Some films aren’t ‘guppy ever after’ for adopted children, writes Hannah Meadows.
While other families prepare to trip merrily off to the cinema in the school holidays to see Disney’s Finding Dory, many adoptive and foster parents are busy warning each other about the potential for this film to thoroughly upset kids who are no longer with their birth families.
Here in Adoptionland, parenting can be a minefield of triggers for our children’s trauma. I – like many others – constantly evaluate everything against a mental list of Things Likely to Frighten Our Children, because of the early trauma inherent in the stuff that leads to children being taken into care – neglect, abuse, and other decidedly un-Disney topics that are the background to our everyday life.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve read several reviews of Finding Dory written by adoptive parents (examples here and here). In summary, they say the film suggests that a) Dory was separated from her birth parents because of her own poor memory; b) her parents have been busy looking for her while she has been settled elsewhere; and c) the ultimate goal is to become one happy shoal combining all the fish in her life.
This can be unhelpful for adopted and fostered children because a) birth parents’ inability to care for them adequately is never the child’s fault; b) some birth parents just don’t give a monkey’s about the children and don’t want to be in touch; and c) there are many birth parents who are decidedly unsafe people to be around and reuniting with them is not the fairytale ending we want for our children, nor do we want our children to assume it is. Thanks, Disney. We’ll be giving that a miss.
“If the NHS can send leaflets home telling children how much exercise to do, why are they not more vigilant about vulnerable children’s mental health?”
Adoptive mum Jenny Haggard wrote on Facebook about her son’s experience of the film. “Halfway through the movie, our [adopted nine-year-old] son got up and came and sat on my lap for the duration of the movie. The movie deals with multiple levels of abandonment and loss […] there are elements of the ending that can have detrimental results for our adopted kids. […] There are some heavy topics brought up in the movie that are difficult for every foster/adopted child to deal with even at older ages, so don’t think this cute Disney movie is for everyone.”
If only skipping the cinema trip was all there was is to it. No. While my local council’s helpful post-adoption support team were emailing me warnings about the dangers of Finding Dory, my children were coming home from school with whopping A2-sized posters from the (admirable) NHS ‘Change 4 Life’ campaign, sponsored by Disney and featuring… Finding Dory.
The poster came via an ordinary council-run primary school; the warning about the film came from a different department of the same council. Though funding is now cut back to almost nothing (don’t get me started), the NHS still includes CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).
CAMHS supports severely traumatised children, including many who have been in care. Yet there seems to be a distinct lack of joined-up thinking between sending this poster of a film on the one hand and telling us to think twice before letting our children watch it on the other. Did no one at the NHS question Disney about the content of the film? WHY NOT?
This kind of no-questions-asked, here’s-a-poster-for-your-bedroom-wall endorsement launches the film into the children’s consciousness, and the targeting of adverts at children via their school bags is decidedly… well… fishy. (Sorry.)
My kids accept that we’ve said no because it’s likely to upset them. But they don’t need it shoved in their faces that this is yet another way they’re different from the rest of their class. They don’t need to have this film launched at them at school where it’s a distinct possibility that at some point in the future someone might put up the poster and show the DVD to inspire the kids to love PE, and the onus will be on the children to say, in front of their friends, “Oh, we’re not allowed to watch this”. And what about the families who haven’t read the reviews, who likewise think it’ll encourage their kids to be physically healthy, but wade headlong into a mental-health minefield?
If the NHS can send leaflets home telling children how much exercise to do, why are they not more vigilant about vulnerable children’s mental health? There are nearly 70,000 children in care or adopted from care in this country* – just over one in every 200 – who have the potential to be adversely affected by this film. The NHS should care equally for children’s mental health and physical health, and this, along with the funding cuts, suggests that it doesn’t.
All of this is a long way to make three points:
1. Please be careful with Finding Dory and adopted/fostered children. Just because it’s a U certificate doesn’t mean it’s harmless.
2. NHS campaigns should not be sponsored by Disney (or anyone else, for that matter).
3. Schools, please stop making children bring adverts home.
* As at 31 March 2015. Source: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/464756/SFR34_2015_Text.pdf11991 Views
Hannah Meadows is wife to the wondrous Pete, and adoptive mum of two primary-school-aged delights. They live in the English countryside, go to church, pick blackberries, sing silly songs, try to look after the planet, and visit Starbucks as frequently as possible (hers is a skinny caramel macchiato, please). hannahmeadows.com/about