Category Archives: Adoption Social Connections

CITIZEN SMITH #ParentPower

 

 

 

 

Life Story Work – There must be a better way?

Hey Sarah, let’s sit down and look at that book about that time you got molested in the park, I’ve got some photos of your assailant. Let’s have a look at them, I know he loved you really. Look here’s you and the police officer that did your forensic examination. How are you feeling?

There are many important things we have to handle as adoptive or foster parents, but to me helping a child make sense of ‘their journey’ has always felt like the most overwhelming.

In this aspect of our role we must act as both counsellor and parent – because what is termed ‘life story work’ is unquestionably counselling and it is unquestionably work. Work we are uniquely ill-equipped to undertake. Work that, in my mind, is important beyond our imagination.

Life story work makes me feel grossly inadequate and it can turn me into an arsehole because when I hear on the news, following one hideous event or another, that “counselling has been made available” to the victims I actually feel jealous on behalf of my child. Jealous! Jealous that I’m left to bumble my way through helping my child make sense of their own traumatic experiences. Jealous of people who have experienced horror I cannot imagine and who are perfectly entitled to receive support. How screwed up is that!

And I am not sure I believe that the PTSD experienced by those who witnessed, for example, the London Bridge attack is so different from those feelings experienced by an abused child, or one whose very life was repeatedly threatened through neglect. Or indeed the additional traumas of severance following removal.

If I were a counsellor being fairly paid to support a person who had experienced what our children have experienced (Complex PTSD) I would be putting a deposit down on a holiday home after the first meeting. It’s for the same reason that I fully understand why parents delay or avoid it, or those who often, like me, wait for their child to prompt us with an enquiry so that I can steel myself and say “Oh I’m glad you asked me that” before dragging out ‘the book’.

These events need professionals, and when I think of us, the army of amateurs coming to counsel our children through their PTSD I wonder how the media would treat our arrival at the scene of a terrorist incident. Equipped, as in my case, with good intentions, tissues and a spiral bound wipe-clean book of their tragedy.

But we know that there is no army of free counsellors to help our children, it can take 18 months to get just one CAMHS referral, and even all those counsellors who, in my imagination, descend on the scene of a tragedy like robot hoovers have to go back to their charging points until the next time they are needed.

So as always we must step up, and equip ourselves to become the professional, the counsellor, equipped to help our children process the events that brought them to us, and to do so over the course of many years. We’ll buy more books, attend more courses, learn from each other and our mistakes but always with that voice in our heads “There must be a better way than this”.

@mistersglluest

The Potato Group News

Bamboo Scaffolding: part 3: makes more sense if you have read parts I and 2

How we avoided a Thai jail and . . .did we get home safely?

I arranged a late checkout for one room, asking D to bring all his stuff to my room before noon. Our airport transfer was at 4pm. I Whats App’d a reminder the night before and at 11am . . .miraculously he was nearly ready at 12 and allowed me into his room to help him carry some of his stuff. I was able to flush his loo and put some rubbish into bags so the cleaners didn’t have a fit! . . .how much chaos can a traumatised young person create in 8 days? Then we set off for our last brunch.

Mistake number 1: His anxiety was already rising in anticipation of the long plane journey home. Why did I suggest we tried the café 50yards to the left instead of the one 100 yards to the right, at which we had eaten 2 or 3 times already? When stressed, D becomes more rigid and less able to manage even small changes. He sat at the table, refused all food and drink and put his head down.

Mistake number 2: I should have paid for my order without waiting for it and left. Instead I waited for my food and gave D my room key as he stomped off back to the hotel. After eating, I hurried back, asked for a second room key and spotted D head down skulking in a corner of the lobby. I put my remaining Thai Baht on the table beside him and encouraged him to order a snack or drink. I went back to the room saying – ‘come up for a shower when you want’. No eye contact, not even a grunt.

Fascination with weapons and fear: Since I met my son, aged 4 years, D has had a fascination with weapons. Developmental trauma and insecure attachment, with an avoidant and disorganized pattern, leave D fearful for his own safety (e.g. found alone in a flat by police aged 2y). For years he has kept a symbolic weapon under his mattress, a small wooden Maori spear, later pieces of ‘found’ wood or metal, later still a baseball bat, a machete and a crossbow . . . . . All the latter we confiscated on discovery, facing his rage, on the basis that ‘rage without machete’ is safer than ‘rage with machete’. He quickly discovered that Thai market stalls (where I bought sarongs and elephants) sold a full range of weapons. He told me that during the week he was offered cannabis and an AK47 . . . . . . .a micro moment of positive maturation, he said he declined them. However, he did produce a flick knife, a taser torch, and a metal kosh, which he insisted were legal to transport home in our shared suitcase.

D skillfully places me in no-win situations regularly. Do I refuse to pack them and risk the inevitable meltdown with him destroying the hotel room and/or storming off and missing our non-transferable flight, or showing adolescent to parent violence to me leading to arrest by Thai police, or do I pack them and face arrest at the airport? I packed them. We shared one small check-in suitcase and each had hand luggage.
I assumed D was still in the lobby; he did not respond to my infrequent ‘Whats App’ messages. I Whats App’d him encouraging him to chill in the room while I spent an hour by the hotel pool.

When I left the pool, some 3 hours after he left the café . . . . .I sat across his table in the lobby, ordered myself an ice cream, and asked if he wanted a drink . . . .he finally accepted his first food or drink in 15 hours. It had taken him 3 hours to emotionally regulate himself enough to be able to eat, drink and join me to finish packing.

Despite having given me dodgy items to pack, he became acutely disregulated when he saw I had a wooden broom with my luggage. I didn’t make Mistake number 3: I left it and a few other items in the room with a note for the cleaner.

Back down in the lobby, I checked out and we waited for our transfer: luckily this was a short wait and we set off to the airport in a heavy tropical storm.
The airport: Drug smuggling and Thai airports are often in the news; I was fairly certain we didn’t have any drugs. From stepping into the terminal, I had a bodily sense of fear – just an inkling of the fear that my son endures most hours of most days.

Checking in: We checked in, the case sped off down the conveyor belt. A repeat of the slow zigzag through security checks, then a large and very noisy airport lounge. Between us we had enough small change to get D a Subway. Bland globalization gives D reassuring familiarity whilst I seek local, quirky and different. D always finds even the shortest wait a challenge. The loud tannoys in several languages, including barely decipherable English, were steadily winding D up; there was no quiet corner to retreat to. As his agitation increased, a woman from Thai tourism approached me to complete a lengthy questionnaire. – that could have been the tipping point to meltdown. Why didn’t I politely decline.

I had tuned out the tannoy, but D said they were announcing my name to go to the desk at our gate. I was asked about the contents of my case, which was being brought off the plane. I was escorted into a private part of the airport, abandoning D in the airport lounge, hastily thrusting his passport and boarding pass into his hands. I was more fearful for D’s reaction to abandonment than what was about to happen to me.
Look out for Part 4 : . . . . .did we get home safely?

www.thepotatogroup.org.uk 

The Potato Group News

 

 

Bamboo Scaffolding: Part 2: What we did when we got there and the advantages and disadvantages of social media

We had arrived!. . .’Let’s freshen up and grab some food’. I rang D’s hotel room. I waited and waited and tried not to provoke a meltdown by ringing again . . .and said ‘Knock on my door when you are ready’ . . . .eventually he appeared. ‘Shall we find a restaurant nearby or eat in the hotel?’ . . .knowing D would choose the safety of the more familiar hotel. After eating ‘Do you want to crash or shall we have a walk and explore?’ – to my amazement he opted for a walk and we went two blocks to the beach.

Returning to the hotel we passed an Aussie bar with Sky Sports and I commented ‘You could go there for a drink sometime’. We arranged to download ‘Whats App’ so we could communicate while on hotel Wifi (D has me permanently blocked from his Facebook and Messenger) and so to bed. I arranged to message him in the morning. A social media positive. The next day I discovered D had been on an all-nighter. He met a Canadian in the lift and set off to the bars of Bangla Road with him . . . . .later going their separate ways, sitting on the beach for a while . . .and with no idea of the name or location of our hotel, he showed a moped taxi driver his room key, and was transported back safely in the early hours! – I was well impressed.

Our daily pattern became me arranging to message D at 8am or 11am depending on our jet lag and time confusion . . .usually getting a grunt, him missing breakfast, and me arranging to message him again at 1pm. He spent a lot of time in his room – time when I could explore. First mission – find the Muay Thai gym I had emailed, and book D some training. I found a derelict building! Trip Advisor showed a map of the derelict location but an address that Google Maps showed at the other end of town.

I soon discovered that in the steamy heat I should be less frugal, behave more like a traumatised teen, and spend money on taxis! Waking D at 1pm, I took him to a café for brunch and then by taxi to the gym to book a one-to-one for the following day. We explored a few shops before we wilted and taxied back to the hotel. D retreated to his room, I used the small pool and had a few hours me time.

My inclination would be to rush around and explore but the holiday had to meet my son’s needs first and foremost, his hotel room becoming a safe base. I became an armchair traveller, or in this case a hotel balcony traveller, trawling the local tourism on TripAdvisor knowing it was impossible for us to join any organized tours to offshore islands or wildlife sanctuaries as that would involve being ready at a set time and fitting in with the demands of a minibus full of strangers. Provocation and emotional regulation or lack of it.

Most evenings I messaged D at 7 or 8 to plan our evening meal and then had a long wait for him to knock on my door. As far as possible I avoided messaging again or knocking on his door as he finds that intensely provocative. I find it intensely provocative waiting patiently when I am starving . . .but the difference is that even after 20 years of adoptive parenting I can still emotionally regulate, helped by offloading a few ranting messages to my partner or my Potato peers, my social media lifeline. Now for the social media negatives. I soon realized my son was spending hours on Messenger group chat to his friends, much as he would at home.

He was angered to learn that a friend had had a confrontation with a bouncer, a passer-by had called the police, and his friend had been issued with an ASBO. He had had a burst water pipe in old outhouse plumbing as we set off. His friend who was ‘keeping an eye on’ his house and my partner were going to get this sorted. This friend was messaging him that my partner wanted to go into the house to turn off the stop tap – result RAGE, demands to fly home immediately and my worry that he would carry out his threat to trash his room. Would we see the inside of a Thai jail? I messaged my partner, was assured that he knew our son could not cope with him entering the house but the ‘friend’ would try and turn the stop tap off . . .crisis averted and we got to the pre-paid Muay Thai training session with my son in a calm enough state to manage training.

Muay Thai – my son has never let me watch him train at home. We shared a taxi to the gym and I said it was up to him, I could spend an hour at the beach or in the adjoining café . . . . .I think because he was anxious about the new environment he said I could come in, and could I video some of his training. By being crazy English people and booking a session in the midday heat, the gym was deserted apart from his one to one session. It was so positive to see D work hard and concentrate for an hour of hard physical training. I was able to take photos and videos. The trip was worth it for this first hour of training alone.

We fitted in two more sessions later in the week. Absorbing rubbish rants – It is a long time since D has chosen to spend social time with me. I see him daily to ferry him to and from supported work, to get shopping, or to appointments. It is even longer since he has sat down with me to eat a meal, so our shared evening meals were something special and mostly went well as long as I could absorb his ranted conversations without comment or challenge.

Rants described a seedier side of my home town, police, fights, how easy it is to get hold of a gun and a sort of parallel universe to the one I live in. Attempted burglary – some of the extra challenges of travelling with a traumatised young person are the direct effects of trauma, poor emotional regulation and extreme and unpredictable stress responses. Some, like the timing of the burst water pipe, are the extra bad-luck we seem to attract, and some like an attempted burglary because you have dodgy mates who know you are on holiday . . . .are because a traumatised young person is a magnet for ‘dodgy mates’.

About halfway into the holiday my son knocked on my door at 4 am (10 pm UK time) in tears. Through social media he learned there had been an attempted break-in at his house, luckily foiled by a neighbour who had called the police. The door was damaged but the burglars had not gained entry. Again his immediate response was to demand his air-ticket to fly back NOW on a ticket that was non- transferable and THREATS to trash the hotel room or leap from his fifth floor balcony . . . .I have years of practice at absorbing these intensified emotions . . .but it felt a long and lonely night . . .preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. Would I end up in a Thai jail? . . .or how do you arrange to fly a body back? . . . . .my partner and a few Potato peers hung on in there with me as my online support.

The low points, two near meltdowns survived by the skin of our teeth. The high points, three fantastic one to one Muay Thai training sessions, one morning of sight-seeing in a private taxi to the Big Buddha and to a shooting range! More about D’s fascinating with weapons in Part 3.

Look out for Part 3 – How we avoided a Thai jail and . . .did we get home safely?

www.thepotatogroup.org.uk

The Potato Group News

 

 

BAMBOO SCAFFOLDING 

In order to access many everyday activities, my son needs ‘bamboo scaffolding’, flexible and adaptable low key support – when I get this right it is largely invisible to others . . . .unless they have ever witnessed my son without this support.

Several years ago, I had to declare my teenage adopted son homeless due to repeated violence, threats and damage to our home and car over a long period. In the years that have passed since then, I remain his daily support for food, transport, emotional regulation and sorting benefits etc. as services do not appear to recognize he has any support needs at all. Now in his twenties, he lurches chaotically from near crisis to near crisis. Over several months he has been in a particularly low mental state. Over several months I have also been feeling depleted and was struggling to function on a day to day basis (after many years of providing high level support). How to try to nudge this situation in a better direction? Idea – a high risk holiday! Our son was excluded from education for more than half of his school life but each year I clutched at straws to find one activity in which he could participate and gain self esteem.

Currently he is doing Muay Thai (Thai boxing) regularly and together we planned a short trip to Thailand during which time he could do some training. My partner was unable to travel as he is awaiting an operation, so the first high risk was travelling alone with my son. A home-based education service working with him in his early teens insisted on 2:1 workers due to risk – but adoptive parents frequently carry risk 1:1 or 1:3 or more with siblings.

Bamboo Scaffolding: part one – getting there

I researched flights, resort, hotel etc. online, planning flight to be as short as possible, hotel as familiar as possible, and as close as possible to a Muay Thai gym. My partner paid for the holiday and from that point we accepted that we had ‘written off’ this money . . .even if we did not make it to the airport to set off. Previous holidays have had to be cut short e.g. a week booked in a caravan was abandoned after slightly more than 24 hours after credible threats to trash the caravan. Scaffolding means planning and anticipating situations my son will struggle with and adapting them to give him a better chance of managing. Schools in our experience never understood scaffolding, nor embraced inclusion.

Treating all pupils equally meets neither the needs of the child nor the sprit nor the letter of current equalities legislation – giving differentiated support and making ‘reasonable adjustments’ does. My deeply traumatised son still confuses the feelings of excitement and fear and is highly anxious in situations which he finds stressful – regularly dissociating into fear expressed as extreme anger.

Packing My son lives independently. I got his passport from him before we booked, as all forms of ID are often lost in his chaos. His washing machine is broken but he has not allowed us into his home over many months to arrange repair or replacement. I bought a few new clothes and partly packed a suitcase for him. I picked him up from his house to finish packing at ours, he promptly tipped everything out of the small case, announced he was only taking hand luggage as clothes were cheaper there, and took little more than one pair of pants and a toothbrush – I did manage to sneak one set of clothes into my case for emergencies. He was already ranting that there was no way he was going to wait at the airport for hours and we really didn’t need to check in until 30 minutes before the long haul flight.

I was deliberately vague about the flight time and hoped for the best. We had to set off the moment he was ready; my partner drove us; we drove slowly to try to reduce an excessive airport wait. The short stay departures car park was a nightmare finding a space and then walking a long way to the connecting bridge to departures. We joined the check-in queue and as we passed through passport control I breathed a sigh of relief – there was a chance we would actually set off. The next challenges were the slow and crowded zigzag queues for hand luggage and body scan and I could see him starting to fidget, clench his fists etc – at this point I have to stop myself ‘wittering’ empty reassuring phrases. I have learnt it is best to remain silent or nod empathetically that …it is a piss-take and FFS – absorb the emotion and ‘let them rant’.

We entered the departure lounge with still at least an hour before going to our gate. At last we were called to the gate and onto the plane, the very back seats, cosy for me, 5’ nothing, but decidedly cramped for my 6’ son, and as the hours went by increasingly hot and uncomfortable. Due to my son’s anxiety levels and neediness he can appear very self-centered. He took every bit of discomfort as if deliberately targeted at him and showed no empathy that we were all in the same boat (or the same crowded plane in this case). From time to time I offered distractions or sweets – scaffolding to aid his emotional regulation and I remained hypervigilant to absorb restlessness and ranting hoping we would not be responsible for a mid-air incident.

Seven hours, a two-hour transit, and a further seven hours was a huge challenge for a young man who finds the third hour of a three hour train journey difficult. Arriving bleary eyed I tried to spot the signs towards pre-booked transfers. Any hesitation led to rants from my son that I was dithering, and the likelihood of him storming off in the wrong direction. Luckily we found the tour operator quickly and once on the minibus taxi he fell deeply asleep, we were dropped at our hotel, checked in and given two rooms a few doors away from each other on the 5th floor. We had arrived in Patong, ‘party central’, not the typical destination for an exhausted 60 something!

To be continued: Look out for part 2 – What we did when we got there and the advantages and disadvantages of social media And Part 3 – How we avoided a Thai jail and . . .did we get home safely?

www.thepotatogroup.org.uk

The Potato Group News

Moving to Supported Independent Living – the DIY Approach

So here I am, at 7.45am, sat on a folding chair, in an as yet unfurnished flat, on my own, waiting for various workmen and deliveries, I’ve been up since 6am when the dog decided sleep was for wimps, and it’s taken me a 45 minute drive to arrive before 8am, the start of the first time slot for the day. I got home from the same place at 5pm yesterday, slept for an hour and then stepped back into my ‘Mum’ shoes until midnight for our other child. I am beyond tired. This is what a DIY managed move to independence looks like. Two years ago, at 20, our eldest daughter decided the time was right for her to move out and take the world on on her own.

Initially, I’ll admit the thought terrified me, she’s a vulnerable adult – she joined our family when she was 3 years old, with a horrendous history of trauma, abuse and neglect, and these have left a huge, indelible mark. Her childhood has been a rollercoaster ride and I’m deeply impressed that we’ve got her to adulthood in (relatively) one piece, though it has to be said, none of us have come through it unscathed. As she progressed through her teens, the diagnoses came thick and fast and covered several serious mental health issues, for which she will need lifelong medication and support.

So in a fit of positivity, and not wishing to make this a new battleground, we approached various agencies to ask for advice and support. There wasn’t any. I approached friends with contacts in housing, I had a very clear idea of what I was looking for, but the same bleak advice kept coming back. There is no provision for a young adult in the position she is in, that will guarantee the level of support she needs, would tailor it to build on her strengths, or would not risk exposing her vulnerability. So we did what we’ve always done, and built our own model.

We sat down with her and explained the situation. We would work with her to help her achieve her ambitions, but we could only do this as a team. She would need to be as committed as we were to making it work, and surprisingly, she agreed.

With the support of her Mental Health Team, her application for Social Housing was made, we were as shocked as each other when she received an offer on a property she liked. She went with her Dad to view it (I knew my views might not be so welcome, so took a back seat at this stage), she loved it and accepted it. I went with her to sign the contracts and collect the keys. We visited her new home, measured up, and went for lunch to discuss her plans. We also discussed who would be taking responsibility for which areas, and how she wanted this to work. So here is the plan. Her job is to manage moving to live on her own, look after herself appropriately, she is to look after buying her own food, cooking, keeping the place clean and tidy, and organising her washing (for me to collect).

She has agreed to let us know if she needs help or support (and she has been surprisingly brilliant at doing this). Her boyfriend can let us know at any point if he is worried about her, he has her permission to contact us if he feels she is unwell, mentally or physically. We will not insist she moves home, we will work with her to make sure she can reach her goal of independence.

We will support her by managing her money, ensuring she has a safe place to live, working with power and utility companies, being the link with her housing association, we will only visit when invited, we will not check up on her unless she specifically asks us to or her boyfriend has raised concerns. We will continue to manage her medication and her hospital appointments. She has a small fixed budget from us to help her furnish the flat, anything over and above this, she will need to save for and we will help her sort that out. It’s a five year plan, the idea is that she will take ownership of the bits she feels she can manage, when she is ready.

In practical terms, I am the named person to contact on all the contracts she has. We check the meters weekly to ensure she has enough credit and we top them up for her accordingly – we are all on a steep learning curve with this one. Her housing benefit came through surprisingly quickly, which was a huge relief. Her home is still relatively unfurnished, funds have allowed for the basics in terms of sorting out her kitchen, and second hand shops have become a source of fascination and inspiration. She has discovered that being independent is expensive.

In preparation for her move, over the last year, we have developed an envelope system – each days envelope contains her medication and her spending money, she has money for food, split into two envelopes, that have the days of the week on that they need to cover. I put notes and little drawings on the front of the envelopes to remind her of what’s happening (in her home and ours) or where she needs to be. And do you know, despite lots of misgivings from friends and family, we can do this.

Our motto, she and I, is ‘This Girl Can’. It’s rebuilding and re-framing our relationship in a lovely, positive way. The time I am having with her is incredibly special and I feel hugely reassured to know that we are having a positive impact on what she’s achieving, there’s a whole new level of respect for her Dad and I, and I think this is the start of realising that her family really is forever. I don’t doubt there will be days when it all goes in a different direction, but I really do believe that we can do this, and these are the days I shall be holding on to.

www.thepotatogroup.org.uk

CITIZEN SMITH #ParentPower

 

 

 

 

Guest blog from our very own Citizen Smith @mistersglluest

Beware individual solutions for common problems – time for a union?

I’ve written and spoken previously that I believe the time has come for us to start to rethink the way we approach adoption, and the model I have proposed is that of the ‘professional adopter’.

I know that the idea of the ‘professional’ adopter makes some nervous, as if it was incompatible or antithetical to the love of a parent, but there are many reasons why I bang on about this concept. Chief amongst these is my belief that the mindset change required to approach the role of parenting professional would deliver improved outcomes for parents and children, but also because there are properties of being part of a professional group that I think we could benefit from.

Let’s start by defining a professional adopter. According to the CED (the Cambridge English Dictionary – who knew!) the status of being a professional is relates “to work that needs special training or education”. In adoptive parenting (and fostering) we could define it as the individual that combines the role of parenting, through adoption or fostering, with the professional skills and knowledge required to care for children impacted by trauma.

OK that feels about right. There’s nothing so controversial there. Let’s then look at what other benefits can accrue to a professional. There are two other that stand out for me.

Standardised routes to achieve credentials – a training programme based on research and collective agreement that represents the best route to achieving professional status – and the highest level of professional effectiveness.
A single body that speaks on behalf of the profession and represents their interests with government and employers – the Charted Institue of Management Accountants is one example.
And on that note let me take something of a relevant detour. It its clear to me that the world of adoption support is starting to change. The indisputable evidence of the neurological damage caused by neglect and trauma, the emerging recognition of the scale of CPV, research that demonstrates that disruption is a real risk – and last – and in my view very far from least – the collective voices emerging from social media that are surfacing heartbreaking, but everyday, tales of families in crisis.

20 years ago it would not have been possible to build the wave we see on social media from the tears of isolated parents. But we are building a wave and my own view is that it is starting to push obstacles out of its way. But it is still a wave of individuals – albeit with common concerns – being offered individual solutions to common problems. And that’s the way governments likes to negotiate – with fragmented audiences.

So if we are to take that momentum forward perhaps we are now ready to combine our increasingly co-ordinated activism with a single professionalised mindset to create a body that itself sets the standards for what it means to be an effective ‘professional’ adopter or a foster parent. One that negotiates with government on our support needs. That demand a seat at the table in every conversation with our ’employers’ in government and local authorities. That is the de facto organisation for all adopters and foster parents, and one where the leader is elected by the members – based on the degree to which they represent our interests.

Sure we have less leverage than an unionised employee – we are highly unlikely to withdraw our labour after all – but I’m willing to bet we have more leverage than we think. I am quite sure, for example, that collectively raising our voices about the reality of adoption to drown out the saccharine PR of adoption marketing would be a powerful and threatening tool.

To be absolutely clear: I have absolutely no idea if this idea if workable. In a sense it doesn’t matter as I am talking more about the development of a professional mindset than I am launching a ‘Union of Professional Adopters’ or a quasi-professional body (although it was thrilling to see that there is now a union for foster parents). Nor am I not accusing the existing bodies that support us of being supine – I’m not remotely qualified to make that judgement. This isn’t even much of a call to the barricades. I just have the sense that somehow the power lies in the wrong place and it’s about time we wrested it from there.

I am saying that I think the time has come for us to define what we need to succeed and when we need it. To set our own standards for training and development – and drive that into the agencies that recruit and support. To have a body that demands standardised support packages and is prepared to be unpopular in doing so. To define the standard of knowledge, skills and tools that we expect those that support us to have and to stop muddling our way through, the grateful recipients of government largesse, begging our way to get what our children are entitled to.

 

The Potato Group News

 

 

When our children were placed with us aged 3 (twins) and 18 months, we had a lot of information about their history of severe neglect due to parents drug and alcohol issues. At that time there was a big focus on attachment and little was known about the impact that such trauma can have on brain development. So, we were told that because they had remained with their older sister (not being adopted) in foster care and had made good attachments there shouldn’t be any problems. Furthermore, there was no evidence of any problems – they were just “naughty” but the FC had provided good care and there were now “no problems”.

Indeed – there seemed not to be anything to be concerned about. Apart from silent crying, over compliance and “hyperactivity”, that is. In any case, after placement they settled down and eventually presented as typical children. And our experience was, actually, that they were “typical” children – if sometimes a little more “hyper” than others.
This all changed for us when our twin girls began to present with mental health problems which eventually resulted in both of them being admitted to inpatient units aged 14.
Now, we all know that the NHS is marvellous! If you have a serious, life-threatening problem, you will almost certainly get the treatment you need at the appropriate time and usually fairly close to home. Not so, if you have a mental health condition. CAMHS is “not fit for purpose” in a lot of areas. The shortage of suitable NHS mental health beds has been highlighted by the media for quite a while now. Lots of professionals make the right “noises” about the issues, but I am not sure how many of them realise the impact that the bed shortage has on both the patient and their families.
Eloise, was placed in an adolescent mental health unit over an hour away from home. She couldn’t go to a local, open, unit as her sister was there, so she was sent to a secure unit two counties away. This was a totally inappropriate admission: she was suffering with anxiety and depression and did not need to be on a secure unit.
The impact of the mental health bed crisis!

Restricted visiting hours meant that, because we had to use a major, usually congested, motorway to get there, we couldn’t see her in the week – meaning she only had visitors at the weekend. She has a younger brother who was too young to be left alone all day so he had to come and visit with us. Meaning he missed out on typical weekend activities with his friends. On occasions, we would turn up to visit her and she would be too unwell to see us for more than 15 minutes. Or her visit would have been cancelled and staff not bothered to call us. When she was allowed local leave from the ward, we had to try and find activities to do (usually restaurants) to “entertain” her.
But, a more serious consequence of this placement was the impact on her wellbeing. It is acknowledged by those working in mental health that patients will copy the behaviours of others they are placed with. Unsurprisingly, once in this unit her mental health deteriorated rapidly with an increase in the severity and frequency of her self-harming and she eventually became violent and was diagnosed with emerging personality disorder. Clinicians decided that she had to be kept in seclusion for an extended period. She was nursed in a room without even a bed – just a mattress on the floor. With nothing to do all day. Supervised constantly by two staff. A decision was made that she needed a bed in a forensic unit. BUT there were no beds available. She had to wait 6 weeks.

She was eventually offered a bed on a forensic unit 2 hours away from home. This hospital was a good placement for her. However, our Saturdays were now all about driving around the country doing visits. It is not just the inconvenience (or the cost) to the family that is the issue – being placed at such a distance has an impact on her treatment and recovery. The hospital felt she would benefit from family therapy – very difficult to do when both parents work and we have to travel so far for each session. As they recover, patients begin to have leave home to spend time with their family and friends. Hospitals find it difficult to facilitate these visits when they involve a four hour round trip (first visits are usually with staff If a home visit takes place on a weekday (and these are supposed to build up to weekly visits) then we, her parents, needed to take time off work and her siblings missed her because they were at school. However, weekend home leave is very problematic as there are fewer staff on shift. Discharge to home involves a gradual transition over time and this is very hard to do with great distances.

Another impact was that it was difficult for us to build a relationship with staff working with her as we couldn’t attend the weekly ward rounds. So, it became hard to ensure she was being well cared for. Her “home” clinical team were often unable to attend meetings about her as it meant being out of the office the whole day. So she quickly got forgotten about.
When she was well enough to be “stepped down” to a less secure placement it became apparent that she “fell between services”. She wasn’t ready to come home as she had become institutionalised. A low secure ward was felt to be inappropriate because it was likely to be too “unsettled” and might unduly influence her – leading to a remission. However, open, acute, units wouldn’t take her as it was considered to be too big a step down. She was caught between provisions: there was literally no hospital suitable for her.
So she had to be moved to a community placement which didn’t work out. And she ended up in a serious of adolescent psychiatric Intensive Care Units (PICU) several hours away (the furthest was a distance of 4 hours)! However, she was approaching 18 and Adult services did not support out of
county placements. Yippee! She’ll be moved closer to home, we thought. But it was not to be. Once again she “fell between services”. PICUs said she did not need their services, she wasn’t unwell enough but the acute team said she was too risky to have on their wards! She is currently 1 1⁄2 away on a PICU waiting for a treatment ward to admit her.

What has become clear to us as we struggle to get the right care for our daughter is that the shortage of suitable mental health beds is very real. There needs to be more emphasis placed on getting patients close to home – to reduce cost/impact on the family, to aid the patient’s recovery and to reduce costs for the Trusts treating them. We have had to fight to get her moved from wards where she was badly treated or inappropriately placed. We have been able to do this because we are not in awe of professionals (having dealt with them for so long as a result of adoption) and because we are articulate and informed. It makes us wonder how many people with mental health problems who do not have a voice are left in unsuitable placements.

TOP SECRET FEATURE

 

 

 

 

This week another post from regular contributor Adopter X

 

 

Guarded Care

Blocked care has many definitions. For me it’s a reaction to or consequence of friction and abrasion. It’s not a choice, starved of reciprocal love and care and bruised by this abrasion and friction this parent’s love withers, dries but has not yet died.

I set my mind for the long haul quite a while ago when I realised that this was not a blip or a phase. It wasn’t teething trouble or just ‘bedding in’ or ‘adjustment’. Things were outside the broad spectrum of normal and it was clear that they were going to stay that way. So, I started to take measures to keep myself safe, I re calibrated myself.

There is an ebb and flow to my life with X, hour by hour and day by day and I’ve learnt to sense when to gird myself for the fiery words and attempts to hurt. I’ve become adept at second guessing the triggers and the provocations, up comes my armour and I ‘get through it’ the best I can. Sometimes it’s minutes, sometimes hours, sometimes days.
But the opposite is also true, I know when to drop the guard and lower the armour, to open the arms, embrace and soothe with words.

Of course I get it wrong, disarmed by illness or mawkish sentimentality over a birthday or the hopes of a nice family time I open up and let my guard down. Exposed that’s when these fiery words hit home and I wobble. Sometimes my guard remains when it needs to fall when love needs to be manifest in kind words and deeds.

The standards of therapeutic parenting are sometimes immeasurably high but to yield myself to selfless love and open myself to unconditional vulnerability is not an option for me. I promised to parent X and this is how I do it.

@adopterx

The Potato Group News

 

TRANSFERENCE

She comes home apparently calm, but soon I am a nervous wreck inside. I feel anxious in the pit of my stomach and don’t know why. I ask her if anything is wrong – from experience I know that often these feelings I get from nowhere have nothing to do with me. They are hers but she somehow manages to transfer them onto me.

I don’t know how she does this. She doesn’t seem to do it to my husband (though I suspect she does it to her boyfriend). And I don’t pick up on other people’s feelings in this way. We adopted her and her elder sister at the same time. I don’t have that sort of experience with her elder sister.
She continues to tell me that there is nothing wrong. But by now I am in a frenzy of anxiety. The problem is that I know that pushing her for answers will simply infuriate her. She has an autistic spectrum diagnosis and she is not always very good at communicating how she feels to me. And I guess that she thinks that there is no reason for me to question her – she has told me there’s nothing wrong, so why shouldn’t I believe her?
So I have no option but to let her be. But then later that evening we get a message from her boyfriend – they have had a huge row and he has finished with her, but he’s worried about her, so could we keep an eye on her?

She bursts into tears when we confront her. I am now feeling enormously sad instead of the anxiety. And I continue to feel a mixture of sadness/anxiety over the next few weeks, to the point that I am wondering if I am heading for depression (which I have never suffered from).
Sometimes I get angry feelings instead – all directed at an 18 year old boy who I hardly know.
Some days are worse than others. It is useful information as it lets me know how she is doing. Her ex said that he was worried she would harm herself, that she had told him she had suicidal thoughts in the past. So it is useful for me to know when she is particularly down as I can feel it.

I feel like I am experiencing the break-up of the relationship myself. It is hard to explain – I am not mourning the loss of the ex as such, but I am definitely experiencing the feelings.
I now understand why I was so happy last summer. That would have been when they got closer after having seen each other intermittently for a while. She wasn’t sure if she wanted a relationship and then they got really close. At the time I put it down to the weather, my therapy, our new puppy……. Now I can see that I was just picking up a different set of emotions from her.
I have discussed this with my therapist, who knows me and the family well. She thinks it’s a sort of transference, where my daughter is dumping her too-big feelings onto me to deal with as she doesn’t know what to do with them.

Babies can’t manage their emotions and they need a tuned-in caregiver to help them do this.
Our daughter was badly neglected as a baby. Her birth mother had several older children (including our other daughter) and didn’t have much to do with her – she was passed around friends and family and looked after by her older, but primary aged, siblings. It is unlikely that anyone was enabling her to manage her too-big emotions and so she had to try to do it all herself.
We have always known that she tries to self soothe and manage all her problems by herself. She is very reluctant to seek help. She masks amazingly well in public and then falls apart later on. Other people are forever telling me there is nothing wrong with her – she is pretty and fun and, ,at the age of 17 has no anti-social behaviours or habits.
But it seems like things are leaking out – and in my direction.

I have tried to explain what this is like to friends. Most people seem to think that I am being too empathetic, too involved with her, that I need to set an intention not to get drawn in to her business, that I should have better boundaries. But I am not actively doing anything here. I do sympathise with her like any parent would do and try to talk to her about boyfriends and young love and I do try to remember that she is the one with the relationship (or not) here and she can handle it by herself.
But it doesn’t change the fact that I feel her emotions. It seems to me that this is being done to me completely without my permission or any active involvement by me.

My therapist thinks that I am a prime candidate for her feelings because, while she is perfectly primed to be the sort of person who needs to dump emotions on other people, I had the experience of managing my own mother’s emotions as a child, and so I am used to doing this.
It is a ‘perfect storm’ for the two of us. Her sister, my elder daughter, had a very different experience in the birth family, where she was looked after by the birth father (not brilliantly, but he did actively parent her). And my husband didn’t have to manage anyone’s emotions.

So it is something I am experiencing but I don’t know how to fix it. I have explained to my daughter how I feel what she is feeling and she is bewildered, as she doesn’t mean to do it. She is fed up with my preoccupation with this relationship – I keep checking in with her and she doesn’t want to talk about it.
The good news is that the boyfriend is suddenly back and she is euphoric – and so am I…..

The Potato group supports and informs parents of adopted teens.
www.thepotatogroup.org.uk

TOP SECRET FEATURE

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We realise that it is sometimes hard for adopters to talk about certain topics through their blogs or Twitter for many reasons.

It is the same for adopted people and adoption professionals. We are going to be featuring contributions from anonymous writers in our new TOP SECRET feature.

If you would like to contribute please contact us by email or direct message on Twitter? You just need to email us a submission of up to 2000 words max. There must be no identifying names or places in any submissions. No names will be shared.

 

This first contribution is from ADOPTER X who will be contributing regularly to the TOP SECRET feature as an adopter.

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EXPERIENCE ALTERS PERSPECTIVE

I find I have more in common with X’s parents than I ever thought possible.  We adopted X when she was four and it’s been a strange journey that we have been taken on. Due to increasingly challenging behaviour, violence, self-harm, knife fights and more we, eventually, self-referred to Children’s Social Care. All well and good, they came and did their initial assessments and declared that we were doing more than they could provide, so ‘chin up’ and carry on. We did just that. All that changed when someone else referred us and the Children’s Social Care arrived uninvited. The Social Workers that came were different, hard, uninterested in our story or explanation with no regard for case notes or history. They had a job to do and got on with it with no interest in our version of events or explanations the embodiment of agents of the state. It was not a nice experience.  Experience alters perspective. I find myself revising the things I’ve read about X’s parents. I think of a young mother caught up in the child protection system that I was caught up in. I think of phrases I read like ‘combative’ and ‘not engaging’ then think of phrases that may be used to describe me as I pushed back against the injustices I felt and the unyielding bureaucracy that unfolded before me. I think of the terrifying thought of losing X and thought of a young mum who lost her child.  I feel closer to her than I ever thought possible, a shared experience with different outcomes and different start points but with some shared paths. As I say experience alters perspectives. When I was a member of an adoptive panel I read Child Protection Report after Child Protection Report with the same threads and patterns repeated again and again. Now, I find myself revisiting those stories in my mind, I see a system that removes children from parents, often justifiably so, where I once saw the system as neutral and fair I’m not so sure now.  I know that I’m not the only adopter to slip onto the wrong side of the tracks. I do know that this experience has altered my perspective forever and I feel empathy and have an insight to X’s family that I never thought I could have.
X

I am Adopter X, the adopter of X
X came as a bundle of joy and tears when she was three and now she’s a teenager. Every day is hard, many days have joy and many still have tears.