Training And Trains Of Thought

I booked myself onto an intensive training course with attachment guru Dan Hughes earlier this year. It was not cheap and I needed most of the year to save up for it despite the deposit being given as a birthday present from my parents. The course was level 1 in Dyadic Developmental Psychology, DDP for short. The therapeutic model was created by Dan to work with children and young people who have attachment issues and trauma related symptoms. The therapy is particularly used with fostered and adopted children who have experienced traumatic loss and/or neglect and abuse. The therapy, unlike others believes in forming an authentic relationship with clients and their families or main carers. At its core is PACE: playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, empathy. I think it’s a great parenting model for all children.

Jazz and I were involved in this therapy for many years and I whole heartedly believe in it. It was the only intervention that felt humane, positive and meaningful. We just didn’t get enough of it due to lack of LA/Health financial commitment.
My motivation for going on the course was not to become a therapist in DDP but to focus my experience and gain further expertise as a charity worker. I also want to continue to support my daughter who did not suddenly become ‘cured’ of trauma issues aged 18 when funding for the therapy ended at the stroke of midnight on her birthday.

The course has been taking place this week and I finished it on Thursday. Clutching my certificate and with a head full of learning I wended my way back home to reflect on what I had taken from it.

I have always had a heathy cynicism about the ability of therapy to cure trauma symptoms and of course my opinions of this didn’t change over the week. I still believe trauma has to be lived with and strategies for families to cope independently are what can be encouraged and developed within this style of attachment therapy.

There were 31 people on the course and I was the only person present who was a parent to a traumatised child rather than a therapist or practitioner in children’s services. This gave me quite a different perspective than the other trainees. It made me acutely aware of the use of language during discussions as well as the positions workers are in when supporting families. A great group of open minded and willing people didn’t mean that the overall care culture of the parent being less expert did not creep in and show itself. Quite a bit of innocent but disempowering suggestion during exercises and dialogue that parents might not quite understand the reasons behind behaviour in the way a therapist or ‘professional’ automatically would.

I found the many clips of therapy sessions bought tears to my eyes in ways they couldn’t to other people. That in the role plays (I still hate role play!) it meant I could easily slip into parent and child role but found myself disassociated when I was the therapist. I also learnt I was better at being an active problem solver than a more passive listener. Which is not always a good thing. I found Dan to be a true therapeutic master when watching him work with families

Many of the trainees found practising the therapy methods all day exhausting even with coffee and lunch breaks. It was nothing compared to practising it for real every day, day in, day out for years.

Having been fighting for years as a parent and more recently as a charity worker to have the voices of children and parents heard in equal status to professionals and politicians it gave me great hope to hear that Dan Hughes was potentially ‘on our side’. He proved this to me in part by using The Open Nest ‘Severance’ film as part of the training. He says he plans to use it again as he felt it showed services the direct results of not supporting families, both birth and adoptive from the start. We hope he does.

My overall conclusions were these:

1. Many therapists in the UK and within CAMHS work with models that are in potential opposition with the principles of DDP. This in turn means they work in ways that do not help adoptive families and can even damage them.

2. Social workers wanting to support families post adoption and in ways which take on principles of DDP and PACE will not necessarily get backing from LA management or the DfE, nor the budget and supervision needed to be supported in ways a therapist would.

3. There are still worrying gaps in professional knowledge around what life is really like at times for adopted children and their families. This extends to a more dangerous blaming of parents if children express trauma through behavioural problems. The Government funded research by Julie Selwyn that highlighted issues in adoption is not commonly heard of, even by adoption social workers! I think the Government are hugely selective in which adoption stats they focus on.

4. DDP therapy can potentially turn lives around but the access to both practicing it and receiving it is restricted and exclusive due to the costs involved.

5. To teach a parent and child to communicate well in the presence of trauma and to encourage healthy attachment styles in therapy sessions is a wonderful goal. It can be transformative. For a parent and child to sign up for this and commit to it is empowering and supportive for all. When that parent and child then receive opposing thinking and practice outside the therapy, in schools, health services etc, it is devastating and completely undermines the work done by the therapy. It is confusing and anger provoking for children who do not understand budgets, systems and agendas.

6. I am more convinced than ever that the current Government needed and still needs to prioritise funding to change the culture and practice around adoption and the language and rhetoric it takes place within, before it spends money on recruitment and the marketing of a system not yet fully fit for purpose.

7. If supporting traumatised children truly is your passion as a trainer, therapist, social worker, charity boss, MP or parent you should give your time and expertise as generously as you possibly can. Give free and subsidised places on your courses, give your knowledge and information to as many people as possible for free, fight your managers to gain meaningful support for families and yourself even if it makes you unpopular, write to your MP, lobby parliament, form support groups, take part in activism, hang on in there for your children against the odds.

8. If money has to be involved in your passion to support children it is always possible to make it truly fair trade.

Shining Stars In The Dark

imageOur attempts to get professional support after adoption have been at times soul destroying. The wrong help has made things worse and the intimated blaming of our care skills regular. At times the ‘support’ has been extremely ignorant and damaging. Over fifteen years however there have been some guiding lights who helped us to hang on against the odds and soothed the difficulties, sometimes by simply offering kind words and empathy.

In order of appearance here are the professionals who made a difference and whom we will never forget;

Lindsey The Adoption Social Worker

Lindsey tried her very hardest to put support in from the beginning of the difficulties in the placement. She wrote letters to managers, sent me information on courses, highlighted the false economy of leaving us to struggle. At one point she put us on the waiting list for intensive attachment therapy. Lindsey was aware (even though at this stage I wasn’t ) that the court papers freeing Jazz for adoption stated that we would need “expert psychological support around attachment issues”. The help was never given the green light from managers and two counties argued over who was financially responsible. For us it was like someone was saying this is what you need to survive but you can’t have it. Lindsey was suddenly moved on from our case without us being informed. The fact she believed me at the start of our journey meant everything and helped me to stand steadfast in our quest for the right support.

Patricia The Psychologist

Patricia was bought in to speak to us as Jazz was failing to remain in school number two. It was a one off consultation in the very early years and didn’t lead to support as lots of beffudling arguing was taking place about Jazz’s SEN status. Patricia reassured me and said “if Jazz never goes to school it won’t be the end of the world. The most important issue is her attachment to you so don’t panic about education, that can come later” Of course it wasn’t ideal that Jazz was being excluded rather than included at school but Patricia gave me the confidence to follow my gut feelings and eventually home educate.

Bill The Head Teacher

Bill was a radical thinker at Jazz’s third school. He allowed her to be freestyle and as an unconditional treat at the end of the day he would roller blade around the corridors with her. Even though his school was a ‘special’ school they couldn’t hold onto her for long. The vulnerability of some of the other pupils who were severely physically disabled made Jazz’s exuberant behaviour dangerous at times. Bill made sure another exclusion didn’t go on the record. He gently and kindly arranged the leaving and took her, her first boyfriend and her TA for a forest walk and pub lunch with his wife. Jazz has never forgotten his kindness.

Sharon The Teaching Assistant

Under the leadership of Bill, Sharon managed to keep Jazz safe and happy in a very difficult environment. Professional capability was mixed with genuine care and although it may be frowned upon in some circles, actual love. Sharon was tested to the limit most days. A Jazz favourite at this school would be to escape the classroom, run down the corridor and jump fully clothed into the therapeutic swimming pool. Despite only working with her for what amounted to a few months Sharon remains in touch with Jazz to this day.

Tracey The Teacher

Tracey was class teacher in school number four. Despite being managed by what I can only describe as ‘The Miss Trunchbull’ style of headship, she saw only good in Jazz. She couldn’t stop the inevitable exclusions and eventual permanent leaving but in the short time she taught Jazz she showed nothing but warmth towards her. Tracey was a Christian woman in the true sense of the word. We have several photos she took of Jazz in school and these stand as a rare pictorial history of inclusion for Jazz. Pictures of her actually in a classroom with other children and not a side room where in reality she spent most of her time.

Geraldine The DDP Therapist

When the school possibilities completely ran out Geraldine became our anchor for eight years. Between the ages of ten and eighteen she saw Jazz and I for an hour a month. It was nowhere near enough only amounting to approx ten hours a year, but her hands were tied by the usual frustrating and shortsighted funding issues. This hour was spent doing dyadic developmental psychology techniques with us. In lay mans terms this meant doing attachment therapy with us. Geraldine never doubted me or Jazz and as the years passed we became a team, the three of us working towards the best we could. On numerous occasions, during countless crisis moments, she would write letters to other professionals stating our urgent need for support. Shockingly despite her wealth of experience and professional status in the NHS she was not listened to. She had to witness some terrible car crash moments in our lives and this cannot have been easy for her at all. I am absolutely convinced that were we given funding for weekly sessions from the start some of the terrible things we experienced would have been avoided. What we did have however was a trusted friend who nurtured our self esteem and gave us hope to carry on. Geraldine has now left the NHS and is a trainer alongside Dan Hughes to other practitioners of DDP. She uses film of our sessions to teach others which makes us feel proud of what we have achieved together against the odds. Since we have set up our charity she has given us nothing but support, encouragement and help.


So there they are, six people out of what must be over a hundred professionals we have seen in the last fifteen years. I guess what counts most is the quality rather than the quantity. It also highlights to me that in giving post adoption support it is not always about fixing a problem. It is about being empathic and kind and listening and trusting families to know themselves. As those things don’t cost anything and yet help people to have hope and carry on, perhaps there is something to be said for the true values of caring and even love in what has become the confusing, grinding, impersonal and budget driven caring industry.

It’s All In My Head

When my daughter was really quite young and struggling a lot, she used to say to me “there’s something wrong with my brain….if you opened up my head and looked inside at it you would believe me “.
I knew there was something wrong but all medical checks showed no brain damage as such and no physical reasons for her lack of impulse control and rage.

I was happy, at first, to see her behaviour as an expected, perhaps reasonable response to the lack of control and choice she had endured and resulting in her becoming adopted by me wether she liked it or not.
After researching about attachment and trauma I was lucky (and it was luck) to find a brilliant therapist through the NHS. Geraldine was a practitioner of Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy. Part of a fairly elite institute headed by Dan Hughes, she worked together with my daughter and I on strengthening our attachment and problem solving.

I was cynical at first as previous therapies such as art therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy as well as reward systems had made the situation worse.
We had the therapy with Geraldine over eight years, it then had to stop as Jazz reached adult age. I believe it was our only professional guiding light. We miss it and need it to this day. Our sessions were sometimes filmed and sent to Dan Hughes for feedback. It made us proud to be told we worked well together as a team and although I find it a little bit embarrassing we gave our permission for some of our film to be used to train others in positive attachment based parenting.

I am now convinced that if children experience constant chaos, fear, violence and uncertainty it does affect the brain development.
Once Jazz was old enough to understand the concept we went to see Camila
Batmanghelidgh speaking about brain development and trauma. It really helped Jazz to have an explanation for why she found things difficult. It meant she wasn’t “bad” or “naughty” as she had often previously felt. She met Camilla who has since been a great icon and support to her personally and our also to our charity.

The cure for this “brain damage”? The only cure it seems is consistent therapeutic loving care. The research shows that the brain can change and wired in, trauma based emotional responses, can be rewired, given the right therapeutic support. It is believed the brain is more flexible to change up until a person is in their mid twenties. This knowledge gave me hope and kept me going through some dark times when I felt I wasn’t capable of helping my daughter at all.

The difficulty is in getting this specialist support as an adoptive parent. Some big adoption charities bring Dan Hughes over to train and speak to us at a price, but mention him to your local CAMHS service and they may not have even heard of him. To get training in a group is costly, to get an assessment and intensive support for your child from a specialist agency can cost up to £30,000 per year.

Trying to explain trauma based behaviour to friends, family or school teachers without professional agency backup can bring about the glazed look that tells you they are not convinced or willing to commit to “your” strange ideas.

Not all adopted children have faced traumatic experiences alongside the obvious one of losing your family, but as society changes the chances of substance abuse, alcoholism and resultant child neglect leading to adoption is increasing. Professionals at , report this as an adoption support agency who also bring Dan Hughes in on courses to train professionals and parents.

I’ve said it before, many times, and I’ll say it again. If attachment theory, developmental trauma and therapeutic parenting are concepts that are supported by government funded charities, and organisations working with these concepts are praised by the adoption tsar, when are us on the ground going to be graced wholeheartedly with this support on behalf of our children?
Why are we still having to ask for post adoption support around trauma and treated as if we are being unreasonable, as if it were a new fangled concept we had come up with from an obscure specialist book in a tiny specialist library.

I know of parents of autistic children who have fought over many years to be supported and their children understood. Autism is now, after much campaigning, an understood condition that at least people have heard of if nothing else. That alone can help in getting empathy and understanding in everyday life.

Us adopters talking about trauma and violence, and difficulties and fear, does not match well with government funded agencies such as the current government funded advertising campaign to recruit more adopters. The general brief seems to be to promote positive stories of happy families and new opportunities.

As an adoption community who parent children with emotional difficulties we must be allowed to keep talking and not be told we are the unfortunate few. At best we are seen in the media as “charitable” long suffering martyrdom people and at worst hysterical and incapable middle class parents.

If we truly are in a minority of incapable naive carers, then why is funding services for us to be better for our children’s sake so scary? Surely a small amount would fix the problem…a drop in the ocean to keep traumatised children safe.

If the majority of adoptees reach adopters well adjusted and happy, why does Dan Hughes keep being expensively wheeled out, and flown across continents, year upon year to teach us…. the ignorant minority?