From the early days of meeting Jazz I tried to work with my instinct as a parent figure rather than with prescribed traditional parenting methods (I knew little of attachment theory back then).
My approach included following her lead and ‘playing babies’ with nappies and bottles despite her being five years old. It also included using water as a regulator and calming tool. In the beginnings of our placement together she was terrified and ‘high’ and she would seek immersion in water up to five times a day.
Once some trust had been built up between us we began to have more close interactions which included cuddling in bed and on the sofa as well as having baths together. Jazz loved skin to skin cuddles, especially in water. She also loved going camping and running about the woods in her pants. In fact her preferred state at all times was to be in her pants wherever we were. One of the key reasons for school exclusion was her desire to be free of clothes at playtime. I clearly remember her absolute upset and confusion when I had to stop her being in just shorts and pants on beaches and in public as her breasts developed. She couldn’t understand the difference between a French and UK beach in regards to nakedness. The talk I had to have about adults who found children sexually attractive totally freaked her out.
We recently made a documentary about our lives to use as a training tool for adoption support professionals in education and at conference. There was little family footage of the early years (up to about 8 years old) where Jazz was not happily dancing about or playing in her pants or swimsuit. As a result some of that innocent footage is featured. I shared it with an academic whom I thought may be interested in the support issues it raised. Despite researching and writing about adoption support this persons main feedback concern was that the film may be attractive to paedophiles. This reaction sadly symbolises the culture we live in.
Jazz often talks of her favourite memory in foster care. Every Sunday morning her foster carers would allow her to jump into their bed with them and have tea and biscuits in her pyjamas. She was aware that they were not really supposed to do it but described it in a funny and warm way. It symbolised love and fun and family. Every week the carers would feign pretend shock at the amount of crumbs she had caused. I’m sure that they would have been in trouble had the social worker known and despite sharing the information with me, describing her need for closeness, they asked me not to repeat it to her social worker. I can understand the risk averse rules of fostering but I didn’t expect to face concern about such issues in my own home.
As Jazz became older concern was often expressed in front of her about us sharing a bed. It was if it were weird and somehow a bit unsavoury. This would regularly be put to her by social workers in care planning and support meetings ‘aren’t you a bit old to share with mum’. The inference was clear to her. She was babyish and I was potentially ‘strange’. Maybe even one of those unsafe adults I had told her about.
After such meetings she would be really angry and aggressive and refuse close comforting of any kind until she became so deregulated that she couldn’t achieve anything. On being persuaded it was ok and safe to share with me for a night her anxiety would drop immediately, she would become happy and life would return to normal, until the next time. Close cuddling and sharing a bed was the number one therapeutic miracle cure for just about everything.
We are a culture that separates ourselves to sleep. Adult bedrooms are often portrayed as places for sexual intimacy. The riches of the West make it possible in many families for every household member to have their own bedroom (along with TV). In Jazz’s family home her parents and their children would all sleep in the living room together as the house was so small.
As she became a teenager and the professional pressure for us to physically separate became greater I set up a mattress on my bedroom floor for the difficult times. If she could just hear my breathing it regulated her. Even this was considered by professionals as in some way dangerous and anti attachment. The implication was that I was at best encouraging an insecure attachment. The point that the attachments still needed much work, that this teenager was still catching up, was missed.
It is considered ok and actually desirable to have skin to skin contact with a young baby. A recent story about it went viral on social media. A baby that was ‘stillborn’ miraculously came to life after it’s parents both got naked and cuddled it in the hospital bed.
It seems sad to me that we now live in a culture that perceives close physical contact with children and especially young people as such a risk and even a taboo. I understand that if a child has a history of physical or sexual abuse against them this is a very delicate issue. I also know however, of abused children regularly physically restrained in institutions. Children whose background of holding or touch would have been negative in the extreme. It seems ok to physically intervene in a punitive intervention with such children but not in a loving way. Jazz’s brother certainly suffered under the ‘no physical contact’ culture in his children’s home. Living there from 6 years old to thirteen nobody had shown him how to clean himself properly nor hugged him when he was frightened or hurt. His average face down physical restraint frequency was at one time 11 per week.
Im not sure of all the answers on how to safely promote physical closeness as an aid to healthy attachment. I know a small minority of foster carers and adopters will be sexual abusers as will birth parents and care workers in children’s homes. We live in shocking times where we are discovering that respected leaders and public figures are potentially covering up a huge and disgusting sexual abuse scandal.
I really hope that as therapeutic parents and carers to traumatised children and young people we can be encouraged and supported, where appropriate, to physically and safely hold and comfort them in every day as well as in times of crisis. That this can be valued as part of healthy attachment and that the bloody perverts don’t win the day.
When I was a new born I us to shear with my bros our daddy and mum. Then when I got fostered I us to on a weekend jump in with my foster mum ad my dad went down stairs ad get me a bottle ad biscuits.
when mummy bear adopted me we use to play babies because we treat me as a new born to build trust and bond. We shred a bed a lot for years but when I teen the Ss us to say don’t u think your a bit old to be doing that kind of thing. It us to drive me mad ad then I wouldn’t shear for ages until I was driving my self mad and then I would.
to this day I love it and would do it with all my sport workers but I no I can’t.
ad the same on skin to skin. Why do I like it? Because even tho I can’t remember my body can. My berth mum did ad my dad. Some one else’s hart beat is so soothing to me ad I feel the skin to mine. It like when a dog acts in the world as wolfs it a very comfortable place for them to be in ad when they do it’s a massive trust step. Ad it’s like that for me.
when you are trusting them to be on your tummy or back or chest or wear ever. I like the feeling of that.
why do I like searing a bed? Because I all ways sleep with no top on so it’s skin to skin and I sear with mum it calms me down and it really charging the barteery. So if I on 50% it’s quite bad ad usually it cart get eny lower than that but it can if I really stress out. But what we are aming for is 100% if not more.
When I am very anxious or angry it sets me up for a good week and make me feel mums there until she comes back.