Anna Writes: What’s helped

Phonto

Our resident columnist Anna is back again after a break for our Adoption Sore Point week, this time talking about what’s helped her…

A couple of posts in and I feel as though I’d like to offer some balance, I can’t change my experiences, they are as they are, but I have been reflecting on some of the things that I have found helpful along the way.

I was adopted at the end of the 1970’s at a time when the adoption of a child was more often through relinquishment than removal and the general consensus seemed to be that ‘what babies don’t know, won’t hurt them’ – the theory being that if you adopted a child young enough, they wouldn’t ever know any different (I’m not entirely sure what the thinking was around older children…)

Now, although adoption support is still not universal, it is at least being recognised as necessary and the advent of the adoption support fund (ASF) will hopefully provide some much needed intervention and support for all of those impacted by adoption. Adopted people are over- represented within the mental health system in the UK, it seems as good a time as any to begin to address this and get the right support in place for families, sooner.

For me, one of the most helpful things growing up, was knowing other people who were adopted- living in the middle of nowhere this was a bit of a challenge, but there was another boy in my school who was adopted. We never talked about it (and nor did my adopted brother and I, save for one conversation where he told me he never wanted to discuss it again) but it was enough to know there were other people. I wasn’t the outsider that I felt like.

As a bit of a music/ comedy/ literature fiend growing up- I discovered some of my favourite artists were adopted, Wendy James from Transvision Vamp, Jackie Kay, Jeanette Winterson and the comedian Stewart Lee and each time I discovered another I felt less alone. I had fantasy conversations with them and they just got me, and I them, because in my head they would know what it felt like, adoption was a shortcut to understanding.

I also had therapy, lots and lots of therapy, from 14 onwards- unfortunately my parents, not being au fait with attachment theory bundled me off to a boarding school at 16 as they found it hard to cope with my me-ness, so for two years I felt rejected, abandoned and displaced all over again, without really understanding why, but at least I had my music, my books and my friends, a surrogate family of people who put up with me in spite of (or maybe because of) how I was.

At 18, I moved away and had my first experience of person centred counselling, it was via the University counselling service and lasted a whole year- accessing a whole year of therapy was wonderful ..and at last I didn’t have someone telling me that what I was feeling was wrong, or ungrateful, or weird, my counsellor accepted me, completely, and wow!…that was powerful. The idea that someone could accept all the different parts of me, the light and the shade was almost overwhelming, and the fact that I could internalise some of it helped immeasurably over the following few years..

And I wanted more, so at various times since, I have engaged in the same kind of counselling, I am still seeing the same counsellor I started seeing 8 years ago when I found my birth mother and she is amazing, she doesn’t judge, she doesn’t offer me her version of events or interpret, she just listens, and accepts and she even went out and bought a copy of ‘The Primal Wound’ by Nancy Newton-Verrier in order to understand me better: now that’s commitment..

With hindsight, I think what would have helped me at home growing up would have been lots of expressed love backed up with a healthy dollop of evidence, the time and space to talk about being adopted, empathic understanding (including asking how I was feeling) firm boundaries and an ability to hold my needs in mind- I’m sure my adoptive parents did their best, and certainly thought they were doing it- but unfortunately the things that I needed most (love and acceptance) were traded in for money and projected wants.

Please don’t get me wrong, I know that my adoptive parents really tried and I certainly didn’t give them the easiest ride, but the generation chasm between us and my adoptive mothers unresolved attachment issues coupled with some fairly regular corporal punishment (it was the 80’s…)  did not make for a secure base.

Not everyone wants to be a therapist, but many people already have the skills, values and attributes to offer children unconditional love, empathy and genuineness, but people shouldn’t have to provide that in a vacuum- the ASF offers many types of therapeutic support, several of which are specifically aimed at the whole family, which I hope, can only be a good thing.

So below, I have reproduced the list of recommended therapies potentially accessible via the ASF, to highlight what’s available now- and it’s great that it is (although a comprehensive glossary of all the different therapies would be helpful too) I hope that the choice on offer reflects the needs of those accessing it and that alternatives to the list aren’t discounted out of hand either.

The Adoption Support Fund will pay for therapeutic support and services including but not restricted to:

Therapeutic parenting training
Further more complex assessment (e.g CAMHS assessment, multidisciplinary assessment including education and heath, cognitive and neuropsychological assessment, other mental health needs assessment.)
Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy
Theraplay
Filial therapy
Creative therapies e.g. art, music, drama, play
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)
Non-Violent Resistance (NVR)
Sensory integration therapy
Multisystemic therapy
Psychotherapy
Specialist clinical assessments where required (e.g. Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder)
Extensive therapeutic life story work
Respite care (where it is part of a therapeutic intervention)

Source: First4Adoption, 2015

Anna. W

Weekly Adoption Shout Out #WASO Week 118

As you might have realised, this week on The Adoption Social has been about Child to Parent Violence or #CPV.

waso118We’ve had a special avatar for use on Twitter and Facebook, several interesting guest posts, important conversation, a Twitter chat, questions asked and information shared. We are really proud of this fantastic community – you! – for making this first Adoption Sore Point week so busy, and for helping raise awareness of Child to Parent violence.

As it’s the end of the week now though, the only thing left to do is give you the Weekly Adoption Shout Out linky, and it’ll be of no surprise to you that there is a theme this week – CPV.

We appreciate that you might not want to write on your own blog about this – but if you do, then please link up. If you’d rather post an anonymous piece, then get in touch with us (we won’t tell anyone), and we can publish your post anonymously on The Adoption Social instead, then that can be linked into #WASO.
Alternatively, you can link up pieces that aren’t themed too – just add your best post of the week.

Show your support for your fellow bloggers by commenting and sharing as much as you can, and if you see a blogger you like hasn’t linked up – give them a nudge!

Here’s the linky….


Resources for Child to Parent Violence, #CPV

We have collated a resource list, which may be helpful in relation to child to parent to violence. Whilst we believe the content to be of use, we suggest that individuals carry out their own research to ensure it will be of use to them.

Websites, Web Pages and Helplines

Young Minds – Information on dealing with a violent and angry child and advice on looking after yourself. If you are struggling and need to talk to someone, you can call their Parent helpline 0808 802 5544

Adoption UK Helpline 0844 848 7900

Family Lives – A charity promoting positive family experiences. They have some content on dealing with arguments and violence. Helpline

Holes in the Wall – A site run by social worker Helen Bonnick which aims to raise awareness and campaign for greater support for those affected by child on parent violence. there is a comprehensive Directory of Services and a good Reading List.

Rosalie Ryrie Foundation – Offers support for domestic abuse victims.

Parent Partnership Projects – pages giving guidance and details about NVR.

Information Guide : Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse (APVA) – Government document including guidelines for how practitioners should respond to reports of APVA/CPV

Beyond the Adoption Order – government document detailing the research of Julie Selwyn into adoption disruption.

Community Care Article from Peter Jakob on NVR

Jane Evans – is a trauma parenting specialist offering a range of services and informative blog posts.

NVR School – for information

Training Courses and Conferences

AdoptionUK Conference, Cardiff – None Violent resistance. Managing aggression in children and young people.

PAC – Workshops for parents and carers including one day NVR training.

Parent Partnership Project – NVR certificate course.

Books and Television Programmes

Non – Violent Resistance: A New Approach to violent and self-destructive children by Haim Omer and Shoshana London Sappir

A Non-Violent Resistance Approach with Children by by Avraham-Krehwinkel and David Aldridg

Parenting a Violent Child by Islay Downey and Kim Furnish

Happy Families  by  Carmelite Avraham-Krehwinkel

My Violent Child – Channel 5

Born Naughty – Channel 4

For Peer Suuport

The Open Nest – forward thinking adoption support charity.

The Potato Group – parents of traumatised adopted teens organisation

Waiting for help

We really value all of the guest posts we’ve had this week – all talking about a difficult subject, but one that needs bringing to the fore. This post is no exception…

I am writing this anonymously, not because I am ashamed but because I don’t want my daughter coming across this and identifying herself in years to come.  I also find it difficult to be open as I don’t want it to colour peoples views of my amazing, sparky little girl.  My apologies in advance if it is a bit disjointed…it was quite emotional to write.

My daughter is young – 6 years old and has been with us 4 years.  She is funny, clever, energetic, chatty, caring, beautiful, amazing….I could go on but you get the picture.  She is also very angry punchingand lashes out at my husband and I when she loses it.  This can take the form of kicking, punching, pinching and biting.  She knows it is wrong and she feels shame afterwards.   She wants help – we have been waiting over 7 months for help from our local post adoption support.  We are on a waiting list for sensory therapy with no indication of when this may happen.  I am hoping it is the right thing to help her.  I am on a waiting list for counselling – again with no indication of when this may happen.  My requests to date to be assessed to apply to ASF have been denied.  I am currently considering making this request again and more officially/forcefully but want to be more knowledgeable about the therapies available and what may be beneficial to strengthen my argument.  If anyone has any suggestions/advice as to alternative support therapy that may help then please let me know via Adoption Social.

I have tried what I can to help her.  A lot of it is instinctive.  We use some simple theraplay techniques.  We use meditation CDs particularly at night. We try to incorporate regulating activities and often do life story work with her. I have explained to her in simple terms why I think she has anger problems.  She gets it – and can now tell me when she gets “that feeling”.  But sometimes it comes on so quickly – like a light switch.  Last night I just hugged her whilst she was beside herself because she had “that feeling”.  I wanted to sob along with her.  My beautiful girl in so much pain.  We can only do so much – she (we) need professional help and soon before it escalates and becomes harder to address.  The longer it is left the harder it will be to address and potentially the more it will cost.  Simple economics should dictate that it is dealt with quickly, without even taking into account the cost implications if she enters adulthood without the support provided in a timely fashion.  I know we can’t make her past disappear but I do believe firmly that she can be given the support and tools to be able to cope and lead an independent and valuable life.

We are lucky – she is young so we can control the violence but I am filled with fear as to what will happen if we can’t bring it under control.  I am angry that the required support is so difficult to access.  I strongly suspect that the behaviour is related to the violence she experienced in utero and also the drug and alcohol she was exposed to.  She has been assessed as having regulation and sensory issues.  I am also looking to get her assessed for FASD…but one battle at a time.  It breaks my heart to see her hurting so much and to not be able to fix it for her.  She (and all other adopted children) deserve to be given the appropriate support/therapy when they need it.  It is inhumane to make them suffer longer.  They didn’t chose this life and if we want to truly break the cycle then the support needs to be there.

Sorry – I have gone off on a bit of a rant 😉 The prevalence of the violence varies depending on how stressed/unsettled she is.  It is often focussed around bedtime – she doesn’t like going to bed.  Why we don’t know but I suspect it is as simple as she thinks we are up to something really exciting.  I may let her stay up one night to see the reality and see if it helps.

School know but offer little help as she is fine at school.  However they successfully manage to contribute to the situation with the way they handle things….talking about transition to new school year as early as Easter, going off timetable in the run up to Christmas in October!!!!!!

A very select (2 I think) few friends know and no family know- and without exception they are fellow adopters.  To these two people I say a heartfelt thank you as they have kept me sane (relatively) and listen without judging.  I just don’t trust that others would understand.  They seem to generally understand so little of the other issues associated with adopting so why would they understand this.  This makes me question my first statement as to whether I am ashamed…..I genuinely think my abiding concern is how it would change others views of our daughter.  She has done so well given her start in life and I don’t want people to judge her unfairly.

It is so wearing and emotionally tiring – I can’t really describe it. I feel permanently drained and exhausted.  I am always trying to be two steps ahead in an attempt to avoid any triggers.  I am often analysing my parenting decisions – I am probably my harshest critic!

If I had known what lay ahead would I have still adopted her?  Without question- yes.  I will continue to fight to access the right support for her and to love her and more importantly make sure she knows I love her unconditionally.

Using Non Violent Resistance (NVR) as a strategy for coping with CPV

Today we have a guest post from an anonymous mum speaking about her experience of Child to Parent Violence and the course she attended on NVR…

I know that Child to Parent Violence happens in other families. And it is a strange sort of relief to be aware that we are not the only ones. Though I could never wish this situation on anybody else.

I do not know exactly how it feels for other parents, however, I can only speak to my own experience. Our boys had a difficult start in life and witnessed some very unpleasant events. We were not particularly surprised when they were aggressive. Nor was anyone else. People (both ‘experts’ and friends) who heard about the boys’ violent outbursts vacillated between some phrasing of ‘surely it’s not that bad’ and ‘what did you expect?
NVR and CPV

Well, sometimes, especially as the boys grew older and were able to throw me against a wall, it did seem pretty bad. And, somehow, knowing that there is a sort of explanation for their behaviour didn’t really help.

We found out about Non-Violent Resistance some time ago. I read up on it and then we attended a course put on by Adoption UK, where we met Peter Jakob.
He talked about the function of aggressive outbursts (and indeed much of our children’s behaviour) was to exert control. We cannot control children who do not want to be controlled, but we can control our own behaviour. Changing my goals from changing the children’s behaviour to changing my own was a freeing prospect. Finally, I could be in control of whether or not I succeeded!

Then he talked about ways of regaining our own ‘parental presence’.
The most exciting thing for me was Jakob’s advice for what to do during ‘incidents’. I have always struggled with the best way to handle the really difficult moments and found Jakob’s down to earth approach reassuring. He pointed out that heightened arousal levels inhibit our ability to plan and to read others. We cannot change the child mid-incident. So we must act on the incident much later, after we’ve calmed down. He emphasised that we can assume control by choosing when the defer our responses, we don’t have to accept our children’s invitations to respond right away. He even gave us a phrase to use: “we’ll deal with this later, when the time is right”. During an incident, Jakob encourages us to prioritise safety, try to minimise risk and, when necessary, run away. I think that I needed permission to run away sometimes. It is strange to realise, but I have long felt that there was a kind of honour or sacrificial duty in staying beside my hurting child. But, sometimes, the only way to protect my hurting child from becoming a violent bully is to run away.

Jakob recommends ‘persistence not insistence’.
His process begins with an Announcement, which should be prepared in writing and delivered deliberately and clearly. He suggests this pattern:
1) Something positive about your child, a maximum of one paragraph.
2) State clearly what the problem is. No more than three problems should be mentioned, so prioritise.
3) Expression of concern for how the child’s behaviour effects others, working from the outside in, finishing with the effect on the child themselves.
4) The parents state that they cannot accept this behaviour and they will take action, won’t do this alone, and will not be violent themselves.
5) A positive vision of the future, where the child can be trusted to do something that they cannot do yet.

The idea of not doing this alone is central to Jakob’s method. He told us that we ‘don’t live in normal households’ and we ‘need a support network not friends’. He suggested that safe and supportive adults were the ones who make us feel ‘sufficiently comfortable yet sufficiently energised’ when we talk about our children. They are the adults we should recruit to help us.

After an incident, we can contact these supporters and tell them what happened. We then ask one or two to contact the child and express concern, following this pattern:
1) State that they know what happened.
2) Express personal concern for the behaviour and its likely consequences.
3) Make some appreciative comment about a good side of the child. And offer to be there if the child needs to talk in future.
We would also need to be transparent with these supporters about our own behaviour. Jakob suggested that we consider our own natural tendencies to be aggressive or avoidant. The idea of talking about what happens in the home is that secrecy is actively unhelpful. It feels like it’s right to maintain our privacy, but Jakob believes that allows our children to believe that hurting their parents is OK.

We have not been using these techniques very long at all, so have yet to see whether they have the long term impact that we are hoping for.
But, ending the secrecy, while terrifying, has been wonderful for me. I am not going to tell everyone that my son throws chairs at me, of course not. Yet, having a few people who know makes me feel far less alone in those slightly scary moments. We gave up using behaviour modification techniques years ago, it created shame and made everything worse. Years of there being no consequence for hurting me, however, were crushing. It felt as though my bruises and cuts didn’t matter, and that didn’t help any of us. Now we have an answer (though, I acknowledge it is only a partial one). People express concern when I am hurt, and that makes me feel like a real person again. These conversations with supporters are not intended to be any kind of punishment and, as parents, we must be vigilant to ensure that they don’t become hurtful. The conversations can happen a long time after the incident, giving the boys plenty of time to cool down.

This is a remarkable strategy which puts the family’s support network at its very heart. It works for us because we are lucky enough to have a wonderful support network of people who care deeply about our boys and are willing to go to great lengths to help us and them.
But, this strategy emphasises the massive importance of everyone learning more about how to support struggling children and families. The more people who understand, the more choice we will have in picking our supporters. So, I am beginning to realise that we need to talk about this.

He’s not *that* strong is he?

Another guest post today from an anonymous mum – sharing her experience of Child to Parent Violence.

We don’t experience the same levels of violence that other families do. And we’re very lucky that now, at 8, it appears to be slowing down and petering out a little…although I know it could return. Peaks and troughs – that’s how we roll.

But when it was at it’s worst, we experienced scary violent moments – the worst, for me, were the black eye (after I held him and got headbutted), the concussion and the threatening with cutlery thing. They stand out, but there are many moments where I have been hit, punched, landed on, kicked, scratched, or had threats of all those things.

After being headbutted, I approached our post adoption social worker and asked for safe holding training.

“We don’t approve of restraining methods” I was told.

Oh. Well I’ll continue to get hurt then shall I?

“Here, have some theraplay/counselling/life story work instead” was the response. It didn’t matter how I worded it, what I said, how I tried to tell them that I’d gotten hurt.

Friends would say:
He’s 5 – how can he hurt you?
He’s 6 – come on, he’s not *that* strong is he?
He’s 7 – can’t you hold him, so he can’t hit you?
He’s 8 – he just needs to work that anger out, have you thought about Karate?

Along with the lack of support from our post adoption support term, those comments made me feel absolutely useless. I questioned myself, wondering whether it was my fault for getting in those situations, maybe I was causing the anger somehow.
Deep down, I knew that this was my son’s way of communicating something really hurtful to me, although we struggled to decipher what that was, but the lack of understanding and support made it difficult to hold that thought in mind, especially when repeated day after day, year after year and when suffering the physical and emotional pain of violence from your child.

These days there is less anger, and we take a step back. Rather than trying to help him calm and regulate with soothing words and reassuring touches, we make sure he’s in a safe space and stay reasonably close by to make sure he doesn’t get hurt.
But I know that we will have to investigate NVR in the future to protect him, and to protect ourselves and I’m not prepared to wait until it’s too late.

And I now know that we are not the only family who experiences this, and I’m not ashamed anymore. We need to speak about this to make sure that those children, and those families that live with this kind of violence don’t feel alone, or judged, or unsupported.

Children’s violence and abuse towards their parents and carers: a social worker’s awakening

It’s no accident that our special avatar this week is a hole in the wall – a photo taken during a violent outburst, and today one of our guest posts is from Helen Bonnick, who runs the website Holes in the Wall. Here she explains the work that she’s doing…

clip_image003Hi, my name is Helen and I’m a social worker. Since I qualified in 1983, I have – sad to say – been anxious at times about making my profession known. It’s not necessarily the most popular of jobs; and you can guarantee that someone in the room will have had a bad personal experience at some point and will want to tell you about it. This has certainly been heightened over the last few years, as I have become involved in campaigning around children’s violence and abuse towards their parents and carers.

I first became aware of this issue in the early 1980s. Flailing around to find something to offer a young and desperate Mum, all we could do then was to refer her to the equivalent of CAMHS. As I moved on to work within education, I became increasingly involved with the difficulties faced by some parents in getting their children to school, and started to have a sense of their home life too. When I had a chance to complete some further study, I made Access to help for parents experiencing violence and abuse from their children the focus of my research. As I started to read message boards and research papers I became acutely aware that of all the professional involvement in families that was failing either to understand or to help, social work was coming off worst. Notwithstanding a few individuals, people overwhelmingly spoke of social workers being glib, patronising and dismissive, and of bringing about a sense of re-victimisation as they added to the sense of blame and even worked to remove siblings from the family. It suddenly seemed incredibly important that I should work to raise awareness of the immense pain and difficulty faced by some families on a daily basis; and that as a social worker myself, I had a particular responsibility to developing knowledge and understanding within my profession.

It is hard to explain what happened next, and even I sometimes wonder at how I came to be where I am now!

My current paid employment as a social worker is as a Practice Educator. I supervise and assess students in non-statutory placements; an important job but by no means a full time one. This leaves me plenty of time to pursue “hobbies”, and first and foremost among them has become running the website Holes in the Wall. From a tiny beginning in 2011, when I might have 5 views on a good day, I wanted to develop a resource that would bring information and resources together in one place, enable networking, and make it possible for people to find what they needed more easily than in the past. Coincidentally, over this period of time there has been a tremendous surge in interest in both the academic community and among practitioners on the ground. Beyond the Adoption Order is just one among a number of important texts which have highlighted children’s violence to parents as an issue that can no longer be ignored. Hard to believe on a bad day perhaps, but Britain is now among a small group of countries leading the way in understanding and resource development – and so I am kept on my toes making sure the website is up to date!

While a lot of the original research work on child to parent violence looked at numbers, a more recent approach has been to find “causes”. It is clear that there is no simple straightforward answer to the question of “WHY?” Indeed, the more I delved into the subject the more widespread were the associated factors, and I started to listen to parents with many different experiences, adoption among them, but also illness and disability, mental health diagnosis, gang involvement, cross cultural issues, domestic violence, and what has been loosely called “over-entitlement”. I resist the pressure to suggest that the experience of one group is worse than another. The important part is the experience of each individual parent, child and family. This has been a steep learning curve for me, but I hope that I too am less glib, more listening, more humbled now, by the everyday lived experiences of so many people around the country, and indeed around the world.

Running the website started to generate requests to speak at training and conference events. I have been privileged to be part of a Home Office working party, and am about to start working on a project that has been dear to my heart for the last two years – mapping all the service provision around the country. But the biggest piece of work on the horizon is a book specifically for practitioners in response to all the requests I have had for information and guidance, and in that sense my work has come full circle. My dearest hope is that it will not be necessary for other social workers to “flail around” as I did; and that, as awareness is raised and information more easily accessible, then each response to a parent will be appropriate – sensitive, empathetic, non-judgemental, the list goes on! We may be some way off a bespoke service in every town, but every worker should know how to respond, how to listen, what questions to ask and what not to say. They may then need to refer on to somewhere more skilled, or they may then be able to offer a timely response themselves.

I welcome comments on my blog, and conversations on twitter. Please do check out the website, which includes links to reading, training events and services. I look forward to hearing from you!

Helen Bonnick
www.holesinthewall.co.uk
@helenbonnick

Many thanks to Helen for writing this guest piece for us. We really do recommend checking out the website, and the links on it too.

clip_image001

My experience of CPV

Continuing with our Sore Point week on Child to Parent Violence, today we’re pleased to bring you a guest post from Single Adoptive Mum @fishercoaching on her experiences of CPV and how she dealt with it….

shutterstock_178086416As a single adoptive mum I knew it would be tough, but I hadn’t realised just how tough.  No one can explain to you how it feels the first time you meet your child or the fear that first night they stay over.  I hardly slept as I kept worrying about whether or not he was OK.  I’m sure that all adoptive parents feel like this but as a single adopter you have no one to talk to in the middle of the night when you’ve checked on your son for the 4th time, and yes he is still breathing!

The first few weeks were hard, there was no honeymoon period really, other than a few days, and then things became really difficult.  Over the first few months things got harder and harder.  Yes, there were amazing moments when I remembered why I’d adopted but the tough times got tougher.

My little boy was 7 when he moved in and had spent a long time in care.  In his owns words ‘I wondered if anyone would ever take me in’, hearing those words broke my heart.  He was with one foster carer whilst in care and had built strong attachments to them.  The transition to living with me was very hard for him, part of him was so pleased to have a family (even if it’s only me and I don’t have a red front door or dog) yet part of him was terrified.  What he had yearned for, for so long was finally a reality and that scared him.

His grief and fear started to come out as tantrums.  Full blown tantrums that lasted anything up to 3 hours.  He would shout, scream, kick and punch.  He slammed doors, locked me out of the house and told me to take him back to his foster family.  It was so hard to stay calm, not to take it personally or react.  I was often left covered in bruises.  But underneath the fear I knew I had a lovely, kind, caring little boy with a beautiful smile and a lovely laugh.  When he wasn’t lashing out we got on well and were building a bond.  We spent hours playing outside and going to the park.  Outside he could usually control his anger and fear.  It was when we were alone that it all come out.

We were having theraplay which seemed to be working but I wasn’t convinced that the therapist really understood my little boy.  Following her advice helped sometimes but not at others.  She told me not to call anyone for help when he was kicking off and that I had to deal with it myself.  As a single adopter it was hard not having someone to hand over to, but I followed her advice despite my gut telling me it made things worse.

After about 4 months of being covered in bruises he completely lost it one Saturday morning.  As usual his outburst came from nowhere and after 3 hours I decided to go outside to calm down and protect myself.  Shutting myself in a room hadn’t helped, he just kicked and kicked at the door and I was worried he would hurt himself.  I’d already tried everything else I could think of.  In tears I rang his sw and she arranged for someone to come round and give me a break.

That day was a turning point.  The following morning I sat down with my son and we talked.  That was 9 months ago and the violence did lessen as he became less scared, but it didn’t stop completely.

In January of this year I went to a course on NVR and that changed our lives completely.  I understood more about where the fear and violence was coming from and have been able to work with my son to help him.  He doesn’t like being that upset and angry and wants to stop feeling like that.  Slowly I’ve been able to help him understand his feelings and be able to express them.  The outbursts still happen but they are usually very short lived and further apart now.  Very rarely does he kick or punch anymore, just the shouting which is much easier to deal with.  I try to just stay silent and not to react at all until he calms down and then we talk about it.  It’s hard but it is working.

CPV is so much more common than we think and it has been brushed under the carpet for too long.  His sw didn’t believe me until I showed her the bruises.  I really believe that the violence was my child’s way of expressing his distress and the grief he was going through after leaving his foster carers.  He needed to know that I really was going to be there for him, no matter what.

Living with CPV is hard and it can feel like your fault, but you can get through it.  You’re not alone.

Sarah
Singleadoptivemum@gmail.com

sarahpfisher.com

Life on the Front Line- week 33

lotf

A weekly blog from a family made by adoption, warmed by the laughter, broken by the sadness, held together by love with a big dollop of hope, oh, and often soaked in mummy tears.

“I’ve been in a fight” he welcomed me as I stepped through the front door. His face wide with uncertainty, his lips all a quiver. Granny, who had been at home to greet him after school, whilst I picked Small up from his last day at the PRU, confirmed the worried restlessness of the boy.

“He’s not settled since he got in but he wouldn’t tell me why” she said.

Tall had found himself in the playground (I’m sure they don’t call it that at high school but I’m not sure what else to call that tarmaced area they congregate on at break times) at lunch time. This is an alien place for him, he seeks the safely of learning support in his recreation time and has done since his disastrous first week in high school. That also featured a number of fights.

The sitting of GCSE’s, last week, had however ousted some of the less needy pupils form the support centre, Tall was not one of these. No, he was still allowed his shelter.  This shelter was however far less attractive without his friends and so he decided to try the wilderness once again.

There is a certain boy, who has always been trouble for Tall, they were in the same class in key stage 2 and he caused some heart ache then. I bet lots of children, especially adopted children, have their own “certain boy/girl”. This boy knows how to press Tall’s buttons and, in my opinion, delights in doing just that.

On this particular day, the two boys had already had an encounter during a PE lesson. Once out on the playground, this boy actively sought out Tall, making a beeline for him. It didn’t take many accusations about Tall not having many friends and no one liking him, before Tall took a swing at him. More fight savvy, like bullies often are, he soon had Tall pinned to a wall.

The phone call I had with school was lengthy; I was angry, very angry, especially when I was told that each boy was equally to blame.

“Don’t put my boy and that boy together in the same group” I seethed. “Tall responded from a very vulnerable place, a place based in survival instinct. The other boy goes out of his way to make trouble, that’s a flaw in his character. These children are NOT the same”

Maybe I am being a little unfair on the other boy, I don’t know his full background and very often those that bully have many other things going on for them. I am usually very reasonable about these situations and good at seeing everyone’s side. However on this day I felt enraged, I felt sick of being accepting and towing the school line.

In a quest to provide more positive and therapeutic parenting, hoping that this will eliminate some of the triggers which cause Tall’s huge violent outbursts, I’ve been reading No-drama Discipline by D.J. Siegel and T. Payne Bryson.  It has really reminding me see my children’s behaviour as a form of communication; I keep asking myself “what is this behaviour telling me?”

I think my anger on this day was rooted in this reading. I wanted the school to stop talking to me about how he had behaved and therefore how they were going to punish him. I wanted them to look at how they could have supported him better at the point he had obviously needed it. To support him beforehand, to prevent him reaching the point in where he behaves in a way which will feed his self loathing.  I know that wide open face that greeted me later on that day was one looking for the words that would make this better, to take the toxic feeling inside away.

It’s the very same face I often meet after one of his violent outbursts. The one where I have to respond with forgiveness for the physical blows I’ve received and the verbal abuse I’ve been drowned in. I know that those who have been there will know how hard this can be, when inside you are not ready and your heart is throbbing with the aching recognition that this is YOUR family life. NOT something in a film or on Eastenders, it’s YOURS.

I’ve come to realise that as the adults it’s up to us to try our hardest to support Tall in not reaching the point where he blows. These episodes at home or at school are a lose, lose situation. Well this is my current working theory on what to do. I know that once we are there in the midst of the violence we can’t stop it; it won’t just drop out of the sky by us saying the right thing. No it’s two hours of exhaustion for all of us.  It’s the reason why we are seeking additional training for my husband and me with the ASF.

So I asked school to do a review of how an incident in a classroom, with a boy known to them to be trouble for Tall, had gone unreported. How had no one caught Tall before the fall.

I know he’s eleven and needs to learn to catch himself and believe me I did have that conversation with him. We always have that conversation.

“So let’s think about at which point you could have made a different choice which would have avoided you being in a fight”

But actually he is only eleven and makes so many right choices every day; I know he works so hard at making those choices.

During the phone call with school, I was accused of changing my mind about how school were to treat Tall. I could see their point. On the one hand I talk firm boundaries and in another breath I ask for him to not be excluded or even punished for initiating a fight. I felt very small in that moment and so uncertain of my ability to parent this child.

A good friend, who is also an adopter, however reminded me later, that that’s the point with our children. What works one week doesn’t necessarily work the next. We are entitled to change our minds if it’s for the good of the child.

I know there will be lots of talk around CPV on The Adoption Social this week and I just wanted to let everyone out there living with this that they are not alone. It is so easy to question what we do as parents, especially when others also question our motivations. However I never met an adopter that didn’t think creatively about how they parent, willing to try something new and constantly wanting to improve things for their child. Adopters really are the most resilient of breeds.

Tall was also brilliantly resilient this week, returning to school the next day with no problems and getting through a full day internal exclusion. Together we fight on.

 

In Other News

As I said earlier, Small had his last ever day at the PRU. Amazingly but not really surprisingly because he is such a capable young man, he is now back in mainstream full time.

Small has also sat his SATs this week without too much worry or concern in school, go Small.

However, at home Small has been a mini nightmare this week. All that school compliance means lots of refusing at home, roll on half term, he needs a break.

The Big Unanswered Question: How Do We Keep Violent Children Safe Within Adoptive Families?

 

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Today The Open Nest start off our Sore Points week on CPV (Child to Parent Violence). Amanda addresses the question so many are afraid to answer, how do we keep violent children safe?

Amongst all the current hoo-ha and hooray! around the Adoption Support Fund launched in May, there is a big piece missing for me (aside from the very big and seemingly underplayed issue of future funding). Judging by my Twitter feed and the calls to our charity for peer advice, I’m not the only one. I know in the much bigger picture we are perhaps in a minority group of parents that are trying to keep very angry and violent children safe. Perhaps not.

The big question is how can we be effectively supported by the ASF to avoid family breakdown when anger and violence becomes part of everyday life?

There are many issues that the very nature of modern adoption brings about. Often children who are permanently removed from their families are born to parents either living in poverty, substance addicted or coping with mental health issues within neglectful or abusive pasts and/or current situations.

Very few babies are relinquished. Some children may even have been ‘wrongfully’ removed due to poor assessment and lack of support and resources to parents or wider family. Lots of children know from being present at the time that their parents defensively fought the system, that their birth family may have hated the people that eventually removed them.

Getting to the real heart of a child’s life story is often frustratingly difficult with social work teams, birth families, foster parents and adoptive parents rarely able to join all the dots together or find the jigsaw pieces of history lost in the chaos of the past.

end result of this becomes (sometimes without warning) manifest in adoptive homes. Depending on the child’s previous history a number of issues may arise that require specialist support to parents. These can include crippling lack of trust, anxiety disorders, learning disability, eating disorders, attention seeking behaviour, school phobia, foetal alcohol syndrome, inappropriate sexual behaviour, anger, self harm, risky behaviour, developmental delay and violence.

Therapeutic support and advice for these issues can be very helpful and if it is alongside solid multi agency support for parents and professionals to care therapeutically, it can in good instances, create a team around a child, for real, not just in theory.

If a child has a combination of the above issues the chances are you will be told they are ‘complex’ and many services will struggle to come up with a meaningful plan despite numerous assessments. A training course, a course of short term therapy or a therapeutic short break is unlikely to touch the sides.

Unmet needs and poor life history can cause a child to feel very angry and frustrated. This can magnify as hormonal changes and the expected transition towards adulthood begins.

Our experience was not one of some occasional kicking or hitting out. By violence we mean proper scary, injury causing, potential death kind of violence on a regular basis. Hospital visits, scars, permanent damage to property and psyche.

As a peer led support charity we receive honest and non edited calls almost every week from parents scared and exhausted, at a loss as what to do about living with serious violence in their family. Not once has a parent said to us that they wish the child or young person to be removed. Some are facing the stark choice of living with dangerous violence or signing a Section 20 order which means that their child is going back into the ‘care’ of the local authority.

Having faced this terrible dilemma personally it is hard to describe the horror of such a system. Watching a much loved family member struggle over many years, doing everything in your power to keep them safe and then having to imagine them back in care is a complete nightmare. How a system supposedly with children at its heart can allow two families to fail a child is beyond me and makes me cynical about both social justice and the real existence of adoption support that is truly for adoptees.

It is also brain melting to see that expensive therapeutic foster care or residential accommodation may be commissioned upon removal of your child (up to £3000 a week) but even a fraction of that money would have meant your family could have bought in the support needed to continue.

There is a lot of money to be made in ‘healing’ a traumatised child. Viewing an adoptees behaviour and anger as the problem upon which to fixate and fix. What if that fixation was focused on the behaviour of the systems adoptees are created through? Radical adoption reform would put life story and identity at its centre. It would find a humane way to deal with the circumstances and inevitable anger and grief of parents who fail to care for their child as well as the grief and anger of a child permanently removed from its roots and expected to cope with often shoddy identity reinvention. Adopters would have every possible bit of a child’s history at their finger tips and guaranteed long term support to manage that history and links to birth family wherever possible.

However, current reforms that are at the roots based on and fuelled by an agenda of recruitment, will now continue further under the Conservative government. I’m guessing we are less likely to get humane responses to families and will see more and more products to supposedly ‘heal’ children and train ‘unknowing’ adopters from a ripe new government funded adoption support industry.

There are now all kinds of courses parents can go on that can train them to give therapeutic responses to anger. If you’re in the group we are talking about you will know how much they fall short at the “what do I do if he is coming at me with a knife” or “how do I stop her jumping out of the top floor window” type of questions.

What we strongly recommend is that parents learn non violent safe hold techniques. Using these techniques is common practice in residential care, which is often where many violent children end up having failed in fostering or adoption. The general feeling however is that us mere parents should not be trusted with such knowledge. The irony of the inevitable safeguarding question  “what if the child gets hurt” is not lost on those of us in the know.

Before arriving with us our foster son was once ‘pinned down’ 11 times in a week at his children’s home. This was face down on the floor where he could smell that other children had pissed on the carpet. Humiliation.

Loved ones are far more likely to use safe hold in a therapeutic way than residential staff.

Non violent safe hold is a therapeutic standing hold used as a last resort when somebody is at risk of serious injury. It is taught by respected national company Securicare and is delivered within the family home to all relevant carers.  Along with the physical techniques comes a thorough personal care plan and risk assessment for the child which is available for parents to give to other professionals in the child’s life.

We called for permission to learn safe hold techniques over several years. Our psychologist even recommended we have it. In the time it took social care to listen my daughter had hurt herself and others on a regular basis. She became frightened of her own strength and believed nobody was in control or could keep her safe. She was right. This played into her anxiety until we were in a cycle of utter despair. The only local authority response was that she could be removed from me and placed into a secure children’s home miles away from home. (Presumably at this expensive home she would be pinned down when she became violent).

The result of our lack of control was that after years of violence my daughter ran away one day and was raped. The ultimate violence against her. At that point I needed safe hold as I felt like I wanted to kill somebody.

After this incident myself and her support people were ‘ordered’ to learn safe hold. Nobody was to care for her apart from me until we had all had it according to the brand new risk assessment, an assessment we had been calling for over many years. Again the ridiculous irony of this strict instruction from above would have been funny if it were not so tragic.

Once we had learnt safe hold there was a massive sense of relief that a level of safety and control could be maintained at home. My daughter responded really well to it and it allowed her to express her justifiable anger in a safe way. The guilt and shame she felt over her violence subsided and her development improved in all areas. I know that without this training she would now be in secure accommodation, one of the sad statistics. I just wish we had learnt it when she was much younger. So much heartache would have been avoided and we would be further down the line in her development.

There will always be risk where holding a violent person is concerned. In my opinion and based upon experience, if your child struggles to control themselves and is at risk of hurting themselves or others it is a responsibility and a kindness to intervene properly. It can be life changing and is worth the risk.

We are finding it really difficult to find local authorities or support agencies to sign up to funding therapeutic holding as part of adoption support. We suspect they live in fear of being held responsible if somebody gets hurt. I’m not sure why this sense of responsibility is not present when people are actually getting hurt without any intervention.

We all know that in reality adopters use untrained techniques to control violence which involve holding and restraining. They have no choice. Even school teachers (and members of the public) are allowed to use ‘reasonable force’ when faced with serious aggression.

We are campaigning to raise awareness of the need for therapeutic safe hold to be funded by local authorities. The cost is relatively small compared to other interventions. The cost is a fraction of the cost of residential care, and nothing compared to the human cost of failing to keep a child at home for a second time.

In the meantime we will raise funds for families to have the training if their child is at real risk of being removed due to violence. We also remind parents that as adopters they have every right to learn these techniques without permission from the authorities.

We are happy to talk through our experiences of training and also recommend that parents contact Securicare for advice Tel: 01904 492442 trainers@securicare.com

To contact The Open Nest please email info@theopennest.co.uk