Attachment Taboo’s

MUMS THOUGHTS

From the early days of meeting Jazz I tried to work with my instinct as a parent figure rather than with prescribed traditional parenting methods (I knew little of attachment theory back then).

My approach included following her lead and ‘playing babies’ with nappies and bottles despite her being five years old. It also included using water as a regulator and calming tool. In the beginnings of our placement together she was terrified and ‘high’ and she would seek immersion in water up to five times a day.

Once some trust had been built up between us we began to have more close interactions which included cuddling in bed and on the sofa as well as having baths together. Jazz loved skin to skin cuddles, especially in water. She also loved going camping and running about the woods in her pants. In fact her preferred state at all times was to be in her pants wherever we were. One of the key reasons for school exclusion was her desire to be free of clothes at playtime. I clearly remember her absolute upset and confusion when I had to stop her being in just shorts and pants on beaches and in public as her breasts developed. She couldn’t understand the difference between a French and UK beach in regards to nakedness. The talk I had to have about adults who found children sexually attractive totally freaked her out.

We recently made a documentary about our lives to use as a training tool for adoption support professionals in education and at conference. There was little family footage of the early years (up to about 8 years old) where Jazz was not happily dancing about or playing in her pants or swimsuit. As a result some of that innocent footage is featured. I shared it with an academic whom I thought may be interested in the support issues it raised. Despite researching and writing about adoption support this persons main feedback concern was that the film may be attractive to paedophiles. This reaction sadly symbolises the culture we live in.

Jazz often talks of her favourite memory in foster care. Every Sunday morning her foster carers would allow her to jump into their bed with them and have tea and biscuits in her pyjamas. She was aware that they were not really supposed to do it but described it in a funny and warm way. It symbolised love and fun and family. Every week the carers would feign pretend shock at the amount of crumbs she had caused. I’m sure that they would have been in trouble had the social worker known and despite sharing the information with me, describing her need for closeness, they asked me not to repeat it to her social worker. I can understand the risk averse rules of fostering but I didn’t expect to face concern about such issues in my own home.

As Jazz became older concern was often expressed in front of her about us sharing a bed. It was if it were weird and somehow a bit unsavoury. This would regularly be put to her by social workers in care planning and support meetings ‘aren’t you a bit old to share with mum’. The inference was clear to her. She was babyish and I was potentially ‘strange’. Maybe even one of those unsafe adults I had told her about.

After such meetings she would be really angry and aggressive and refuse close comforting of any kind until she became so deregulated that she couldn’t achieve anything. On being persuaded it was ok and safe to share with me for a night her anxiety would drop immediately, she would become happy and life would return to normal, until the next time. Close cuddling and sharing a bed was the number one therapeutic miracle cure for just about everything.

We are a culture that separates ourselves to sleep. Adult bedrooms are often portrayed as places for sexual intimacy. The riches of the West make it possible in many families for every household member to have their own bedroom (along with TV). In Jazz’s family home her parents and their children would all sleep in the living room together as the house was so small.

As she became a teenager and the professional pressure for us to physically separate became greater I set up a mattress on my bedroom floor for the difficult times. If she could just hear my breathing it regulated her. Even this was considered by professionals as in some way dangerous and anti attachment. The implication was that I was at best encouraging an insecure attachment. The point that the attachments still needed much work, that this teenager was still catching up, was missed.

It is considered ok and actually desirable to have skin to skin contact with a young baby. A recent story about it went viral on social media. A baby that was ‘stillborn’ miraculously came to life after it’s parents both got naked and cuddled it in the hospital bed.

It seems sad to me that we now live in a culture that perceives close physical contact with children and especially young people as such a risk and even a taboo. I understand that if a child has a history of physical or sexual abuse against them this is a very delicate issue. I also know however, of abused children regularly physically restrained in institutions. Children whose background of holding or touch would have been negative in the extreme. It seems ok to physically intervene in a punitive intervention with such children but not in a loving way. Jazz’s brother certainly suffered under the ‘no physical contact’ culture in his children’s home. Living there from 6 years old to thirteen nobody had shown him how to clean himself properly nor hugged him when he was frightened or hurt. His average face down physical restraint frequency was at one time 11 per week.

Im not sure of all the answers on how to safely promote physical closeness as an aid to healthy attachment. I know a small minority of foster carers and adopters will be sexual abusers as will birth parents and care workers in children’s homes. We live in shocking times where we are discovering that respected leaders and public figures are potentially covering up a huge and disgusting sexual abuse scandal.

I really hope that as therapeutic parents and carers to traumatised children and young people we can be encouraged and supported, where appropriate, to physically and safely hold and comfort them in every day as well as in times of crisis. That this can be valued as part of healthy attachment and that the bloody perverts don’t win the day.

JAZZ THOUGHTS

When I was a new born I us to shear with my bros our daddy and mum. Then when I got fostered I us to on a weekend jump in with my foster mum ad my dad went down stairs ad get me a bottle ad biscuits.

when mummy bear adopted me we use to play babies because we treat me as a new born to build trust and bond. We shred a bed a lot for years but when I teen the Ss us to say don’t u think your a bit old to be doing that kind of thing. It us to drive me mad ad then I wouldn’t shear for ages until I was driving my self mad and then I would.

to this day I love it and would do it with all my sport workers but I no I can’t.

ad the same on skin to skin. Why do I like it? Because even tho I can’t remember my body can. My berth mum did ad my dad. Some one else’s hart beat is so soothing to me ad I feel the skin to mine. It like when a dog acts in the world as wolfs it a very comfortable place for them to be in ad when they do it’s a massive trust step. Ad it’s like that for me.

when you are trusting them to be on your tummy or back or chest or wear ever. I like the feeling of that.

why do I like searing a bed? Because I all ways sleep with no top on so it’s skin to skin and I sear with mum it calms me down and it really charging the barteery. So if I on 50% it’s quite bad ad usually it cart get eny lower than that but it can if I really stress out. But what we are aming for is 100% if not more.

When I am very anxious or angry it sets me up for a good week and make me feel mums there until she comes back.

The Teenager Who Felt Nothing But Scared

When I was a teenager I fell like no one was thear for me and I felt out of control and like I was going to kill some one because I would kick and punch and throw the glass at people and put windows threw and kick doors and it did tack some times for mummy bear to go to ANE with quite bad war wunds and some times I hurt my self by cutting and biting.

No one understand and I was in the big dark hole ad I could see the light at end of the hole and it felt like I was on herowin and I loved my mum very much ad I felt like I was tiring her heart out. when I felt I was doing that it broke my heart because she was the oley one how understand me and she was thear for me but when I us to get angry I hold breath ad felt like my hart was going fast and I was missing some think. I was having rally bad dreams ad I hate school ad I felt every one tort I was a freak and I was the kid how every one won’t to avoid me ad I us to cry when I went to bed because I just won’t I’d to be a person who was nomel ad I hate that word.

Now I fell more love for my mum than ever because I can see the light ad now I don’t get angry because I go and listen to London Grammer or go and see my rats ad ginny pigs and rabbits and it mack me fell worth some think and it mack me fell like I’m very lucky ad I rally like it when I can be close to people.

the closer I am the better because of the heat ad the breething cams me down and that I just cry. it’s not easy for me to cry because I don’t fell able to cry because I fell like I’m a wimp. I rally like skin to skin because I see that like I’m hear for u and don’t worry you r someone and no one thinks your a freak. if it’s was up to me I would do the safe hold skin to skin because I fell safe in it like that but I no its not aprpriat.

I have bursts of betting them up ad calling them hobble names ad when they do the safe hold I like it because I no thear thear ad I’m safe but I can get quite a gresive but I no its all going to be ok and now we don’t have to do the safe hold much. when I do get angry and do crave self harming because it gives u a burst of e adrenalin rush ad I do crave drugs ad vodka ad some times when they have been triggers I fell more sex up and macho.

but now I fell more protective over my guys and less angry and I don’t like people getting in trouble and I’m more quite and shy and more orkwoukd and pease full. Mum says I am a good guy.

First 100 (To challenge the paperwork gets a free lolly).

Contact, a simple little word that has so much complexity, confusion, love and fear behind it. I have had that little but big word in my head constantly for the last fifteen years.Thoughts of it are never far away. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it damaging? Is it therapeutic? Is it a moral issue? Everyone should do it, Should I ever have done it? Is it a great big pain in the backside? Will resolution and harmony be the end result?

As my daughter to be arrived to live with me there were no real arrangements at all for birth family contact. The paperwork supported the “they are dangerous abusive people not worthy of consideration” view. I was, through a process of government regulation and assessment, to become the cultural rescuer, the life saver, the fairy good mother balancing out life’s ‘dysfunctional’ with life’s ‘normal’

Alongside that was a gaping void of meaningful information about why and how the decision to permanently severe her from her roots, siblings and all, had been bought about. There were reports of many attempts to support that had failed. Irresponsible behaviour, aggression and non compliance from the parents. But no real family history as such. What had happened to them, what were their life stories, how did they end up not being able to parent appropriately? Who were their extended families and especially where were they? When I thought of the parents in my minds eye they existed as two isolated shadowy people in a dark cloudy bubble of danger and uncertainty.

I was advised to keep my daughters identity and whereabouts secret and not to go with her to her nearby home town. The psychological effects of this on us were much bigger than I was able to vocalise at the time. What other families, and particularly children, have to hold elements of themselves secret, risk assessed, pixilated in fear of discovery? It’s got elements of witness protection and identity reconstruction.

Of course at the time I was compliant and wholeheartedly accepted the authorities view that the security was for a good reason and that my child needed such protection. I had shameful feelings of hatred towards her parents. In the few photos I managed to eventually get by persistence with the LA, they looked in my minds eye like something akin to photos you see on the news of child abusers. Faces with nothing but negative associated with them. You could see the hard life etched on them. Signs and symbols of poverty and lack of opportunities.

Initially my daughter and I were thrown into life with each other. There was no time to consider anything or anyone else. As things ‘settled’ the murky cloud of her parents and her history was behind us most of the time. Like something that could potentially jump out of the shadows. The elephant in the room. An elephant that neither of us could discuss properly because we didn’t have the right information. Of course I fielded young questions with the reassurance that her mum and dad couldn’t look after her, they had hurt her, it wasn’t her fault, she was safe now. As time went by it wasn’t enough.

Two things mainly triggered my urge to meet them for her sake. First was the the best bits of her. The really great sense of humour. The massive grin. The loving and generous nature. The most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. The uniqueness. The courage. Then the difficult bits. Fear, anger, anxiety.

My thought process went something like; There must have been good bits about her family life for her to have gained certain inherent qualities. Foster carers surely couldn’t have changed her personality in the year they had her?
The difficult bits seemed to exist for obvious reasons to me. They had frightened her and neglected her, life was chaotic and uncertain. It was loud, harsh, smokey and it smelt a bit of wee. Her belly was often empty and her hair was often pulled.
As I began to learn to understand her difficult bits, to forgive violence against me, to live with abuse in my home, to keep therapeutically calm and failing badly at times, they came to my mind more and more. Why did they do this to her?

Her behaviour didn’t make me judge her negatively. In fact I loved her more. I was mainly forgiving and empathic and spent a large proportion of my life attempting to get all those around her, family, schools, friends, doctors, police to view her in the same way as I did. To understand that her anger was justified if mismanaged. I hated it when others viewed her as dangerous or delinquent and many did. Other children were gently steered away from her and invitations to social gatherings were rarely forthcoming.
As she grew older and bigger, sympathy and forgiveness for her visibly drained away. She transformed from child victim to teenage perpetrator in the eyes of others and in the eyes of the law. I had to do intense work to avoid her being criminalised. Trying to explain that although her behaviour was at times violent and anti social she was a good person in her heart and intentions, that we loved each other deeply despite it all. That they didn’t ever see the ‘real’ her that she kept buried as protection from possible grief and pain.

She was by birth an extension of her parents. By my logic that meant they could also be somebody’s damaged child. Somebody’s damaged child that perhaps didn’t get taken in by loving kin, quality care or attend therapy with a psychologist or sessions with a social worker who championed them in meetings as inherently good.
I personally don’t believe in born evil. I think we all have a bit of bad in us. Stress, violence against us, hunger and fear is likely to make most of us have mental health issues and behave in anti social ways. Education and life opportunities often help the lucky ones to stay away from the darker sides of human survival. Having said that of course there are many educated well off people abusing their and other peoples children whilst hiding behind a moat of respectability.
I think mental health is a cruel condition to manage in the culture we currently live within. Addiction even harder. Homelessness impossible.

So I thought, if I can have compassion and forgiveness for her behaviour could I have it for them? She knew they had been taken out of her life because they hurt her. She lived in fear that I would be taken from her because she hurt me. If I couldn’t promote forgiveness or at least understanding of emotional and social circumstances for her parents why would she ultimately believe I would do it for her?

Based upon on the above I searched them out. My initial intention was information gathering not reunion. After sometime and much preparation I took her with me. We eventually met Mum and Dad, Granny, Aunty, nephews, nieces, half sisters and brothers over many visits. I took her to the hospital ward she was born in and she collected a wrist band with the exact time and date (it was as the drums of Eastender’s played out at 8pm). We learnt of Grandad whose tragic death on the roll of a fate dice sadly changed her life chances forever. We saw the places that held her family history both bad and good. The memorial to her Grandad, the place her Mum hit the social worker.
We learnt it was her Mum that struggled, she was learning disabled and a child victim of abuse, the manifestation of which was very challenging behaviour. We learnt she had a good heart, an infectious laugh, no justice, no education and no money. We learnt she responded very positively to empathic therapeutic responses and clear boundaries. Her sister, a police officer, told us of systemic failures to help them as a family to keep her safe and understood. We learnt of how different things could have been with quality early intervention and support. Tons of paperwork existed but there was no investment made for the future. An expensive false economy.

With this information my daughter could make better sense of it all and with security, understanding and therapeutic support be enabled to make informed choices to forgive or not, to forget or not. As an adult she’s glad we did it although it was challenging and at times extremely sad. That’s our individual and personal experience.

In a wider context I feel that the chances are that if you have an adopted child, behind that may be a history of at least one of the following; poverty, mental health, addiction, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, poor housing, lack of opportunity, lack of attachment opportunities and love. The chances are high that your child was born into a family dealing with poverty. I have doubts that behind it lies people beyond support or ‘redemption’. Where there exists those who have committed such heinous crimes that they are beyond forgiveness, surely we have to question what society did to firstly see it coming and secondly prevent it. The children of ‘the unforgiven’ also deserve the very best support possible to come to terms with their experiences.

Losing connection to your family or having a child removed from your family are unimaginable to most of us in terms of trauma and loss. It’s the most severe punishment. Do thousands of families and extended families a year in this country really deserve such a punishment? If yes….what the hell is going on? What are we spending our riches on? If no…what the hell is going on? What are we spending our riches on?

Based upon our personal experience and wider knowledge it concerns me that adoption systems, promotion and regulation exist against an entrenched cultural back drop of mass consumerism, corrupt corporations, social exclusion, discrimination, elitism, sexism and racism all topped off with social care, health services and legal aid cuts.
I’m sure in some and probably many cases this leads to injustice and unnecessary harm to children and vulnerable adults.

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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.

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.