Inside Adoption: a parent's story
Inside Adoption is written by someone who has both worked within the adoption industry and is an adoptive parent himself. Philip Teasdale and his wife, Anne, adopted Jemma when she was a very young child. He describes here the difficult, traumatising years that followed as they struggled to create a loving home around her and the failure by the statutory services to support for the family and provide psychological help to enable Jemma to manage her personal demons and impulses. Teasdale brings to this first-person account an insightful understanding of the effects of early childhood trauma and a powerful critique of the adoption process. There is, he argues, still too little funding going into supporting adoptive families; parents are still left to sink or swim as best they can and the voices of adoptive parents are often absent from the debate about the future of the adoption services.
Adoption has changed hugely in the past few decades. These days, most children placed with adoptive families are not babies; by the time they meet their new parents they may have been exposed to a range of traumatic experience - in utero, within their birth families and within the state care system. Exposure to drugs or alcohol in the womb and abuse in early childhood are increasingly known to have significant effects on a child's psychological and relational development. The effects can endure throughout the whole of their life, regardless of the loving care and stability they receive in their adoptive home. This poses very real challenges for people stepping forward into the role of adoptive parent.
Chapter 1 - Small beginnings
Chapter 2 - When love is not enough
Chapter 3 - Caring for Jemma
Chapter 4 - Success and failure
Chapter 5 - The trauma contagion
Chapter 6 - It's all in the relationship
Chapter 7 - Dreams, risks and realities
Chapter 8 - Adoption and the system
Chapter 9 - Life after adoption
Chapter 10 - A better way to build lifelong families
In October 2015, during National Adoption Week, a wellknown newspaper printed a picture of some young children on its front page and asked its readers to consider being their ‘forever family’. The next day, adoption support helplines were flooded with calls from willing volunteers. The vast majority of these calls were from people with no previous desire to adopt and with no real knowledge or understanding of the adoption process. It showed just what an emotive subject this is. Seeing a child in acute need clearly evokes strong feelings. To me, this seemed a reassuring response, however naïve it may have been. However, as those callers would have found out, adoption is a far from easy, straightforward process; it certainly isn’t for everyone. There are good reasons why this is the case. Adoption has changed hugely in the past few decades. Most of the children placed with adopters are no longer babies; by the time they meet their new parents they mostly have been exposed to a range of traumatic experience, both within their birth families and within the care system. Abuse in early childhood can have a significant impact that endures throughout the whole of the child’s life, regardless of the care they receive in their adoptive homes. This poses very real challenges for those of us stepping into the role of adoptive parent.
Research has shown that the developmental stages from gestation up until two years of age are critical; during this period all children are susceptible to lasting damage from trauma of any type. In recent years there has been a wealth of publications regarding the effect of trauma on young minds and how it changes the psychology and neurobiology of those who are unfortunate enough to be exposed to it. This work has helped to change the way we think about children who have suffered at the hands of the people who were supposed to be caring for them. It has helped us understand their sometimes bizarre and frightening behaviours. It has changed the way we think about the care and help they subsequently need, and has informed new and better ways to parent them. Sadly, like most advances in health and social care, it’s taking a long time for this learning to become widely accepted and understood. Like rain that falls over high ground, it touches and revitalises those of us who have been painstakingly trudging up the mountain together but then it disappears into the rocks; it takes some time to seep into water courses and channels before finally ending up in the river. Eventually and very slowly, we will all get to taste this new understanding and know it to be true.
As the adoptive dad of an extremely traumatised and challenging young person, I can’t wait for the day when this knowledge has been absorbed into the psyche of all caring professionals. Until then, I will continue, repeatedly and often painfully, to make my case to anyone with anything to do with adoption, and especially those in a position to make a difference. This book is a part of that process. Much has been written about adoption, from all kinds of angles: from the new research and case study-based perspectives that shed new light on childhood trauma through to books on the adoption process and legislation, managing difficult behaviour and the adoption journey. Many of these have been written by professionals to explain various aspects of adoption from the outside looking in, and are mainly focused on the child, his or her needs and how those needs can be met. Many others have been written by adopters who have found success and fulfilment in the challenges of their adoptive parenthood. Although this book is intended to add to that collection, its focus is not on the child; its focus is on the experiences and needs of the adopter. First and foremost, adoption is a relationship, and therefore it is not a totally one-sided affair. Adoption is not just about the child. You can’t have an adoption with just a child; it requires an adoptee and an adopter. Fortunately, in our case there were two of us sharing this adopter experience and, together, my wife and I set about trying to build the lifelong relationships that are unique to family life. We all counted equally in this endeavour, and we all needed certain things from it. This mutuality is in the very nature of relationship. Having said that, you will discover as you read this book that it is primarily about me – about my thoughts, my feelings, my needs and even my trauma, as an adoptive parent. My wife, Anne, would have her own, unique account of this experience, as would my adopted daughter and my son. They are not my stories to tell. This may sound self-indulgent, and even narcissistic, but the adopter’s perspective on the impact adoption has had on them is remarkably under-represented in the literature. I believe this perspective is essential when trying to grasp an understanding of adoption from the inside out. What is it really like to be the adoptive parent of a very traumatised child? Regardless of their reasons and motivation for adopting in the first place, most adopters simply want to be a ‘forever mummy or daddy’, just as the newspaper advert implied. Some end up with happy stories in which all those dreams come true. For many others, things are not so rosy. In the following pages, I will explain how it worked out for me and how my needs and aspirations were and were not met. I will explore and discuss the many relationships this led me into, in addition to the one I now have with my child. I will examine my own thoughts and feelings about adoption, with specific reference to my own experience; look at the evidence for adoption as it was presented then and how it is presented now, and examine its validity, and reflect on what the future may hold, as adoption continues to change to meet the changing needs of society. Our adoption was difficult. Our daughter was, and remains, very troubled by her early experiences, and this, in turn, continues to affect our whole family. I suspect it always will.
The things I have gained from adoption, I could never have predicted. The problems I have encountered would have made me run a mile, had I known about them up front. Had I been told that adoption could be like this I probably wouldn’t have believed it; and here we are, like a third of adoptive families, struggling on... together... just. A few years ago, I wrote an article about the difficulties of living with a violent child (Collins, 20151). Many of the adopters who contacted me in response talked about their isolation and trauma, and the importance of having a voice. This book was written partly because we adopters don’t have to, and nor should we, live our lives hidden away and in silence. Those of us who have not fared well and have had difficult and even dangerous children living with us still have an important place in society, and we should not be ignored. We are a significant part of the wider adoption story and we are not insignificant in number. For adoption to be understood in its fullest sense, then surely everyone who has a part in it needs to be included in any conversation we may have? I hope this book speaks for the many of us for whom the joys of adoption have also brought a heap of problems, hard work and heartache. We deserve to be heard.
References Collins D (2015). Living with your child’s violence. Therapy Today 26(8):
Philip Teasdale has written a brave and honest book about his experience as an adoptive father to a very troubled child. His account deserves to be read, helping us to understand the pain and hurt a parent can experience because of the developmentally traumatised child’s difficulties. It also shines a light on, and attempts to explain, how fragmented services can become defensive in response to these difficulties. Philip’s compassion for his daughter shines throughout.
Understanding adoptive parents’ experiences, especially when the outcome is not what anyone would hope for, is such an important part of developing effective adoptive support and intervention. It is time we all gave up the ‘happy ever after’ myth of adoption and worked together to discover how to help the parents when, we as a society, ask them to do something extraordinary. I do hope that all practitioners involved in the world of adoption can read this book with an open mind, and that we can now move forward in developing services that do not leave adoptive parents feeling blamed when they have done their best.
Kim Golding, consultant clinical psychologist and author
From the off, this is an open and honest, real-life account of what could be described as the story of the majority of adoptive families. Seeing it written down reminded me so much of that early time when I too thought I could mend all my own children’s trauma. This book is a must for all those who are thinking about adoption, going through the early stages, or just for validation that you are a good advocate and parent for your children. You can’t undo the past, but you can attempt to make their future brighter.
Scott Casson-Rennie, adoptive dad and Head of Engagement & Delivery, Adoption UK
Inside Adoption is a brave, tragic and endearing account of an adoptive parent’s experience of adopting a developmentally traumatised child, his experience of being a parent and his shift from naiveté and idealism to the harsher realities of not only how his child behaves towards him but how professionals behave towards him too. The book also gives a very expert and clear account of the impact of neglect and abuse on a child’s development and consequently on their behaviour. Prospective adoptive parents will get a salutary insight into the highs and lows of being a parent. Many adoptive parents will have their experience validated. Professionals working in the field will be challenged to review their perception of adoption by this account from a parent’s perspective. All round, a very thought-provoking book.
Alan Burnell, co-founder and co-director of Family Futures