Support For Violent Children: What Next? (Part Two)

We have seen our previous blogs about violent children and how to support them reach thousands of people. Of all the blogs we share on adoption related topics, the ones that talk about violence in adoptive homes are always shared by our readers the most. We are aware that the situations we describe are only happening in a minority of homes but also that this minority feel helpless, scared and unsupported. There is much confusion in the professional field, even around the language that is or should be used to describe supporting violent adopted children. Parents describe being given ‘blank looks’ when urgently asking for help with this issue. There is no agreed strategy other than to call the police. The police are often helpful in their attending but state themselves that the issue is one for social care and mental health. Parents feel calling the police helps temporarily but escalates fear in their children, and if they have older children it risks traumatised teenagers becoming criminalised. 
As a charity founded in 2013, primarily to support this minority, we have highlighted the issues from the start. We have regularly been contacted by families distraught by their domestic situations and very fearful for the future of their adopted children.

Our aim is first and foremost to protect violent adopted children from misunderstandings around the root causes of their anxiety and anger and secondly to make sure they are not punished for it by the systems they are expected to engage in.
As a charity we have added to many debates about the need for support in this area. We have spoken at conferences and given training to professionals. Many parents have also shared their experiences and in part due to brave conversations within the community, adoption support agencies are now providing training to parents such as the Non Violent Resistance approach. This is funded by the Adoption Support Fund.

NVR doesn’t involve a safe physical intervention in crisis, nor does it recommend it, but it works really well for many families and we advocate its approach. We funded a social worker from a progressive adoption team we had trained to attend an NVR course two years ago so that she could advocate the approach in her practice.

 

Our previous blog bought about yet more conversations with many people both parents and professionals about how to keep extremely violent children safe. We continually advocate for the teaching of safe non violent physical restraint to use when under attack, to avoid injury to children and to avoid adoption breakdown.

During this debate it was very helpfully pointed out to us by a therapist that the term ‘safe holding’ has very negative connotations in the adoption field as it can be associated with a certain type of holding done as an attachment therapy. There was sadly a therapy based on trauma and attachment in the USA that resulted in a child suffocating while being held by professionals in front of her adoptive mother.  
We need to be really clear on this. We are not advocating therapeutic holding but safe physical intervention in a safeguarding crisis. We are talking about training to react calmly, sensitively and confidently in the presence of extreme violence so that parents can effectively manage safeguarding within their homes to avoid the risk of the following:

Anyone being stabbed by scissors or a knife
Anyone receiving a head injury through heavy items being thrown towards them
A child safe harming
A child risking serious injury or death to itself or another
Anyone crashing a car
A pet being badly injured or killed
Serious bite injuries
Another child being seriously injured or traumatised
Property being damaged and costs incurred
Adoption breakdown 
A child being placed in secure care having then lost two families

We have done extensive research on this subject and we find that children can lawfully be subject to physical intervention at school, in foster care and in children’s homes. Local authorities have policies on the use of physical intervention as a form of safeguarding in many care settings including children’s domestic situations. These policies require the use of risk assessments, recording of incidents and training within a safeguarding framework.

Akin to all professionals we do not advocate the use of physical intervention unless as a last resort. We do not believe such training is needed for adoptive parents who are dealing with lower level aggression such as swearing, spitting, shouting, throwing stuff at walls etc. Any debate we have on violence is certainly not meant to be a needs competition or aimed to bring people’s spirits down. It seems to be an issue for the minority of adoptive parents when speaking about violence in public conversations and via adoption forums they are in some way playing ‘trauma bingo’ over who has it worst, or that it is negative or unhelpful to the overall adoption debate.
We all agree that it is crucial to see the positives, the love and the humour in all our families but this is genuinely hard to do if you are living in real fear for your family on a daily basis, dealing with injury and upset alongside serious concern for the future. This is completely the other end of the spectrum to the happy clappy adoption experience that for obvious reasons most people prefer to engage with. 
We are aware that the numbers of adoptive parents facing serious risks daily are in a small minority compared to the numbers who need support for less extreme behaviour. However we feel it is urgent that the Adoption Support Fund can firstly listen and not exclude or silence those who are in danger and secondly engage with real and effective solutions for this minority. Adoption is lauded and promoted extensively by our government as it is viewed to be the best chance at permanency for some of the most vulnerable children. The real risk of not supporting frightened, angry and violent children to remain safe is the complete opposite of security and permanency. If children are removed from adoptive homes due to their extreme violence the future for them can look extremely bleak.

Support For Violent Children: What Next? (Part One) 

When we made the decision to set up an adoption related charity three years ago it wasn’t because we had nothing to do in our spare time. We passionately wanted to support other adoptive families and try to bring out into the open what we then believed was a very rare situation…children being so frightened and anxious that this leads them to becoming extremely violent and adoptions being at real risk of disruption because of it.We aimed to help just a few families a year that we felt may be living in this situation.
As we sat at our kitchen table in 2013 planning how to start a charity as a family, we were slowly coming out of what can honestly be described as a torturous and surreal phase that lasted for over ten years. The issue in our family was my amazing, loving, intelligent and funny daughters uncontrollable anxiety and fear that led to her losing her faculties on a regular basis. Sadly for all of us, but especially her, the result of this was rage and anger that damaged us to the core.

As I sit at the same kitchen table three years later we realise we are sadly unable to manage the level of calls for support we get to the charity. Families desperate and in crisis. Clinging onto half lives for absolute fear of losing frightened children back to the system from which they came. We are often the last port of call after going through the current adoption support systems and assessments. Many have already been trained in NVR (non violent resistance) listened in conference to multiple experts and attended one too many therapeutic parenting events.

It’s very hard for people to understand what violence from a young or small child could possibly look like. Many cannot imagine and sadly as a result cannot always believe. The truth is it is powerful. In our case it resulted in many hospital visits, injured pets, ruined personal relationships, isolation, poor mental and physical health for all closely involved. 

The SAS say the most dangerous and unpredictable violence stems from fear. I can see this.  In the early days before I became more trigger aware it would seem that the violence came out of the blue. Before you knew it an ordinary day could turn into one which may involve broken glass, chaos, blood, spit, vomit, urine and tears.

As I grew to know my daughter I started to understand and recognise the triggers. Knowing them doesn’t stop them happening though. Nobody can live in the bubble of walking on eggshells and isolation at all times no matter how therapeutic they may want to be.

Thankfully, I knew that despite being extraordinary behaviour to me based upon my personal experience of family life, the behaviour my daughter showed was, despite its extremity, an ordinary and understandable expression of fear from her. She was a survivor. A child who witnessed chaos, mental illness, discrimination, fear and violence. A child subsequently removed from all that she loved despite its most obvious and damaging failings. 

Sadly her mum was horribly abused both in care and by a string of unsuitable men. This resulted in her having severe anger problems, exacerbated by undiagnosed learning difficulties. When she should have been cared for, healed, held and supported she was imprisoned and homeless and living on the adrenalin fuelled edge. Her children’s father, a gentle man, bore the brunt of it often in front of them. She told me recently that he never once retaliated to her shouting and bullying and pushing and punching. He did a better job at self control than me.

The one thing we knew, my daughter, her mum and I, was that we had to be honest about our experiences in order to help others. It was for that reason that we launched the charity with a very personal film about our lives. During the film violence is portrayed and discussed. This includes me describing the early days when upon faced with her doing shocking self harm at aged 5, I (leftie, peace and love parent) slapped her.Crying, I rang our social worker (who knew all about the violence I was experiencing). A child protection issue was flagged up but no help came. How different our lives could have been with early intervention of the right kind.

I confess that over the years I sometimes shouted (including swear words), pushed her away as she came at me with sharp objects, physically held her to stop her punching me or another person and at times must have shown extreme revolt on my face. Thankfully I managed to balance that out with a protective love so raw and true it was emotionally stronger than anything I had ever felt. We were in it together for the long haul and she knew it. We both deserved better understanding and support in honour of our commitment.

The violence continued for years and unconfined it became more powerful and dangerous for us all. The teenage years were the most scary. She was a strong thirteen year old and I was exhausted. The trauma had fully seeped into us all. At that time a clinical psychologist in CAMHS suggested we learnt how to do safe restraint. Nobody in the local authority would touch it with a barge pole. We all knew we desperately needed it.

The strange thing is that most of the time I was seeking support (and getting none) the general attitude was that my child was my full responsibility now and there was no legal duty to support her other than assess us to the max. Generally assessments were triggers as well as putting the spotlight on me in order to find any parental failings that may be causing the violence. We had to just get on with it. But when it came to us wanting to contain her anger with safe holding, the autonomy of our families decision making was taken away. It was received as if we somehow wished to hurt her or would hurt her by doing it wrong as being adopters not teachers, care workers or nurses meant we were clearly stupid.

We realised at this point, and it’s important to understand this, that she had begun to live in fear of herself more than anything else. Her key anxiety trigger became the fear of her own violence. This meant regulation and repair after an episode became more and more short lived. An ordinary headache, general irritation, or hormonal feeling, would make her panic that it was coming. Her body was subsequently propelling itself into the very thing she feared. She described her episodes as like epileptic fits that came out of nowhere. She was genuinely scared she was going to kill me or somebody else in a rage black out. It became a cycle that was impossible for either of us to break. This eventually resulted in her running away or self harming every time she felt angry. She said this was better than hurting me or our friends or the cats. She once asked her social worker if she could be “put to sleep” like an animal. Sometimes she would literally bang her head over and over against a wall. She still has weakness in her wrist from punching a tree with full force. She has bite scars on her arms.

There began to be social worker talk of residential care and secure units. I used to regularly lie awake at night fearing that my very sensitive, kind, honest and scared daughter would be removed…the most frightening thing to her after accidentally killing me. I pictured her in a secure unit with the more street wise kids terrifying her. I pictured her puffing up and kicking off regularly. I pictured staff doing ‘pin down’ like they regularly did to her brother in care. I pictured her alone, locked in her room with her thumb in her mouth. Her parents were also at their wits end contemplating the possibility of their daughter failing to thrive in a second family and experiencing the same abusive life in care that her mother had. 

Sadly without any meaningful support for us she ran too far away one day and was seriously harmed by a stranger who took advantage of her vulnerability. The result of this episode, too horrible to fully describe, was we were told by our LA that from that moment on nobody could support me or look after her without being taught safe hold techniques. This followed a safeguarding meeting where our care and ability to keep her safe was in question. It was ‘my fault’ she had come to harm. This meant when we were at our lowest and most emotionally exhausted we couldn’t access any help whatsoever whilst my two loyal and rare support friends waited to get trained up. The irony would be hilarious if it were not so sad.
If we had been given the training at the right time thousands of pounds worth of damage would not have been done, hospital and police costs would have been saved. We could have avoided expensive but meaningless assessments and multi agency meetings that went nowhere. Most importantly our families would not have been so psychologically damaged. Therapeutic parenting courses, NVR, therapy and understanding triggers, much as they are certainly needed, do not count for anything realistic when fear based violence rears its very ugly and dangerous head.

So that is why we wanted to make change. Not to hurt children or be considered as dangerous in any way. Ironically, although we were the first adoptive and birth family working together to open up our experience of violence publicly and the first adoption focused charity to talk about and offer support with violence in the family, this has not really served us that well. It has made certain professional people feel wary. It has not sat well within the recent and relentless agenda of adopter recruitment. It certainly hasn’t got us on any expert boards despite our knowledge and experience. Despite our open attempts it hasn’t created any useful collaborations with those that hold the power within adoption support circles.

We could have peddled only the softer stuff as a charity. Regurgitated Dan Hughes theory for a price. Made a happy clappy film about adoption. Denied our adoption experience. We may have been more commissionable, raised more money from training or writing or speaking or recruiting. There’s distance from those violent times for us all now but we will never forget. We very often think of those in that horrendous position today, tonight and tomorrow. They may be in a minority but that does not make them less important. Who is really speaking out for them in this new world of adoption support that creates multiple jobs, profitable opportunities and commissions? 

We were eventually trained in safe restraint by the accredited company Securicare. They work nationally in hospitals, children’s homes and with families who have birth children who cannot help their violent responses. They are commissioned by local authorities. The trainer we had was full of empathy and understanding. Like a breath of fresh air. She came into the home and cared about all of those involved. She produced an individual and full care plan which was delivered in both paper and digital form for filing and easy access by professionals. She was very clear that holding is as a last resort and gave realistic, practical and effective strategies to avoid holding if at all possible. The type of hold taught is age appropriate to the child. In our case it was a hold that is standing and using core body strength not aggression. It is safe and kind and involves verbal reassurance to the child throughout. My daughter was involved in conversations about why we were learning, what would happen during a hold and the end goal of safety for all. She was so relieved. Finally somebody had taken control of her safety. Our lives were changed immeasurably from that point. It cost £600 but it was priceless.
We now see her once a year to update the care plan. 
My daughter was able to live without fear of herself, to let go of the shame, begin to learn, to write about her true feelings, to thrive and most importantly to self regulate. Amongst the new safety it was also possible for her to work more effectively with professionals and despite being placed at aged five, she finally got a diagnosis of learning disability aged seventeen. Her relationships improved with her birth family and she was able to better understand her mums position within society which in turn improved her own self esteem.

It makes me feel angry if I think about it too much. The lost education, the lack of friends, the angry scenes, year after year, trauma on top of trauma. That’s the real risk to severely frightened children. Nobody being in control of their safety. 

Adoptive parents are some of the most assessed and scrutinised. Rightly or wrongly they are given some of the most vulnerable children to care for. They are capable of risk assessing their own lives and they don’t want to hurt children. They know they are more likely to hurt children when defending themselves from violence without training. Being out of control causes fear. In a violent situation somebody needs to be responding from a place of calm control that is not fearful, angry or exhausted even if this requires physical intervention.

This current week began with me presenting a talk to professionals at The Centre For Child Mental Health at the invitation of psychologist Dr Margot Sunderland. It’s the third time I’ve done it in the last two years. I was invited because as a charity we talk about the reality of living with a violent child. We talk about the anger that comes from displacement and broken relationships as well as abuse and neglect. We suggest potential strategies, including safe hold and if necessary, low level medication to keep children safe from harm and a potential life in secure accommodation. Nobody is shocked by what I say. People refer families to the charity based on the presentation but all we can really do is offer empathy and sign posting to other support organisations who generally advise a course of NVR. 

As a charity we have designed a unique package of support which includes safe hold training by Securicare. Families would stay at The Open Nest and have a DDP therapist (whom we have funded to train with Dan Hughes) providing childcare whilst parents are trained. As a charity we would provide free accommodation for up to two nights if needed. There would be ongoing peer support and free short breaks including access to annual summer camps. We cannot offer this package of support, even for free, because professionals will not, or feel unable, to sanction safe holding for adoptive families.

We feel as a family and as a charity we have played a major part in bringing this dark issue out into the open over the past few years, as have The POTATO group, parents of traumatised adopted teens (www.thepotatogroup.org.uk).

We would very much like to play a part in the conversations that have been growing around the complexity of violence in adopted families and what constitutes appropriate interventions. Most of all we would like to use our expertise and the experience of those who talk to us to provide effective support for families in crisis who may be at risk of having children removed. 

 This issue of violence within adoptive families is no longer hidden. Over the past three years a framework has been built to provide support to adoptees through the Adoption Support Fund. Talking about the issues should no longer be met with disbelief, criticism, denial or blank stares.
Please let’s start the conversation in high places and in doing so fully include and listen to the minority who have or who are experiencing extreme CPV and also those who may have solutions at hand.

If you have experienced CPV please add your voice and those of children to the ever growing information resource http://www.holesinthewall.co.uk

A Poem (Inspired By Lemn)

This Pome is called why I think I got askbrugees

What seams quite to u is very loud to me

What seams hard to u is ezey to me

What seams nothing to u is massive to me

What u might think off others I cart it’s to hard for me as why cart it be about me?

What u think is ezey to go to one place to u is so hard for me I hate change ad people coming ad go ad different opinions

What u mite think is a nice hug to u is too much for me

What u think a normal person can cope with I cart

What seams dark to u is to bright to me

What u mite think when I kick off is not what I’m thinking

What u think is resting face is angry to me

What u mite think to come to mine without asking is not ok to me

What u mite think is one minute late to me is 10 minutes late

What u mite think when I look happy can mean I’m not ok

What u mite think when I crying I’m some times happy but when I’m laughing some times I mite be me heart or sad

What u mite think is good when u come for hug from behind I don’t like

What u mite think is normal to ask me to do don’t ask when I’m in my head box I cart come until I’m finish or bored

What u think is too kid like is perfect to me

What u think is normal 22 year old watch 18 films that is hell to me

What smell nice to u is over powing for me

What u mite think when I’m over talking it’s the opposite

What u mite think when I been rude is the opposite to what I felling

What u mite think when I cart sit ad concentrate is the opposite

What u mite think is normal heat is not funny for me

What u mite think to do when I cut my self is the tottel opposite its need distracting

What u mite think is mad me putting my dvds records books in abcdefghjklmopqurstvz makes tottel sense to me

What u mite think u right it’s not it’s my way or hi way

What u mite think it’s ok for tea at 7 not 6 no it’s not rewten to me

What u think was a one off to u is now rewten to me

What u mite think is clean it dearty to me

What u mite think to my room tidy it’s disorganised to me

What u think is mad when I do my funny moves is happy to me Im full or excited
What u mite forget I never will

What faces u mite forget I never will

What car u mite forget I never will

What song u mite forget I never will

What music beet mite be getting on your Neves is luxury to me

What u mite see as dangerous I love

What u mite think is good change I never will I hate any change

Imagine #NAW2016

Guest blog from an adult who was adopted:

 
Imagine having a parent that doesn’t love you.Or maybe two.

Or maybe one that doesn’t know or care that you exist.

Imagine having parents that actively put you in harms way.

Can you do that?

Perhaps you can, perhaps that is your experience too- and I’m sorry if it is, because I know that it really hurts.

Now imagine that you have been removed from that parent (or parents) and put in a different home, you might be a baby and pre- verbal or you might be 10 with a pretty well formed life around you.

How are you doing now? Are you feeling alright with this or maybe a bit shaken or confused. If this isn’t your reality, its a pretty big leap to make. I’m not trying to be contentious or upsetting, I am inviting you into my world- I am adopted. My story is not unique. My story is pretty ‘tame’, but I would like you to step away from your assumptions and see things from over here. Just for a few minutes.

Not all biological families are happy.

Not all adoptive/ non bio/ foster/ families struggle.

I can’t imagine what it feels like to be loved by a parent- there, thats pretty huge.

What most people take for granted- the unconditional love of a parent, or parent figure- is totally alien to me. I cannot imagine a world where me and mum enjoy a chat and a coffee. I can’t fathom what it would be like to be emotionally ‘held’ and supported by a parent. It has never happened so I just don’t know.

The only thing I can compare it to is the idea of privilege- you know the thing that people have that they don’t know they have because its so taken for granted that their experience and world view is a more dominant one? It is generally taken for granted that children are loved by their parents (otherwise why would they have them right….) its generally taken for granted that those children love those parents right back in a satisfying loop of secure attachment and mutual dependence.

I have, literally NOT A CLUE what that is like. I envy it, I long for it, sometimes I get all self pitying and wallow for a while about it, but mostly I analyse it, because thats how I understand things, by picking them apart and putting them back together again- trying to understand from someone else’s point of view, and then my own (always in that order, by the way) and I think I get it- when someone says to me that they are going wedding outfit shopping with their mum, because she is their best friend and they trust her opinion completely- because mum has child’s best interests at heart- I think thats lovely, it makes me feel fuzzy and warm inside, and I don’t have to have felt it for myself to know that it sounds pretty great.

I don’t experience that happening the other way though- my formative years weren’t characterised by anyone empathising or trying to understand what it’s like to feel worthless, or unloveable or somehow defective. Maybe its a big ask? To try and empathise with the uncomfortable, the painful, the silenced.

People saw the symptoms of the above- the coping (or not) strategies, the walls I built, the behaviours that gave a voice to the feelings, but they didn’t want to get down beside me and know what it was like- they did want to do something, they wanted to fix me- to tell me that I was worth something, that I was chosen, not rejected, that I should be grateful for the life I was offered, that I should believe in myself.

To my mind, these are all pretty big asks- of anyone, let alone a child. Imagine being told that the grass is purple- but you know its green, its definitely green because you know what green is, you can describe at least 10 different shades of green and its real, you have felt green, worn green and smelt the green of the aforementioned grass when freshly cut. But no, the adult world tells you its purple- and it always has been, its impossible to believe and there is zero evidence for it, but you have to believe it because you are told its true. Its a ridiculous example, but thats how it feels, to me. If a child has a core belief about something- and we think its wrong- does that make us as adults right? or might it be more helpful to try and understand where they are coming from- to try and empathise with them?

I wish I had the words to explain how it really feels, the absence of something that has such a presence in our society- the assumption that everyone has had some love in their lives. Sometimes I feel only half human, like I’ve been put together with some really important but strangely intangible bits missing. It doesn’t mean that I am broken or damaged, it just means that I don’t necessarily feel what you do and I wouldn’t assume that you’re not different too…

I think the first step to building esteem is to try and understand the world from a child’s perspective, if they feel worthy enough that someone would take the time to try and ‘get’ them, its a strong message that they are deserving of being known, being heard and being accepted. As soon as we start to impose our reality and expectations onto them we are potentially losing something so valuable- them.

I’m hopeful that long term love and support can be somewhat restorative for a child’s sense of self worth, I’m hopeful that there are loads of parents out there (however they have come to their children) who do empathise with their children, living child centred lives and bringing up great little people. I know that there is lots of good work happening in regards to the recognition of the impact of trauma in attachment and that this is becoming much more widespread as a way of understanding some aspects of the lived reality of adoption.

This years National Adoption Week has the hashtag (hashtags!) #SupportAdoption. I think I do support adoption, if its in the best interests of the child. If the parents adopting are willing to understand the world from the point of view of their child. If adoption is not about ‘fixing’ ‘damaged’ children. If adoption is the best permanence solution for a child. If adoption can be understood as a lifelong commitment to putting someone else first.

The week long campaign is aiming to highlight the realities of the adoption process, the need for older children to be placed and some of the struggles faced by adoptive parents- this is my small contribution- a snapshot of my reality of being adopted.

National Adoption Week Thoughts #NAW2016 

A guest post from an adopted adult:

As I sit down and try and think where to start, I find that the first part of my process is self censorship- How can I make this ok to read? How can I protect the identities of the people I grew up with? How can I say what I need to without causing offence?

It’s like putting up hurdles where this was supposed to be a sprint.

Where does this come from?

The need to protect other people. I learnt it very early on. Conversations around adoption were sparse when I was growing up- but I didn’t know any different or that there was even the possibility of asking questions- so I stored them up, ready to be unwrapped as and when the law dictated that I should be able to find out about myself.

I don’t think that my parents would have shut me down if I had asked, but I know exactly the look that would have appeared on their faces, like a slight shadow falling across them- they would have been hurt.

How did I know at such a tender age (from around 5/6) that speaking about adoption would upset my parents?

Perhaps it was the way I was told? Maybe it was the messages I received from outside when I shared my news ( ‘ but they are your real parents though’ ‘you were lucky to be chosen’ ‘you should be grateful for the life you have’…) that kept me quiet and in my own head? Or it could just be that it was the culture I grew up in- respect your elders, accept your lot, this is what it is.

I’m not lamenting that things were this way, I am glad that I have grown up with the ability to understand the world from other points of view- It’s just a reflection- but it’s not how I see adoption written or spoken about in our world of non-stop twitter feeds and updates and blogs.

I don’t see (in this country anyway) a thriving network of adopted people sharing their experiences, openly talking about the challenges and joys of growing up in a non-biological, non nuclear family. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough? (although many, many hours have been spent looking for this very thing…) I can’t seem to find open forums, supported by leading adoption charities, or government agencies, where adopted people (over the age of 25…) can discuss, share, empathise and educate each other, and the world about how it is for them (Really, truly, non sanitised, honestly.)

Make it happen! I say to myself, and in the times where I have- put the feelers out, started some online conversations with a few fellow adopted people, it’s fallen flat- I think- because it is incredibly hard to get past the feeling of not wanting to hurt anyone. From adopted people who wait until their adoptive parents have died to find their birth family (out of a sense of loyalty and often too late to find surviving biological relatives) to those who burn with questions they are too afraid to ask, painting on the happy face so as not to risk being rejected by a second set of parents. It’s really difficult to have the conversation.

I don’t like the idea of being ‘given’ a voice, as I have so often seen when people invite contributions or a token inclusion- (one day out of five in NAW?) it is implicit in its ‘power-over’ dynamic and says, I have a seat at the table which you can borrow, but only for a minute- and don’t be controversial…adoption should be (and really always has been) a communication between a vast number of people. Not one of those people should feel or be silenced.

If birth parents are demonised, it’s a disservice to the children, if adopters are criticised for not being ‘therapeutic’ or ‘attachment aware’ enough, it’s a disservice to the children, if social workers are made pariahs because of a decision- ultimately it’s the children and young people who are let down.

What would be perfect is adoptive families- writing together about these things- how great would that be? (and I know there is some amazing work happening along those lines, in a spirit of collaboration and openness, but it’s the exception not the rule..) I know this is my idealistic rose-tinted fantasy, but the idea of families making their own story together- I find beautiful and trusting. I do sometimes wonder how it will be for some of those who are children now, growing up and reading about their parents experiences of them. It takes resilience from all corners to be able to hear what it’s really like.

There is no easy, comfortable answer- people need to share- that’s part of our human experience, to document and resonate, to feel connected and able to vent or celebrate and so we should- I would love for it to be accessible for everyone. Sometimes, it feels to me like the discourse needs to catch up with the reality- new language is created all the time and so too in the world of adoption- we can learn it together, not apart.

Thank you to The Open Nest for supporting inclusion and transparency. x

Selective Hearing

This is a guest blog from an adopted adult who has contacted The Open Nest following recent government adoption reform announcements. They have requested a safe forum to share their thoughts. Here they are:

 

image

Easter conjures up many images for me, small people delightedly hunting for chocolate eggs, spring lambs, daffodils and crocuses and for particular faiths it’s a time of resurrection, the end and a new beginning.
Our government, true to form, did their own bit of resurrecting over the Easter weekend, adoption reform, again.
Nicky Morgan announced sweeping changes to the way that adoption is prioritised, practiced and monitored (again) but immediately prior to this, something shiny caught my eye on Twitter- a cartoon infographic, published by CoramBaaf purporting to be about adopted children’s view of being adopted.

How wonderful, I thought at first glance, the big movers and shakers are finally taking into account the views of those directly and permanently impacted by adoption. And then I looked closer…
‘We talked to nearly 100 adopted children to find out what being adopted means to them’ – did they?

No, they asked 95 adopted children via focus groups (34 participants) and online survey (61 participants) some fairly closed questions about being adopted. As these are children, I think it’s safe to assume that none of this was carried out without the direct consent and participation of the parents too (I have contacted CoramBaaf a couple of times this last week to ask about their ethical procedures for this survey and the remit of the participants, what questions were asked, the age of the children etc- perhaps not surprisingly I have had no response)

So that got me to thinking, what child, adopted or otherwise could really feel 100% comfortable answering such questions as ‘how satisfied are you with your life?’ in front of their parents, truthfully? maybe not many, so I’m very sceptical about the process of the survey and that’s before we get to the actual figures-
75% of adopted children are ‘very satisfied’ with their life (a quarter then, are not?)
63% of adopted children feel ‘very positive’ about the future (37% don’t?)
100% of adopted children agreed that they had an adult they could trust (an adult, not necessarily a parent?)
you see my point? I don’t know what these figures show us, apart from a cynical attempt by the government to ‘butter up’ prospective adopters before the big announcement the following day and I think that’s called propaganda.

We all know that adoption is hard, so hard. For everyone involved- so why are the government pretending otherwise? To paint a picture of hearts and hugs and cartoon faces smiling is to be dishonest about the reality of living with adoption.

Accompanying the infographic was a cartoon (again with the cartoons? why does everything have to be infantilised?) running at just over 4 minutes long co-created by The Adoptables- the CoramBaaf young adoptee representatives detailing what adoption can be like for them- this, at least sounded like the voices of the young people themselves, not shying away from some of the challenges, but providing a snapshot of their experience of being adopted.

To the ‘vision for adoption’ itself- the sixth and final one of these from the government is that the

‘voice of adopters and their children is at the heart of national and local policy decision making and delivery of services. The views of adopters and adopted children are demonstrably used in the shaping and co-production of services and help to inform national policy developments’

how this part of the vision will be delivered is described further on in the document…

the government will ‘enhance the voice of adopters so that services give adopters the power of choice and that the views of adopters shape decisions about the future design of adoption services’

spot the difference? in the space of a couple of paragraphs the voices of the adopted children has been airbrushed out.

I can’t fathom why this is- surely the people with the most insight into adoption are the people who are adopted? When the State of the Nation report into young peoples experiences of care was produced in 2015- 2,936 surveys were collected- admittedly just a fraction of the number of people who have experienced care but significantly more representative than 95. Why can’t we ask adopted people about their experiences? Why can’t they sit on the boards? The ‘expert’ panels? What are we afraid of hearing?

AW

Marketing Adoption

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Marketing is a familiar concept to me. My Dad, once a teacher, has been self employed most of my life and remains so into his eighties. I have been self employed for the past 16 years. I have to market a small business in order to make sales to pay the wages, the HMRC and our families rent and bills in that order. I couldn’t work for anyone else because as an adopter I suddenly had to be at home for my children who couldn’t cope at school. I’ve had to be creative and watch every penny as a business person who believes in fair trade and sustainability. We avoid spending money on marketing. We communicate openly and honestly on social media and provide good customer service. We rely extensively on feedback, direct customer involvement and word of mouth.

I am also extremely interested, in a broader sense, in the representation of consumer groups via advertising and marketing. Many of us are familiar with that sinking feeling when marketing tries to address us as a particular generic group based on age or gender or feel depressed seeing marketing based upon our supposed aspirations as human beings. Often we can’t relate to a marketing companies view of us as a generic consumer group and it can seem comical or at worst offensive.

At certain times of the year, as a multi faith country, we see the resurrection of Jesus as an opportunity for profit in the marketing of chocolate eggs and fluffy bunnies, and then his birth is marketed via the consumption of food, drink and luxury goods. We see the irony in adverts for slimming, fitness, ‘bikini bodies’ and beach holidays after the mass consumerism of Christmas. But it works. Adverts are designed to sell products or ideas. There is a psychological science to it all. Marketing is a very lucrative business.

Citizens are increasingly valued by their ability to consume. Spend without getting into debt and eat as much as you can but don’t show the curves and you will be a perfect consumer.

Marketing to and around children is a tricky and uncomfortable part of being a consumer society. It gives rise to branded snacks and drinks being placed in educational settings where the playing fields have been sold off for profit and children feeling they are lacking as human beings if they don’t have the right junk food, technology or trainers.

I became an adopter over 16 years ago after answering a small advert in our local paper. Seeing the advert was not the first time I had considered adoption. It had been in my mind for years. The advert nudged me at the right time. The result of answering the advert was that I met my daughter. I’m guessing I’m a statistic for that particular adoption agency that says marketing works to attract adopters. It also worked financially for the agency as they received a substantial fee as the private adoption agent and therefore salaries were paid. Of course there was no meaningful after care service and my daughter and I just muddled on into the future together as best we could. We certainly didn’t see the agency for dust when the going got tough.

When we sought urgent support with education and supporting contact those on the end of numerous agency telephones acted much like crap call centres for some major consumer products do. Stock answers, defensive responses, lack of actual care. Passed around from one department to another. It’s bad enough when it’s about your broadband but when it’s about a child’s life and security it’s torturous and scary. People get hurt. We got hurt.

When the current government decided to reform adoption the central focus of reform was the recruitment of adopters. In line with this approach, the initial budgets were firmly rooted in attracting more people to give a secure home to children unable to stay with their birth family and apparently waiting to be loved and made happy. Phrases like ‘languishing in care’ were (and remain) key campaign strap lines.

The ‘unable to stay with their birth family’ bit of the campaign does not question any inequality in support to children dependent on class, race or legal status. Diminishing funds for early intervention programmes, children’s social, housing, financial, educational and health issues, alongside government commitment to austerity policies are whitewashed out in most adoption recruitment campaigns.

The first round of money for adoption recruitment came from The Early Intervention Fund. One hundred and fifty million pounds was shifted from the early intervention budgets to adoption recruitment. This was overseen by Michael Gove and attracted criticism from some children’s services professionals. To put it in a very simplistic nutshell, if you remove early intervention at the same time as removing funding from all support services to families you are likely to have more children needing state care and support . Add into that a speeding up of the adoption process, adoption target cultures and cuts in legal aid and you’re on a clear mission.

Next rounds of funding included the providing of adoption recruitment budgets to local authorities, a £2 million pound contract was tendered to become the ‘adoption gateway’ a one stop advice and information service for prospective adopters, specific funding for marketing adoption (including roadshows, light projections, leaflets, balloons, cake and children’s profiles on Twitter) funding to specific government approved support agencies and £1.5 million pounds worth of government funded new adoption agencies, each with specific number targets to reach.

Watching it all unfold as an experienced adopter and long term foster carer made me feel like I do when I watch candidates ignore the market research or make cheesy sales adverts on The Apprentice. But much worse.

If you’re going to market children at all, then ethics has to be at the top of the agenda. Personally I wouldn’t go with marketing adoption to people heading into Tescos for some washing powder or cat food. I wouldn’t put pictures of children in care on social media. I wouldn’t hold adoption parties or make National Adoption Week all about recruitment. But that’s just me. I especially can’t help but imagine I was the child on Facebook or Twitter and how I might feel seeing the previous marketing of myself as an adopted (or not) adult. Imagining being the relative of the child makes me shudder.

I’m absolutely sure my daughter was a child who couldn’t stay with her birth parents without her mum being given empathic support long term support. That sadly was not going to happen. Nobody cared for her after she left care. I also think without the public resources to provide long term skilled therapeutic foster care, adoption was right for her. I think the adoption system was wrong for us all. I could have done with some much bigger truths in the transaction. I could certainly have done without learning on the job at my daughters expense.

If I was given the job of finding families for children and not children for families I would market permanence, safety and security differently. The millions of pounds spent on marketing adoption would have been spent on education around children’s mental health, the effects of poverty and inequality on families and the marketing of permanence in all its forms. The largest proportion of the budget would have been spent on improving children’s mental health assessments and improving the provision and delivery of children’s mental health services, including within schools. Adoption would of course be included but as a very specialist intervention suitable not only for few children but also for few families. An intervention with complex needs.

Each child placed for adoption would have a skilled needs assessment and a support budget designed to meet their ongoing and individual needs and this budget would be attached to the child prior to the adoption order.

Prospective Adopter Application

Are you a family who would be able to voluntarily care for and love somebody else’s child or children up until the age of 18 and beyond. Can you commit to caring for one or more of the very few children in the UK for whom being legally severed from their historical and geographical roots is without any doubt necessary for safety reasons.

Are you willing and able to maintain all meaningful and safe connections for that child throughout its childhood. This may be with birth family members, siblings and previous carers who are not a danger to the child.

You will need to demonstrate that you have the knowledge to access the support services that your individual child has been assessed as needing in advance of placement. These may focus on loss, grief, dual identity, displacement and in most cases the life changing effects of neglectful or abusive relationships. You will be required to demonstrate empathy towards and full understanding of the social and political circumstances and inequalities faced by most families who lose their children.

You will need to manage a support budget which will be paid directly to your family. You must show evidence of being able to account for money spent through the support budget and present accounts annually.

You will be expected to manage anger and potentially aggressive responses from your child if they are anxious and angry following being removed from their family and adopted. You must be able to demonstrate understanding of valid anger, power relations, triggers to trauma and trauma related responses. You must be able to remain calm and focused under extreme pressure and in all confrontations. You must provide evidence of at least two other people who can voluntarily provide specialist care to your child when you take the breaks required to provide empathic parenting.

You will need to demonstrate the ability to deal with the unexpected in terms of your child’s development and be prepared for sudden changes in plans due to the needs of your child. You may need to consider a change in career or your working hours if your child cannot manage at school.

You must be able to professionally advocate for your child and be able to show evidence and understanding around mental health issues, developmental uncertainties, benefits entitlement, special educational needs, attachment difficulties and be able to manage skilled family history work,life story work and complex family relationships.

You will be required to pass on your specialist knowledge to all those supporting your child professionally. A knowledge of the social care system and the differing approaches and language used in health, education and social care is essential.

In today’s consumer society there exists thousands of mailing lists based upon professions, spending and lifestyle habits. Distasteful as these are, it would be possible to directly target specific groups with truthful and realistic marketing.

I don’t think I would be put off by truth but would feel security in the fact that the ‘advertiser’ was taking the requirements of ‘the job’ of child protection seriously.
I would feel confident that with the right assessment and support in place from the beginning, I would be more likely to be able to provide the right care to a child or children displaced from their family. I would believe the system would support the child, its birth family and my family in dealing with the complexity and sadness of modern adoption and I would hopefully understand that good adoption practice and parenting was not necessarily about transferring ownership from one family to another.

Sadly, but still relevantly, western cultures have a long history of ‘consuming’, assimilating or destroying cultures perceived as being other to the patriarchal and white based model of what is considered to be desirable, successful or good.

Current reform marketing often presents, probably in good faith, a concept of adoption that is culturally close to adoptions western cultural roots. It is presented to the general public as a charitable intervention that without question, saves and subsequently heals children. Appealing only to the charitable, saviour or ‘consumer’ side of those that adoption adverts are aimed at whitewashes the adoptee experience from the outset.

As many people are now marketing and media savvy consumers, I feel a more honest approach to the reality of broken families and the resilience, empathy and awareness needed to succeed in supporting them would be more likely to ensure the right parents are found for children experiencing trauma, grief and loss.

Cherished Memories of Summer 

One of the most cherished moments of last year for me was spending time with a group of amazing children. They came to The Open Nest to spend time together and with our support workers at a Summer camp. Some of them are not used to being able to feel relaxed. Some of them always feel excluded when amongst their peers. Some of them are described by teachers as low in concentration and sometimes viewed as low in achievement. Most of them had anxiety and fear of new situations.

During the few days I was moved to happy tears on several occasions. Images and words etched in my memory forever. Inclusion. Achievement. Relaxation. Happiness. Understanding. 

   

    
 

Mothers Day 2016 

Mother’s Day is really hard for because I got two mums ad that’s really hard as it is but deep down it mum bear that is my mum she makes me fell safe she tells me when I’m wrong or been a drama queen and all so is their to comfort me in dark times. she makes me cry how much she does for me ad how important I I’m to hear ad I fell bad that I don’t do the same as I do find it really hard to think off others. I don’t fell the same about Dawn as mum bear the one I wish was thear. mum bear is the one I go to when I’m hert ad sad or angry ad I do fell that Mother’s Day is a money marking thing and I cart stand all them bloody sickening cards what don’t make EY sense if u don’t fell love to words that person but mum bear is the only person I’m sloppy with ad I do fell it’s hard for kids when thay don’t have a mum or thay mum didn’t try ad thay in children’s homes. It brakes me when I think I got everything ad thay kids like that ad when thay get kick out at 18 when thay not ready then thay get into chrimes ad thay get in to trouble when actually thay not been bad just need help ad it really makes me won’t to be a parent. I’m was the lucky one I got mum how means every thing to me ad As I’m getting les angry ad lashing out I’m get very very very pritactive ad I loved her more than EY thing. she very funny ad I love chilling with her ad her cooking is just the best thing ever it warming ad makes me fell warm ad safe ad her hugs do the same my favourite things when I hug her is her smell that just like u back with mum u safe ad u don’t have to be hard man ad I love her with my pet ginnie pig ollie it like I’m parent and she granny ad thay so a like. 

ENy way to much sloppy ness now yuck! 
Me and Ollie 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=CWJ5vYatZHU

Winter Hibernation 

Christmas is the trickiest of times in our house. It is full of memories both good and bad. Love and loss in equal measures. J’s permanent placement with me happened a month before Christmas and although that will always evoke powerful memories we have reached a place where we are more comfortable with celebrating that anniversary. For all J’s family though this time of year will always have a sense of lack of safety and everyone needs a higher level of support to stay on track.

We love the sense of celebration and light within the darkness of winter. Living rurally makes us feel close to both the elements and nature.Nothing is quite as magical as watching mist settle in the frosty valley or a herd of deer in the nearby woods in December.

The excitement and pleasure of sharing quiet and quality time with family and friends is however tainted by those we miss. Christmas Eve was cruelly the day of J’s fathers funeral and in that moment two years ago the childlike wonder of ‘the night before Christmas’ was lost forever.

In order to cope with the dual (triple, quadruple) emotions that abound at this time of year we tend to baton down the hatches at the end of November. The weeks leading to Christmas are now a time we spend together enjoying peace and solitude and more than anything trying to count our blessings and remember that despite our difficulties we are lucky in both love and life.

We actively hibernate and become comfortably lazy. Our business is closed and aside from well planned shopping trips and visits with very familiar friends we spend much time lighting fires, playing with our many family pets and watching sentimental films that encourage acceptable and controlled weeping.

I’m sure there are many other families who feel the same as us and within our hibernation and headspace we send heartfelt winter wishes to you all.