My New Blog: Sensitive Hedgehog 

 I’m a very sensitive sole I don’t like to be out in Lound nosey places ad people think I’m very comfdont I just come a cross that way. I talk a lot when I’m anxious I like been near home lissing to music. when I see nice girls I talk a lot go all coxey but deep down I don’t no what to say I’m shy red ad embarrassed or if I have to talk to people I don’t no I come cross very confident ad lovely but deep down I’m dieing off embarrassment ad to go into a big group makes me fell anxious ad nervous. I like me ad one person 2 at top I love been in my sensory room with my Technology books and lights. I love shear with eny one I like to hear them and talk to them and be close. I love been close as I can if it was not inappropriate I wud shear with my sport workers. I hate sleeping on my on. i love jumping ad swimming ad walking it helps me a lot. my favourite thing to do is eat mums lasagna ad fall a sleep on sofa with nice full tummy. I think I got more sensitive as I get older ad I love been calm with mum bear and have hugs. I hate hugs with people I don’t no. I love been with my Ginny pigs. I love been told every thing ok don’t worry it makes me fell safe ad every going to be ok. I love sensory things and been hold. I love weighted blankets and stuff and been lied on so basically been waited down. 

Not In Our Name

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

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

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

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


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

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

Support For Violent Children: What Next? (Part Two)

We have seen our previous blogs about violent children and how to support them reach thousands of people. Of all the blogs we share on adoption related topics, the ones that talk about violence in adoptive homes are always shared by our readers the most. We are aware that the situations we describe are only happening in a minority of homes but also that this minority feel helpless, scared and unsupported. There is much confusion in the professional field, even around the language that is or should be used to describe supporting violent adopted children. Parents describe being given ‘blank looks’ when urgently asking for help with this issue. There is no agreed strategy other than to call the police. The police are often helpful in their attending but state themselves that the issue is one for social care and mental health. Parents feel calling the police helps temporarily but escalates fear in their children, and if they have older children it risks traumatised teenagers becoming criminalised. 
As a charity founded in 2013, primarily to support this minority, we have highlighted the issues from the start. We have regularly been contacted by families distraught by their domestic situations and very fearful for the future of their adopted children.

Our aim is first and foremost to protect violent adopted children from misunderstandings around the root causes of their anxiety and anger and secondly to make sure they are not punished for it by the systems they are expected to engage in.
As a charity we have added to many debates about the need for support in this area. We have spoken at conferences and given training to professionals. Many parents have also shared their experiences and in part due to brave conversations within the community, adoption support agencies are now providing training to parents such as the Non Violent Resistance approach. This is funded by the Adoption Support Fund.

NVR doesn’t involve a safe physical intervention in crisis, nor does it recommend it, but it works really well for many families and we advocate its approach. We funded a social worker from a progressive adoption team we had trained to attend an NVR course two years ago so that she could advocate the approach in her practice.

 

Our previous blog bought about yet more conversations with many people both parents and professionals about how to keep extremely violent children safe. We continually advocate for the teaching of safe non violent physical restraint to use when under attack, to avoid injury to children and to avoid adoption breakdown.

During this debate it was very helpfully pointed out to us by a therapist that the term ‘safe holding’ has very negative connotations in the adoption field as it can be associated with a certain type of holding done as an attachment therapy. There was sadly a therapy based on trauma and attachment in the USA that resulted in a child suffocating while being held by professionals in front of her adoptive mother.  
We need to be really clear on this. We are not advocating therapeutic holding but safe physical intervention in a safeguarding crisis. We are talking about training to react calmly, sensitively and confidently in the presence of extreme violence so that parents can effectively manage safeguarding within their homes to avoid the risk of the following:

Anyone being stabbed by scissors or a knife
Anyone receiving a head injury through heavy items being thrown towards them
A child safe harming
A child risking serious injury or death to itself or another
Anyone crashing a car
A pet being badly injured or killed
Serious bite injuries
Another child being seriously injured or traumatised
Property being damaged and costs incurred
Adoption breakdown 
A child being placed in secure care having then lost two families

We have done extensive research on this subject and we find that children can lawfully be subject to physical intervention at school, in foster care and in children’s homes. Local authorities have policies on the use of physical intervention as a form of safeguarding in many care settings including children’s domestic situations. These policies require the use of risk assessments, recording of incidents and training within a safeguarding framework.

Akin to all professionals we do not advocate the use of physical intervention unless as a last resort. We do not believe such training is needed for adoptive parents who are dealing with lower level aggression such as swearing, spitting, shouting, throwing stuff at walls etc. Any debate we have on violence is certainly not meant to be a needs competition or aimed to bring people’s spirits down. It seems to be an issue for the minority of adoptive parents when speaking about violence in public conversations and via adoption forums they are in some way playing ‘trauma bingo’ over who has it worst, or that it is negative or unhelpful to the overall adoption debate.
We all agree that it is crucial to see the positives, the love and the humour in all our families but this is genuinely hard to do if you are living in real fear for your family on a daily basis, dealing with injury and upset alongside serious concern for the future. This is completely the other end of the spectrum to the happy clappy adoption experience that for obvious reasons most people prefer to engage with. 
We are aware that the numbers of adoptive parents facing serious risks daily are in a small minority compared to the numbers who need support for less extreme behaviour. However we feel it is urgent that the Adoption Support Fund can firstly listen and not exclude or silence those who are in danger and secondly engage with real and effective solutions for this minority. Adoption is lauded and promoted extensively by our government as it is viewed to be the best chance at permanency for some of the most vulnerable children. The real risk of not supporting frightened, angry and violent children to remain safe is the complete opposite of security and permanency. If children are removed from adoptive homes due to their extreme violence the future for them can look extremely bleak.

Support For Violent Children: What Next? (Part One) 

When we made the decision to set up an adoption related charity three years ago it wasn’t because we had nothing to do in our spare time. We passionately wanted to support other adoptive families and try to bring out into the open what we then believed was a very rare situation…children being so frightened and anxious that this leads them to becoming extremely violent and adoptions being at real risk of disruption because of it.We aimed to help just a few families a year that we felt may be living in this situation.
As we sat at our kitchen table in 2013 planning how to start a charity as a family, we were slowly coming out of what can honestly be described as a torturous and surreal phase that lasted for over ten years. The issue in our family was my amazing, loving, intelligent and funny daughters uncontrollable anxiety and fear that led to her losing her faculties on a regular basis. Sadly for all of us, but especially her, the result of this was rage and anger that damaged us to the core.

As I sit at the same kitchen table three years later we realise we are sadly unable to manage the level of calls for support we get to the charity. Families desperate and in crisis. Clinging onto half lives for absolute fear of losing frightened children back to the system from which they came. We are often the last port of call after going through the current adoption support systems and assessments. Many have already been trained in NVR (non violent resistance) listened in conference to multiple experts and attended one too many therapeutic parenting events.

It’s very hard for people to understand what violence from a young or small child could possibly look like. Many cannot imagine and sadly as a result cannot always believe. The truth is it is powerful. In our case it resulted in many hospital visits, injured pets, ruined personal relationships, isolation, poor mental and physical health for all closely involved. 

The SAS say the most dangerous and unpredictable violence stems from fear. I can see this.  In the early days before I became more trigger aware it would seem that the violence came out of the blue. Before you knew it an ordinary day could turn into one which may involve broken glass, chaos, blood, spit, vomit, urine and tears.

As I grew to know my daughter I started to understand and recognise the triggers. Knowing them doesn’t stop them happening though. Nobody can live in the bubble of walking on eggshells and isolation at all times no matter how therapeutic they may want to be.

Thankfully, I knew that despite being extraordinary behaviour to me based upon my personal experience of family life, the behaviour my daughter showed was, despite its extremity, an ordinary and understandable expression of fear from her. She was a survivor. A child who witnessed chaos, mental illness, discrimination, fear and violence. A child subsequently removed from all that she loved despite its most obvious and damaging failings. 

Sadly her mum was horribly abused both in care and by a string of unsuitable men. This resulted in her having severe anger problems, exacerbated by undiagnosed learning difficulties. When she should have been cared for, healed, held and supported she was imprisoned and homeless and living on the adrenalin fuelled edge. Her children’s father, a gentle man, bore the brunt of it often in front of them. She told me recently that he never once retaliated to her shouting and bullying and pushing and punching. He did a better job at self control than me.

The one thing we knew, my daughter, her mum and I, was that we had to be honest about our experiences in order to help others. It was for that reason that we launched the charity with a very personal film about our lives. During the film violence is portrayed and discussed. This includes me describing the early days when upon faced with her doing shocking self harm at aged 5, I (leftie, peace and love parent) slapped her.Crying, I rang our social worker (who knew all about the violence I was experiencing). A child protection issue was flagged up but no help came. How different our lives could have been with early intervention of the right kind.

I confess that over the years I sometimes shouted (including swear words), pushed her away as she came at me with sharp objects, physically held her to stop her punching me or another person and at times must have shown extreme revolt on my face. Thankfully I managed to balance that out with a protective love so raw and true it was emotionally stronger than anything I had ever felt. We were in it together for the long haul and she knew it. We both deserved better understanding and support in honour of our commitment.

The violence continued for years and unconfined it became more powerful and dangerous for us all. The teenage years were the most scary. She was a strong thirteen year old and I was exhausted. The trauma had fully seeped into us all. At that time a clinical psychologist in CAMHS suggested we learnt how to do safe restraint. Nobody in the local authority would touch it with a barge pole. We all knew we desperately needed it.

The strange thing is that most of the time I was seeking support (and getting none) the general attitude was that my child was my full responsibility now and there was no legal duty to support her other than assess us to the max. Generally assessments were triggers as well as putting the spotlight on me in order to find any parental failings that may be causing the violence. We had to just get on with it. But when it came to us wanting to contain her anger with safe holding, the autonomy of our families decision making was taken away. It was received as if we somehow wished to hurt her or would hurt her by doing it wrong as being adopters not teachers, care workers or nurses meant we were clearly stupid.

We realised at this point, and it’s important to understand this, that she had begun to live in fear of herself more than anything else. Her key anxiety trigger became the fear of her own violence. This meant regulation and repair after an episode became more and more short lived. An ordinary headache, general irritation, or hormonal feeling, would make her panic that it was coming. Her body was subsequently propelling itself into the very thing she feared. She described her episodes as like epileptic fits that came out of nowhere. She was genuinely scared she was going to kill me or somebody else in a rage black out. It became a cycle that was impossible for either of us to break. This eventually resulted in her running away or self harming every time she felt angry. She said this was better than hurting me or our friends or the cats. She once asked her social worker if she could be “put to sleep” like an animal. Sometimes she would literally bang her head over and over against a wall. She still has weakness in her wrist from punching a tree with full force. She has bite scars on her arms.

There began to be social worker talk of residential care and secure units. I used to regularly lie awake at night fearing that my very sensitive, kind, honest and scared daughter would be removed…the most frightening thing to her after accidentally killing me. I pictured her in a secure unit with the more street wise kids terrifying her. I pictured her puffing up and kicking off regularly. I pictured staff doing ‘pin down’ like they regularly did to her brother in care. I pictured her alone, locked in her room with her thumb in her mouth. Her parents were also at their wits end contemplating the possibility of their daughter failing to thrive in a second family and experiencing the same abusive life in care that her mother had. 

Sadly without any meaningful support for us she ran too far away one day and was seriously harmed by a stranger who took advantage of her vulnerability. The result of this episode, too horrible to fully describe, was we were told by our LA that from that moment on nobody could support me or look after her without being taught safe hold techniques. This followed a safeguarding meeting where our care and ability to keep her safe was in question. It was ‘my fault’ she had come to harm. This meant when we were at our lowest and most emotionally exhausted we couldn’t access any help whatsoever whilst my two loyal and rare support friends waited to get trained up. The irony would be hilarious if it were not so sad.
If we had been given the training at the right time thousands of pounds worth of damage would not have been done, hospital and police costs would have been saved. We could have avoided expensive but meaningless assessments and multi agency meetings that went nowhere. Most importantly our families would not have been so psychologically damaged. Therapeutic parenting courses, NVR, therapy and understanding triggers, much as they are certainly needed, do not count for anything realistic when fear based violence rears its very ugly and dangerous head.

So that is why we wanted to make change. Not to hurt children or be considered as dangerous in any way. Ironically, although we were the first adoptive and birth family working together to open up our experience of violence publicly and the first adoption focused charity to talk about and offer support with violence in the family, this has not really served us that well. It has made certain professional people feel wary. It has not sat well within the recent and relentless agenda of adopter recruitment. It certainly hasn’t got us on any expert boards despite our knowledge and experience. Despite our open attempts it hasn’t created any useful collaborations with those that hold the power within adoption support circles.

We could have peddled only the softer stuff as a charity. Regurgitated Dan Hughes theory for a price. Made a happy clappy film about adoption. Denied our adoption experience. We may have been more commissionable, raised more money from training or writing or speaking or recruiting. There’s distance from those violent times for us all now but we will never forget. We very often think of those in that horrendous position today, tonight and tomorrow. They may be in a minority but that does not make them less important. Who is really speaking out for them in this new world of adoption support that creates multiple jobs, profitable opportunities and commissions? 

We were eventually trained in safe restraint by the accredited company Securicare. They work nationally in hospitals, children’s homes and with families who have birth children who cannot help their violent responses. They are commissioned by local authorities. The trainer we had was full of empathy and understanding. Like a breath of fresh air. She came into the home and cared about all of those involved. She produced an individual and full care plan which was delivered in both paper and digital form for filing and easy access by professionals. She was very clear that holding is as a last resort and gave realistic, practical and effective strategies to avoid holding if at all possible. The type of hold taught is age appropriate to the child. In our case it was a hold that is standing and using core body strength not aggression. It is safe and kind and involves verbal reassurance to the child throughout. My daughter was involved in conversations about why we were learning, what would happen during a hold and the end goal of safety for all. She was so relieved. Finally somebody had taken control of her safety. Our lives were changed immeasurably from that point. It cost £600 but it was priceless.
We now see her once a year to update the care plan. 
My daughter was able to live without fear of herself, to let go of the shame, begin to learn, to write about her true feelings, to thrive and most importantly to self regulate. Amongst the new safety it was also possible for her to work more effectively with professionals and despite being placed at aged five, she finally got a diagnosis of learning disability aged seventeen. Her relationships improved with her birth family and she was able to better understand her mums position within society which in turn improved her own self esteem.

It makes me feel angry if I think about it too much. The lost education, the lack of friends, the angry scenes, year after year, trauma on top of trauma. That’s the real risk to severely frightened children. Nobody being in control of their safety. 

Adoptive parents are some of the most assessed and scrutinised. Rightly or wrongly they are given some of the most vulnerable children to care for. They are capable of risk assessing their own lives and they don’t want to hurt children. They know they are more likely to hurt children when defending themselves from violence without training. Being out of control causes fear. In a violent situation somebody needs to be responding from a place of calm control that is not fearful, angry or exhausted even if this requires physical intervention.

This current week began with me presenting a talk to professionals at The Centre For Child Mental Health at the invitation of psychologist Dr Margot Sunderland. It’s the third time I’ve done it in the last two years. I was invited because as a charity we talk about the reality of living with a violent child. We talk about the anger that comes from displacement and broken relationships as well as abuse and neglect. We suggest potential strategies, including safe hold and if necessary, low level medication to keep children safe from harm and a potential life in secure accommodation. Nobody is shocked by what I say. People refer families to the charity based on the presentation but all we can really do is offer empathy and sign posting to other support organisations who generally advise a course of NVR. 

As a charity we have designed a unique package of support which includes safe hold training by Securicare. Families would stay at The Open Nest and have a DDP therapist (whom we have funded to train with Dan Hughes) providing childcare whilst parents are trained. As a charity we would provide free accommodation for up to two nights if needed. There would be ongoing peer support and free short breaks including access to annual summer camps. We cannot offer this package of support, even for free, because professionals will not, or feel unable, to sanction safe holding for adoptive families.

We feel as a family and as a charity we have played a major part in bringing this dark issue out into the open over the past few years, as have The POTATO group, parents of traumatised adopted teens (www.thepotatogroup.org.uk).

We would very much like to play a part in the conversations that have been growing around the complexity of violence in adopted families and what constitutes appropriate interventions. Most of all we would like to use our expertise and the experience of those who talk to us to provide effective support for families in crisis who may be at risk of having children removed. 

 This issue of violence within adoptive families is no longer hidden. Over the past three years a framework has been built to provide support to adoptees through the Adoption Support Fund. Talking about the issues should no longer be met with disbelief, criticism, denial or blank stares.
Please let’s start the conversation in high places and in doing so fully include and listen to the minority who have or who are experiencing extreme CPV and also those who may have solutions at hand.

If you have experienced CPV please add your voice and those of children to the ever growing information resource http://www.holesinthewall.co.uk

Marketing Adoption

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Marketing is a familiar concept to me. My Dad, once a teacher, has been self employed most of my life and remains so into his eighties. I have been self employed for the past 16 years. I have to market a small business in order to make sales to pay the wages, the HMRC and our families rent and bills in that order. I couldn’t work for anyone else because as an adopter I suddenly had to be at home for my children who couldn’t cope at school. I’ve had to be creative and watch every penny as a business person who believes in fair trade and sustainability. We avoid spending money on marketing. We communicate openly and honestly on social media and provide good customer service. We rely extensively on feedback, direct customer involvement and word of mouth.

I am also extremely interested, in a broader sense, in the representation of consumer groups via advertising and marketing. Many of us are familiar with that sinking feeling when marketing tries to address us as a particular generic group based on age or gender or feel depressed seeing marketing based upon our supposed aspirations as human beings. Often we can’t relate to a marketing companies view of us as a generic consumer group and it can seem comical or at worst offensive.

At certain times of the year, as a multi faith country, we see the resurrection of Jesus as an opportunity for profit in the marketing of chocolate eggs and fluffy bunnies, and then his birth is marketed via the consumption of food, drink and luxury goods. We see the irony in adverts for slimming, fitness, ‘bikini bodies’ and beach holidays after the mass consumerism of Christmas. But it works. Adverts are designed to sell products or ideas. There is a psychological science to it all. Marketing is a very lucrative business.

Citizens are increasingly valued by their ability to consume. Spend without getting into debt and eat as much as you can but don’t show the curves and you will be a perfect consumer.

Marketing to and around children is a tricky and uncomfortable part of being a consumer society. It gives rise to branded snacks and drinks being placed in educational settings where the playing fields have been sold off for profit and children feeling they are lacking as human beings if they don’t have the right junk food, technology or trainers.

I became an adopter over 16 years ago after answering a small advert in our local paper. Seeing the advert was not the first time I had considered adoption. It had been in my mind for years. The advert nudged me at the right time. The result of answering the advert was that I met my daughter. I’m guessing I’m a statistic for that particular adoption agency that says marketing works to attract adopters. It also worked financially for the agency as they received a substantial fee as the private adoption agent and therefore salaries were paid. Of course there was no meaningful after care service and my daughter and I just muddled on into the future together as best we could. We certainly didn’t see the agency for dust when the going got tough.

When we sought urgent support with education and supporting contact those on the end of numerous agency telephones acted much like crap call centres for some major consumer products do. Stock answers, defensive responses, lack of actual care. Passed around from one department to another. It’s bad enough when it’s about your broadband but when it’s about a child’s life and security it’s torturous and scary. People get hurt. We got hurt.

When the current government decided to reform adoption the central focus of reform was the recruitment of adopters. In line with this approach, the initial budgets were firmly rooted in attracting more people to give a secure home to children unable to stay with their birth family and apparently waiting to be loved and made happy. Phrases like ‘languishing in care’ were (and remain) key campaign strap lines.

The ‘unable to stay with their birth family’ bit of the campaign does not question any inequality in support to children dependent on class, race or legal status. Diminishing funds for early intervention programmes, children’s social, housing, financial, educational and health issues, alongside government commitment to austerity policies are whitewashed out in most adoption recruitment campaigns.

The first round of money for adoption recruitment came from The Early Intervention Fund. One hundred and fifty million pounds was shifted from the early intervention budgets to adoption recruitment. This was overseen by Michael Gove and attracted criticism from some children’s services professionals. To put it in a very simplistic nutshell, if you remove early intervention at the same time as removing funding from all support services to families you are likely to have more children needing state care and support . Add into that a speeding up of the adoption process, adoption target cultures and cuts in legal aid and you’re on a clear mission.

Next rounds of funding included the providing of adoption recruitment budgets to local authorities, a £2 million pound contract was tendered to become the ‘adoption gateway’ a one stop advice and information service for prospective adopters, specific funding for marketing adoption (including roadshows, light projections, leaflets, balloons, cake and children’s profiles on Twitter) funding to specific government approved support agencies and £1.5 million pounds worth of government funded new adoption agencies, each with specific number targets to reach.

Watching it all unfold as an experienced adopter and long term foster carer made me feel like I do when I watch candidates ignore the market research or make cheesy sales adverts on The Apprentice. But much worse.

If you’re going to market children at all, then ethics has to be at the top of the agenda. Personally I wouldn’t go with marketing adoption to people heading into Tescos for some washing powder or cat food. I wouldn’t put pictures of children in care on social media. I wouldn’t hold adoption parties or make National Adoption Week all about recruitment. But that’s just me. I especially can’t help but imagine I was the child on Facebook or Twitter and how I might feel seeing the previous marketing of myself as an adopted (or not) adult. Imagining being the relative of the child makes me shudder.

I’m absolutely sure my daughter was a child who couldn’t stay with her birth parents without her mum being given empathic support long term support. That sadly was not going to happen. Nobody cared for her after she left care. I also think without the public resources to provide long term skilled therapeutic foster care, adoption was right for her. I think the adoption system was wrong for us all. I could have done with some much bigger truths in the transaction. I could certainly have done without learning on the job at my daughters expense.

If I was given the job of finding families for children and not children for families I would market permanence, safety and security differently. The millions of pounds spent on marketing adoption would have been spent on education around children’s mental health, the effects of poverty and inequality on families and the marketing of permanence in all its forms. The largest proportion of the budget would have been spent on improving children’s mental health assessments and improving the provision and delivery of children’s mental health services, including within schools. Adoption would of course be included but as a very specialist intervention suitable not only for few children but also for few families. An intervention with complex needs.

Each child placed for adoption would have a skilled needs assessment and a support budget designed to meet their ongoing and individual needs and this budget would be attached to the child prior to the adoption order.

Prospective Adopter Application

Are you a family who would be able to voluntarily care for and love somebody else’s child or children up until the age of 18 and beyond. Can you commit to caring for one or more of the very few children in the UK for whom being legally severed from their historical and geographical roots is without any doubt necessary for safety reasons.

Are you willing and able to maintain all meaningful and safe connections for that child throughout its childhood. This may be with birth family members, siblings and previous carers who are not a danger to the child.

You will need to demonstrate that you have the knowledge to access the support services that your individual child has been assessed as needing in advance of placement. These may focus on loss, grief, dual identity, displacement and in most cases the life changing effects of neglectful or abusive relationships. You will be required to demonstrate empathy towards and full understanding of the social and political circumstances and inequalities faced by most families who lose their children.

You will need to manage a support budget which will be paid directly to your family. You must show evidence of being able to account for money spent through the support budget and present accounts annually.

You will be expected to manage anger and potentially aggressive responses from your child if they are anxious and angry following being removed from their family and adopted. You must be able to demonstrate understanding of valid anger, power relations, triggers to trauma and trauma related responses. You must be able to remain calm and focused under extreme pressure and in all confrontations. You must provide evidence of at least two other people who can voluntarily provide specialist care to your child when you take the breaks required to provide empathic parenting.

You will need to demonstrate the ability to deal with the unexpected in terms of your child’s development and be prepared for sudden changes in plans due to the needs of your child. You may need to consider a change in career or your working hours if your child cannot manage at school.

You must be able to professionally advocate for your child and be able to show evidence and understanding around mental health issues, developmental uncertainties, benefits entitlement, special educational needs, attachment difficulties and be able to manage skilled family history work,life story work and complex family relationships.

You will be required to pass on your specialist knowledge to all those supporting your child professionally. A knowledge of the social care system and the differing approaches and language used in health, education and social care is essential.

In today’s consumer society there exists thousands of mailing lists based upon professions, spending and lifestyle habits. Distasteful as these are, it would be possible to directly target specific groups with truthful and realistic marketing.

I don’t think I would be put off by truth but would feel security in the fact that the ‘advertiser’ was taking the requirements of ‘the job’ of child protection seriously.
I would feel confident that with the right assessment and support in place from the beginning, I would be more likely to be able to provide the right care to a child or children displaced from their family. I would believe the system would support the child, its birth family and my family in dealing with the complexity and sadness of modern adoption and I would hopefully understand that good adoption practice and parenting was not necessarily about transferring ownership from one family to another.

Sadly, but still relevantly, western cultures have a long history of ‘consuming’, assimilating or destroying cultures perceived as being other to the patriarchal and white based model of what is considered to be desirable, successful or good.

Current reform marketing often presents, probably in good faith, a concept of adoption that is culturally close to adoptions western cultural roots. It is presented to the general public as a charitable intervention that without question, saves and subsequently heals children. Appealing only to the charitable, saviour or ‘consumer’ side of those that adoption adverts are aimed at whitewashes the adoptee experience from the outset.

As many people are now marketing and media savvy consumers, I feel a more honest approach to the reality of broken families and the resilience, empathy and awareness needed to succeed in supporting them would be more likely to ensure the right parents are found for children experiencing trauma, grief and loss.

Mothers Day 2016 

Mother’s Day is really hard for because I got two mums ad that’s really hard as it is but deep down it mum bear that is my mum she makes me fell safe she tells me when I’m wrong or been a drama queen and all so is their to comfort me in dark times. she makes me cry how much she does for me ad how important I I’m to hear ad I fell bad that I don’t do the same as I do find it really hard to think off others. I don’t fell the same about Dawn as mum bear the one I wish was thear. mum bear is the one I go to when I’m hert ad sad or angry ad I do fell that Mother’s Day is a money marking thing and I cart stand all them bloody sickening cards what don’t make EY sense if u don’t fell love to words that person but mum bear is the only person I’m sloppy with ad I do fell it’s hard for kids when thay don’t have a mum or thay mum didn’t try ad thay in children’s homes. It brakes me when I think I got everything ad thay kids like that ad when thay get kick out at 18 when thay not ready then thay get into chrimes ad thay get in to trouble when actually thay not been bad just need help ad it really makes me won’t to be a parent. I’m was the lucky one I got mum how means every thing to me ad As I’m getting les angry ad lashing out I’m get very very very pritactive ad I loved her more than EY thing. she very funny ad I love chilling with her ad her cooking is just the best thing ever it warming ad makes me fell warm ad safe ad her hugs do the same my favourite things when I hug her is her smell that just like u back with mum u safe ad u don’t have to be hard man ad I love her with my pet ginnie pig ollie it like I’m parent and she granny ad thay so a like. 

ENy way to much sloppy ness now yuck! 
Me and Ollie 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=CWJ5vYatZHU

Inside Out (Trauma Stylee)

Inside Out image

Anxiety is some think in body that sets your heart rate up. what happens to me when I’m anxious is I talk to much I smoke to much and I get hevery breathing nd I start shaking nd I wet my self a lot nd I get less hungry nd I go rally clingy to mummy bear nd anxiety can lead to panic attacks wich r hobble.

Anger is hobble felling it eats u up. what I get when I’m angry I get rally coxey nd pushey nd I do Lounds of wate liffding nd I play rally angry music nd I put on a voise so no one comes near me nd I have day dreams about slashing my arms up nd shaving all my hire off nd I get rally rude nd I over play music.

Sadness is all so hobble. I get like rally sad nd I cart deal with to much talk nd I rally don’t like been over told off nd I hate eye contact then I don’t like to much body contact nd I just won’t to bee on my own nd put my head phoes on beause I fell like I’m pee of shit nd I get rally bad nd hobble thorts like blood nd clowns nd killing people nd all so cuting my self so I get a buzz nd kick out of it

Joy is happy what I’m like I’m quite funny loving nd huggy nd help full

Love well thay Lound s of different love but in love it’s hobble beause u cart think of ey thing els no one els separate the person how u in love with. when I fell that I get inprot with my sport works nd I get sexist nd I get moody nd I get all sex up nd try waching porn nd play love songs nd I day dream a lot.

Fear is wear u r skerd. what I’m like I get rally skerd about going out in the car nd doing stuff nd I’m all ways skerd mummy bear going to fall down the seras nd hert her self or die nd when I’m skerd I poo or wet my self nd I get rally clingy with mummy bear

Embarrassment Is wear u get embarrassed about some thing so like u see some one how u fancy nd thay give u complmnt about how u look or your mum said some think in basing or dad. I get like I get argent nd put on tuff man voise nd I walk the chimp nd I go red or I just don’t say ey thing

Don’t Feed The Hand That Bites?

The closure of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering  is confusing. One minute they seemed to be one of the governments top ‘go to’ charities for all things adoption related. Playing a key part in recent adoption reforms they received healthy funding from many sources and were commissioned by the DfE in several areas. Yet they closed overnight, dumping hundreds of staff, and we must presume families, in the crap. Right at a time that their expertise was being used extensively to train adoption professionals and promote the current adoption agenda of higher numbers, they crumbled.

The last accounts seemed healthy but there was clearly no reserve as the financial climate has been the explanation given. The no reseve issue has also come up with Kids Company this week. A second massive government funded charity gone overnight. Both overwhelmed by demand or simply mismanaged?

The plan for some of BAAFs services was clearly thought through and they were handed to Coram before the closure was announced. I haven’t heard of any pre planning on the closure of Kids Company but have read some government statements;

“The welfare of these young people continues to be our primary concern and we are now working closely with local authorities to make sure they have access to the services they require”

That’s the irony of politics for you.

The Open Nest is a tiny charity. A grain on the sand of other charities beaches. No matter how small a charity you are though, the politics of a government still affect you and those you support.

“The important thing charities should be doing is sticking to their knitting” Brooks Newmark: Charities Minister 2014

We choose not to chase or take funding with any whiff of ‘gagging’ conditions. This is partly because we feel we should stand up for the people we represent as a charity without compromise or editing. Sometimes this means actively criticising or questioning policy and as a result we accept this means not getting certain funding or endorsements.  We also feel we might start important work that we know needs doing, but at the same time have no long term security for that work. The potential for letting people down can be very real when none of us have a magic wand and some people need continuity and support for life. This is one of our charities key concerns with The Adoption Support Fund. We would prefer  that all support services were a statutory right for all children and not dependent on charity or commerce.

For The Open Nest the aim as a small charity is to try and provide quality rather than quantity, this alongside creative independence. No cut throat competitions for endorsement or comissions, an active voice and an easily accessible service. We can’t change the world but feel we can change our corner of it. We have nothing to sell. We can’t even imagine being a big charity. We would however hope to influence big charities. We formed precisely because we had no faith in the government to not leave adult adopted people and birth families out of the adoption reforms, to focus on adoptees rights to their own history and information, to improve routes and assessments to support, or to not leave any adopted children (or any children for that matter) in the lurch support wise.

Despite being small, a charity or support organisation can have real impact on both awareness raising and support to the community it represents. This can reach nationally and cost effectively with the creative use of social media and creative fundraising strategies.

Sometimes where charites are concerned big is not always beautiful when it comes to enabling rather than disabling or infantilising people who seek empathic support.

Our experience of BAAF as a group of trustees made up of adopted adults and adoptive parents is that we had no real connection with it. Individuals amongst us who had experienced its culture did not feel hugely positive about it. We felt it appeared to represent professionals rather than those directly affected by adoption. We have not received any public attention from it as a vocal, albeit small and independent user led charity. It did however use our (free of charge) community made animation in its national training of adoption support professionals. We always liked the individual BAAF staff we met. It strangely didn’t seem to express much sorrow via its trustees at the closing down of it’s services (We would be interested to hear more adoption community experiences of it to challenge our experience or suggest reasons for why it was no longer viable)

My experience of Camila Batmangelidgh is only personal. My daughter and I met her at an event. My daughter was struggling massively with triggers and anxiety and discussed this openly. Camila gave us both authentic responses and was a major influence on my daughters road to recovery after that meeting. She gave us her personal contact details and told my daughter she could call her anytime. After this meeting we had further communication about a few things including lack of support to traumatised people. Another time in 2013 she described having to work 24/7 for funding to keep services going. When we founded The Open Nest she sent us a meaningful letter of support and  encouragement. Communicating with us had no perks in it for her.

You can’t bottle that. If you could charities probably wouldn’t need to exist at all.

Whatever the outcome of these two big charities closing, it has been interesting to see the huge press interest in one and distinct lack of it with the other. I have found it disturbing to see the negative speculation about Kids Company and in particular personal attacks on Camila Batmanghelidgh including her looks and personality.

The key debates should be whether big charities are ever in a safe position to provide expensive services to children which should rightly be provided by the government anyway. Whether the commissioning of charities by the government to provide children’s services takes place in a fair market or goes to the quiet compliants, or most forceful founders. How dangerous is it to become the governments darling as a charity, and who picks up the pieces on behalf of children and families when the love affair ends?

 

Guest Blog On Adoption Reform From an Adult Adopted From Care

The lack of involvement of adoptees in adoption reform is astounding, and I am glad people are speaking about this. Most people would take a dim view if a government organisation intended to help LGBT teenagers did not contain any LGBT people on its board. It’s true that there aren’t really any organisations which solely represent people adopted from care. However, there are adoptee organisations which contain an increasing proportion of care-adoptees, and I don’t think there’s been any real attempt to engage with them. The only adoptees who are ever engaged with are under 25 (I have theories about this).

I would argue that it is the responsibility of those in positions of power to seek out those who are disenfranchised, rather than take the easiest route of listening to those who are already shouting loudly (and often in chorus). Certainly, it takes more effort to locate minority individuals when they have not yet established a group consciousness with like-experienced others. However, I do wonder how far people actually want adult adoptees to develop such a consciousness – let alone organise themselves into a lobbying power! The adopted adult is, one presumes, the intended product of all adoption reform. (Although I do sometimes doubt this). Why not check up on them? And if the government will persist in focussing on adoption, which lasts the whole life course, they ought to be seeing how adoption works out, across the whole life course.

Engagement with adoptees can start simply. I have on occasion found myself having to tick the box that says ‘Other’ when responding to questionnaires about fostering and adoption. This is bizarre when more or less everyone, including adopters, charities, and social workers, has a box to tick. Clearly adoptees are not stakeholders in adoption, and neither do they have any knowledge that can be shared. Creating a situation where an adoptee is forced to ‘Other’ themselves in a conversation about adoption is really quite an achievement. It is also – may I say – a psychologically weird thing to have done to you. I could write a book on being forced to author my own othering with a pen. But I digress. A very simple thing that ALL organisations can do: unless it is a very specific study, have a box for adult adoptees. Not just ‘young people’: there is a danger that these opinions are immediately disregarded as ‘aaw, that’s so sad, but…’, and you also disenfranchise an awful lot of people. Something like ‘Adult adoptee’ or ‘Adult adopted from care’ or ‘formerly-fostered adult’ will do. A survey just for adopters? Fine. But for the love of everything that is sane: do not have a box for everyone BUT adoptees. Simple, but effective.

Furthermore, as an adoptee, I find the focus on timescales extremely odd. Time is not even on the list of things I would discuss. Certainly, how long it takes to place children with adopters can be a useful proxy for measuring success, but it is not without its problems, and it is only one of many measurements.

The truth of it? How successful different LAs are in their current adoption practices will not be known until 20-30 years from now.

I’m glad it’s been mentioned how relationships and grief are glossed over. I do not see how inhumane practises can ever be seen as successful. Focussing on timescales and not on relationships reeks of being a little too efficient with people’s lives. Why is the government not doing anything about the findings of The Care Inquiry, which identified relationships – and broken relationships – as the dominant (and self-identified) narrative and thread in children’s lives? Why is the government focussing instead on timescales and lopping off a month here and there?

I was “waiting” for so long that the length of time I was “waiting” isn’t even found on the current adoption timetable spreadsheets (I kid you not). Yet after a frankly horrific year of the worst the care system can perpetrate upon a child (far worse than anything I was supposedly ‘rescued’ from), I finally made my way to a loving, secure, foster home where I thrived. I was there perhaps too long, but when Mr Timpson says “Every single day a child spends waiting in care for their new family is a further delay to a life full of love and stability. This just isn’t good enough”, I am mightily worried by the short-sightedness, and the lack of realisation that even in care children should be living a life of love and stability. Does he really mean to suggest that his foster carer parents did not give their foster children a life full of love? Children should be allowed to live fulfilling lives at EVERY stage. Never once did I feel I was “waiting”: I was busy in the present, going to school, doing my homework, etc. One worries that sometimes the rhetoric about waiting, being chosen, and adoption being superior may be absorbed unknowingly by some children and damage the self-esteem of those not ‘chosen’ quickly. Instead, ensure that these children – including pre-adoptees – are secure (not moving), and that they feel valued.

If there was investment in the foster care system, there would be much less need to speed things up on account of supposed ‘languishing’ or poor outcomes. No one (and certainly not me) is saying that children should sit around for years on end with no decision. But why are the poor experiences of children in local authority care seen as a reason to speed up adoption, and not seen a reason to invest in the care system? Does the government maybe think that improvement there is impossible, and has simply abdicated its responsibility to provide for all children in care?

Will there be similar attempts to improve foster care matching, and central government involvement in this too? Will the central government have a drive for foster parents, as with adoptive parents? Will questions be asked of the foster care landscape, with its mix of LA and independent providers, competitive bidding, and different ways of commissioning placements? And will proper attention be given to how far these processes and this hodgepodge of for-profit, not-for-profit and LA providers truly help or hinder the welfare of foster children (or bring down costs to the state)?

Why not look at the reasons for moves? Some of my moves were ‘structural’, such as my (heavily traumatic) move from my foster parents to adoptive parents. Others were due to the unavailability of suitable foster placements and therefore having to move between emergency carers because of a ‘shortage of beds’. If care is so poor, why not have a central government recruitment drive for foster parents, and government investment in foster care matching and support?

If you invest in the care system, adopters may find that their children are that little less damaged, as, where this is an issue, any pre-natal and birth family damage has not been compounded by the care system. And if you invest in the care system, a little extra time can be bought for proper decision-making to occur – because, whilst all avenues of support and care are properly explored, the children thrive. Adopters can therefore also rest safe in the knowledge that everything possible was done. (This is, of course, assuming that adopters are happy for their children to have thrived with previous foster parents….). And, taking a long-term view – longer than a 5-year Parliament term – investing in the care system can do a lot for your adult homeless, prisoner, and unemployed populations. But maybe the government just sees all this as too intractable – or perhaps the most vulnerable in society are not worth public investment in our apparently cash-strapped times.

In the UK only around 9-16% of children are adopted by their foster carers (it varies year to year – when people bother measuring it). In the US (speaking of foster care adoption, which they do have a lot of), the situation is reversed: it is rare to adopt from foster care as a ‘straight adoption’ adopter, and in some states it is simply impossible to adopt from foster care without being registered as a foster parent first. Whether or not this is the right approach (to cut structural moves and to prevent broken relationships), this does show how wedded the UK is to certain models. Even recent forays into foster-adoption still emphasise that they are adopters first and foremost – they just have to do this pesky thing first. And then of course there are emergency foster placements, short-term, long-term, etc. The system is built around the convenience of the adults involved. And this does not even bring into the discussion foster placements that break down due to a lack of support, training, or proper matching.

I could go on and on. I could talk about place, and ask how far the need of some adoptees to be near certain places will be properly considered in this Brave New World, or how far the need for slow introductions is accounted for by league tables. One day I may write about being sped through the introductions process (six weeks), or the effect of my parents’ re-approval for an older age range (due to a lack of younger children). Speeding up the adopter approval process, and perhaps overlooking the want for a particular kind of child, or altering a child’s contact arrangements to make them more attractive – these have long-term effects that really need to be looked at in more depth.

Adoption needs to be done properly, not just quickly. When asked in The Care Inquiry, children in care, adoptees, and care leavers did not speak of efficiency, they spoke of relationships. Let’s not let companies become too efficient with people’s lives.