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.

National Adoption Week: It’s My Party And I’ll Cry If I Want To.

There’s been talk this weekend of the online community taking over NAW. Its something we have been hoping for since last years NAW ‘thank you’ letter from MP Edward Timpson. A petition we ran in response to the letter gained over 1000 signatures from people who felt recruitment focused reforms were not enough towards understanding and supporting adopted people. The Adoption Social also ran a feature on the week and gathered the views of adopters in more detail. During the previous NAW in 2013 we launched a controversial exhibition called Severance which showed us that in adoption rhetoric, adopted people are mainly excluded.

With feedback from these previous years we decided at our annual trustees meeting to fund a conference this year on the first day of NAW 2015. The only speakers will be adult adopted people who will give their versions of adoption and the systems they have experienced. The conference will also launch some important research which will hear the voices of many more adult adopted people. We will be announcing further details on The Adoption Social soon. The conference is being held at The Foundling Museum in London on October 19th.

I hope the community will work together to be heard but at the forefront of this we hope will be adopted peoples views. Without these, any dialogue will be less rich and risk replicating the mistakes of previous years. We feel strongly as a charity that until the voices of those that adoption is ‘done’ to are properly heard in mainstream media, the good practice needed will not follow and will not be fully informed.

Hoping this year many people will work together to instigate change and challenge the status quo. It’s going to be exciting!

Blog from NAW 2014:

Well it’s been a National Adoption Week of madness, not too dissimilar to most weeks here but with a backdrop of intensely mixed emotions. Jazz started the week by blogging about her very mixed and raw feelings towards her birth mum and to being adopted. A letter from Edward Timpson MP then appeared on my Twitter timeline thanking ‘me’ for the great job I do. Then a massive thunder storm brewed that eventually made all the power go off in our house. The week has made me reflect on complexities, not just within my own life but within adoption. Jazz’s blog made me feel extremely sad for her. A child with no choice in her circumstances growing into an adult still dealing with the consequences of failure, not only by her birth mother and me but also by the systemic failures in adoption support. We have had numerous chats, tearful moments and hugs as well as quite hairy moments of anger and anxiety this week. Mr Timpsons letter just made my blood boil. I’ve heard he is a really nice man who has good intentions but I felt it was sadly recruitment focused and a bit of a wind up for many of us in the community. It thanked adopters but entirely forgot to meaningfully mention adoptees and by its nature ignored the impact of the current system upon many of them. He followed this bit of PR with a picture of himself at an awards ceremony with his head through a strange fairground style recruitment advert from the Government funded agency First4Adoption. The picture was of an ‘adoptive dad’ and an ‘adoptee’ (he was the Daddy) with the words ‘Happy Birthday’ slung in a banner over the top of them. Maybe I’m too sensitive? To me, based upon my experience, birthdays can be very loaded for children who cannot remain in their birth families. Adoption is not a ‘rebirth’ event it is the beginning of a complex life journey that starts with a loss that reverberates, often during days of National celebration for others. Maybe they were fuelled up on adoption positivity and cheap champagne but it didn’t seem very thoughtful to me. The storm and loss of power caused an enforced moment of calmer reflection and clarity. With no distractions by television or housework or cooking, no light to read or write by, I just sat and thought by candlelight. I thought that it was a shame that what should be a celebration of our families caused division and confusion in many of our minds. To speak of difficulties or to challenge the merits of the adoption system could suggest to others, in particular adoptees, that we are unhappy or have regrets as adopters. The last thing I would want my daughter to ever feel is that I regret her. I don’t and I make a point of not only discussing this openly with her but also sharing our loving relationship with anyone who will listen. I also support her in being heard, even if that means reading and publishing her individual views that being adopted is completely shit at times. To criticise those with true passion and integrity who are pushing for meaningful reforms to adoption support can seem very ungrateful or cynical. Right now, we will of course take everything we can get. If the 19 million in pilot support projects just stops some families falling apart it is gratefully received. But it is crucial as ‘receivers’ of policy to also highlight that the current adoption system and reform policy is flawed. Research tells us that at least one third of existing adoptive families struggle to a high degree. This is life changing, messy and harrowing. Ultimately it puts children at risk. There are children and families at risk now, today, this National Adoption Week. If you see adoption as a potentially great thing for children it follows that you allocate significant funding to get adoption support systems right before bringing more children and families into them. A bit like some of the National Adoption Week PR it all seems like it hasn’t been entirely thought through. I’ve tried to imagine why. I’ve spoken to social workers, practitioners, researchers and academics. Many of them report feeling it is a short sighted party political budget driven initiative. That it cannot be denied that adoption can provide much needed security and continuity to neglected and abused children but that it also saves money. Adoption transfers the legal duty of care for vulnerable children to private families and away from the the State. Adoption support is not a legal duty by statute within this system. It is not at all easy for any of us to talk or write honestly about the difficult issues we deal with. You can be made to feel you are letting the side down, being negative or moaning purely for the sake of it. I have wondered what on earth those who haven’t struggled make of what some of us share during this week of relentless celebration. Mad and marginalised people who don’t know how to enjoy a great party when they see one? The sad and unlucky few? I also worry as founder of a user led charity that being ‘political’ or negative about adoption policy will alienate us all from those holding the support purse strings. Then I think about Jazz and I and how we had to learn together to her detriment and how we were blamed and isolated. How we daren’t be angry in case the few crumbs of support available might disappear as punishment for our dissent. How we internalised that anger turning it to shame. How we so nearly lost each other. Then I feel quite angry and unaffected by any judgements that might diminish our experience or that of others. As an agency we have hope and faith that by working hard at fundraising we can support families by being independent and unmuzzled. The personal is political in a way that if it is organised creatively has a transformative power beyond rhetoric. American adoptees have had a parallel event to our NAW this week. A great campaign with the hashtag #flipthescript has shared amazing thoughts, feelings and politics all week. It’s a different system but I’m guessing by what I’ve read that they feel as marginalised and unheard as some of us do here. The power in their campaign is the unashamed determination in their right to be heard. I’m wondering if we can organise something like this ourselves as a community for next NAW? A campaign that is honest but clearly states it is the very personal love for our own children as well as a more universal respect for the experience of all adoptees that drives us to be truthful. That this truth should therefore allow us a valid invitation to the party rather than being the embarrassing unwanted guest. Hashtag suggestions welcomed to info@theopennest.co.uk

My Name Is Jazz: I Love Beards!

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It’s gone from the f***** up kid to the boy/ tranny. I just won’t to be a boy because I like fit girls and the fit girls I like like fit boys like me. I just feel more at home as my self and and my dream is to be a boy because I just won’t to be more my self. when I’m a boy I just feel like I sould be a boy calld Dexter and thats my dream lol I think I would be better looking and I feel more my self. when I’m a boy I feel I can show my self more and my dream is to be a lads lad I just feel more sexy as a boy ad my cheeky ness comes out more my anger gets less my anxiety get less I feel more lovable and I feel more at home and feel happier and I all ways dream I’m a boy ad I think like a lad duse at 20😳😳😳😳😳😳 ad I like Beards. I fell I can show the real me more and feel more love towords my FIRENDS ad famley and less hate and less anger. guys some times feel when the dress up as girls they feel thay can cry or show the real feelings. I feeI would be more of a gent and treat peele beter.

Developing Community Awareness As A Charity

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In the process of developing our charity The Open Nest over the past eighteen months we have had to consider what our longterm aims and intentions are to be. What did good adoption support to families in crisis mean to us as a group of trustees?
We knew it meant many obvious things like therapeutic input, expert school support and regular short breaks, but we also knew that adoptees and adopters first needed true acknowledgement of their stories in order to be offered the correct support.

My immediate research focus a year ago, having survived a near adoption breakdown and the intense parenting of a child with severe attachment disorder and developmental delay, was to raise awareness. I had felt so isolated and stuck in a cycle of seeking non existent help. I wanted to speak out and find a way as a charity to tell ours and others stories.

I had watched and got frustrated over fifteen years at how little some of the big players in adoption policy forming and support had achieved in giving families such as ours a valid voice. A voice that wasn’t hidden in consultation rooms, select committees, university research papers or the odd shock horror ‘violent adopted child injures poor parent’ feature.

As a minority group being acknowledged at all, even if a bit behind the scenes, is better than nothing. But then sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the denial of the whole truth of your existence makes things a lot worse. It means our stories are stifled and unable to become normalised enough to be accepted in the mainstream community. The effects of this is that well meaning folk who are teaching, practicing medicine, doing social work and doing our assessments, can’t recognise what attachment and trauma stuff, looks, feels and sounds like. Well meaning ignorance can be dangerous. It leads to adopters being perceived as failing or to blame for their child’s struggles. This in turn makes seeking help from professionals fraught and very unhelpful for either side. The adoptees basic human rights to support are often completely lost in this structural failure.

It’s not easy to describe supporting a child with serious anxiety and mental health issues around loss and fear. Some of it is ugly and scary and profoundly sad. As parents we can sometimes present as negative and irritable. This is because we are doing an intensive care job without a managed structure of support or supervision and mostly without a break. We are often scared. If you listen carefully and for long enough to hear us properly through the strains of pent up desperation, you will hear something important to modern adoption in the UK.
Many of us are filled with love, commitment and fierce protection of our children. Despite the difficulties we are inspired and improved by our children and their will to want to succeed. We are the ones most aware of the potential within our children (and sometimes their birth families) if given the right support. As such, it is heartbreaking not seeing your child thrive and your plans for nurturing them turn into basic survival and damage limitation.

I have spoken to lots of struggling adoptive parents over this last year and there is a theme that runs through the very individual and different stories. The parents want the best for their children whom they love but are seriously frightened that without the correct help they may lose them. The irony of their children facing the potential loss of two families in their childhoods is not lost on them. These particular thoughts used to keep me awake at night paralysed with fear. During those times I often thought of my daughters mother and realised something we may have in common. Struggling within our family to the extent we think social services might come and take our child away from our home and family rather than fully and meaningfully support us. I often wondered how that would be explained to my child when she was grown up:

“Your first family were not able to keep you safe. Your emotional and developmental needs were not being met. We tried everything to help them but they could not accept or work with our interventions and were not cooperative. We removed you for your own safety under child protection guidelines.
Then your second family were not able to keep you safe. Your emotional and developmental needs were not being met. We tried everything to help them but they could not accept or work with our interventions and were not cooperative. We removed you for your own safety under child protection guidelines.”

Knowing her as I do, she would definitely blame herself. She’s super bright despite the labels attached to get her through the system. She understands systems and complexity. But as default she ultimately blames herself when she can’t see the honest responsible adult.

I would of course have explained to her in detail that it was certainly not her fault. I would answer the many “why”? questions and find myself blaming the social services or the government or her mother or culture or society, or our family, or a mixture of them all which I guess is about near the truth.

So with all that in mind our first works as a charity have been aimed at awareness raising. For adoption support to be relevant, effective and empathic it takes adoptive families who struggle to share information with both policy makers but also importantly to support charities and a wider society.

We plan to use the mediums of film, written word, spoken word, photography, animation and artwork to tell our stories in a way that is fresh, new and accessible to all. Some of our productions are hard hitting in the sense that they address difficult truths but they are also dignified, positive, without blame and delivered with great hope for change. Slowly but surely.

We welcome all families and individuals touched by adoption to contact us if they wish to work with us on any of our future projects. We are currently accepting ideas, photographs, films and artworks on themes of loss/trauma for our travelling exhibition ‘Severance’ which is booked to be shown in The University of Sunderland Art Gallery in September 2014 and then at Family Futures in London in November 2014. We are also negotiating future bookings in Leeds and Newcastle.

For further information please email us at info@theopennest.co.uk

 

 

Shining Stars In The Dark

imageOur attempts to get professional support after adoption have been at times soul destroying. The wrong help has made things worse and the intimated blaming of our care skills regular. At times the ‘support’ has been extremely ignorant and damaging. Over fifteen years however there have been some guiding lights who helped us to hang on against the odds and soothed the difficulties, sometimes by simply offering kind words and empathy.

In order of appearance here are the professionals who made a difference and whom we will never forget;

Lindsey The Adoption Social Worker

Lindsey tried her very hardest to put support in from the beginning of the difficulties in the placement. She wrote letters to managers, sent me information on courses, highlighted the false economy of leaving us to struggle. At one point she put us on the waiting list for intensive attachment therapy. Lindsey was aware (even though at this stage I wasn’t ) that the court papers freeing Jazz for adoption stated that we would need “expert psychological support around attachment issues”. The help was never given the green light from managers and two counties argued over who was financially responsible. For us it was like someone was saying this is what you need to survive but you can’t have it. Lindsey was suddenly moved on from our case without us being informed. The fact she believed me at the start of our journey meant everything and helped me to stand steadfast in our quest for the right support.

Patricia The Psychologist

Patricia was bought in to speak to us as Jazz was failing to remain in school number two. It was a one off consultation in the very early years and didn’t lead to support as lots of beffudling arguing was taking place about Jazz’s SEN status. Patricia reassured me and said “if Jazz never goes to school it won’t be the end of the world. The most important issue is her attachment to you so don’t panic about education, that can come later” Of course it wasn’t ideal that Jazz was being excluded rather than included at school but Patricia gave me the confidence to follow my gut feelings and eventually home educate.

Bill The Head Teacher

Bill was a radical thinker at Jazz’s third school. He allowed her to be freestyle and as an unconditional treat at the end of the day he would roller blade around the corridors with her. Even though his school was a ‘special’ school they couldn’t hold onto her for long. The vulnerability of some of the other pupils who were severely physically disabled made Jazz’s exuberant behaviour dangerous at times. Bill made sure another exclusion didn’t go on the record. He gently and kindly arranged the leaving and took her, her first boyfriend and her TA for a forest walk and pub lunch with his wife. Jazz has never forgotten his kindness.

Sharon The Teaching Assistant

Under the leadership of Bill, Sharon managed to keep Jazz safe and happy in a very difficult environment. Professional capability was mixed with genuine care and although it may be frowned upon in some circles, actual love. Sharon was tested to the limit most days. A Jazz favourite at this school would be to escape the classroom, run down the corridor and jump fully clothed into the therapeutic swimming pool. Despite only working with her for what amounted to a few months Sharon remains in touch with Jazz to this day.

Tracey The Teacher

Tracey was class teacher in school number four. Despite being managed by what I can only describe as ‘The Miss Trunchbull’ style of headship, she saw only good in Jazz. She couldn’t stop the inevitable exclusions and eventual permanent leaving but in the short time she taught Jazz she showed nothing but warmth towards her. Tracey was a Christian woman in the true sense of the word. We have several photos she took of Jazz in school and these stand as a rare pictorial history of inclusion for Jazz. Pictures of her actually in a classroom with other children and not a side room where in reality she spent most of her time.

Geraldine The DDP Therapist

When the school possibilities completely ran out Geraldine became our anchor for eight years. Between the ages of ten and eighteen she saw Jazz and I for an hour a month. It was nowhere near enough only amounting to approx ten hours a year, but her hands were tied by the usual frustrating and shortsighted funding issues. This hour was spent doing dyadic developmental psychology techniques with us. In lay mans terms this meant doing attachment therapy with us. Geraldine never doubted me or Jazz and as the years passed we became a team, the three of us working towards the best we could. On numerous occasions, during countless crisis moments, she would write letters to other professionals stating our urgent need for support. Shockingly despite her wealth of experience and professional status in the NHS she was not listened to. She had to witness some terrible car crash moments in our lives and this cannot have been easy for her at all. I am absolutely convinced that were we given funding for weekly sessions from the start some of the terrible things we experienced would have been avoided. What we did have however was a trusted friend who nurtured our self esteem and gave us hope to carry on. Geraldine has now left the NHS and is a trainer alongside Dan Hughes to other practitioners of DDP. She uses film of our sessions to teach others which makes us feel proud of what we have achieved together against the odds. Since we have set up our charity she has given us nothing but support, encouragement and help.

 

So there they are, six people out of what must be over a hundred professionals we have seen in the last fifteen years. I guess what counts most is the quality rather than the quantity. It also highlights to me that in giving post adoption support it is not always about fixing a problem. It is about being empathic and kind and listening and trusting families to know themselves. As those things don’t cost anything and yet help people to have hope and carry on, perhaps there is something to be said for the true values of caring and even love in what has become the confusing, grinding, impersonal and budget driven caring industry.

The Things We Do

imageWhen Jazz was little she found fitting in with her peers extremely difficult. Her upbringing meant she was unable to feel much empathy for others or to concentrate or relax enough to notice their reactions to what she was saying or doing. When she did notice people it was with intense staring observation, usually when something about them felt threatening to her. This made social occasions a minefield of potential upset for her and others.

This situation was compounded by increasing exclusions from school. First came a day at a time, then a week or ten days and depressingly, eventually racking up to three permanent exclusions by the age of eight.

One of the strategies I used to teach her socialisation was to vocalise each of her pets personalities. We had two dogs and two cats in the early days and the menagerie grew as her friends diminished.  I would speak for each ‘person’. An example would be that she would be shouting really loudly and inappropriately. I would do a voice for each animal like a play:

Hampi (old cat) “Ooooh dear you made me really jump then my false teeth nearly fell out. Please be a bit quieter it’s not good for my nerves.

Kinky (naughty Siamese cat) “Ha ha you are so funny Jazz! Hampi is a big old stupid bag lady!”

Madge (sweet soft dog) “Kinky I don’t think it’s fair to encourage Jazz to be naughty because she gets into trouble”

Kinky “You’re so boring Madge you goody two shoes”

Dargo (wise lurcher dog) ” No Kinky I agree with Madge. I think Jazz shouting does scare some people and you should help her to learn new things and not be so selfish”

Creating this group dialogue helped Jazz to see that the world was made up of lots of different types of people who would have different reactions to the same thing. Some people were shy, some were moody, some were physical, some were wise, some were nervous, some were funny. There was nearly always a chance to laugh at, and with, the cheeky character so that part of her was also accepted without shame. It taught her to manage her social responses depending on different circumstances and context. By practising in this enjoyable form of play over many years her emotional intelligence eventually grew beyond that of her same age peers.

The game also extended to soft toys who came alive as monkeys who swore a lot, tigger’s who couldn’t stop moving and touching things, wise old granny wolves who explained big stuff and calm donkeys who wanted to whisper.

Over the years some extremely difficult subjects have been talked out via our pets and toys and still to this day a great bad mood breaker involves me with a very well worn cheeky monkey called Bardy saying a few very naughty swear words and dancing about in a whizzy way throwing stuff.

Jazz “Now come on Bardy let’s not be silly. Lets calm down before it gets out of hand”

 

Beyond The Order (And Blah Blah Blah)

So this week the long awaited research “Beyond The Order” came out. A thorough and excellent piece of work from Julie Selwyn and her colleagues at Bristol University. Funded by the Government it describes in upsetting detail the problems some adoptive families face, including the reasons for adoption disruption.

Twelve years ago when I was one of those families in crisis I was commissioned by The Sunday Times to write about the situation. At the time Tony Blairs cabinet were talking about reforming adoption including suggesting that adoptions should go through quicker and also more easily to ‘save’ children in need.

I wrote about the fact that it took me to research, on my own, my daughters condition to find she probably had serious attachment issues. I described violence in the home and warned of fast tracking adoptions without expert training to social workers and therapeutic support to parents in dealing with the issues. Remember at this time big adoption charities offered training in attachment and much literature existed in the profession.

I described the ineffective treatment of my daughter by Social Services as something like treating a broken leg as if it were a sore throat. I ended the piece by saying “no wonder she is screaming”.

The new report is not shocking news to most of us in the adoption world. It isn’t even news. I’m sure however that many will feel its a great attempt by the Government to recognise and address the issues. I really hope nobody is holding their breath.

If it were good news it would be all over the papers and television with accompanying plans for imminent change. Every prospective and current adopter would have secure, written in legislation rights to post adoption support based upon the findings. Adoption would be promoted as a caring commitment and not as ownership. As of now.

Last year ‘The House of Lords Committee on Adoption Legislation’ results were published. All the adoption industry big guns featured as witness to the lengthy process, very few adoptees or adopters of course. Even without the horses mouth all the evidence of struggles was there. Recommendations from Baroness Butler Sloss were made that post adoption support should be written into legislation. It wasn’t. It isn’t.

Today Edward Timpson, Minister for Children and Families ran the London Marathon to support First 4 Adoption (can’t help thinking Phones 4 U) This is a Government funded adoption promotion organisation. ‘Only positive adoption stories here please’  is the unwritten rule. This chosen organisation by Mr Timpson perhaps shows us firmly where he feels his children and family’s policy sits. Or am I being uncharitable?

The facts are wether we like it, or agree with it or not, the current Government have little visible sympathy for mothers who are dealing with issues of poverty, domestic violence, homelessness, substance abuse or mental health issues. The main reasons children are damaged in family homes. They cannot afford to. The priority is not in fixing social welfare, housing and health issues but in saving money and privatising undermined services. Privatising means ‘somebody making money out of it’.

The demonising of those on benefits is part of the process as is pitting ‘bad’ mothers against ‘good’. Little room for ‘there but for the grace of God’.

With one child every twenty minutes being removed from its birth family the country has a social welfare crisis on its hands. Looked after children cost lots and lots and lots of money. Something has to be done. So it makes sense to cut through the sympathetic attempts of agencies, charities and social workers to support families. Remove children quickly with no recourse to a fair hearing in court, no legal aid, no birth family contact commitment, no support to next of kin. Give social workers targets to turn around removal and adoption in six months. Penalise and disempower if they fail to meet the required numbers. Once the adoption order is through its over to you nice families. Not our (financial) problem anymore.

As this sounds a bit unfair and cold it also makes sense to find research that backs that decision. The earlier the babies are removed from the evil family the less problems nice families might have dealing with the ‘blank slate’ baby. Do a massive all smiling hearts and flowers, dress up party marketing drive for adoption at the same time. At the head of it all put people who believe wholeheartedly in privatisation and the free market. Make sure adoption charities life blood comes from the Government to edit any non believers.

As an adopter, a children’s rights believer, a social activist and a feminist I feel we are being played.

Back in our house we still struggle with the results of my daughters mother going through the care system with a learning disability. It was a system that was cruel to her when she was a child and that cruelty was passed on through ignorance and inability.

We now have the resources through hard work and sheer determination, to offer free post adoption support services to families who are in crisis and need safe respite. This includes twenty acres of beautiful land we lease, a camping barn and an apartment. It also includes informed expert carers with years of experience in attachment and trauma. We are expert by professional and direct personal experience. We fight for every penny as a charity. This often involves us working for nothing, cleaning and managing the accommodation we raise funds on. Like other adopters we take no wages for the awareness raising work and informal support we give. We have no big charity boss salary or salaried fundraisers. Many in the industry are aware of us and we have blinding, experienced and vocal trustees. Funny that not one person ‘in the money’ has yet approached us effectively to support us in giving our free, expert services. We must jump through the nightmare hoops of Ofsted, regulation, insurance, safeguarding, data protection, health and safety etc etc poor and alone.

Meanwhile the Government fund protracted think tank shennanagins that discuss and dissect and regurgitate information about adoption support, employing the professional party believers and buddy’s along the way. And the children wait. And wait. And wait.

Funnily enough I got an email recently from a regional boss type person (probably not an adopter/adoptee) of one of the massive adoption and fostering charities. They introduced themselves, said they were aware of our work…..I got excited thinking we were going to get some support, advice, encouragement, credit or some other such positive response. Turns out they were just coldly telling us in a polite officious way that they had clocked us and we better be registered as an Adoption Support Agency if we were offering support. And this is, I feel, a general problem in a ‘jobs for the boys’ culture. Nobody truly concerned with supporting adoptive families would not encourage and support, even financially, an innovative and cost effective resource such as ours. And whilst I’m on it resources such as The Adoption Social  ( theadoptionsocial.com) and their user led community initiatives which probably effectively support adopters and adoptees more than anything else I’ve seen. Instead we are turning desperate people in crisis away. All they want is a few days break to enable them to carry on. An empathic support worker, some knowledgable advice.

Don’t get me wrong, I know we can’t have unregulated, untrained, overstretched workers dealing with the serious issues in adoption. They could get it wrong and offer ineffective support. They could make things worse. They could blame parents and cause them isolation and depression. Physical and mental harm could take place. That would be absolutely irresponsible and potentially damaging for children. It mustn’t happen, not for a minute.

Who on earth involved in the politics and the business of adoption would ever allow such a thing to happen…………..

£150 Million And Counting

Like many of us involved in adoption I watched Channel 4’s programme about the process on Thursday.

Its hard not to comment in some way when the issues highlighted affect your own life and those you love.

What I feel most comfortable doing is telling our own family story, which for most of us is what informs our opinions. There is no one set right opinion just as there is no one set experience.

I feel my own personal experience makes watching adoption programmes very difficult. I have come to see many flaws in the system that I feel can potentially dehumanise those involved.

I trained and qualified as a social worker several years before I adopted and after working in the voluntary sector went on to further my education by doing a cultural studies degree. This was a discipline that analysed the way in which groups and ideas are presented, and at worst demonised, through popular culture and media including newspapers and television.

Having gone through an amicable divorce from my school days sweetheart I felt, in fact I felt I needed, to become a parent. I believed my knowledge of the care system and open mind would stand me in good stead to adopt. My assessment highlighted my strengths in knowing how to ask for support and from whom. In my naivety I believed once my adopted child and I were settled I might meet someone and have the birth children I had always planned as well as maybe adopt again.

One of the first questions I asked when at the point of matching was;

“Are you sure you have done enough to help the mother. I don’t want to be in a situation where a struggling working class family lose their child to a middle class family because we have more resources and they weren’t supported”

This question came directly from my experience of seeing and taking part in social work assessments where, without doubt, some class judgements were made despite “anti oppressive practice” training.

I was reassured that everything possible had been done. The reassurance definitely came with the half smiling ‘oh one of those feminist, loony lefty poor souls with misguided empathy’. (And who would need empathy in the adoption process!).

Once my adopted daughter arrived the enormity of dealing with her needs was overwhelming. Without going into it (again) I struggled for years begging for help which never came. I became the single mother that wasn’t managing. The mother whose child couldn’t behave or manage school, the mother who was unemployed and couldn’t pay her bills, the stressed out angry with the authorities mother.

During that time I worked like a trooper to better our situation. I remortgaged my house, I home educated, I visited the Doctor about stress related illness (for both of us). I did car boots to earn money. I also read lots of Dan Hughes and Caroline Archer and tried to parent therapeutically the best I could in the circumstances.

People tut tutted at us in the street as my little girl picked fag buts off the floor to smoke, banged into people, swore and spat on the floor. I knew what they were thinking of me.

A couple of years into the placement I had an overwhelming feeling that if I were to be a good parent to her the chasm of nothingness and disjointed paperwork that was the history she came with, had to be better informed. I needed the back story. I had the ‘knowledge’ that her parents were horrible, uncaring, violent, dangerous. I couldn’t go to certain towns that were quite near us in case the devil people might bump into us and god knows what might happen.

I searched for her parents without her knowing. I felt that I might be a bridge between her past and future, I felt it might shock me, but I knew I had to see the ‘truth’ with my own eyes. I was pooping myself in case they might want to hurt me for ‘stealing’ their child.

I found them to be warm, friendly, poor, uneducated, unable to admit their faults very easily, proud, stubborn, funny, annoying and bluntly truthful.

Eventually after meeting them on lots of occasions and talking to them often, I took Jazz to meet them when she was eight years old. The omnipresent spectre of her ‘ghost parents’ disappeared that day. It wasn’t all hearts and flowers and it never will be. She didn’t love me less or them more. She did forgive herself.

The rest as they say is history, our history of two families who have worked together for the three children involved. It hasn’t been easy and there is nearly always fall out after contact. It’s the goodbyes that are hard. Of course we argued and had different opinions and sometimes fell out. But what family doesn’t. There have also been moments of intense and overwhelming love between us all.

Finally, this year, aged 54, my daughters mum got her learning disability assessment. It took us years to fight for it together. Despite all the local authority involvement in her life, being in care as a child, going to a ‘special’ school, nobody had bothered to do it even when she fell pregnant with her first child. Now she has benefits and the sympathetic daily support that may crucially have helped her children over twenty years ago.

The mistruths and judgements in her records have also been challenged and sit more honestly for her daughter to read one day.

In the new adoption drive £150 million pounds was taken from the fund that does early intervention work with struggling families. Some of it has shifted to adoption promotion. Adoption of a removed child saves the Government on average £25,000 every year of that child’s life to adulthood. It IS an industry with budgets at its heart in MY opinion. If it were truly all about the children many of the questionable practices we see as adopters would change.

I do not advocate contact in all circumstances and especially if there is no professional therapeutic support for ALL involved…which there isn’t at a time of no budgets to even get basic help through CAMHS and Education for adopted children. But I believe in the right circumstances it can help development, healing, history, identity and can resolve some of the ‘gaps’ in knowledge children can feel. Sometimes it might ultimately provide a more healthy goodbye from a child than was previously possible.

My adopted daughter has certainly gained from contact, warts and all and some of that has simply been transferring her feelings of failure to her mother where they rightly belong.

So my personal questions about Channel 4’s latest adoption documentary are;

1. With one child removed every 20 minutes from its birth family how are we as a rich and ‘civilised’ society going to successfully address the needs of failing families on behalf of all children?

2. Do many of the parents and extended families of the approx 26,208 removed children a year deserve to lose seeing their children for good? It seemed to me that at least three parents shown were compliant enough to have assured and legal rights of therapeutically managed contact even if adoption is considered best.

3. When adoption with little or no birth family contact is considered best, why is there still no legislation to give guaranteed and appropriate support to adopted children and families who struggle?

4. Where were the parents social workers, especially the young mum who seemed to need safeguarding herself?

5. It surely would have been more empathic if the adoption team workers didn’t look quite so happy at receiving a grieving woman’s baby whilst describing it as being an ‘easy adoption’.

In adoption circles, the community and professionals often emphasise the need for parents to be looked after, healthy and mentally well themselves in order to do their best for the children. I wholeheartedly believe this to be true……for all parents.

We Are Not Having A Breakdown….But

It’s been a week of talking to adoptive parents who have called The Open Nest in very very difficult circumstances. People who really don’t know what to do about keeping themselves and their children safe or how to successfully access the support they desperately need. Not one of these parents blamed their children but some of them felt they were living half lives.

That’s the thing about research that shows that approx 5% of adoptions break down, it doesn’t account for the half lives.

Then a fellow Tweeter asked the question “what constitutes good post adoption support?”. The responses in general showed that no matter what the intended changes to adoption being discussed by focus groups (and mainly men in suits), the help is needed now. Many people can’t wait for pilots and politics. Children who have had no choice in their destiny need good, empathic and meaningful support as and when it is needed. These children can be seriously damaged by the fumbling about in the dark policy and practice that many local authorities seem to try and pass off as post adoption support.

I spoke to a lovely social worker recently who made what I think is a really valid point. She said that it seems that there is loads of professional expertise out there and many very knowledgeable adoptive parents but somehow nobody seemed to be able to bring the two parties together. As if parents and professionals were on opposite sides of a big divide.

We hope to work together on trying to at least cross this divide in our area. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime I keep asking myself, why is it so difficult?

Dan Hughes (poor Dan, I always use his name in vain…I do believe in Dan Hughes, I do I do…) seems to be the main attachment and trauma guru that we parents and professional in the field of adoption pay to read from and listen to. There can be nobody, not even Mr Gove, who doesn’t believe and understand that many adopted children need attachment and trauma based therapeutic interventions at home and in school and yet it becomes like the holy grail when many of us try to access it. It has to be about the money. There is no other logical reason I can think of. If we had the money we could buy support.

We will have to see if we get the money through the planned adoption personal budgets scheme sometime in the undetermined future.

In the meantime we can’t pay the ferryman to cross the divide towards expert support and some of us, most importantly our children, are left wandering the shores of trauma waiting….and it can sometimes feel like a hundred years.

In the meantime we are going to keep our resilient chins up and fight the good fight. There is an amazing adoption community on social media, all sharing our individual experiences. We can effect change if we shout loud enough and our voices are valid.
To help us develop a user led support service which we can hopefully then use to become part of the National debate on post adoption support we have started an independent survey. surveymonkey.com/s/9LCMCQ3 Please take part if you can and/or register with us via email info@theopennest.co.uk if you wish to become part of a parents campaigning group.

Apologies for lack of live links in this post. Still learning on that one! Any advice gratefully received.

My Name Is Jazz: My Work

Me At Work

 

I work at a animal recque place. I some time find it hard because it brings some fellings up like me been recque by mummy bear bear but I love it because it giving not tacking all the time. I all so find it hard because the animals have been mist triad so like I said it brings flash backs but my favour dog is Harry he is a staff+ Rocwrler+ German Shepard and he loves me and he likes going on long walks with me and he likes hugs and kiss.                                                                                                        But he is like me he dissent like his head been touch and cart have his water in with him because when I’m not ther he throws it a round the place lol! then there is Rusty he like to walk to. he is my second fav because he a staff+. Ridgeback and when he Duse a poo he spins around in serculls 3 time wich macks me laugh. he barks a lot then there is Tyson he is a Gary Hound he like to jump a round and pea up every thing. then there is Roma he is a lurcher. he is very cuddle and soft and ten ther is 7 ginny pigs but my fave is rusty and patch. patch is my best fav because he is inquisitive he like to explor and go in my hat and sit on my hear and be hold like a baby. Rusty like to be on his on like a popper man lol! then we got 3 geese and hens and ducks they do what birds do. then we got a blind goat. he got the foot and math desees and then 3 cats smokey Tom and stripey and finly 3/4 rabbits. I just love it