Julia Whitehouse, a Frontline participant, made a short film about adoption before joining the programme. Watch the film below, then read on to find out why and how she made it.
What inspired you to make the film?
I am really interested in the educational and healing power of the arts. My family and I have a personal connection to adoption and, because of this, it has always surprised me how little adoption is talked about, leading to misunderstandings and it being seen as a taboo (by both non-adopted and adopted people alike). I wanted to shine a light on this theme, in particular the intimate highs and lows of the settling-in period. My aim was also to help make one child, young person or parent feel less lonely.
What is the key message that you want people to take from watching the film?
Adoption is amazing; it creates families. But it is not necessarily an immediate happily ever after. However young the child is when they are adopted, statistics suggest that the child will encounter difficulties that are hard and frustrating for them and their family. The most important message I wanted to convey is that that’s ok; in fact, it’s almost inevitable. Just keep loving and trying, and go at the child’s pace.
Why did you choose a film to communicate your message?
Until now, I have only written poetry and prose. In truth, I initially just wanted to set myself a challenge. I didn’t really think about where the film may go once completed. However, as the script progressed, I became determined to make the film a reality. I wanted Tom’s story to be accessible for adults and children alike and felt like film could do that in a simple and emotive way.
Did you have any experience of film-making before you started?
No, not really, which is why this project was almost absurdly ambitious. I attended a month long film-making workshop, but other than that I hadn’t had any training.
What are some common misconceptions about adoption?
There are three main ones I have come across:
1) People often ask if adoption means that someone is an orphan or if they did something wrong as a child and are unlovable. The latter is often conveyed through jokes or hurtful jibes due to a lack of understanding. Sometimes it’s meant maliciously.
2) People often think that children adopted from birth will encounter very few difficulties because they can’t remember their past life. This is very rarely the case! Every single adopted person I have come across has experienced difficult adoption-related challenges, regardless as to how young they were adopted.
3) Adoption issues don’t necessarily stop at 18 years old. A misconception is also that people will somehow manage on their own and won’t require support simply because they are 17 and 366 days old.
What was it like making the film?
Scripting and casting the film were great fun. I had a surprisingly large number of people ask to audition considering I was unable to pay them. For the casting, I took a picture of my cat, Jeeves, asked my boyfriend to Photoshop it, and I made my own logo ‘Jeeves Productions’ and blue-tacked it to my front door.
The filming process was much harder. I found myself making copious amounts of dough at 3am because the consistency wasn’t right. I made 30 baked potatoes, enough mince to feed my street and the house lights fused a few times. At 7am on the first day of filming, the child decided that he wouldn’t wear the mask. Explaining that without the mask there was no film only made him adamant that he didn’t want to wear it, so I had to be creative. For an hour, the entire cast and crew wore pirate masks to no avail. However, soon the child felt left out and decided to wear his. We filmed for most of the day with the masks on.
Although filming was hard, it was incredibly fun and I would certainly do the whole thing again. I met an amazing group of people, learnt so many things, and we actually created the film; we did it! Some of the feedback suggests that I also achieved my goal of raising awareness of adoption and helping those struggling feel less lonely.
What more would you like to see done to raise awareness of adoption and other issues affecting vulnerable children?
I think schools could be doing so much more on a pupil level and professional level to raise awareness about adoption and vulnerable children. Coram are running a schools’ toolkit, which is a two-part lesson to raise awareness in schools. It is facilitated by adopted people and allows children to ask them questions about adoption.
Particularly in schools, although presumably sometimes at home too, a child or young person is often seen in terms of their difficult and challenging behaviour. More could be done to see the child as struggling and hurt. This change would hopefully mean the child would be cared for in a supportive rather than punitive way.
What can local authorities do to support social workers to contribute to social work’s mission, outside of their normal caseload?
I volunteer for a number of different adoption and fostering related charities and organisations. I know that being a social worker is exceptionally busy, and that many local authorities are stretched thin. However, I think it’s really important that local authorities give social workers the time and freedom, if they want it, to work on projects which contribute to social work’s mission, but are not connected to their caseload. I have been very fortunate with my managers as they have let me do this.