‘I may not know who I am, but I know where I am from’

IMG_7655 New book out with a focus on the importance of place to children – Although social work around the world is understood to be a ‘person-in-environment’ activity, policy in UK places more emphasis on individual characteristics than on environmental influences on development and behaviour. This results in social work practice which rightly places a strong emphasis on children’s attachments to their parents and other significant people, but which largely fails to recognize their attachments to important places in their lives. Evidence from a range of disciplines is used to demonstrate the fundamental links that exist between place, identity and well-being. The implications of this evidence for social work with children and families are explored, using practice examples to highlight some of the consequences of a lack of ‘place awareness’, as well as ways in which greater place awareness can be used to promote the well-being of children and families.<‘I may not know who I am, but I know where I am from’: the meaning of place in social work with children and families – Jack – 2013 – Child & Family Social Work – Wiley Online Library.

I don’t know about you, but ‘place’ has certainly been of great significance in my life for as long as I can remember. I have memories of being taken to the Orphanage I was in with my mother for four weeks prior to my adoption, when I was about 3 years old. I remember the feelings associated with that visit, they were complex, some unexplainable for years, until I realised that they connected to memories and experiences which were pre-verbal. My best explanation is that they were a mixture of fear, anticipation, a sense of the deadly, dread and nervousness. I still get a return of that unpleasant mix if I visit; even looking at a photo can bring it back.
Other places in my life evoke different mixes of feelings. I spent my first 21 years in the same area and my love for it is deeply embedded. It left a legacy of a need for open spaces, big trees and rooms with high ceilings! I’m uncomfortable without them and like a fish out of water. That place is 50 kms away, but I can see it from certain places around the area and from some places on the land I live on. At a distance it is comfortable, sometimes comforting and at times definitely better at a distance! I left it for 29 years and was at home on the other side of the world in a green land of big trees and high ceilings. It was comfortable, reassuring and steady. Much of that time I lived a short distance from where my ancestors were for nearly 300 hundred years. I didn’t know it then, but felt the security, the bedrock of my life. When I discovered how close I had been to my ancestors, often just a couple of miles away, I felt the foundation of my life slip into place, something solid I had never known or experienced. Many things were explained, characteristics, predispositions and it was as if my identity suddenly was complete. I no longer wondered where I had come from, who I was or might have been.
Adoption changed the course of my life, not necessarily for the better or for the worse, but the changes have had to be dealt with continually, consistently and the damage paid attention to, mitigated, repaired, examined. The adopted life is one of pain, difficulty, betrayal, misalliances, illness, losses and complex trauma. That can never be underestimated. It is also one of survival, self-reliance and creativity if we are lucky enough to get the right breaks, find the right directions and the mentors and guides to help us through.
I was once accused by a fellow adoptee of presenting only the ‘negative’ side of adoption, she believed the positives far outweighed the other aspects, especially in reunion. She had not of course experienced reunion or lived through some of the years of doubts and insecurities, manipulations and dishonesty some adoptees have, hanging on for the crumbs under the table. My reply to her was that I would not have a clear conscience if I presented only one aspect of adoption and was dishonest about what reunion may bring. All adoptees deserve honesty and to be prepared as well as possible for reunion and all it may bring. There is no place for naivety in reunion and we need all the help and support we can get.
I’ve also been accused of being ‘pro-adoption’ and having had a ‘good’ adoption, whatever that is!! Who knows me well enough to judge? Close friends and family only. I think it means I was not murdered, tortured or abused by my adopters. It overlooks the place all adoptees start which is common ground – the loss of our mother and the trauma of being placed with strangers. It tries to create a hierarchy of suffering, a competition of pain, which is unhelpful and divisive. Anyone who has been reading here a while, knows that adoption is too complex to be labelled, boxed up, as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. We know there will always be children who will need adoption because their parents cannot or should not raise them. We know the adoption industry panders to the demand for babies and adoptees, making billions of dollars in profit by parting parents and children who could remain together if a market had not been created and if poverty was not a creation of Governments and big business. Adoption is political. It is a game played between Governments with adoptees as pawns, commodities and reliable exports. Local Governments play at legislating, exercising power and control with adoptees as pawns, a minority with desperate need for identity. It is a cruel and inhumane way to treat fellow humans, to treat vulnerable infants, children and young people. It is surely unethical to deny some people the rights others have for no good reason other than that it is possible……..

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