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).

14 thoughts on “WARNING (not an easy adoption topic)

  1. This describes my situation perfectly. We are almost at the point of placement breakdown, wrestling our way through, desperately afraid of the future as our children get bigger. What message am I giving my children when I allow them to abuse me, and reassure them that I love them anyway? How will they have healthy relationships as adults? What a sad, sorry conundrum you describe! Thankyou!

    • I’m so sorry you are in this position. Keep an incident book if you can. It sometimes helps the local authority to really understand the frequency. Things do progress but very slowly. Please contact us at The Open Nest if you ever need support or a break away where we will care for your children whilst you put your feet up.

  2. Thank you for posting this.
    I have never felt comfortable describing what happens here as ‘domestic abuse’, because they are children and I do understand where their aggression comes from.
    But, it helps more than I can express to read someone else describing that feeling that there is ‘no way out’.
    We have been told that this is ‘just how things are’ for adopters and that we should be ‘preventing’ tantrums. But it just isn’t that simple. However calm I am, however carefully we keep to our routine and support the children, the anger doesn’t disappear and sometimes tantrums happen anyway.
    As you say, I don’t want to sound self-pitying. I understand that it must be far harder for the boys than it is for me. But, it means a lot to have my own feelings of occasional persecution validated, without being told that it is my fault for not getting it right. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for commenting. I can tell by the reactions to this particular post that there are many of us in this position. Hopefully things are changing and we will be better believed and supported for the sake of our children. You can’t ‘prevent’ the tantrums or click a switch and make the anger from trauma just go away. I know it probably sounds strange in relation to children but Securicare do some very good training in conflict management which professionals who work in hospitals etc get. It teaches safe responses and strategies. It certainly helped us at this end. Keep strong.

  4. We’ve been that family who have had our parenting skills questioned…no, not questioned, it’s more subtle than that. We’ve never been blamed, but all the therapy we’ve had has been around changing us, and our parenting, and reflecting on our own lives and whilst I accept that all those things are vital, there is a general feeling of judgement from the professionals, and a feeling of blame towards us.
    There’s also been the comments from friends, family and professionals… ‘what do you mean he hit you? he’s only 7, can’t you control him?’ and ‘come on, he’s a child, he can’t have given you a black eye’, indirectly suggesting that we should be able to better control and handle our son. He might only be 7 and slight in frame, but he can kick and punch hard and I have had the bruises to prove it.
    It’s these assumptions, suggestions and judgements that need to change first, then perhaps better support can be given, but sadly we live in a society where many people can’t accept or don’t understand that women can be as violent as men, are they ready to accept that children can be violent too?

    • I’m not sure they are ready to accept that children can be so traumatised that they are aggressive. I know it totally shocked me in the early days! With the wonderful and informative community supported by The Adoption Social I have faith we can highlight these issues for the good of adopted children and their families x

  5. I often worry by opening my mouth to complain about the hardship of living with the conditions you describe that it sounds like I don’t love my children. There is so much guilt and shame surrounding this parenting conundrum, for the children and the adults involved. It is not spoken of enough and my own experiences are that support is exceptionally limited. I have been made to feel, no told, that my own weak parenting skills are to blame for my child’s violent outbursts and poor behaviour by the very people I hoped would provide support and understanding. Thank you so much for highlighting this problem and for your efforts to provide support and understanding to those who live with it. XX

    • Thank you for your support to the adoption community. It is a very difficult topic but you are one of the people who has given me the confidence to speak out. I think the great community you and The Adoption Social have created really can help work towards change x

  6. Thank you for having the courage to write this. It really bothers me whenever I hear about adoptive and foster parents not being well supported. Where would we be without them/you? I hope that this blog post makes a difference.

    • Thank you for your support Colby. Was a tricky post to write but I feel that the more we can speak our experiences the more we can find solutions. I love your positive writings and I have genuine hope that things will improve for adopted and fostered children and young people and in turn this will enable parents to give the best support possible.

  7. hello Open Nest
    Thank you for writing this, which very much reflects our experience too. I do also write about it but worry that I am being unfair on my children by doing so, especially as I personally know many of my blog’s readers. The nature of some of the abuse inflicted on and by my child also makes it very hard to write about.We have just lost funding for specialist therapy (the wonderful Family Futures), and although we are better parents because we’ve been there, I really fear the effect of this latest loss on our son Blue. It is somehow reassuring to know others are going through the same thing, but I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Thanks for being there. x

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