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

Imagine #NAW2016

Guest blog from an adult who was adopted:

 
Imagine having a parent that doesn’t love you.Or maybe two.

Or maybe one that doesn’t know or care that you exist.

Imagine having parents that actively put you in harms way.

Can you do that?

Perhaps you can, perhaps that is your experience too- and I’m sorry if it is, because I know that it really hurts.

Now imagine that you have been removed from that parent (or parents) and put in a different home, you might be a baby and pre- verbal or you might be 10 with a pretty well formed life around you.

How are you doing now? Are you feeling alright with this or maybe a bit shaken or confused. If this isn’t your reality, its a pretty big leap to make. I’m not trying to be contentious or upsetting, I am inviting you into my world- I am adopted. My story is not unique. My story is pretty ‘tame’, but I would like you to step away from your assumptions and see things from over here. Just for a few minutes.

Not all biological families are happy.

Not all adoptive/ non bio/ foster/ families struggle.

I can’t imagine what it feels like to be loved by a parent- there, thats pretty huge.

What most people take for granted- the unconditional love of a parent, or parent figure- is totally alien to me. I cannot imagine a world where me and mum enjoy a chat and a coffee. I can’t fathom what it would be like to be emotionally ‘held’ and supported by a parent. It has never happened so I just don’t know.

The only thing I can compare it to is the idea of privilege- you know the thing that people have that they don’t know they have because its so taken for granted that their experience and world view is a more dominant one? It is generally taken for granted that children are loved by their parents (otherwise why would they have them right….) its generally taken for granted that those children love those parents right back in a satisfying loop of secure attachment and mutual dependence.

I have, literally NOT A CLUE what that is like. I envy it, I long for it, sometimes I get all self pitying and wallow for a while about it, but mostly I analyse it, because thats how I understand things, by picking them apart and putting them back together again- trying to understand from someone else’s point of view, and then my own (always in that order, by the way) and I think I get it- when someone says to me that they are going wedding outfit shopping with their mum, because she is their best friend and they trust her opinion completely- because mum has child’s best interests at heart- I think thats lovely, it makes me feel fuzzy and warm inside, and I don’t have to have felt it for myself to know that it sounds pretty great.

I don’t experience that happening the other way though- my formative years weren’t characterised by anyone empathising or trying to understand what it’s like to feel worthless, or unloveable or somehow defective. Maybe its a big ask? To try and empathise with the uncomfortable, the painful, the silenced.

People saw the symptoms of the above- the coping (or not) strategies, the walls I built, the behaviours that gave a voice to the feelings, but they didn’t want to get down beside me and know what it was like- they did want to do something, they wanted to fix me- to tell me that I was worth something, that I was chosen, not rejected, that I should be grateful for the life I was offered, that I should believe in myself.

To my mind, these are all pretty big asks- of anyone, let alone a child. Imagine being told that the grass is purple- but you know its green, its definitely green because you know what green is, you can describe at least 10 different shades of green and its real, you have felt green, worn green and smelt the green of the aforementioned grass when freshly cut. But no, the adult world tells you its purple- and it always has been, its impossible to believe and there is zero evidence for it, but you have to believe it because you are told its true. Its a ridiculous example, but thats how it feels, to me. If a child has a core belief about something- and we think its wrong- does that make us as adults right? or might it be more helpful to try and understand where they are coming from- to try and empathise with them?

I wish I had the words to explain how it really feels, the absence of something that has such a presence in our society- the assumption that everyone has had some love in their lives. Sometimes I feel only half human, like I’ve been put together with some really important but strangely intangible bits missing. It doesn’t mean that I am broken or damaged, it just means that I don’t necessarily feel what you do and I wouldn’t assume that you’re not different too…

I think the first step to building esteem is to try and understand the world from a child’s perspective, if they feel worthy enough that someone would take the time to try and ‘get’ them, its a strong message that they are deserving of being known, being heard and being accepted. As soon as we start to impose our reality and expectations onto them we are potentially losing something so valuable- them.

I’m hopeful that long term love and support can be somewhat restorative for a child’s sense of self worth, I’m hopeful that there are loads of parents out there (however they have come to their children) who do empathise with their children, living child centred lives and bringing up great little people. I know that there is lots of good work happening in regards to the recognition of the impact of trauma in attachment and that this is becoming much more widespread as a way of understanding some aspects of the lived reality of adoption.

This years National Adoption Week has the hashtag (hashtags!) #SupportAdoption. I think I do support adoption, if its in the best interests of the child. If the parents adopting are willing to understand the world from the point of view of their child. If adoption is not about ‘fixing’ ‘damaged’ children. If adoption is the best permanence solution for a child. If adoption can be understood as a lifelong commitment to putting someone else first.

The week long campaign is aiming to highlight the realities of the adoption process, the need for older children to be placed and some of the struggles faced by adoptive parents- this is my small contribution- a snapshot of my reality of being adopted.

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

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?

 

A Service User ‘Rant’ About Adoption Reform

I am compelled as someone who loves an adoptee and is also a firm believer in children’s rights, to write about adoption reform today.

I’m mighty pissed off. Another great big law changing DfE adoption reform announcement (even the Queens involved) this time on the Saturday of a bank holiday weekend. What’s that about?

The usual, age old professional adoption commentators, Adoption UK and BAAF, were ‘interviewed’ via press releases fed to the media.

Sky TV contacted us last minute as a charity to see if we knew any adopters who wanted to chat about what a difficult time they had had going through a recent adoption process. This would be for the evening news alongside the DfE announcement. The theme of any potential interview was clearly pre planned. It was to add proof from a service user that the system needed to change and ‘speed up’. That forcing change by law was justified. When I mentioned that as an adoptee/adopter support charity we had grave concerns about certain aspects of speeding up the process, as well as having confusion over the financial focus on adoption as only one form of permanence for children, that we had adopters/adoptees who felt that way, the reporter seemed surprised…and uninterested. Debate from service users was not on the agenda.

When I agreed to talk about the adoption support fund on BBC Breakfast a few weeks ago, all the political bits were edited out. The bits where I talked about millions being spent on marketing not support and the plight of kinship carers. Adopters are allowed to speak alongside adoption professionals but really only when positioned as charitable saviours, adoption champions or stoic martyrs, politely and patiently hoping for desperately needed support.

Most terrible is that adult adoptees don’t seem to get a look in. It really is most peculiar that a major and very expensive reform of a care system that affects adoptees more than anyone else, essentially omits their voice. There is no independent adult adoptees on reform boards despite the boards being run since 2011. Throughout the reform, money has been given to some organisations that sit on the boards that they have used to represent the voices of adoptees. These tend to involve non politicised younger children and sadly, although well intended, can have an air of tokenism about them in the bigger scheme of service user involvement.

Where are the loud voices of adult adoptees and experienced adopters to be found and heard? After years of the current adoption reform agenda being prescribed to this country it seems it is ‘not allowed’ by service users to oppose it in public media, certainly not in any strident way. Charities and professionals working with children and families who are not on the adoption reform boards make polite public statements and calls for caution over and over again but the airtime and column inches afforded to the truly affected doubters is scant compared to the quite frankly astonishing government led PR machine for adoption. Funded and advised by the DfE, adoption agencies and local authorities are wheeling out adoption marketing all over the place. Previously ‘quiet’ old school agencies are employing marketing and communications bods to engage on social media with potential customers. Lots of shiny promotional material, pop up stands, podcasts and even mobile ‘adoption promotion’ units appear at all kinds of events to maximise sales. (Some of the marketing has made me giggle a little bit as a watcher of BBC’s W1!)

Most public call to caution over all this is met by Sir Martin Narey’s child protection mantra about our countries terrible tolerance of child neglect that makes any critic of ‘his’ reform feel like they are at risk of being an apologist for child abusers.

(Before I really get much further into the rant or get ranted at, here’s the disclaimer; I don’t condone leaving children in abusive homes. I don’t hate adoption. Done properly It’s best for a minority of children)

I genuinely cannot understand why the current DfE financial focus on adoption is not questioned by more taxpayers. In the bigger scheme of children’s rights to quality care when unable to live with their parents, adoption serves a small percentage. Rough figures are 65,000 children in care, 5000 adoptions per year. What percentage is hoped for as a result of reform?

Whilst the government place adoption as a premium permanence solution for some neglected children, they also allow thousands of vulnerable children to be forced out of local authority care before they are ready, rendering them at risk of exploitation, abuse and homelessness. They ignore the great resource of family members willing and able to look after their own child relatives if given the right support. Whilst the government are happy to tell the public about the need for much quicker removal of children from abusive situations and into adoption they haven’t yet tackled, in any quick or meaningful way, the shameful culture of the institutional sexual abuse of children that seems to be rife in the UK.

It seems to me that perhaps it’s not questioned because outside of those working on the front line of it, to members of the public, adoption still has the ‘ahhhhhhh’ factor (as an adoptee described it to me today). The cultural rescue mentality around adoption is alive and well. The simplistic notion of a happy ending is believed by the majority. To publicly criticise the almost religious mission feel of some of the rhetoric means you’re perhaps just like a big old Scrooge not allowing poor children the opportunity to experience the magic of Christmas.

It’s actually a very sad thing, adoption. Things have to have been really bad to be removed permanently from all of your family, your culture and your history. If you’ve been wrongfully or unjustly removed (yes it does happen!) it’s even more tragic. As well as the many good and happy bits of adoption it is also serious, scary and sad for many children. Many lose so very much as their identity is legally changed forever.
When adoptive parents truly understand this loss, have no notions of ownership of a child’s identity and get the right free support to manage loss, anger and identity properly for a child, and themselves, adoption can be a real chance of a healthy safe haven throughout childhood.

Many adopters and adoptees know though, that support to adoptees has not been the main focus of this current reform agenda. If it was, the budget set aside (out of the over two hundred million pound reform) would be a lot more guaranteed than one years worth of support at 19.5 million.
Social workers would have been trained in how to implement the adoption support budget at least a year before it’s launch, not two weeks.

A quote from yesterday’s press release;

” I have long held the view that 180 agencies in England does not make sense when only 5000 children are being placed” Hugh Thornbery: Adoption UK, member of Adoption Leadership Board.

Hugh has a point. I’m certainly surprised more people are not curious as to why the DfE funded three brand new regional adoption agencies to the tune of £1.5 million last year as part of its reform. Including, most surprisingly, a ‘substantial’ grant to massive multi million pound profit making, private care company, Core Assets to open an agency ‘Adopters For Adoption’.

Core Assets were the same company employed by the government to do a diagnostic assessment of local authority adoption services leading up to adoption reform. Their assessments found LA adoption services severely lacking and as a result controversial performance scorecards were bought in as an attempt to boost adoption numbers by LA’s or risk having their adoption services taken over.

Did we need £1.5 million worth of new voluntary/private adoption agencies? If we did why? How were the agencies chosen for funding? Are these agencies to lead LA’s on the regional reform of adoption services?

The DfE “called plans for regional adoption agencies a “triple win” that would also widen the availability of support services and improve recruitment of adopters. It expects councils to see the writing on the wall…” The Guardian

As a lay person it seems to me that the road to privatisation of adoption and adoption support has perhaps been paved for some time. Great some might say. About time those pesky underfunded and overworked LA adoption social workers get booted out. Many social care experts, practitioners and researchers feel the privatisation of adoption is one arm of an aim to privatise all child protection services, much like the slow but steady privatisation of prisons and the NHS.

As a business woman I’m not so naive that I don’t know that great and ethical work can be done by private companies. Where vulnerable children are concerned though, profit making will always leave a bitter taste in my mouth. I would prefer that LA children and families services were fully funded, that social workers and teachers were allowed more time and funding to engage in good training opportunities. That service users and front line LA social workers were given real power to influence service provision.

As an adopter it has annoyed me to see this current reform result in many more events and profit making products being produced by participating agencies to ‘talk’ and ‘learn’ about adoption issues. Most with a hefty price tag. Courses that parents, social workers and teachers can buy in order to help traumatised children, courses to buy that teach professionals about how to use the adoption support fund. Shouldn’t these things all be free in relation to children’s needs being met? No more decent and swift access to CAMHS for us but we can buy a parenting course for £700 (each). As an adopter of some time, it seems many of these type of products have been around for a long time, certainly the agencies and the issues they aim to address have been. I couldn’t afford them fifteen years ago and I can’t now. There’s something in all the hype of current reform that over complicates things and certainly doesn’t seem, so far, to lead to easy access of free information and support to urgently meet adopted children’s health and educational needs, despite the apparent wealth of expertise behind it.

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe every penny spent on the current adoption reform and its byproducts will prove to be justified. I guess only time will tell. In the meantime we continue as a user led peer support charity to gather the information and views handed to us by social workers, adoptees and adopters on a weekly basis. We feel some of it needs open public debate that includes service users truly at the forefront. Some of it is listed below:

1. Many adoptees want to search for their birth family and/or cultural roots as soon as they can. Adopters are living in fear as articles about the dangers of adoptees searching out potentially dangerous family on Facebook without any support are churned out. Many worried adopters spy on their children’s birth family on Facebook. Sometimes Facebook is where adopters find information about the child’s life story that is sadly missing in the files.

2. It pains but suits some adopters to attempt ‘ a fresh start’ for a child. This is not because they are bad people it is because they find the ‘other’ family, sometimes including siblings, too far away, too frightening or too emotionally triggering and messy. Sometimes social workers disagree with this practice but don’t want to ruin the chances of the adoption going smoothly. They sometimes allow adopters to renege on contact arrangements made during matching as there is no budget available to therapeutically support all parties around contact or safe open adoption where possible.

3. Lack of support, from legal aid through to financial support, means some children’s birth relatives can’t look after them even when they are very desperate to do so. Some of those heartbroken relatives lose contact over years with that loved member of their family. Adult adoptees can feel very sad and angry, even if they love their adoptive parents, when they learn it was lack of support to their family that led to their life and identity being changed forever.

4. Parents lose their children to care having been victims of domestic violence. This happens to both birth parents and adoptive parents. Many adopters learn what it might have been like for birth parents to be involved with child protection services when they become parents involved with child protection services themselves.

5. As service users, prospective adopters, adopters and adoptees wish to understand better the current adoption reforms and how they will be affected by them in the long term. They would benefit from seeing detailed documents that show the work of the DFE and it’s adoption reform boards. How were decisions made and by whom. How and why were commissions, contracts and budgets sought, managed and implemented. Who was consulted and by whom. What was the independent research used to inform changes. What are the long term aims of adoption reform. What are the adoption numbers being aimed at and why.

6. Adopters and adoptees feel they can offer a wealth of expertise. Professional non adopters and adoptees get paid well to inform, implement and deliver reform, information and support. Adopters and adoptees often feel they are reduced to ‘least expert’ when expected to be volunteers or low waged when at the invitation of agencies they take part in research, sit on panels, be adoption ‘buddies’ or provide training and support.

7. Some social workers feel out of their depth around providing adoption support. They don’t know where agencies/individuals exist to commission quality services and feel confusion about what status those agencies or individuals need to have to be commissioned. They don’t fully understand the adoption support fund budget and are worried they will commission important long term therapeutic work that may have to end when/if the budget runs out.
They are worried they are being set up to fail and will get the blame when adopters can’t access what their children urgently need.

For free peer support, advice and information contact theopennest@yahoo.co.uk

Jazz Blog: Unconditional Love

The mother how had unconditional love for her girl but could not cope.

When I was first born I had some problems but we are not saw what. my mum
love me so much but could not cope because her mum had bereavement when my grandad died when he was 28. he was a fishmon ad he got kill by a bom at sea ad thats wear my famley trubble started.

then my mum got older ad get put in a children home ad she got sexley abrust. then she was home less ad she met dad ad it’s a bit of a weird one because he was a older man ad he had 4 kids.
he was in the army but then his wife died and then got with my mum. then they had my big Bro Michael and he died at berth. then Justin then one more miss caridge then me then my little brother Freddie. she found it hard because she had three kids 1 3 yearold 1 2 year old 1 year old ad she us to hit me ad I seam to rember her shouting at me then she was all over me ad it was a bit of a head fuck er.

Then I got put in to fosta home seprut to my brothers ad then mummy bear came ad then when I was 8 I got rey a nightid with my mum ad dad. then when I was 19 dad died ad I blame my mum because she was not very nice to my dad. well that how I fell ad now I have day dreams of killing her ad how nice that would fell like but then I fell so much love for her.

I some times fell that I wish it was my mum dead not dad I very very angry with her but I I’m a mums boy ad I fell so angry ad hate her so much because I us to get the shit end of the stick ad then she would be all sorry then angry again ad it’s left me not trust in her. ad skerd of her ad some time shit my self it might all kick off again.

this I think is what she thinks hey jazz i so sorry I love you I just had a shit time in my live I would not hert u u are my number one. ad this me think well its to late u stupid cow u should fort about that in the first place it’s to late I’m not for giving I wish you wear dead. mummy bear is my mum now u had your chance fuck of ad out of my live then I think no give her a chance I love her to much.
But mummy bear is my mum no one els.

This song is like how I feel

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Ra-Om7UMSJc

Attachment Taboo’s

MUMS THOUGHTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JAZZ THOUGHTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Teenager Who Felt Nothing But Scared

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

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

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

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

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

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