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

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.

The Things We Do

imageWhen Jazz was little she found fitting in with her peers extremely difficult. Her upbringing meant she was unable to feel much empathy for others or to concentrate or relax enough to notice their reactions to what she was saying or doing. When she did notice people it was with intense staring observation, usually when something about them felt threatening to her. This made social occasions a minefield of potential upset for her and others.

This situation was compounded by increasing exclusions from school. First came a day at a time, then a week or ten days and depressingly, eventually racking up to three permanent exclusions by the age of eight.

One of the strategies I used to teach her socialisation was to vocalise each of her pets personalities. We had two dogs and two cats in the early days and the menagerie grew as her friends diminished.  I would speak for each ‘person’. An example would be that she would be shouting really loudly and inappropriately. I would do a voice for each animal like a play:

Hampi (old cat) “Ooooh dear you made me really jump then my false teeth nearly fell out. Please be a bit quieter it’s not good for my nerves.

Kinky (naughty Siamese cat) “Ha ha you are so funny Jazz! Hampi is a big old stupid bag lady!”

Madge (sweet soft dog) “Kinky I don’t think it’s fair to encourage Jazz to be naughty because she gets into trouble”

Kinky “You’re so boring Madge you goody two shoes”

Dargo (wise lurcher dog) ” No Kinky I agree with Madge. I think Jazz shouting does scare some people and you should help her to learn new things and not be so selfish”

Creating this group dialogue helped Jazz to see that the world was made up of lots of different types of people who would have different reactions to the same thing. Some people were shy, some were moody, some were physical, some were wise, some were nervous, some were funny. There was nearly always a chance to laugh at, and with, the cheeky character so that part of her was also accepted without shame. It taught her to manage her social responses depending on different circumstances and context. By practising in this enjoyable form of play over many years her emotional intelligence eventually grew beyond that of her same age peers.

The game also extended to soft toys who came alive as monkeys who swore a lot, tigger’s who couldn’t stop moving and touching things, wise old granny wolves who explained big stuff and calm donkeys who wanted to whisper.

Over the years some extremely difficult subjects have been talked out via our pets and toys and still to this day a great bad mood breaker involves me with a very well worn cheeky monkey called Bardy saying a few very naughty swear words and dancing about in a whizzy way throwing stuff.

Jazz “Now come on Bardy let’s not be silly. Lets calm down before it gets out of hand”

 

Solutions

I know we at ‘The Trauma Train’ are not always known as blogging about the happier sides of adoption, but we always try to let the love and truth of our family life shine through. The truth is not always easy or pretty but it’s our truth and we feel it has beauty in its imperfections.
I suppose adopting and fostering has made us very passionate about the rights of adoptees and adoption support, as it has other adoption bloggers who share their stories warts and all.

I want this post to be one that shows the solutions we have found during our own personal experiences over the past fifteen years. This is in the hope of offering positive and creative support to other who are dealing with issues of anxiety, attachment, trauma and developmental delay. 2014 is the year we begin to deliver our support services through the charity http://www.theopennest.co.uk
We are working with adoptees, adopters, foster carers, psychologists and social workers to develop the services we offer so please share your thoughts and ideas with us.

PROBLEM: I know my child cannot help their current struggles but I am exhausted and just need a break. Standard respite services would not suit my family as my child would be very anxious if sent away from me at this stage.

OPEN NEST SOLUTION: We will be offering short breaks in beautiful Whitby, North Yorkshire. There will be a choice of a comfortable rural camping barn with room for four or a three bedroomed apartment in a town centre hotel. Parent/parents will come with children but get whole days or evenings off whilst children are cared for and entertained by expert carers who understand the specific issues.

PROBLEM: I have been assessed as needing support but there is nothing suitable forthcoming and I feel it is down to funding and availability.

OPEN NEST SOLUTION: Short breaks and other services will be free and funded by our charity. Those who feel able to contribute to the costs of their respite or support can support us with a donation ( We will trust people to assess this themselves).

PROBLEM: My child has contact with birth family members but I wish it could be in a more neutral, private and safe space.

OPEN NEST SOLUTION: We can offer 20 acres of beautiful National Park as well as beautiful indoor spaces to families who wish to have contact with siblings or birth parents.

PROBLEM: My child finds a lot of situations difficult but professionals do not always believe me or fully understand and this triggers my child. I feel am not listened to as I’m “just the parent” and I don’t have the time or energy to battle the system.

OPEN NEST SOLUTION: We offer a free advocacy service for families. We will contact agencies, schools etc for you with positive information and literature that will help your individual child. We can also send you literature to give to teachers, social workers, family members etc. We can also advise on potential benefits and legislation. We can be assertive on your behalf and can contact local MP’s.

PROBLEM: Sometimes I just need someone to talk to who has “been there”

OPEN NEST SOLUTION: We will have a confidential telephone helpline for those who need to chat through an issue, moan, cry, laugh or be directed to other appropriate support agencies or individuals.

PROBLEM: I would love to meet with other adoptive families in a safe space.

OPEN NEST SOLUTION: We will organise small short break social gatherings (up to 22 people) for adoptive families. These will be free of charge including accommodation and food. There will be activities for children facilitated by expert sessional workers. There will be options to do “grown up” activities for parents/carers.

PROBLEM: I would like to attend a conference specifically for information, support and learning around adoption but cannot afford the cost of a ticket.

OPEN NEST SOLUTION: We will be hosting an annual conference for adoptees and adopters. The conference delivery will be dynamic and original and will be strictly delivered by adoptees and adopters. Attendance will be free (as in all our service provision a donation can be given if appropriate). There will be child care if it is needed for accessibility.

PROBLEM: My child’s violence has reached a level that makes me scared that I may not be able to cope anymore and our adoption may break down.

OPEN NEST SOLUTION: We can fund and facilitate specific in house training for individual families in crisis. This training will address issues of behaviour management for your individual child and safety strategies. The training will be delivered by a recognised National provider who is expert at conflict management.

PROBLEM: It upsets me that me and/or my family is not reflected or represented truthfully in cultural arenas.

OPEN NEST SOLUTION: We will be facilitating and hosting cultural events, with National coverage, where the “voice” of the adoptee and adopter are represented over and above the agenda of any other group. We also aim to support other projects and individuals with this aim.

The Open Nest currently raises the largest part of its funds by selling holidays to the general public at http://www.larosa.co.uk @LaRosaHotel
Our family set up this vintage hotel and campsite business ten years ago to address the issue that due to our difficulties in dealing with trauma it was hard for any of us to fit into mainstream employment or educational settings. We are now able to use this business which has a loyal customer base to support others.

A proportion of our sales go directly to fund post adoption services. This independent fund raising allows us to be creative and means service users are not at the mercy of assessments or funding shortages before accessing support.

We also organise smaller fundraising events and very much appreciate others who do the same for us. We are a registered charity and this year will become a registered adoption support agency.

Anybody who wishes to fund raise for us, share advice or ideas, or would like to be on our mailing list please contact us at info@theopennest.co.uk

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WARNING (not an easy adoption topic)

imageA lot of important and good work is taking place in social care agencies and by campaigners to address issues of domestic violence and abuse. This Christmas the ad campaigns encouraging us to happily consume were broken at times by a sobering public information film for the season when domestic violence escalates, showing that abuse can be psychological as well physical. There are understandings that men as well as women can be victims and that for children living in a household where domestic violence is happening, even if not directly against them, can be hugely traumatising and cause lasting psychological damage.

Domestic violence is very often a reason children are taken into care. Sometimes parents who have been victims of their partners violence lose their children as it is safer to let them be cared for elsewhere as the support systems fail to support them to leave the situation without remaining in danger or becoming homeless.

The added issues of secrecy, shame, guilt, fear and sometimes love for the perpetrator makes victims extremely vulnerable.

Whatever the cause and effect of domestic violence and abuse, nobody would argue it is not a horrible, frightening and painful experience for the victims. It would be considered dangerous for professionals to knowingly leave a victim in an abusive situation and expect them to carry on without support intervention.

One of the main arguments put forward for certain areas of adoption reform is that children are being left in abusive situations for far too long and a zero tolerance attitude to domestic abuse must be taken by social care agencies.

I can’t and wouldn’t argue against that. I believe that all victims of violence or abuse in the home should be fully supported. I also believe it is wise to examine and address the causes that create perpetrators of abuse.

So what can and should be done to support adopters who find themselves victims of domestic abuse from their adopted children? It is often a hidden and under reported problem. This may be because when reported the professional response often seems to blame the parenting skills of the victim, or unfortunately the lack of support or understanding can lead to placement breakdown.

I have spoken to many adopters who, on a regular basis, deal with verbal and physical abuse and violence. It is surprising to some I’m sure, but it is true and the effects of constant put downs, controlling behaviour and aggression, even if it is from a young person, can be absolutely soul destroying and lead to stress and depression. More disturbingly it can lead to defensive and angry responses from worn out parents in efforts at self protection. The most difficult thing is knowing there is no way out, that the perpetrator is a frightened and traumatised child who has no effective self regulation and needs you more than anything to survive. It’s not appropriate to call the police and frighten or criminalise a young person who actually needs intensive therapeutic support. The last thing most adopters would ever want is for the child to be removed. Many adopters report living restricted half lives for the love and protection of their children. These are serious issues which are not accounted for in disruption or breakdown figures.

Imagine however, if the professional advice to any other victim of domestic abuse was to encourage a therapeutic approach to the violent perpetrator, advice that you should be selflessly putting their needs and safety before your own. A keep calm and carry on regardless piece of martyrdom advice. It would cause public outrage.

As someone who has experienced extreme and regular aggression, verbal and physical assault, as well as property damage over many years through adopting a traumatised child, it always amazed me how often the social workers would simply act as if it were an expected part of “the adopters job”. Its not a job as there are no statutory holidays, end of working days, supervision or training that other people who work in high intensity situations are guaranteed to enable them to function properly and do their job well.

This is not a poor me cry. I have no regrets. I love the very bones of my girl and as it turns out I am a very resilient person. I would do it all again now I’m all tooled up.  It’s seems hypocritical, unjust and damaging however, to expect adopters to live with abuse without specialist support and training.  More importantly not fully informing, believing and supporting adopters around issues of violence in the home is ultimately not in the best interests of traumatised children. Aggression often comes from fear and frightened children need measured and calm responses from parents who are skilled in conflict resolution and management not worn out angry or sad parents who live in fear of failing.

(Any adoptive or foster parents who are experiencing regular aggression or violence in the home please contact http://www.theopennest.co.uk for information on strategies or therapeutic respite breaks which will be available in May 2014).

Hope For The Future

We had some great training this week from Geraldine Casswell who is in the group of Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy therapists who work alongside Dan Hughes. dyadicdevelopmentalpsychotherapy.org

It was positive and reassuring about having hope for the future of teenagers and young people who have experienced attachment issues and trauma. Of course we had to fund privately and were given a very fair deal but just knowing there are people out there who want to spread the words of hope and love is encouraging.

We hope to raise funds through The Open Nest Charity to help other families access training with wise mentors like Geraldine but in the meantime would like to share a video we were shown.

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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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 http://www.kidsco.org.uk 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 http://www.familyfutures.co.uk , 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 http://www.first4adoption.org.uk 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?

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