#TheReport 

Lemn Sissay is a famous person. He is also an amazing person. I suspect he is an amazing person irrespective of fame. To see an amazing famous person have a deeply personal psychological report read to them live on a London stage would always be a draw for many people, especially if it is the first time that person and the audience will hear what is contained within it.It sold out rapidly in 24 hours and I’m guessing it could have been sold out many times over.

What led me to travel far across country to see #The Report read to Lemn Sissay by Julie Hesmondhalgh, other than my interest politically and the wish to bear supportive witness to somebody I respect, was love for my foster son. The beautiful, intelligent and funny boy who was severely damaged by the systems he found himself in as a young child and the lack of care he has received and continues to receive within those systems. Now a young man he continues to struggle with fear, anxiety, anger, trusting people, managing close relationships and substance abuse. As I sat listening to ‘The Report’ he was always in my mind.

Lemn has had to spend over four hours speaking to a psychologist as part of his ongoing efforts to sue the social services for having stolen his childhood. The report told of cruelty, lies, misinformation, constant racist abuse, systemic failure to care and the most harrowing stealing of his history and identity. The stealing of him from his mother. Stealing his mother from him.

I found it personally excruciating to hear the details and found myself both angry and very sad. I wanted to shout out. I think I wanted Lemn to shout out. The fact that Lemn was at times described as ‘aggressive’ within his files made me feel aggressive. When will assessments of children take into account that anger is actually a valid and healthy response to being traumatised and abused?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt they wanted to reach out to Lemn and attempt to reassure and offer love as he bravely sat there on an uncomfortable chair hearing shit truths he already knew. What the report conclusion described is the resultant damage done to Lemn. Leaving him with a deep mistrust of people. It also described the abuse against Lemn as having left him with high levels of trauma. No surprise there then.

Trauma cannot miraculously be healed, but with the right support the strategies can be found to cope with triggers and reverberations as they come. Lemn has had the personal strength to fight back and to channel his thoughts, feelings and his truth into creativity and to find safe ways of connection. A true survivor. A hero and connector to thousands.

Two things shone out of ‘The Report’ like diamonds in the dirt. One was hearing only positive descriptions of Lemn from a professional who recognised his strength, intelligence and honesty. A massive lesson right there for professional carers and social workers. The other was hearing from Lemn himself about Ethiopia’s pride for him.

As with all psychological reports Lemn was subjected to examination and interview within set criteria and scales. Scales of damage done that most certainly, as if there should ever have been any question, show he must surely receive healthy compensation and a real apology.

I can’t go into my sons life story here but there are similarities and threads that run through. There will be thousands of adults who have experienced local authority care and children now in care who also have those same threads running through their history. Untruths, misinformation, cruelty and neglect. Injustices of such magnitude a million sorries will not suffice.

Other things struck me about the report. One was the idea that the systemic abuse of Lemn began in long term foster care. It was presumed that removal from his mother as a baby at a few months old was not psychologically damaging to him. I’m not sure I agree with that. I feel that the severance may have been the first wound and as a consequence it then left him vulnerable to the cruelty of others over many years. The trauma of it and it’s consequences must surely reverberate throughout his family?

Another thing described throughout the report was the extent of racist abuse toward Lemn during his childhood. It was highly disturbing and included abuse from his foster family, other children and care home staff. I wondered how racist the care responses to his pregnant mother in a UK mother and baby home may have been.

There was talk of how this type of abuse was acceptable within British culture when Lemn was young. It was inexcusable then and it’s inexcusable now. Sadly from my own cultural and personal experience it remains. It’s just covered up more effectively. Like Lemn’s childhood identity and redacted files it’s been whitewashed. To hear how that abuse impacted on Lemn, shamed and traumatised him is horrific.

In a time of recent adoption reform and the current government investigation into improving foster care, the issue of cultural and institutional racism within adoption and fostering should remain at the forefront. I can’t see it there at the moment. My companion for the night has direct experience of trying to gain support for his transracial adoptive family and that experience has not shown that the support systems view inherent cultural racism as a current or important issue for children in transracial family placements. Permanence, safety and long term security is very important for children. Being well meaning but not critically questioning around methods to achieving permanence is not good enough. I’m sure lots of people felt Lemn’s white foster family were doing a wonderful Christian thing ‘saving’ a black child in the 1960’s. How they went about that intention at saving and subsequent failure was seemingly not questioned and criticised enough on behalf of Lemn by the professionals paid to keep him safe.

 

We must truly thank Lemn Sissay for having the strength and determination to pursue and expose the truth of his life story. Having the drive as a public figure to share the truth through his creative work and through his court case hopefully gives unknown others the strength to speak out and seek justice and apology for abuses against them in the name of care. Those supporting children and young people must take full responsibility for speaking out and tackle with full force the issues of institutional racism and other oppressive and abusive social care practices.

So that’s what I took from this extraordinary event. Energy and fresh motivation to keep fighting for children’s rights.

 

Inside Out (Trauma Stylee)

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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

Parents Not Spoken To Enough

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Having just watched BBC Oxford News to see the report on Connor Sparrowhawk’s death (manslaughter) I am overwhelmed at the thought of what it must be like to watch that as his Mum and Dad. No matter how seriously and gravely reported, it is still a news item for the day. Done and gone and finished for many viewers and so too it seems for Southern Health.

The headline that resonated particularly with me was ‘Parents not spoken to enough”.

This will not be an unfamiliar concept to many parents, whatever their story, who are united in trying to access health and social care for their children. Unfortunately it seems even more likely if your child has a learning disability and is going through the difficult transition into adulthood.

Through personal experience I know that to be treated like you are some incompetent fool is bad enough but for that attitude to lead to your family member becoming harmed is torturous.

I sat in many many meetings with gritted teeth and red hot cheeks as I was referred to as “mum” and my daughter discussed as if she were more known to the complete stranger considering her needs. The stranger who had not even seen a photograph of her let alone the many albums and films and artefacts that made up a full and rounded and joyful picture of what was her life and the family who loved her.

My daughter came to serious harm because I wasn’t listened to. In fact it was worse than that. I was observed, judged, assessed and written about in negative terms. After all what could be more difficult and outrageous for a professional manager than some pesky parent fighting for the safety of their child…..

The other blood boiling and potentially dangerous thing that happens is that your child is wrongly edited in assessments and reports. Only a parent knows the subtle nuances and messages in some children’s words and actions. It is the living with them year after year, loving them, caring for them, listening to them, knowing the non verbal cues that makes parents the experts. God only knows why we are not treated as such by professionals.

Connor would not have been put in grave danger and as a consequence die if his parents had been treated as the experts. They should have been talked to, listened to, respected, given the management responsibility over their sons care. And now that he has died Southern Health want Sara and her family to “move forward” and “move on”.

Of course now they will have to listen to the dreaded ” lessons have been learnt” get out clause statements which makes even the most unaffected member of the publics heart sink.

If they had learnt anything they wouldn’t use that phrase because they would know how jaded, hollow, crass and insulting it sounds.

They can’t learn because they can’t listen.

Loss

imageWhen Jazz first came to live with me her brother was in a children’s home. He was only seven and was housed far away from his family and friends. We would regularly go to see him at the home and take him out for the day. After some negotiating with Social Services he was allowed to come and stay with us for weekends.

The visits were very special and for the time we spent together the children seemed happy and relaxed in each others company. When it came to say goodbye however, emotions would rise and tantrums and tears would begin. It was completely understandable but tricky to manage.  Jazz would beg me to bring her brother home with us and he would storm off refusing to say goodbye.

The long two hour drive home across the Pennines was sad and often spent trying in the best way possible to explain the emotions of the situation to a six year old.

After a few visits her brother gave her his favourite toy to take home with her. It was a soft toy Barney the dinosaur. Between them they set up this system where each one would take it in turns to keep it after the visit. Backwards and forwards it went providing a manifestation of the unwritten connection they held. It seemed to ease the pain, knowing because Barney was involved they would definitely see each other again.

“I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family”

The Barney mantra became stuck in their heads and repeated over and over. At times I have to admit it drove me crazy.

As time went on they even felt brave enough to let each other keep Barney for an extra period of time.

Jazz’s brother was moved to another three homes between the ages of seven and twelve, but the routine continued.

At the last home he was in before coming to live with us permanently, a  young member of the care staff who had known him but weeks decided it was time to “sort out his room”.

Without his permission a bin bag of his things were taken to the charity shop because they were considered “too childish”.

Barney the family heirloom that connected them for years was lost forever.

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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