Category Archives: Contributors

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.