Arriving in Auckland, New Zealand, at 7am on January 5th 2016 may have signalled the start of my fellowship, but it also marked the end of an 18 month journey; from learning about the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust several years ago to establishing my idea, writing and submitting my application and being accepted as a Travelling Fellow in February 2015. The last year has seen countless emails, Skype calls, bookings and rebookings - before the wheels of my plan touched down in Auckland.
I wrote in my introduction that being an adoptee has given me a personal motivation to work closely with adoption research and practitioners as my career develops. I heard about Winston Churchill Memorial Trust through a friend and former colleague of my Mothers; both of them worked with the National College for School Leadership, as it was then called, helping to develop future leaders of the UK’s schools. They worked closely with online facilitation (an interesting link to technology that comes to mind as I write!) - using online networks to coordinate and promote better learning. My Mum in particular had a life-long interest and career in education.
My Mum’s colleague was a Fellow herself and had continued to work closely with the Trust; in late 2014 I met with her for lunch in Cardiff Bay where she lives, to talk about my idea for combining adoption with a potential application to the WCMT.
There had been a couple of adoption-related fellowships in the past (one exploring transracial adoption (2014), another looking at practical support for new families (2002) and one exploring techniques for older and handicapped children (1980). The WCMT website has a great library of past fellowships, each with a report on their findings. It acts as a really interested resource for independent research across a range of subjects. You can use it here). Quickly, it become clear to me that adoption could work.
I would need to give my application a stronger focus, demonstrate an ability to influence organisations in the UK, come up with a clear and achievable aim and prove that my research would have real potential benefits beyond those that I gain from the experience.
With calls for improvements to the adoption system echoing through media and research journals quietly, but regularly, it seemed clear to me that this would form a good starting point; HOW can improved systems be implemented in the UK?
I finished my MSc in International Development in 2015. My dissertation was a desk-based research study into the status of international adoption in wider social sciences discourses. Notably, there is a disconnection between the regularity of adoptions (almost 20,000 annually), social disturbances that prompt large volumes of displaced children (the Syrian refugee crisis) and the level of interest in international adoption from international donors or academic curriculum. Adoption comes across as a peripheral social issue, one that is clearly seen as important, but somehow underserved. It is disadvantaged as a result - slow processes and archaic systems are causing problems for children in care.
The Hague Convention - who established a landmark policy on international adoption in 1993 - released several reports this year as part of their Special Committee review on the legislation. One of these reports is called New Technologies and Adoption. I will write about it more closely later in this fellowship, and I’ll post a link to the resources page, but it demonstrates that the importance of technology is on the agenda. This is a good thing, and I intend to use this momentum to help create the benefit that my fellowship promised in its proposal.
In 2015 the Trust received 1,009 applications. They interviewed 241 individuals and awarded 150 fellowships. I feel proud of my achievement and very fortunate to have been given such a valuable opportunity.