When Laura and I set out to record this podcast it was never our intention to malign Social Services (or anyone else) although we knew we couldn’t tell our story without discussing the various social workers who made cameo appearances into our lives. Now that we’ve recorded the final episode, it occurs to me that Social Services featured more than we intended, and it’s worth capturing the themes that we inadvertently uncovered.
What initially stands out is that our experience of individual social workers was, in the main, positive, and what’s striking is Laura’s comment that ‘the process could have been kinder’. Social Services, as an entity, seems to lack the human touch; the ability to understand the harm that it causes under the guise of reducing risk of harm. Laura’s recent experience of Social Services is the most chilling example of this. If you’ve listened to Episode 9 you will likely agree that it’s no exaggeration to say that the child protection system potentially endangered the life of Laura’s unborn child. The system seems to be like a myopic giant trying to pick strawberries; It may be well intentioned but it’s bruising and messy, and there’s a lot of collateral damage.
I guess this begs the question of how the system might be kinder? For a start, independent advocacy would help; someone who could’ve been with Laura when she was told that CJ wouldn’t be going home with her; someone who could’ve been close enough to see the situation with RJ; and someone who could’ve been a protective buffer during her latest pregnancy and assessment. The system could be kinder post-adoption too, much kinder, and I’ve already blogged about that under the title of ‘Grief’.
Another noticeable theme was that the way the system operates means the decision-makers had no direct experience of Laura. The result was that, typically, their decisions were based on negative assumptions. I imagine the lack of direct experience may be deliberate; a way of ensuring greater objectivity in the decision-making process, but it denies the voice of the individual, it is disempowering and biased. Again, an independent advocate could play a role in this process; a process that presumably assumes neutrality, whereas in practice is skewed towards risk aversion. This is evident in Laura’s most recent assessment, where she could only bring Ava home from the hospital if her husband took a week off work to watch her while the system caught up with itself. The result was the infliction of financial hardship with no recompense for a week’s lost wages. What risk did Laura pose to baby Ava, other than an incredibly nebulous one?
A final theme was the disconnect between theory and practice when it came to post-adoption contact. As adopters, we were trained in the benefits of post-adoption contact yet when it came to facilitating that contact we eventually learned to give Social Services a big swerve. We were brave and worked hard to create a positive post-adoption experience that included the boys first families, and we believe that this has been incredibly helpful for minimising their sense of loss, improving their attachments and enhancing their awareness of their individual identities. This was achieved despite, not because of Social Services. To go full circle, the system could be kinder by embracing, encouraging and enabling post-adoption contact and, again, an independent advocate could help facilitate this.
So, from Laura and I, a big fat thankyou to all the social workers doing their best in a job chock full of heart-breaking challenges, and a big poke in the myopic eye of the blundering giant that is Social Services.