I just finished reading Cathy’s latest memoir. Like all her other books she deals with an emotional and important issue, in this case the results of a failed/ disrupted adoption.
Nobody’s Son takes place right after her husband has left her. She’s taken six months off from fostering in order to regroup. In that time a lot of practices have changed including being provided a support or supervising social worker. So this is the first book where Jill is included, who in other books have proven to be an amazing player in the events of the children’s lives.
Jill tells Cathy that there is a child who’s situation might be a great way for her to get back into things. He only needs care for a month. His current foster carers are expecting a baby and can’t finish out his placement. He has already been matched with an adoptive family and Cathy’s role would be to insure the introductions go well.
Alex is seven. His mom had him while in prison for drug dealing. Since he was 18 months old he’s been in care. He’s moved so many times, having over five social workers and I think it was five or six carers. So he’s desperate to have a “forever family.”
Social services has matched him with a couple named Rosemary and Edward. They are professionals who already have a child who’s eight. They live a very wealthy lifestyle with their son James participating in sports, horseback riding, music lessons and other things. Cathy notices that they seem rather formal and seem to have unrealistic expectations of what adopting a child would mean. At one point Edward said they “chose” Alex because he was the same age as James. Which made it sound like they picked him out at a store or something. They didn’t seem to understand the issues a child moving to an adoptive family could have. But seemed to think their rich lifestyle would solve everything.
In spite of all this the introductions went well. Alex was so excited to finally have a family. He was anxious at timeshiding in his room when the adoptive parents came to see him at Cathy’s but he soon came out of his shell. The overnight visits and moving went well. So while Cathy wondered how he’d fit into such a family she was glad things had gone well.
A week later Jill told her that Rosemary wasn’t coping and there were problems. She asked if Cathy could come over and talk with her. Cathy was very surprised that there were problems so early. Apparently there had been some arguing between Alex and James. And James considered him immature. Cathy said that when a child enters a family, it changes the whole family dynamics. She told Rosemary it was normal to feel overwhelmed suddenly having two children. She talked about being uncomfortable with how much physical affection Alex needed and saying that James had outgrown that stage. Cathy again said how it took time to bond and every child is different.
She left feeling like she’d given some good solutions.
A few days later she’s given a huge shock as she hears from Jill that the couple is dissolving the adoption. That it wasn’t working out for James and they wanted to end things and not “drag them out.” Cathy is furious and heartbroken for Alex as is everyone on the case.
Alex is brought back into Cathy’s care completely withdrawn and depressed. When he came into care originally with Cathy he was talkative, eager to play with both Adrian and Paula, and generally happy. Now he was a shell of his former self quite understandably.
Something that I have a hard time understanding is sometimes Cathy will tell the children she’s caring for who have gone through such difficult situations that they have to “get over it” and “move on.” It is said in the most gentle way possible, and totally out of love for the children and a need for them to turn the corner. Perhaps it’s because I myself am so triggered by those words, but I always tensed up hearing them said. Especially to younger children. Alex was only seven! She told him several times about needing to move on and look forward to the future. At the same time, I know she genuinely understood the trauma he went through, with all his time in care and then the biggest devastation being his failed adoption. So those two things, her saying to move on and her knowing that in some ways he couldn’t seem at odds.
Regardless she is extremely attentive to him as months go by with little improvement. His pattern of behavior was to be extremely withdrawn, participate in family activities but not enjoy them at all. And then have outbursts of anger that seem not to be triggered by anything. He also started hiding and running away for no particular reason. The most frustrating thing was how long it took to get an appointment for counseling. Though his social worker agreed he was depressed and a referral was made to CAMHS, Child and adolescent mental health services, it took two months to get an appointment! By this time they were in the process of introducing him to long-term foster parents! It’s just incredible to me that mental healthcare is that inaccessible especially to children in foster care that need it the most.
About six months after he had been with Cathy this second time, there was found a potential long term foster family. This family couldn’t be more different from Rosemary and Eddward. They’re names were Gwen and Garith. They had three children that they fostered and then adopted, who came very angry and traumatized and who were slowly helped to heal and integrate into the family. Each step of the matching process was done very very carefully this time. And it took Alex awhile obviously to even think about going to a new family. The couple had a lot of understanding and patience and took things at his pace.
But as he came in his own time to get to know the family things picked up speed and he was excited to join them.
Cathy stayed in touch with him over the next six years in which time they had adopted him. When he came into his teens his emotional trauma resurfaced in a sudden leaning towards aggression, stealing, drugs and drinking. Things reached the point where the couple had mentioned a time or two to Cathy about putting him in care that Alex said he wanted this. It was hard to figure out why they were being pushed away now. When he had done so well for so many years. Things peaked and then he started to turn around. A lot was said to be puberty and hormones plus unresolved trauma. Possibly something he would have to deal with every so often over his lifetime.
Cathy mentioned several times that as much of a rollercoaster as Alex’s story is he is lucky. She said something like one third of adoptions in the UK are disrupted! This shows a huge need for re-evaluating the adoption process, having good pre-adoption services as well as post-adoption. Many children bounce around the care system never settling into a family. Which leads to more and more pronounced physical and mental health problems.
This book touches on a very important issue and I think especially should be read by anyone considering adoption. I’ve read online that when even considering adopting especially an older child you have to basically assume there will be attachment issues. Meaning if you have other children your ideas about parenting will be completely different from this child. You have to consider the effect the child will have on the other members of the family. This can be a heartbreaking task even considering it. People think they’ll take in a child, and like the first adoptive family think that having all the money, activities, status and things like that will help. Or just that love will win out. This is so often not the case.
As usual I highly recommend this book and look forward to Cathy’s next one!