WARNING (not an easy adoption topic)

imageA lot of important and good work is taking place in social care agencies and by campaigners to address issues of domestic violence and abuse. This Christmas the ad campaigns encouraging us to happily consume were broken at times by a sobering public information film for the season when domestic violence escalates, showing that abuse can be psychological as well physical. There are understandings that men as well as women can be victims and that for children living in a household where domestic violence is happening, even if not directly against them, can be hugely traumatising and cause lasting psychological damage.

Domestic violence is very often a reason children are taken into care. Sometimes parents who have been victims of their partners violence lose their children as it is safer to let them be cared for elsewhere as the support systems fail to support them to leave the situation without remaining in danger or becoming homeless.

The added issues of secrecy, shame, guilt, fear and sometimes love for the perpetrator makes victims extremely vulnerable.

Whatever the cause and effect of domestic violence and abuse, nobody would argue it is not a horrible, frightening and painful experience for the victims. It would be considered dangerous for professionals to knowingly leave a victim in an abusive situation and expect them to carry on without support intervention.

One of the main arguments put forward for certain areas of adoption reform is that children are being left in abusive situations for far too long and a zero tolerance attitude to domestic abuse must be taken by social care agencies.

I can’t and wouldn’t argue against that. I believe that all victims of violence or abuse in the home should be fully supported. I also believe it is wise to examine and address the causes that create perpetrators of abuse.

So what can and should be done to support adopters who find themselves victims of domestic abuse from their adopted children? It is often a hidden and under reported problem. This may be because when reported the professional response often seems to blame the parenting skills of the victim, or unfortunately the lack of support or understanding can lead to placement breakdown.

I have spoken to many adopters who, on a regular basis, deal with verbal and physical abuse and violence. It is surprising to some I’m sure, but it is true and the effects of constant put downs, controlling behaviour and aggression, even if it is from a young person, can be absolutely soul destroying and lead to stress and depression. More disturbingly it can lead to defensive and angry responses from worn out parents in efforts at self protection. The most difficult thing is knowing there is no way out, that the perpetrator is a frightened and traumatised child who has no effective self regulation and needs you more than anything to survive. It’s not appropriate to call the police and frighten or criminalise a young person who actually needs intensive therapeutic support. The last thing most adopters would ever want is for the child to be removed. Many adopters report living restricted half lives for the love and protection of their children. These are serious issues which are not accounted for in disruption or breakdown figures.

Imagine however, if the professional advice to any other victim of domestic abuse was to encourage a therapeutic approach to the violent perpetrator, advice that you should be selflessly putting their needs and safety before your own. A keep calm and carry on regardless piece of martyrdom advice. It would cause public outrage.

As someone who has experienced extreme and regular aggression, verbal and physical assault, as well as property damage over many years through adopting a traumatised child, it always amazed me how often the social workers would simply act as if it were an expected part of “the adopters job”. Its not a job as there are no statutory holidays, end of working days, supervision or training that other people who work in high intensity situations are guaranteed to enable them to function properly and do their job well.

This is not a poor me cry. I have no regrets. I love the very bones of my girl and as it turns out I am a very resilient person. I would do it all again now I’m all tooled up.  It’s seems hypocritical, unjust and damaging however, to expect adopters to live with abuse without specialist support and training.  More importantly not fully informing, believing and supporting adopters around issues of violence in the home is ultimately not in the best interests of traumatised children. Aggression often comes from fear and frightened children need measured and calm responses from parents who are skilled in conflict resolution and management not worn out angry or sad parents who live in fear of failing.

(Any adoptive or foster parents who are experiencing regular aggression or violence in the home please contact http://www.theopennest.co.uk for information on strategies or therapeutic respite breaks which will be available in May 2014).

Trust Issues And Resolutions

It’s was a funny old year 2013. There was more change than I could have imagined with Jazz finally getting funding to support her move towards independence as an adult. This of course meant that after being a constant carer for many years, under extreme circumstances, I had some of my own time back.

My initial thoughts were to use this time to take strident legal action on her behalf for the lack of post adoption support she received, the lack of support to keep her in school, the all round general dogs dinner the local authority made of listening to her needs and protecting us from harm. After a good think though, I knew it was far better to put that energy into creating something positive, something inspired by the strength of our relationship and the love rather than the regrets and the angry bits.

So we began the setting up of The Open Nest and the opening up of our experience to others. This took a lot of trust on Jazz and I’s part. Using blogging, Twitter and Facebook was something entirely new to us. Our lives laid bare, in some ways to illustrate and advocate for the fact that we knew we weren’t the only ones. Of course it soon became apparent that we weren’t and that trust was rewarded. We have met some wonderful people through Twitter who have supported and advised and been all round good guys in the setting up of the charity. They really represent the word “trustee” in the true sense of the word.

On the other hand 2013 highlighted the dangers in trusting people. Employing support people for Jazz has been so much harder than we could ever imagine and getting the wrong ones at times has had very negative emotional affects on her and her trust issues.

One of the most shocking things to happen last year was that a “friend” in the guise of supporting the charity, publicly raised funds in our name and then refused to give us the money. Even though I am old enough to know there are untrustworthy people around this really did make me question everything.

Whilst dealing with the aftermath of both losing a friend and a big chunk of faith, Jazz’s lovely birth dad Fred died. The timing was always going to be bad but ten days before Christmas was cruel. Life stuck the boot in further when the funeral was scheduled for Christmas Eve. The only saving grace was that it bought her and her siblings together. A lot of preparation was done before the funeral around healthy goodbyes and trusting those around her to keep her safe through the emotional storm of loss and death.

We were floored when at the funeral Fred’s older children from his first marriage had arranged the service to omit her and her brothers very existence. My heart broke as the service unfolded and Fred was remembered as a loyal and loving father to A, B, C and D but no mention of the three young people who sat huddled, clinging to each other in grief and humiliation. Their chance of a healthy goodbye was stolen from under our noses.

I knew the first family disapproved, with some good reason, of their fathers second wife ( she was asked not to attend the service to avoid trouble) but he loved her and his children. He spent many Christmas’s and birthdays with Jazz and my family and friends over the last ten years and took his parental role towards Jazz seriously despite her mums failings. We looked after him as he grew weak and we loved him. Again our faith and trust in human nature was dented.

In the past few weeks I’ve had to question myself, am I too trusting? am I naive? am I too soft? I even thought I needed to make serious resolutions for the New Year to harden up and not trust people so easily.

But then I thought…… “bugger that”.

I like being a trusting person. I like the openness our family has and the trust and honesty I believe I have encouraged in Jazz. I like being a big softy and having faith in human nature to do the right thing.

So my New Years resolution is the same as ever. In 2014 I will count my blessings and not let the bastards grind me down.