I have of late been spending less time in my sad little office at home and more time going to conferences and training days. It’s nice. I get to put on proper clothes and speak to actual people.
Earlier in the week I went to the North West Adoption conference ‘The Post Adoption Support Challenge’ in Crewe to talk about the support that adoptive families need compared to what they often (or don’t often) receive. It was based on a presentation I gave to the Department for Education which you can look at here. I won’t bore you with the detail because it’s pretty obvious stuff about not buying into the ‘they’ll get over it’ myths and giving families fancy things like named social workers and access to regular and free small group training.
What I’m learning from taking part in these sorts of events is the power of the ‘voice of the user’ (or as I was referred to on Monday ‘the horse’s mouth’). As an independent person (i.e. a bit self-employed) I get to say what I think, not rudely or offensively, but kind of simply and straightforwardly and with respect for those doing a difficult job and taking difficult decisions. I don’t have to worry about my income streams, or my customers, or my employers, which is kind of psychologically (if not economically) liberating.
Many of the other presentations, including Edward Timpson’s keynote speech demonstrated that the ‘user’ voice is at last dribbling down into and influencing policy and practice. Professor Julie Selywn presented on her research ‘Beyond the Order’, which gives the leading role to those families who were interviewed: their quotes sing out of the research. Rob James, Head of Behaviour at Brynllywarch School talked about understanding children through their behaviour, not imposing our own values upon them and why we should protect and not punish children in crisis.
How long it will be before this interest in the user voice translates to real change for all of us is hard to tell. In some areas of the country the improvements are already noticeable and impressive. In others, like where I live, things feel worse in terms of support for adopters than they ever have. The common thread in areas where support is improving seems to be proper engagement with users. There’s no engagement at all here. So this optimistic horse’s mouth is remaining cautiously optimistic for now..
The final conference speech was made by Hugh Thornbery, the Chief Executive of Adoption UK. He said,
‘if you get beneficiaries of a service involved in its design, it is more likely to be successful, to meet needs and to be used’.