ACP Chair, Heather Stewart, Media and Communications lead, Alison Roy and Senior Practitioner social worker, Jane Drew, accompanied Six adopted young people from Sussex and one from Birmingham, to a meeting in London with the Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield, earlier this month.
The intention of this meeting was to support and enable young people with adoption experience to share their views and experiences on the things that matter to them in their lives, especially with regard to their wellbeing and mental health. The hope was that this would give the Commissioner and her team the chance to advocate on their behalf with policy and decision makers, including the Government.
Other attendees were, Alex Burghart, Director of Strategy and Advocacy and Shaila Sheikh, Head of Engagement and Participation, Children’s Commissioner’s Office.
The objectives for Session were:
- To ensure that the Children’s Commissioner is engaging with, and listening to children from diverse backgrounds and with specific experiences on the things that matter to them and their lives.
- To explore the support and care needs of children who have been adopted, especially around their wellbeing and mental health.
- To consider what improvements can be made to ensure children have been adopted can be helped to make sense of their past and any past problems, so they feel good about themselves and have good emotional wellbeing and positive relationships.
- To identify the role of Government and others in helping and supporting any change indicated in policy and practice from providing better help and support to children and young people in this way.
The professionals and young people all gathered together at the start, before the young people spoke by themselves to the Commissioner and her team. They spoke about being a young, being adopted and things that could be better as well as who could help make things better? As we weren’t in this part of the meeting, we can’t report on the detail, but the young people said they were asked if they think there arew things that adults and the Government don’t understand about young people’s lives and if so, what and why does it matter?
The young people who gave their feedback after the event, told us that they felt listened to and taken seriously. They had particularly wanted the Commissioner to know about their experience in education and how so many schools and teachers, even those who try hard to help, don’t understand attachment, adoption or being in care. So often they felt punished and misunderstood at school. This was especially so when they felt most alone and vulnerable and needed to be seen to be like others, rather than singled out to be punished or excluded.
They told us that it had helped to talk about the pressure on young people today – the focus on targets and grades rather than emotional wellbeing or whether they were happy or comfortable in themselves. One young person commented, “talking to the Commissioner helped me realise that schools are under pressure too, that they need my grades to be good, maybe more than I need them to be good. So we all feel the pressure, but I forget that this learning should really be about me.”
Other feedback from young people included the feeling that they thought the experience of being valued and understood and to have important adults taking time over them, was positive. They also appreciated hearing each other’s stories and learning about how they each felt different and all had unique needs and histories. Some acknowledged that these had been better addressed through having access to specialist services, but all felt that more needed to be done. “Having someone who stays and doesn’t keep passing you on to someone else, really makes a difference.”
One young person said: “I thought I’d had a hard time, but really, my story is ok, I lost my birth parents and I feel different, but I know I’m loved, I’ve had good support and I have a safe family. Seeing how other adopted people have to try and make it on their own at 17/18 seems unfair – more should be done to change this.”
What kind of support would be helpful?
Young people all felt that more support in schools and for their parents would have been helpful. One young person admitted she had pushed her parents away and been very challenging with her behaviour but added that she had thought her parents could take her feelings and frustrations and she had no-where else for these to go. She had been shocked and devastated when they hadn't coped with her behaviours.
“You start to feel that it must be you that’s all wrong. That you’re unlovable.”
One young person told the Commissioner, “leaving childhood is one of the hardest times."
“It’s hard working out who you are and what you want to be and what you want to do.”
When they talked about psychotherapy – young people said “there is not enough, only when you get to lowest point”
“I carried my own guilt on my shoulders until therapy.”
When they spoke about adoption they felt that adoption was "too quick and is rushed through, we are not animals or cattle.”
The young people said they had shared a few top tips for Anne Longfield and team to share with the Government to make sure all children who have been adopted can be helped with their emotional wellbeing and mental health.
They want more awareness and training in schools as well as access to specialists like therapists. They also think that those young people who “leave care” or their adoptive families, aren’t ready to face the world completely alone and need more support. They stressed that they need specialists who are “strong enough” to “stick with us” and can “train people like teachers and parents about us and why we do ‘provoking’ behaviour, this might help them get what we are trying to say.”
The Children’s Commissioner and Shaila Sheikh, who sent letters of thanks to each of the young people, acknowledged the value of what the young people had shared and said how positive and informative the meeting had been.
It will be no surprise to you to know how much we learnt from meeting and listening to the young people. As ever, young people can express eloquently and passionately in what they say and don’t say the reality of their lives, what matters to them and where they think changes are needed. They raised many questions for us around the understanding and support required to enable children who have been adopted to flourish in their new families and homes and especially the role of schools and therapeutic support to help them. They also highlighted what many young people in care have said to us time and time again around the support provided post 16 and post 18 when they can often feel at their most vulnerable and most abandoned.
The young people have accepted the offer to continue conversations and participation opportunities with the Children’s Commissioners’ team.