#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)

Inside Out image

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

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.

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.

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.

Safe Spaces Open Minds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All About The Boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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