
Dad: Especially in the beginning the younger one tried to run away a few times; once I had to chase after him in a car as he took off. Naturally they really struggled with attaching to us, so why should they listen to us and do what we say? We are not their parents, after all!
Also, trust was a biggie. They didn’t believe us that we love them and want the best for them. They had bad experiences with grown-ups (one used to say: “I had seven sad years of life; why should I believe you?”). Lying was another problem – especially since they knew all they have to say is ‘she hit me’ to get my wife into trouble with Social Services.
We also had to deal with stealing – part of it was just a cry for help for his big feelings, part of it was lack of nurture; simply he wasn’t taught that stealing is bad. Our older boy still wets the bed almost every night and the younger one has night terror very often. He doesn’t remember any of it, which is great, but something must have triggered it and if we don’t know what goes through his mind we can’t really help him.
How much of a game-changer has this all been?
Mum: I guess in many ways it’s like having a new baby arriving; your life is never the same after that. You are not the boss of your life anymore; priorities change. Suddenly you can’t go out for a walk on a warm summer night; no spontaneous trips; no going out for a pint with friends whenever you want to.
The adoption-specific changes include me being a stay-at-home-mum, but I can’t even attend baby-mother clubs or socialize with other mums during the day as I, you know, don’t have a baby, I don’t have pregnancy or childbirth related stories… etc.
We are not hiding the fact that we became a family of four through adoption, but that’s not the first thing you want to say when you meet new people!
I have to take the boys to therapy sessions each week; we have regular social-worker visits and adoption review meetings to attend so I don’t really have time for normal adult relationships.
It’s really hard to spend time with hubby alone; the children still can’t take it if we went out for a date night and we can’t just ask anybody to babysit them.
Dad: I remember that we used to just book holidays and go; now we have to think if we can afford it, and when are the children off school, and do we need to attend some sort of meeting and do I have to be there, and do I need to move my work hours around to suit?
No longer is it just a case of “let’s do something crazy”, like go out for a meal and a film; it all has to be organised.
I’m glad that my work allows me some flexibility with my work hours but I still have to work 40-plus hours a week which at some point causes issues when we can’t just go out for a walk during the day when they are off school.
Life with the children has been such a big change from our normal, and [we’ve had to] unlearn parenting methods learned from our parents so we can we parent our children in a way that works for them.
Friends’ reactions varied between “you are bonkers” and “you are amazing” to “what is wrong with you?”
What has been the reaction from family and friends?
Mum: Both our families were very supportive. My dad was a bit sad because he felt his bloodline will stop with him, but once he saw his grandkids he fell in love with them, so all is well.
Friends’ reactions varied between “you are bonkers” and “you are amazing” to “what is wrong with you?” and “what kind of woman (Christian, even) are you that you don’t want to give birth yourself?”.
Over the last year we lost some friends we originally thought we were close to; some friends really stepped up and helped us whenever we needed something; and we have gained lots of new friends – mostly adopters and parents of children with special needs.
Dad: I think it is very hard to really understand what we are going through daily if you don’t experience it yourself, so most people struggle to grasp it and therefore don’t know what to say or how to support us, so they just don’t say or do anything. It’s very sad.
The other extreme is when they keep saying “your children are so lucky to have you”, which I find deeply insulting!
Other comments like “you are a saint for doing it” or “I couldn’t do it” are meant well, we know, but it doesn’t give us any opportunities to say how we are doing honestly.
Any advice for others considering adoption or taking in previously-adopted children?
Mum: Adoption is really not for everybody. Taking in children who were ‘previously adopted’ is even more challenging and it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. I am not saying we are so amazing or even super-humans, but it really is very, very hard. I think adoption should come from the right motives; not from a need to play mother, but for the need to help that child, whatever age they are at.
And when they spit at you and shout “you are not my mother” you shouldn’t take it personally! It’s not against you! Our children don’t do it to us; they are struggling and they don’t know how to say it. Heck, they often don’t even know what they feel; they present a challenging behaviour on the outside, but on the inside, they are scared!
You need to be able to see beyond the problem on the surface (lying, for example) and understand that this is his way of getting your attention; to make sure you still love him; that you won’t reject him like his first mum did.
It’s bloody hard work and we often don’t get it right! But that’s OK – we are only humans too.
Dad: Adoption is not rewarding, especially in the beginning (and who knows how long the beginning lasts?). You really must think hard if that’s a route you want to go down. Read books, attend training, speak to adopters, read blogs (like my wife’s, hehe) and BELIEVE them when they say it’s really hard work!
Mum: There are rewards, though. One of the most amazing things my seven-year-old son told me was: “Mum, now I know you are like God: even when I am naughty, you never stop loving me”.
You don’t need to believe in God to appreciate his sentiment!
He has already learnt that it’s OK to make mistakes; to make poor choices at times; and that our love for him is unconditional.
I think our boys have started to believe that there is hope in this world, and that their sad past will not define who they are, and won’t affect their future. I would be very happy if they would know this beyond a doubt by the time they turn 18.
Note: The family in this article’s lead image has been used for illustrative purposes only. Our interviewees are respectfully anonymous.