Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Chapter 20 – Play up and play the game: Home-study visits continued

Jolly Hockey Sticks!

When it comes down it this adoption larks one great big game. Now dont get me wrong, Im not trivialising it in the slightest. Its a deadly serious and life-changing game. However, the process by which one enters into the world of adoption is a game. And like any game it has its own rules. It has its own skills and techniques. It has areas where you can you can cut corners and other areas where you just have to buckle down and play the game.

To say that there are a few hoops to jump through along the road to adopting would be the grossest of understatements. Sometimes the whole thing seemed like one great big, ever-changing hoop. I can understand it. For any organisation the personal and corporate responsibility for the outcome of decisions and actions is a heavy weight to bear. Thats heavy enough when the decisions are over some corporate investment portfolio or a business proposition. But social workers are literally playing with peoples lives. They have to get their decisions as right as possible because when they go wrong they can go disastrously wrong. The errors which social services make can literally be matters of life and death. Just look at the case of "Baby P".

And so we come back to the game and how it is played. The system plays the game itself and part of the game is to protect the backs of the system and those who operate it. To minimise risks of things going wrong or, if they do go wrong, minimise the risk of blame rebounding back on the system and its operators is a key objective. There are two ways to do this. Theres the practical route upskill your staff, hone your procedures, pursue excellence and efficiency. Then theres the legal route. Cover your back, deflect the blame and allow yourself the ability to say, Well, we did tell them so!

Caution: the contents of this cup could be hot. Well, its a cup of coffee, I sincerely hope that it is! Be prepared to push your trolley off the end of the walkway. The value of your investment can go down as well as up. Cars are parked here at the owners own risk. May contain nuts.

The adoption process has its own share of these disclaimers built in. As yet another seemingly surreal request came for us to fill in a form or answer some questions arose it became our own little game. What previous corporate catastrophe had led to them having to cover their backs in this way? Wed already endured the Health and Safety questionnaire and had  theorised on what catastrophes had put some obscure dangers in scope while leaving other obvious hazards out!

On the other hand, there were other places where you just had to give the system what it wanted. Ive previously said that wed made a conscious decision at the outset, wherever possible, to service the system and to give it what it wanted. It seemed to us to be the most efficient way to smooth the path towards panel. Not everyone approaches things in this sort of way. To illustrate this Ill tell you the story of a good friend who separately went through the adoption process with another agency. Now this friend is probably the single most competent, centred, stable person Ive ever known. Almost to a fault. In fact, if theres a character flaw that they do possess then its probably that this certain, self reliance blinds them to the thought that anyone whose opinion or way of doing things differs from theirs might have a point. Its not arrogance, just a supreme confidence that their way is the right way.

Their level-headedness is all the more impressive given that, for a short period in their youth their mother lived with a partner who could be violent (or at least psychologically dominating). This, unsurprisingly, came out during their home study and was something their social worker wanted to delve into. Despite reassurances to the contrary, the social worker was concerned that they didnt seem to be emotionally crippled by this episode. She was concerned that this proved the trauma had been deeply buried rather than worked through and incorporated into a coherent and balanced view of self. Was our friends confidence and competence a subtle overcompensation hiding a wounded soul?

The social worker suggested that our friend should undertake a short course of therapy to work through any residual problems. Our friend was furious. Indignant, in fact. HOW DARE THEY? Theres no way Im going to a shrink just to keep them happy! This anger was vented to us with the expectation of a slap on the back and a Quite right too! Stick to your guns! Our response was somewhat different. Well why not? What will you achieve by sticking your heels in? The response was largely indignant bluster. We continued. Surely all you will do is stick a big red, flashing warning light on your paperwork which screams UNRESOLVED ISSUE! UNRESOLVED ISSUE! at the Adoption Panel? Where will that leave you?

So do you think Im a basket case too, then? No, thats not what we said. [*Thinks...* Actually, I really doubt its what the social worker had said either... but emotions do run high in this adoption business!] Youre the single most sane person we know. But right now you need a slip of paper that says so. Its not even as if the solution was difficult to achieve. We both had a mutual friend who was a qualified counsellor (and would have equally scoffed at the need for our friend to submit to a shrink).

Why dont you book in a couple of sessions with Sheila. You know what her attitude will be chat about shopping, gardening, or the thing you watched on telly last night for all it matters. Have her write a short report on how she feels youve dealt with your childhood psychologically... and youre sorted. Box duly ticked! And if anyone brings it up just wave the report under their nose!

So theres so often the dilemma. When to fight the system and when to service (even subvert) it? Each occasion will require a separate response to that question. And the answer may differ from person to person. To us it always seemed that the big question you had to ask yourself first was So which route will most effectively take you where you want to be?

Play up! Play up! Play up and play the game!


Anonymous said...

Can't say I'm surprised. Having worked in the public sector for a while, the whole system is plagued with rules and heirarchy, shrouded in red tape for the sake of red tape or back-covering (or more commonly, meeting government targets). In a situation where actual LIVES are concerned, it's just the same with knobs on. We know what the purpose of the SW's job is, but I wonder what the response would be if we asked our social workers "What's the ACTUAL de-facto purpose of your job?" I suspect they wouldn't respond 'finding homes for children'. More like 'finding ways to get prospective adopters through the system'....

Three Pink Diamonds said...

Interesting blog from an interesting perspective. I admire that you have both gone into the process wanting to be open and work with your SW. I too wanted to be open and helpful (playing the game). I think in the main we achieved it, at times it's hard not to get defense or frustrated - but like you say that's the name of the game!!

Sarah Hill said...

sometime since we went through the process. Although initially, with the prep course, it felt like we had to be seen to be making the right sounds, once we met our social worker that changed. She was very supportive and at no point made us feel we were jumping through hoops. I think unfortunately to get what you want, a child you do need to do what they want, just the nature of it.

Thanks for linking up with #WASO

Suddenly Mummy said...

Frustrating as it can be, you're right - there's simply no point throwing up objections to the SW's suggestions and requests, however much you have to bite your tongue and smile through gritted teeth! They have their forms to fill and boxes to tick, so best just to let them get on with it. I agreed to all sorts of demands in the early stage (including moving house to a far distant borough and giving up work for two years!) but found that as the process went on, some of these demands relaxed or even went away. I still believe that SWs deliberately put hoops in the way at first, just to see if you're prepared to jump through them!