Not In Our Name

The Daily Mail article (link below) on adoption support, or lack of it, really woke us from the Christmas bubble with a start. A very rude awakening and a stark reminder of the differing cultures adoption sits within.
As we have responded as a charity and as individuals and having read many other responses, it strikes us as particularly sad that families are so desperate for their reality to be recognised that even a right wing style attack on adopted children’s birth families, and on children themselves has to be brushed aside as “at least it’s getting the topic into the tabloid press”
The article highlighted the desperation some of us feel with its truthful descriptions from parents about what it is like for them to live with a traumatised or displaced child and have no support. We have written and spoken about this constantly from both a personal and professional perspective and strongly believe that the reality of some families domestic lives should be recognised fully with understanding, acceptance and empathy, both for their sake and for the important purpose of gaining appropriate support.

We cannot however, accept that this truth and the reality for some should be used to smash other people over the head with nasty words. It reminds us of the same kind of language that allows the truth of some people’s lack of resources in this country being used to blame refugees.
Although it’s unpleasant and it happens all the time in the media, we are hoping that the people involved found their words taken out of context and edited to suit an agenda. That their intention was to highlight an important issue and its wider connotations in order to help support all those involved in adoption. We know the parts of it highlighting support needs bought comfort to many who are sick of being disenfranchised within debates about what they need or can have as certain types of families.
We don’t know of any adopters we speak to or read about who feel so negatively as this article did towards children’s birth families. Some have positive relationships with birth family members or want to make contact but have no support and are therefore anxious about doing the wrong thing. When adopting, wether you intended to or not, you take a child’s family and family history with you for life. Sometimes adopters feel sadness, anxiety, fear, anger or resentment when they see the effects a failed family and the social care system has had upon their adopted child. Adopters and carers we know of don’t want to be seen as saviours nor treated like martyrs. Many adopters feel very strongly that they want better support with life story work that is empathic towards birth families struggles and also interventions that recognise the political and cultural context within which people fail to thrive. In the cases where birth parents did completely unforgivable things to children, parents want this to be presented in a truthful, non sensationalist and therapeutic way to the children involved. They certainly don’t want children to be given the impression that their birth family are the dregs of society and because of that they will become so too if they don’t behave according to the happy ending script. The most cruel statements for us were the ones which said adoptees, still young children, were wrecking and blighting families.
Adoptees we have communicated with and our colleagues who were adopted as children are insulted by the tone of the article. We have consistently worked together with adopted people to try and address the media use of stereotypical language and the two dimensional representation of people who have been adopted….extremely lucky or very angry. This sadly but unsurprisingly hasn’t been easy and the people most affected by adoption, who may have many of the answers and solutions, remain the last heard in all areas of adoption talking, writing and policy making. Articles like this from tabloids don’t often help with issues of equality. Nobody asked the children involved for a quote in this article. Even if they had it probably wouldn’t have been the adopted ones.
We speak to many desperate adoptive parents and kinship carers who are struggling to see a way forward towards a healthy family life. They love their children even though they may not love having a family life half lived. A failure to thrive. We do believe the knowledge in the public domain about what’s really going on with adopted children’s mental health and problems with access to education is just the tip of the knowledge iceberg no matter how many positive adoption statistics and representations you might pay for and throw at it.
Despite being truthful about the difficulties they face on a daily basis adopters and birth family carers we speak to don’t talk about children in horrible and negative ways. The most negativity we come across is aimed at the systems they find themselves in. The article missed out one of the biggest cruelties about getting no support as parents and carers. That it is hurting and damaging the children we love. The more we see them struggling at school, in social situations and at home the more desperate for change we become. When the anger and frustration children feel is shown to us in the form of hatred and aggression it weakens our ability to successfully engage in, or even worse, fight a support system which is not yet fully fit for purpose despite the millions of pounds thrown at it.
The charities involved by quotation in The Daily Mail also work in areas of adoption support that include supporting adoptees and birth families. We feel offended that very negative ideas about these groups sat beside the quotes from agencies many adoptees, adopters and birth families have to seek support from. We feel it is important that all charities and charity workers stand up publicly for all of those they exist for. But these are tricky times financially and politically and that can be difficult. Finding a non political mass media forum to highlight sensitive issues is probably impossible
The Adoption Support Fund has been gratefully received by many. We hear of brilliant work and good progress being made in families because of excellent professionals and the use of the fund. There is greater understanding and more open talk of support difficulties that have been bought about by the formation of the fund. We all now know that it is not enough to provide the levels of support being asked for. The recent capping of it after its first year means agencies might find themselves in the same situation as local authorities, doing or having done professional assessments but not being able to provide the services the assessments call for.
This causes even more desperation in parents. No help is devastating. Being told help is now coming, that things have been reformed in terms of support on offer, being assessed and having the opportunity of telling your truth gives hope and encouragement. Having that then disbelieved, misunderstood or snatched away is almost worse than not having it at all. It’s not surprising that the word Kafkaesque comes up regularly in service users descriptions of adoption support systems.
Another thing the article missed out is the desperation that some adoptive families also have to face from professionals who have been forced to become defensive about the lack of resources and specialist training that would allow them to be more effective in their interventions. Many of the wise ones speak honestly, if off record to service users, about the lack of resources in the system and of their powerlessness within it. Many are uncertain about the future. Because social workers choose to work in adoption doesn’t mean they haven’t seen or don’t see the bigger picture in relation to the rights of all children whatever their legal status. There is frustration at the inability to take part in tackling the inequality and negative cycles that often result in adoption needing to happen in the first place. Frustration at the waste of money that can sometimes occur when systemically forced to buy in expensive private services that may have an uncertain long term future. Worry that the ultimate answer from the government will be for LA’s to find funding in house for adoption support services and we are back where we began before the reforms. These issues in themselves are complex and difficult to deal with whilst working in a broader political system that is seemingly starving state funded mental health and social care services across the board.

Adopters often report having powerful new insights into what it must have been like for children’s birth families when trying to navigate underfunded social care systems. What it really feels like to be blamed and uncared for when you are at your most vulnerable, angry, frightened or desperate.
The dynamics can end up with a group of angry and frustrated people. A group that makes up many more than an adoption triad, all needing resources, empathy, understanding and support. Equally the shared frustrations could bring about meaningful dialogue and solutions. Those who have the power and the energy have to continue to believe in and work towards that on behalf of those struggling and exhausted.
The Daily Mail article encouraged division. It gave permission to comments about forced sterilisation and killing children. It showed little empathy for those it quoted or represented. It perpetuated the unpleasant myth of deserving and undeserving children that enables inequality and sometimes cruelty in children’s services. It seems unlikely that it’s going to result in families, and individuals, birth or adoptive, getting more resources.

The people involved in adoption and the politics of adoption, both personally and professionally should not allow, without stiff challenge, the complexities and multiple truths in adoption to be spun into nasty pantomime versions of good and bad, rich and poor, us and them.


OPEN NEST CHARITY FUNDED THERAPEUTIC PROJECT WITH 10 WOMEN WHO HAVE HAD CHILDREN REMOVED. MAKING SELF CARE BOXES AND SHARING LIFE STORIES.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4069254/They-open-homes-adopt-ve-taken-youngsters-wreck-family-continue-BETRAY-loving-parents-asks-CAROL-SARLER.html

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