This time last year Jazz had just had her eighteenth birthday. We spent a week in Ibiza where she slept one night out of seven due to her high anxiety.
The anxiety was bought about by her belief, no matter how we reassured her, that she had to “grow up” and manage without me. It was compounded by the fact that she was no longer able to access the therapy we had been receiving for years…our anchor.
The year long transition plan with the local authority had consisted of a few short visits to our house despite the mutil agency meeting conclusion that she had “complex” needs and required intensive transition planning to keep her safe.
When we returned home after our holiday she continued to have sleepless nights and anxiety that caused her to rage and attempt to run out of the house in the middle of the night. On some desperate occasions we called the mental health crisis team and were called to A and E on more than one sad night. Of course they couldn’t help her and the response was to medicate rather than give therapeutic support. This in turn made things worse as the side effects included sleep disturbance and anger.
Thankfully Jazz and I had amazing support in friends who helped us contain the situation in the best way we could.
Despite our understanding of trauma, our training and years of experience we began to feel her slipping away from us.I felt I really couldn’t keep her safe and worried about her coming to harm as she had done in the past during a crisis.
One of them most frightening days of my life was ringing a mental health unit to talk to them about Jazz being admitted. They said her contact with home would be limited and she would not be able to have her security items from home. The reasoning was that she would need to be observed away from the familiar. It was like a nightmare.
I’m so glad now that I went against the feelings of defeat and held on. I fought harder than I have for anything and rang the local authority every day begging for an urgent assessment of our needs. The fact that Jazz was now officially an adult meant I couldn’t be quite as easily fobbed of as I had in the past when asking for support. Despite the fact that an assessment should have been done the year previously and in place for her eighteenth, it eventually came.
I got a phone call two very long months later, when I least expected it, telling me she had been awarded the support she needed to work towards safe independence. I cried with relief. It meant she would be safe within our family. This also meant she could move into the house next door to me and begin to gain confidence away from me. Support workers were to be paid through a Direct Payments scheme funded by Social Care and Health.
Of course that move, even though it was just up a farm track, wasn’t easy. Jazz was terrified but put on such a brave face as she really wanted things to change. As usual with any change, the first few months were “slowly slowly”, a favourite mantra of ours. I visited every day and was in constant phone contact.
A year later and Jazz has just celebrated her nineteenth birthday. She sleeps through the night. She doesn’t need to have someone in the room. She manages her own money and has a far cleaner and more organised house than me. She has trusted others to support her, made new attachments, however wobbly, and has managed some really big challenges like her beloved dog dying.
Things that other families see as small everyday achievements in their teenagers are massive, huge, enormous and brilliant for Jazz. We celebrate the changes in fortune everyday but do feel angry that we didn’t get this support when she was a child. It certainly slowed down her progress and potential in many areas. However we try not to dwell on this as its a familiar story to many parents whose children have special needs.
We are all so proud of her and more than ever convinced that given the right support young people who have experienced trauma and/or have special needs can progress in their lives and not be incarcerated in order to keep them safe.
When my daughter was really quite young and struggling a lot, she used to say to me “there’s something wrong with my brain….if you opened up my head and looked inside at it you would believe me “.
I knew there was something wrong but all medical checks showed no brain damage as such and no physical reasons for her lack of impulse control and rage.
I was happy, at first, to see her behaviour as an expected, perhaps reasonable response to the lack of control and choice she had endured and resulting in her becoming adopted by me wether she liked it or not.
After researching about attachment and trauma I was lucky (and it was luck) to find a brilliant therapist through the NHS. Geraldine was a practitioner of Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy. Part of a fairly elite institute headed by Dan Hughes, she worked together with my daughter and I on strengthening our attachment and problem solving.
I was cynical at first as previous therapies such as art therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy as well as reward systems had made the situation worse.
We had the therapy with Geraldine over eight years, it then had to stop as Jazz reached adult age. I believe it was our only professional guiding light. We miss it and need it to this day. Our sessions were sometimes filmed and sent to Dan Hughes for feedback. It made us proud to be told we worked well together as a team and although I find it a little bit embarrassing we gave our permission for some of our film to be used to train others in positive attachment based parenting.
I am now convinced that if children experience constant chaos, fear, violence and uncertainty it does affect the brain development.
Once Jazz was old enough to understand the concept we went to see Camila
Batmanghelidgh http://www.kidsco.org.uk speaking about brain development and trauma. It really helped Jazz to have an explanation for why she found things difficult. It meant she wasn’t “bad” or “naughty” as she had often previously felt. She met Camilla who has since been a great icon and support to her personally and our also to our charity.
The cure for this “brain damage”? The only cure it seems is consistent therapeutic loving care. The research shows that the brain can change and wired in, trauma based emotional responses, can be rewired, given the right therapeutic support. It is believed the brain is more flexible to change up until a person is in their mid twenties. This knowledge gave me hope and kept me going through some dark times when I felt I wasn’t capable of helping my daughter at all.
The difficulty is in getting this specialist support as an adoptive parent. Some big adoption charities bring Dan Hughes over to train and speak to us at a price, but mention him to your local CAMHS service and they may not have even heard of him. To get training in a group is costly, to get an assessment and intensive support for your child from a specialist agency can cost up to £30,000 per year.
Trying to explain trauma based behaviour to friends, family or school teachers without professional agency backup can bring about the glazed look that tells you they are not convinced or willing to commit to “your” strange ideas.
Not all adopted children have faced traumatic experiences alongside the obvious one of losing your family, but as society changes the chances of substance abuse, alcoholism and resultant child neglect leading to adoption is increasing. Professionals at http://www.familyfutures.co.uk , report this as an adoption support agency who also bring Dan Hughes in on courses to train professionals and parents.
I’ve said it before, many times, and I’ll say it again. If attachment theory, developmental trauma and therapeutic parenting are concepts that are supported by government funded charities, and organisations working with these concepts are praised by the adoption tsar, when are us on the ground going to be graced wholeheartedly with this support on behalf of our children?
Why are we still having to ask for post adoption support around trauma and treated as if we are being unreasonable, as if it were a new fangled concept we had come up with from an obscure specialist book in a tiny specialist library.
I know of parents of autistic children who have fought over many years to be supported and their children understood. Autism is now, after much campaigning, an understood condition that at least people have heard of if nothing else. That alone can help in getting empathy and understanding in everyday life.
Us adopters talking about trauma and violence, and difficulties and fear, does not match well with government funded agencies such as http://www.first4adoption.org.uk the current government funded advertising campaign to recruit more adopters. The general brief seems to be to promote positive stories of happy families and new opportunities.
As an adoption community who parent children with emotional difficulties we must be allowed to keep talking and not be told we are the unfortunate few. At best we are seen in the media as “charitable” long suffering martyrdom people and at worst hysterical and incapable middle class parents.
If we truly are in a minority of incapable naive carers, then why is funding services for us to be better for our children’s sake so scary? Surely a small amount would fix the problem…a drop in the ocean to keep traumatised children safe.
If the majority of adoptees reach adopters well adjusted and happy, why does Dan Hughes keep being expensively wheeled out, and flown across continents, year upon year to teach us…. the ignorant minority?
This blog post is a response to a Guardian article 8/7/13 about adoption and name changing. The response will go into a collective response/debate at http://www.theadoptionsocial.com #WASO
I found the whole adoption process squeamish, from “choosing” which disabilities I could or could not cope with to the ultimate “choice” of picking a child from a series of brown files. The files had been previously filtered by someone who had assessed me for nearly a year but didn’t really know me, leaving five or six on my living room table. I went with the first one on the top of the file. The process was sterile. Horrible, weird, uncomfortable. Fateful.
Her name was Jasmin, without an ‘e’ she told me. Her surname was Powdrell. Powderpuff she said.
When it came to us meeting she made it very clear, very early on, that she hated her name as it was too girly. I thought it was beautiful. She liked Jazz….or Jazzjim….or most of all Dan.
She convinced the Brownie pack, on her first and only attempt to join, that she was a boy called Dan who had infiltrated. The other little girls loved it and so did she.
The court hearing changed her surname to mine and she happily took on my mothers name as a middle name. Even when she met her birth mum and dad regularly from the age of eight, she wanted to keep my name, for better or worse she was in our family and it helped her sense of day to day belonging.
To this day she is grateful that her fathers first choice of Princess Yasmin was rejected. The thought of it makes us all chuckle to this day.
In our everyday communication as a small child she had many nick names from me, Jazzie B, Chicken, Tiddler, Sausage and “JASMIN!!!” On a bad day.
The thing that annoyed her most was social workers spelling Jasmin with an ‘e’ on her correspondence. Which they did, all the time. And still do.
As she became a teenager she wanted to change her name by deed poll to Jason Powdrell Boorman, she also wanted to become a boy.
Now as an adult, she just wants to be Jazz Powdrell Boorman. Her jury’s out on the gender realignment.
Jasmin without an ‘e’ Powderpuff AKA Jazz has had some identity issues. Some are due to adoption and some are not.
I do believe in transparency in adoption, maintaining historical threads, the encouragement of the adoptee voice and the choice filled environment that encourages individual self identity. I think the majority of adopters do. None of us get a fits all map or a compass to navigate the sensitive terrain. Most of us get no support at all.
But names are like words and words have to be chosen carefully for lots of different reasons. And words are never enough to explain the emotions, the culture, the complexity and the identity issues of modern adoption itself.