As an adopter, why I am so angry at Carol Sarler's nasty, stigmatising article for the Daily Mail
People are very kind. Knowing of my interest in adoption they often alert me to articles about the subject. So it was this week when no fewer than three of my friends sent me Carol Sarler's article for the Daily Mail.
The article's strap line didn't bode well for easy reading: "They open their homes to adopt - then find they've taken on youngsters who wreck their family. Why do we continue to BETRAY loving parents, asks CAROL SARLER"
On first reading I dismissed it as the usual Daily Mail fayre. Nasty social workers failing to support the nice "well meaning" (for which read middle class) families who take in the wayward "offspring of our drunks, our derelicts, our damaged and our junkies." That hit quite a few of the Daily Mail's buttons, and those of their target audience.
But then I considered further. That Daily Mail target audience would have included my late parents. Had they read this article their view of our decision to adopt would have been very different. Their view of their adopted grandchildren might well have been very different too.
And that's what made me increasingly angry about the article.
The descriptions of families facing crises with their adopted children in the article are heartrendingly awful. The fact they (appear) to have been failed by the system generally and their own Adoption Agencies in particular is appalling. BUT, to imply that their situation is the norm and that large proportions of adopted children are similar to these troubled young people is not only wrong, it's also massively damaging.
Dramatic, damaging cliches play to the Daily Mail's dog whistle prejudices. Nice families are being destroyed by the nasty cuckoos in their nests, placed there from broken homes.
I'm angry that in resorting to easy stereotypes Ms Sarler takes attention away from the vital central point. This is that some adopted young people are traumatised. Some have terrible trouble coping. Some families struggle. Many cry out for help and face a wall of indifference in return. And that the system must offer them help. Must support them better. Must not place a financial cap on that support.
I'm angry that anyone reading the article and considering adoption might well be put off following that course.
I'm angry that the immense complexity of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome is presented with the nuance of a sledgehammer. (For an incredible eloquent and very detailed description of why, see the FASD blog here)
I'm most angry that, reading the article, you might expect behaviour similar to that of the children described in it, from our adopted son and daughter.
Our children are the "offspring of our drunks, our derelicts, our damaged and our junkies." They are also nothing like the children described in the article.
There are days when parenting our children feels like wading through mud. It can be trench warfare. The negativity can be unremitting. There are days when I truly question my capacity and ability to not only parent well but parent at all.
There are equally days when they make our life quite simply joyous. When they make us so very proud. When they are funny, eloquent, caring and kind. When we see a glimpse of the confident, independent adults we hope they will become.
I don't doubt we have been incredibly lucky.
Lucky with our children. Massively lucky with our adoption agency who were, and continue to be, unfailingly supportive. Always available to listen. Willing and keen to help. Proactive and positive in providing opportunities to meet other adopters and most importantly receive ongoing training.
Alongside that luck has come hard work. To support our children. To help them develop their own strategies to cope. To reframe and remodel their experiences.
By using lazy sensationalism, Ms Sarler misses a huge opportunity to highlight how our current adoption support system fails so many families. Her broad brush prejudice stigmatises the adopted, offends adopters and is disrespectful to the vast majority of professionals trying so hard to make the system better.
If you're considering adopting then please don't let this article deter you.
If you have any influence over adoption support then please do all you can to support families like those detailed in the article.
And never, ever, assume an adopted child is like those depicted in this article.