Post Adoption Support….I May Eat My Hat!

It’s fourteen years next month since we adopted each other. It’s been an epic journey and it certainly continues to be so. During this time I have been an avid follower of all things political, media related and policy making around adoption. I’ve watched and listened, contributed and written to MP’s. All this alongside just trying my best to have some semblance of a healthy and secure existence for my daughter.

I have never felt she was ‘owned’ by me just because she was in my longterm care, and yet when she needed support post adoption, the general response to our desperate need for help was that she was very much ‘mine’. This constant misunderstanding of her needs by our local authority, as well as her placing authority, struck me as horribly ironic. The state intervened in her birth family as her learning disabled mother sadly could not care for her and without having any support was severely and cruelly neglecting her needs. I can’t believe that nobody professional we met understood the ‘double whammy’ nature of this, and how a person full of rage due to displacement followed by further neglect of their needs was ever going to heal and thrive without great support, let alone the neglect being by those who purport to, and are paid to care.

Of course I did what most adopters do and tooled myself up, trained by Dan Hughes, read Caroline Archer and the like, applied to get help from charities such as Family Futures and Adoption UK. We even latterly attended a pitiful and run down CAMHS. We got nothing really solid, regular enough or meaningful enough and I essentially became an amateur psychologist as well as a teacher and a mum. All very well, but at what cost to my daughter? I can honestly say that the most stress caused to us was by the constant ignoring or misinterpretation of my begging for help. It felt like cruelty to us both. I’m sure we may have been the ‘complex’ case we were described as, but I knew what we needed and I know it wasn’t too much to ask. The rubbish assessment processes, mismanaged meetings, unaware social workers and budget conscious managers took up all the funding we might have had.

My original assessment as a suitable adopter was clear in its positive reporting that as a previously qualified social worker, I would be able to successfully identify a child’s needs and ask for appropriate support. That would seem laughable now if it wasn’t so sad.

So back to today. I feel as an adoptive parent I should be celebrating the Governments announcement for funding to support adoptive families. After all I am so galvanised by our experiences that I have formed a charity to try and help others with free post adoption support. (There is no catch, we will listen and we will believe and we will understand) The funding will come from myself and other volunteers fund raising, no big charity boss salaries.

My daughter is now an adult and living with support in her own home. I could go back to work to pay off the huge debts I incurred as a single parent unable to work, I could finally do my MA that I was due to start fourteen years ago, I could quite frankly laze about for at least a year to recharge my very worn out batteries, but I can’t because I feel so passionate. I feel very strongly that maybe our small contribution might mean a small amount of traumatised children might not be ignored and unsupported to the point that they are unable to remain safely in their second family. Maybe some adoptive parents might feel they got a meaningful and empathic support response that didn’t have a price tag. Maybe our creative, user led, non profit approach might be considered good practice by those who hold the power and we won’t be seen as “just mothers” playing at the big boys game. We can but try.

Sadly my experience tells me that the Governments recent announcement is not very ‘charitable’ and may amount to a political sticking plaster on a gaping wound. There are hundreds of children and parents out there now who need urgent support. They can’t wait for years to see if pilot schemes work for the lucky ones. £20 million may seem a lot, but its nothing when specialist therapeutic professionals can charge up to £1000 for a days staff training, £3000 for a detailed assessment, £100-£300 per hour for therapy, and a specialist therapeutic programme costs approx £30,000 per family per year if your child is developmentally traumatised. Some of our children have sadly become big money clients in all this.

(As an aside, a news item I saw this week whilst thinking of creative solutions to care was applauding the creative skills of the British and how we export our creativity successfully. This was in the context that the development of the new Grand Theft Auto game was done in Scotland. The cost of that creative development for a game which encourages crime and violence was £175 million).

If we like it or not, fostering and adoption make money, wether its saving money in the case of adoption over fostering, or simply in private agencies gaining fees to fund their jobs in the care ‘industry’. The National Fostering Agency was sold last year for approx £130 million. Private adoption agencies make money and the average fee gained for placing a child with an adoptive family is £27,000. Support agencies make profit.  It’s reportedly been tough for the smaller agencies to survive with prospective adopters low in numbers, hence the Governments recent financial assistance to help them make more “sales”. I know being professional and skilled deserves and needs payment, but not the expense of those one is in the business of supposedly helping.

At the moment I can see some current and existing services developing to gain potential post adoption support fund budgets. Of these, many will of course be well intended, creative, value for money, accessible to all and excellent, but some people can see money making opportunities. It makes me worried that once again, the people at the low end of the adoption food chain might be children

Apologies for my cynicism and if I am proved wrong by amazing, enshrined in law, support to all adoptees and their families (including kin) in the near future……meaningful and quick assessments of need, free therapy, quality identity and life story work, empathic fair access to education, specialist training and respite for parents and support to adoptees post eighteen……..I’ll eat my (very fashionable) hat.

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Safe Spaces Open Minds

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As a parent to someone who feels anxious and can be easily triggered to anxiety, safe spaces become really important. In our world these include my Mums kitchen, my Dads car, our living room, particularly the sofa, the woods, in a caravan, on the beach and most of all in each others arms.

Non safe spaces include, ironically, hospitals, police stations and social services offices. Pubs and anywhere involving alcohol are tricky as are family or friends gatherings which include small babies.

What can change an unknown space into a safe one for us is often the spaces in people’s minds. If they have open minds and can understand and empathise without much trouble then a scary space can quickly transform into something much less threatening .

It is often the inability of others to have space within a way of thinking that causes our young ones stress, whether adopted or not. Schools in particular can really help if they provide a calm “safe space” to be used when children are anxious, angry or upset, which most children are at some time.

When dealing specifically with trauma and extreme anxiety, a safe space is a place where not only do people believe the anxious person, but also allow for many different expressions of that anxiety without punitive judgement or fear.

Sadly in our care institutions, including many schools, this level of open mindedness is for some reason far too rare.

It was the discovering of this sad fact and through the personal experience of “dangerous” spaces that led to us start a support charity based upon the provision of safe spaces for traumatised children. We can provide a safe environmental space but most importantly we hope to provide openness in our minds, ears and responses for individuals to fit safely within.

All About The Boy

I first met Justin, Jazz’s brother, when I took her to say a “goodbye forever” contact with him and her other brother Freddie.

Afterwards it felt all wrong. Freddie was going to be adopted by a lovely couple but Justin was in a children’s home aged seven. Considered “not suitable for adoption”.

I can’t tell the whole story here for fear of going on a bit, but after fighting for over six years including a court case, Justin came to live in a house next door to Jazz and on a long term therapeutic foster placement. The years of safe family life lost in that process and the lack of quality care in the time he waited was unforgivable.

Its been a hard struggle to take part in the parenting of two traumatised children as many adopters will know all too well, but I don’t regret it at all. Myself, my friends and family have provided security, continuity and love to him, particularly Claudia who bravely committed to being his main mum at a very young age herself.

Although living next door to each other the children were a part of each others lives every day, especially as neither of them attended school. The support they needed as individuals caused a lot of stressful and attention seeking behaviour from them both and I could see why the court made the decision they needed a mum each, as I was a single carer.

Many years have gone by and as things stand the pair of them are not particularly close due to Justin’s behaviour which caused Jazz a lot of upset when they were in their teens. I think she loves him despite this and they had many fun times together as children.

Justin is a lovely man and it’s his 21st birthday tomorrow. I wish I could have got him out of the children’s home sooner and I wish he hadn’t experienced the things he did whilst in there. I feel honoured that he considers us as home. I will always admire his gentleness despite the horrors he has experienced, as well as his amazing woodsman skills, trying his hardest to be the man of the house.

I feel a lot of respect to those adopters who parent siblings who are traumatised. I feel siblings should be together if at all possible and where there is no risk of further trauma by being together.

As in many areas of adoption so much more is possible with the right support in place.

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Absent Fathers Day

Because its Father’s Day today I want to repost a previous blog about Jazz’s family. Family history can be a difficult issue in adoptive families. Sometimes information that comes via files, assessments and court proceedings is not enough to fill in the gaps or give a fair and rounded perspective on what led to such a major separation.

I feel we were lucky in that we could safely trace Jazz’s family and be given their story directly. This isn’t always possible or safe and adopters are not to blame for this. The local authority didn’t make it easy for us and I was extremely aware that it was a risk I was taking on my own.

Parts of Jazz’s family history are really sad. It’s not all hearts and roses and it is full of what if’s and if only’s. I have to constantly balance my anger at what Jazz’s Mum failed in and my empathy for her, and more importantly so does Jazz.

We have managed though and if it is at all possible to do it safely I recommend looking beyond the files (without informing your child at first), and doing some “who do you think you are” detective work of your own. Sometimes bits of information from beyond the point of ultimate tragedy striking a family can be very helpful in a child’s identity. Things like a grandparents name, a birth place, a family trade, a photograph.

These can be used positively to make life story work more rounded and perhaps a little less based in endings and separation.

History Is An Angel Walking Backwards Into The Future.

My name is Jazz…

 

 

My blog number tow

When I was 8 I met my berth mum and dad. It was a very hart pulling day. I ran up to my mum showting mummy I cried a lot. It was for all of us.

why was it upsetting?

because the ss said loads of horibiail thing about my mum and dad but pitikicley her.

We met in my home town which was hull we met at a a hotel we went for some lunch and then we went to get a bubble gum mashsean. I loved it I’ve been seing my mum and dad for 10 years.

How duse it mack me feell?

It’s a very mix fellings because some times I hite her but utther times I love her to bits. she can be a pain in the back side when se wont to bee when I see her it brings fellings Up fellind like why I’m a adopid.
See seams like a very nice person but then I look at her then I understand why. But the fellings like Duse she still love me? And Im I still her little girl? When she goes I some times get Vialent it mack me fell very mad.

Why do I get vialent?

because it brings up very hobble things up like haveing Flash backs of her been not very nice but I just try and put my brave face but peopel like my adopid mum No that some think isent right

Do I regrt meting her?

some times ya but the I look at her little face. Then I smile the I think no. I don’t regret meting her because I look and think she got the problem not me I’m like the mum .

But I just tink some times mummy bear is my rall mum I love them both very much.

The end

Mind The Gap

birth-family-contact

When I decided to adopt I was someone who had qualified as a social worker and had consequently worked within “the system”.

My political interests informed my practice and my specialism was outsider groups. I had worked with travellers to support the writing of letters to Government, learning disabled adults to form a clients committee, people with HIV and Aids to gain holistic health treatment, and a project to achieve an anti racist education model.

Very soon I realised social work wasn’t the job for me as I felt one could not afford to care properly, emotionally or financially. I made the decision to commit to actually caring for a lifetime. Better to try and make a difference to one person properly than manage budgets for an industry, that by its very nature, was too unwieldy to have true empathy.I believed empathy to be a key requirement in caring. The cliched but true “walk a mile in my shoes” thing.

When I was first handed a file with several children’s faces looking out I wanted to vomit. The potential match paperwork didn’t allow me to see, hear or smell them. Their fate was in my hands and it sent a shiver. They had no choice.

The “chosen” one arrived with little physical baggage but a whole lorry load of the emotional kind. Like a million tiny piece jigsaw (still haven’t completed it).

There was a life story book that began with life at the foster homes. The bit before her reaching four years old came in a damning file of demonisation and I hated her mum. Chaos, neglect, violence. What a bitch. Stupid cow. Thank god for good old me.

This judgement was short lived as more information filtered through via my daughter and also my political brain that always loved the possibility and truth of the sub text.

I started to do my own assessment based on a social work model and in an anti oppressive way as I had been dutifully taught by BASW.

I called the adoption team and asked to be put in touch with the birth parents. There was a shock horror tut tut reaction all round. I had never been given any advice on birth parent contact nor knew of any arrangements other than with her siblings.

The arrangement for her siblings was for me to preside, along with a social worker, over a final “goodbye forever” contact in a fun pub. The children ran amok, ate salt, spat a lot and kicked each other. My daughter gave her two brothers gingerbread men with smiley faces. There was more expression in the biscuits faces than theirs. I went through the motions but knew it was all wrong and horrendously managed.

I fought a long time to reverse the decision and one brother was adopted by a great open couple who allow contact and the other, after a lengthy court battle, came to live with us on a long term therapeutic foster placement.
The horrendous court delay cost him a lot emotionally as he was in a children’s home from six to twelve whilst we fought, but he still calls us home at twenty years old.

Back to the parents. I eventually insisted enough to get a meeting in a social work room with mum and dad. I was warned that I was going to face an angry violent woman who vehemently opposed the adoption and was a general public nuisance.

She had served a prison sentence for punching the social worker who took her children away. There would be two social workers present and security if necessary.

As the day approached I was pooping myself and prepared for the worst. As I made my way down the corridor and into the room my heart was beating out of my chest.

We came face to face. Birth mum and Adoptive mum. She came towards me, laid her head on my chest and wept like a child. It was one of the most powerful emotional experiences I have ever had. Birth dad, an elderly ex soldier was shaking in the background his veiny hand outstretched to mine.

From that day on I went with my gut moderated with a healthy dose of reality. I met with them many times before our daughter knew anything of it. I talked to them, filmed messages from them and challenged their denials or edits in a non judgemental way. I heard their stories that filled in the gaps in my ability to know our child. I made myself into a safe and sturdy bridge between them and her.

I started to slowly filter information to her about her parents and explored how she felt….. it varied between longing to see them and longing to shoot them. After watching the film where her mum said “its wasn’t your fault it was mine I’m not very well” she was ready to meet them.

The day remains etched in our minds and it still stings. I filmed it but we don’t know if we can share that yet. It is almost too powerful. A displaced and fragmented eight year old runs down a hotel corridor, arms open wide towards her mother shouting and sobbing “mummy!!!!!!”. Their embrace is heartbreaking and yet cathartic for all.

What follows is not a bed of roses or a skip into the sunset. It’s been bloody hard work to manage safely and therapeutically. My daughter faced triggers and showed challenging behaviour after some contacts. At certain times of development she has wisely, through therapy, chosen not to have contact for anything up to a year.  However what we have is a history that involves the elephant in the room sitting visible on our settee, drinking tea, celebrating Christmas and birthdays, sharing information and most importantly, slowly if at times clumsily, extracting shame, guilt and feelings of rejection from our daughters soul.

I have had to live with my decisions as any parent does. All parents have to make potentially life changing decisions for their children even when they are not psychologically damaged. I do not judge those who decide against contact. Each child is individual and some birth parents too selfish or damaged to play a part in any healing role. If mismanaged, contact can be retraumatising and cruel. The childs healing must be central to all and personal judgement must be put aside.

If contact is out of the question I would ask:

“has your experience of local authority assessments and support been good for you in order to support your child?  Has it ever felt like you and your child are seemingly abandoned by the system that put you together? Have you had to argue for help or get a bit stroppy to be understood on behalf of your child? Would more money help hugely to care for your child’s needs at home or school? Do you ever worry you can’t cope with your child? Do you ever feel like screaming or running away? Do you ever have to count to ten so as not to smack your child?”

If you have felt any of this as a secure, literate adult adopter spare a thought for the dispossessed, and if nothing else maybe try and teach your children the politics of deprivation and poverty. Educate them to the realities of social care, and the power some agencies hold in their position as a third parent. That third parent may be cruel in its ignoring your families cries for help. It may neglect or abandon you. I found it has helped to do that as my daughter has grown up. It promotes a healthy understanding, fighting spirit and self reliance that can aid the transformation from victim to survivor.

My name is Jazz…

 

 

My daughter wants to have her voice but is worried due to her severe dyslexia that people will, in her own words, ‘think I am stupid or thick’. She is neither and editing of her words as she writes affects the flow and concentration. I  have told her not to worry.

Here is the first part of her story. The music she has chosen comes from her emotions playlist. Jazz has always communicated through music. This week’s track sums up her negative feelings towards the system that has generally failed her.

My name is Jazz…

jazz desk

i was born in July.

i was tacen a way fome my berth mum when was 4 years old.

as the ss touk me away thay bangd my head on the door i got told bay my dad i was begging he to let me stay i pobley dident undersand way but my body will have i love them still to this day i was fosta bay fost mum and dad he was in the posest off dieing i rember to this day how much he ment to i was the favent he was like a popper dad and she was a prroper mum one of my merrise is hime saveing i can still smeil that smeil to this day

i met mummy bear when i was five i rember the day i felt a lot of diffent things

i felt happy and seked i was testing out a bit to much i gess i was prettey fuck up exsuse my langwich when she came to meet me we sticjk the touns out at ech uther we went to the park it was autam i spite in her face i guss i was testing her i bit to much.

i rember the ferst time i staid at my mummy bears house i had a yellow room with a moon light on the wall nexst to my bed wich had a winney poo dovey cover on it i lots off toys i no that moment i was loved we had lesaner for tea it was like ive been the size i was a baby i went back to my fosta mums and dads i cart rember if i cride or not then i had to say bay to my fosta dad i rember going to hotibal i goit him a card and some cholattes it was a siad day but i wont of undersand i was onlkey 5 so quite quickly i moved in with mummy bear because my fosta dad had died

History Is An Angel Walking Backwards Into The Future

The Ships Mate. A handsome man with the blackest eyebrows. Olive skin, a sea heritage and five ladies he loved. A father and a husband. He was a brave man.

As his twenty eight year old body was ripped apart, his Young Wife sat at home nursing their baby. The Youngest daughter of four.

Did The Captain think it best they pull in the mine protecting the fishing fleets that toiled beside them…. Or was it just a deadly catch.The Ships Mate paid with his life. As the mines lethal contents blew him out of the water his family’s lives were changed forever.

The Ship Mates Youngest Daughter didn’t recall him, but held the scent of him deep within her brain. Six months lying against his chest made sure of that. She had his eyebrows and a hereditary something nobody would be able to tell her about. By the time it properly showed itself her tired, bereft Mother ( once a Young Wife) would have given up.

The Seaman’s Mission could put food on the table but they couldn’t explain why The Shipmates Youngest Daughter was different, why she raged and hit out and ran away. Not like the others they were good girls. Not her. Mental. Not all there. Subnormal.

The Ship Mates Youngest Daughter needed help for the hereditary thing that nobody knew…..but she got hell. Would The Ships Mate have murdered those that abused his Daughter in the name of care, if only he were there.The Youngest Daughter dreamed that he would and the rage grew.

The Youngest Daughter was thirty, adrift and drunk when the Stubborn Old Soldier saw the good through her defiant dark eyes and fell in love.

The Youngest Daughter became The Mother… Too many, too quick. No time to mourn the one in between that died as he came out of her early and onto the hallway carpet.

The Mother raged and cried and drank and laughed at things that weren’t funny. Like her fist in his face.

Stubborn Old Soldier was at a loss. His first wife, god rest her soul, was not crazy like this. Nor were his grown up children…had no trouble with them.

He had heard The Mothers vile tales of care and it scared the life out of him. More than the fear he felt in war. But his three young children were suffering. Wide eyed and shaking in the midst of loud and constant chaos. Their Granny (once The Young Wife) tried. Their Aunty (once the Eldest Daughter) tried. The Stubborn Old Soldier (once a War Hero ) tried.

But this war, a war in their collective minds, was lost and the challenge too big. The household crumbled under the violence and shame.

Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.

The only one The Mother could visit was the dead one. So she did. She howled to him of what could have been if only The Ships Mate were there.

The Stubborn Old Soldier and The Mother stayed together. He cared for her. He was dutiful. He saved The State a fortune. On a bad day he wished he had help but he wasn’t called Stubborn for nothing. The Mother felt her sentence daily, like a noose around her neck. Some nights she was sure Her Children visited her in her dreams but as the years passed their faces became mist. One unexpected day when they met Their Children, The Mother and The Father told them their story.

The Mother apologised but It didn’t make the pain go away. It sat in Their Children’s minds alongside the history written by The Strangers, that sat on their files.

Their Family History. Their Story, Their Reasons, It all knotted together to become an invisible anchor. Left by the The Ships Mate who couldn’t be there.

In Memory Of My Grandad.

In Memory of my Grandad