In Plain Sight

Not sure if it’s just us…. but we continue to be befuddled by adoption support progress and its reporting not only as adopters and adopted people but also as charity workers. When we launched our peer support charity four years ago it was certainly considered ‘letting the side down’ to talk about adoption difficulties without a happy ending. Adopted people or adopters who did not reflect the agenda of adoption as only being a ‘good thing’ were certainly marginalised and not really given any powerful public or professional platforms.

Today things are different and suddenly the media are covering adoption difficulties and breakdown more regularly.
Going back 20 years Tony Blair was attempting to improve the adoption experience as it was generally agreed adoption was a good thing to do. This included highlighting the need for more support to support the good thing and also address the bad things that had happened in order for adoptive parents to be doing the good thing successfully in the first place.
The trauma and damage done to children that causes the need for adoption is constantly present in the dialogue over 20 years. Organisations at the top of adoption support services have consistently sold training, conferences and support based upon the bad things that happen to children to cause the good thing that is adoption. Often this is marketed directly as support to adoptive parents in order that they may succeed in carrying out the good thing that the social workers and courts who are led by the state have decided must happen for the child.
We have a large collection of adoption related publications, books, training materials, blogs, research etc from organisations, individuals and the government in our charity library. It’s interesting to track the modern history, culture, thinking and policy around adoption. What seems to be working well for the majority, what’s consistent and what changes occur based upon differing research, funding or changes in cultural, political and power structures.
Although there are some backwards and forwards ‘trends’ around issues for example, of contact, life story, timings of preparation and placement, transracial adoption, the consistencies are there in the history. One consistency is recorded knowledge around the need for good, and very importantly, individual psychological support to adopted children and adults whenever needed and for whatever reason is now considered a given. Dan Hughes and other ‘guru’ psychologists, speakers and academics in adoption have been an integral part of the conversations around adoption support for years. There is much unanimous agreement in the organisations forming the policy alongside the DfE around the need for professional understanding of the issues adoptive families face. This is based upon research and professional opinion and an agreement that the understanding must be converted into appropriate support.

Winding forward to more recent years and recent reforms, in 2012 there was the House Of Lords Select Committee enquiry into adoption legislation which reiterated and gathered new evidence from the professional organisations that offered adoption support as well as social workers and parents. (Our written statement to this enquiry is on page 186)

http://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-committees/adoption-legislation/ALWrittenEvWeb.pdf

It was highlighted yet again in the findings that although LAs had a duty to assess for support they didn’t have a statutory duty to provide the support assessed as being needed. Chair of the committee, Baroness Butler-Sloss stated that she felt adoption support should be a statutory right. Families as a result of having no legal right to post adoption support would be thrown into a system where health and social care shunted the responsibility for funding back and forwards in the face of budget limitations on them from above. This was a big problem for adoptive families just as it is for ANY families seeking social care and mental health support. It was the luck of the draw. Families in more well off areas (often London based) had amazing and very expensive packages from expert support organisations. The type of therapeutic packages the DfE are now planning to restrict due to the overwhelming demand on the budget.
The very recent reforms which have bought about the Adoption Support fund continue to show the consistency in opinions around the need for more support. Some of the discussions appear to be presented as new understandings or based upon new knowledge, research or a latest conference speaker that reflects adoptive families lives. As if the new penny has just dropped.

Never before have we seen such open and active invitation to adoptive parent service users to take part in both informing and supporting reforms. Invitations to be heard, to speak in conference, to write, to train, to inform, to share and even to be employed within adoption support initiatives.

Many seasoned and new adopters have become involved in the new initiatives encouraged and heartened by the promise of better support and understanding not just for themselves but for the ‘community’ which has been bought together to have their voices heard via many different mediums.
As individuals and as a charity we were concerned and highlighted our concern from the beginning of the reforms that the ASF was not sustainable as it had no secure long term funding despite being launched alongside proactive state funded adopter recruitment drives. We were aware the amounts being talked about didn’t add up based upon our experience of support costs and numbers contacting us to report severe difficulties. We were concerned new adopters would feel more ready to take on the role even though information about severe difficulties was being highlighted, often by vocal adopters. The positive highlighting of the ASF could give the impression that understanding and support would be a done deal. Things were going to be different. Those questioning this were a minority of unfortunate bemoaners.

We were concerned the training and resources needed for teachers and social workers to become adoption experts was never going to be able to match the expectation and impression of the ‘new’ understandings.

In reality austerity and budget slashing has seen new adopters arrive in a landscape of education, health and social care professionals being under pressure, less individual approaches, hugely inconsistent understanding of trauma based behaviours and in some areas lengthy waiting lists for CAMHS. The economics didn’t seem to stack up to us but despite attempts to engage in a debate it was hard to get concrete answers amongst the celebration of the ASF.
The current situation sees that adoptive families often have had enough funded support through the ASF to gain a comprehensive expert assessment of their adopted child’s needs.

Adoptive families want good quality assessments of their child’s needs and support that reflects the speakers they hear, the books they read and the training they go on encouraged by adoption expert organisations, charities and social workers.

A comprehensive and expert assessment done as a package for an adopted child or children doesn’t come easy or cheaply and requires any or all of the following:
Life history work as an ongoing and continuous process.
Assessment which helps the child’s voice be heard by an independent and expert advocate
Assessment for contact arrangements and maintaining important connections to non related people.
Assessment for education support
Assessment of siblings
Assessment for health support
Assessment for mental health support
Assessment for parents support needs
Assessment for any family or professional training needs
Assessment for short breaks
Assessment for siblings needs

Our experience is that independent organisations involved in adoption support have been able to assess more families since using the ASF and are able to give expert views that are more likely to match families experiences and knowledge and the consistent support knowledge in the field.

They have been able to share with many more parents the products they have for sale and these products informs parents even further on the adoption specific needs of their adopted children.

The difficulty is then that parents can’t access these experts any further as there remains no right to the services a private organisation, charity or individual has to offer or has assessed as them needing.
As a charity it has been painfully slow for us to play a part in giving the very cost effective support we offer. Part of this has been the landscape and confusion around what constitutes relevant support, what support should be funded and most of all who should be allowed to provide it and at what cost. An example of this is that a very qualified therapist we funded to do DDP training with Dan Hughes was informed by an adoption support organisation she could not work with a family who contacted us in crisis because she was not Ofsted registered. The words ‘illegal practice’ were used. She was at the time under the supervision of a leading DDP psychologist and well known national trainer. It seemed like madness, especially as we were offering the therapy to the family for free.
It seems we are all now very much more aware of what support works and what doesn’t. The general public is also more aware of adoption as the press have played a large part in championing the latest adoption reforms.

We have all heard uncomfortable truths from all sides in the adoption process and we have gained insight from individuals, professionals and families in their very honest attempts to take part in invitations to share personal experiences, speak in conference, write blogs, sit on groups, become trustees, form peer support initiatives, attend meetings, do surveys etc etc
But adoptive families still have no more right to support services from LAs based on expert assessment than they did before.
Sometimes it’s worse to know exactly what you need, to be told continuously by adoption support professionals that you are now clued up via their training literature and conference products but still can’t access the right support.

It really is akin to being told by a well respected medical professional funded by the government that your child needs a certain medical treatment to become well but nobody you meet in the local surgery or hospital has heard of it and if they have there is no money available for them to supply it.
The very latest announcement from the DfE suggests that a budget of £2500 for an expert assessment of needs will be given to those families in the most difficulty. We are not sure how that difficulty will be graded for access. This will be an extra budget on top of the ASF £5000 limit per child. It is hoped LAs will match any further funding needed to therapeutically support children with the most severe difficulties. They have no duty to provide and more importantly are very unlikely to have the budget to do so. Therapeutic packages can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds if over a few years.
And so we come back around full circle. Adoptive families remain in a system which has been consistently aware over 20 years that adopted children need specialist therapeutic support to thrive within the ‘good thing’ that has been done to them. Adoptive parents have been encouraged to voice and share their experiences which also remain consistent about the need for specialist therapeutic support. Some of them have gained professional status within the general and increased opportunities reforms have bought about to profit from producing adoption support products.

Organisations have received funding to the tune of millions to be prepared to meet the needs of new adopter recruits and their adopted children. Organisations have grown in size and profile. Professionals within the field have been championed and received state honours for their part in reforms.
Although there is clear resistance within both social work and other professionals about the validity of holding adopted children’s needs as higher in status than other children’s, the general consensus backed up by the press and government is that adoption remains a good thing that must be supported and those that support it, wether professionals or parents will be rewarded and understood.

As a peer led charity we have felt that the millions spent on recruitment and reforms might have been better spent on supporting and training teachers, social workers and health professionals and their organisations to understand the needs of children with conditions caused by neglect and trauma whatever their legal status.
We understand that further changes are afoot under the regionalisation of adoption support. It’s been on the cards and part of the plan for years.

During these ongoing reforms we hope that the ‘in plain sight’ yet missing piece of the jigsaw will be the focus of activism and campaigns by organisations and individuals that both support and professionally benefit from the discourse that adoption is a good thing. The fact that LAs still have NO STATUTORY DUTY to provide extra or specialist support to adoptive families should be addressed nationally and successfully by those with powerful positions otherwise we are all shouting into the wind and despite the hype those on the ground seeking urgent support are not much further forward than we were 20 years ago.

For peer support:

thepotatogroup.org.uk @ThePOTATOgroup

theopennest.co.uk  @TheOpenNest

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

Training And Trains Of Thought

I booked myself onto an intensive training course with attachment guru Dan Hughes earlier this year. It was not cheap and I needed most of the year to save up for it despite the deposit being given as a birthday present from my parents. The course was level 1 in Dyadic Developmental Psychology, DDP for short. The therapeutic model was created by Dan to work with children and young people who have attachment issues and trauma related symptoms. The therapy is particularly used with fostered and adopted children who have experienced traumatic loss and/or neglect and abuse. The therapy, unlike others believes in forming an authentic relationship with clients and their families or main carers. At its core is PACE: playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, empathy. I think it’s a great parenting model for all children.

Jazz and I were involved in this therapy for many years and I whole heartedly believe in it. It was the only intervention that felt humane, positive and meaningful. We just didn’t get enough of it due to lack of LA/Health financial commitment.
My motivation for going on the course was not to become a therapist in DDP but to focus my experience and gain further expertise as a charity worker. I also want to continue to support my daughter who did not suddenly become ‘cured’ of trauma issues aged 18 when funding for the therapy ended at the stroke of midnight on her birthday.

The course has been taking place this week and I finished it on Thursday. Clutching my certificate and with a head full of learning I wended my way back home to reflect on what I had taken from it.

I have always had a heathy cynicism about the ability of therapy to cure trauma symptoms and of course my opinions of this didn’t change over the week. I still believe trauma has to be lived with and strategies for families to cope independently are what can be encouraged and developed within this style of attachment therapy.

There were 31 people on the course and I was the only person present who was a parent to a traumatised child rather than a therapist or practitioner in children’s services. This gave me quite a different perspective than the other trainees. It made me acutely aware of the use of language during discussions as well as the positions workers are in when supporting families. A great group of open minded and willing people didn’t mean that the overall care culture of the parent being less expert did not creep in and show itself. Quite a bit of innocent but disempowering suggestion during exercises and dialogue that parents might not quite understand the reasons behind behaviour in the way a therapist or ‘professional’ automatically would.

I found the many clips of therapy sessions bought tears to my eyes in ways they couldn’t to other people. That in the role plays (I still hate role play!) it meant I could easily slip into parent and child role but found myself disassociated when I was the therapist. I also learnt I was better at being an active problem solver than a more passive listener. Which is not always a good thing. I found Dan to be a true therapeutic master when watching him work with families

Many of the trainees found practising the therapy methods all day exhausting even with coffee and lunch breaks. It was nothing compared to practising it for real every day, day in, day out for years.

Having been fighting for years as a parent and more recently as a charity worker to have the voices of children and parents heard in equal status to professionals and politicians it gave me great hope to hear that Dan Hughes was potentially ‘on our side’. He proved this to me in part by using The Open Nest ‘Severance’ film as part of the training. He says he plans to use it again as he felt it showed services the direct results of not supporting families, both birth and adoptive from the start. We hope he does.

My overall conclusions were these:

1. Many therapists in the UK and within CAMHS work with models that are in potential opposition with the principles of DDP. This in turn means they work in ways that do not help adoptive families and can even damage them.

2. Social workers wanting to support families post adoption and in ways which take on principles of DDP and PACE will not necessarily get backing from LA management or the DfE, nor the budget and supervision needed to be supported in ways a therapist would.

3. There are still worrying gaps in professional knowledge around what life is really like at times for adopted children and their families. This extends to a more dangerous blaming of parents if children express trauma through behavioural problems. The Government funded research by Julie Selwyn that highlighted issues in adoption is not commonly heard of, even by adoption social workers! I think the Government are hugely selective in which adoption stats they focus on.

4. DDP therapy can potentially turn lives around but the access to both practicing it and receiving it is restricted and exclusive due to the costs involved.

5. To teach a parent and child to communicate well in the presence of trauma and to encourage healthy attachment styles in therapy sessions is a wonderful goal. It can be transformative. For a parent and child to sign up for this and commit to it is empowering and supportive for all. When that parent and child then receive opposing thinking and practice outside the therapy, in schools, health services etc, it is devastating and completely undermines the work done by the therapy. It is confusing and anger provoking for children who do not understand budgets, systems and agendas.

6. I am more convinced than ever that the current Government needed and still needs to prioritise funding to change the culture and practice around adoption and the language and rhetoric it takes place within, before it spends money on recruitment and the marketing of a system not yet fully fit for purpose.

7. If supporting traumatised children truly is your passion as a trainer, therapist, social worker, charity boss, MP or parent you should give your time and expertise as generously as you possibly can. Give free and subsidised places on your courses, give your knowledge and information to as many people as possible for free, fight your managers to gain meaningful support for families and yourself even if it makes you unpopular, write to your MP, lobby parliament, form support groups, take part in activism, hang on in there for your children against the odds.

8. If money has to be involved in your passion to support children it is always possible to make it truly fair trade.