Category Archives: The Blog

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

TOP SECRET

 

This post from ADOPTER X Find them on Twitter @AdopterX

SCHOOL

I found myself in a crowded school hall with 250 children with their parents hovering uncertainly around what had once been neat rows of desks all lined up in alphabetical order. We were early but the polite pleasantness was already threadbare in the teachers smiles and comments.

Like all these events it had been challenge getting there, X was angry. There remained a murky soup of unsaid words between us, I’d been kicked and called that morning and we’d not sorted that out. We begrudgingly sat next to each other waiting for the teachers to nod and indicate that we were next and to make our way to our impending ‘parent learner interview’.

For us this is just ordeal, for X it’s a unique construction of all that dysregulates. Large noisy environments, peers, adults, public examination of performance. A mix of shame and anxiety. Did I mention I’d been kicked and called that morning, I was not happy?

We filed through the process teacher by teacher, my will to live, already at a low ebb, was in danger of flickering out. Like a pre prepared script to a teacher they repeated the same mantra.

‘Intelligent, but easily distracted and if unable to complete the work then is a distraction. Shouts out answers which is not really that appropriate. I really like you X but you’ve got to knuckle down.’

Generally, there was compassion and understanding the words came as regrettable bad news that they had to deliver, followed by encouragement. It’s all in the way you say words.

The RE teacher looked like she wanted to give me a hug, I think she was so upset to break it to me. I think she read me pretty well I had sad eyes. The last teacher used the same words but it was hard to find compassion, more the barked workds of a drill sergeant. On went the lecture. I looked at X and I looked at the teacher. X was lost, eyes glazed and lolling around the room. I was furious, did I mention that I’d been kicked and called. How stupid is this teacher? I stopped listening and was weighing the consequences of saying nothing against the impact of me coming back at the teacher with the full weight of eight years as X parent, with the speech that starts ‘let me tell you about X’s life, about how X feels every day and how X struggles every day’. X would have died of embarrassment and shame for me to have spoken out. So I’m trapped between an teacher and X. I nod with the least amount of politeness politely.

Now I know why X kicked my and called me today, it seems like an appropriate and rational response.

I’ve booked a call to the school, we’re going to have a chat in private.

 

The Potato Group News

At the beginning of my adoption journey, I was a happily married early thirties successful professional. I had all the things that I’d always aspired to. The rewarding career, the executive home, the nice car, three foreign holidays a year, weekends at the coast, a gorgeous little dog, an amazing group of friends and a great social life. In spite of all of these things, there was a gap. As time went on, the gap was becoming more of an issue. Although my husband and I were happy, we both yearned for a child to complete our picture of domestic bliss. The sadness that it didn’t happen was corrosive. We had delayed starting a family whilst I went to University, established my career etc. It seemed terribly unfair that when the time was right, we struggled so hard to have a baby.

Never one to admit defeat, I was constantly seeking a solution to our problem. At lunchtime one day at work, a possible solution presented itself. Reading the local paper whilst eating a sandwich, I stumbled across an advert for a local Adoption Society. With support from a friend and colleague, I made the initial call that day. Life swiftly changed. There were weekend courses to attend, pamphlets to read and before you could say boo we were being presented to panel. What we didn’t know, when we had the call to say we had been approved, was that we were being matched during our approval. Panel was on the Thursday. Friday morning we had the call to go into the offices on Monday.

We then saw the pictures of our children, who we met for the first time the next week. A further five days and they came home!
No amount of reading prepares you for the reality of parenting two damaged children, 24/7. Like many couples, we struggled as we discovered that we had completely different parenting styles, alongside very different expectations. Together with work, the complexities of parenting traumatised children and the complete change of lifestyle were too big a shock. The marriage broke. My husband decide that he didn’t want to adopt the weekend before we were due in court for the adoption order.

I decided he should leave and I’d continue on the journey alone. He was shocked and angry, I was bitterly disappointed.
After the legal bits were sorted, I was a single mum. As any single mum knows, it isn’t easy to find time for yourself. Life revolved around work, school, nursery and all the events that children are invited to. Every waking moment was full. As the children settled into routine and I settled back into my work role, I realised it was actually a little bit lonely!

I decided, after a while, that it was time to venture out and have a little bit of a life again as me, not just as a mum.
The next question was “How do I meet people?” I’d been in a relationship since I was 17! I hadn’t dated for 18 years! The thought was terrifying! It took me quite a while to pluck up the courage. My lovely friends took me out on the town. The girls took me dancing, but I was constantly clock watching, checking in with the babysitter. In the words of my bestie, it was like going out with Mrs Doubtfire! Lol.

Having a night out with the girls was fun, but we were a bit intimidating as a group. The only men I was meeting were really not my type. I was wondering what next? I decided that online dating could be the solution. I could screen all the candidates from the comfort of my sofa. Perfect! What I didn’t realise then, was there was a whole new language to learn! There was a complete etiquette! There was I thinking that the profile pictures were up to date and realistic.

My delusions were shattered on date one – the guy I was meeting
looked like the grandad of the fella in the profile as he struggled to make it into the upstairs coffee lounge where we met! I felt obliged to stay and have a drink after he’d driven all that way! I was rather worried the excitement of a trip out might be too much for him and he may not make it home! Lesson one learned!

The language issue was soon apparent! “Fun” meant “frolics”, for “interesting hobby” read “fetish” – you get the idea! There were some boring dates, like the accountant who took me out for a meal then told me he didn’t like to converse whilst eating! There were comic ones – the guy who lied about his height, as if I wouldn’t notice he was actually 5’4” not 5’10” and spent the evening talking to my chest and chasing me around like Benny Hill! There was the one who brought his sister along, in case I stood him up. There were the married ones, who all thought their wives didn’t understand them!

One thing I was very clear about, from the start, was that I didn’t want my children involved. I didn’t want them to have a series of “uncles”! Quite a few men I met, along the way, were horrified that I was only looking for dates and I didn’t want a relationship. A few were rather cross that they couldn’t move in and be part of a ready-made family! What I realised, quite early on, was that most people had no concept at all of how it is to live with a traumatised child. In many ways, staying single was the easier option.

A whole decade after I became single, I finally took the step of getting involved. This only became possible because my eldest child, the more challenging one, was attending a residential therapeutic school. With the support of family and friends as babysitters, I was finally able to relax, go out for an evening and not worry what I would come home to. There have been false starts along the way. I’ve had to make difficult choices. I chose to walk away from relationships that weren’t perfect. I did so for me, but most of all for my children. I need them to know that there’s no such thing as “good enough for now”! I don’t ever want them to settle for second best. I had to step up and say “We are worth more than that”.
It has been a bumpy road. There have been lots of laughs and also a few tears
along the way. I have learned that I am much stronger than I ever imagined, I know that I can absolutely manage on my own. That’s why I can now relax and enjoy my relationship. Life is still ridiculously busy. Work, being mum’s taxi, trying to make time for friends and relatives. Somehow, though, I manage to find time for me. I make it a priority to set aside time each week to spend with my partner. It’s great to be part of a team again. Not to always have to make all the decisions – I know! Stop laughing! I know I’m a little bit bossy, a bit of a control freak! Lol.

It’s fifteen years now since I began my Adoption Journey. There are still lots of challenges. Overall, we are in a good place. Life is nothing like I imagined it would be. I’m lucky to share it with my two beautiful children, my wonderful friends – who are almost exclusively fellow adopters these days – my family and a fabulous partner who is working really hard at understanding therapeutic parenting and developmental trauma. We enjoy little moments of “normal” life. We are looking forward to the future.

My advice, to other singlies, is simple. Get out there, have a laugh, meet some people. There are a lot of strange folk out there, but there are some lovely ones too. Set your standards high, but be prepared to make exceptions. There will be some disappointments, but dust yourself off and keep trying! Enjoy the journey!

www.thepotatogroup.org.uk

The Potato Group News

 

 

Work and purpose have always been important to me – meaning I travelled work into war zones aged 27 and beyond – seeing things happen to children and adults that should never ever happen to anyone I came back deciding to adopt a child who needed a home – initially from overseas but as a single adopter with limited funds – changed to offering a child from this country a home.

I had a job I loved and hoped to work part time and be a mum – it was hard but just about manageable at first but as years passed my very lovely but terribly traumatised daughter grew into her trauma- we had some very good understanding (private professionals) but as local childrens’ services became involved for “support” these were not respected and the traditional behavioural management enforced on us and the therapeutic approach discredited.

Life became more and more difficult for my daughter and she had spells of being unable to leave the house which ended up in complete retreat from a terrifying world aged 13, until she was moved into specialist supported living aged 16 1/2. Due to her self harm and many other behaviours resulting from her difficult start in life, I was unable to leave her alone – so was unable to work. In the end I lost my job, my professional registration as I could not work to meet the yearly requirements, some friends and much of my life.

During these years we were both under immense pressure for her to attend her school (a small school for educationally fragile youngsters), professionals came – bringing sticker charts, points systems, consequences – and went leaving blame and stress for us both. The more pressure was put on her the more distressed she became and the more visits from the police were required as she was big and I couldn’t contain her and keep us both safe. Or the dog and cats – the dog had to evacuate to my parents and the cats lived outside.

A spell in the local young persons psychiatric unit did nothing as they didn’t take her out so discharged her saying she was fine and my parenting was inadequate – if she was not in school the next day they would push for her to go into care under order. Of course that was a successful tactic – NOT not as it scared her even more and things got worse. My days started with an awful anxiety – I would wake up in my locked bedroom (for my safety) and tiptoe into hers to check she was still OK, pick up the bloodstained results of the cutting, try to remove as much of the rotting food, dirty plates and smelly clothes as possible before she woke up – she would physically refuse to let me leave the room with anything. I would hear neighbours children going to school and feel an awful grief for us both at all we had lost, fear for the future and utterly imprisoned in my home.

My main social life and support was online – the POTATO group and other adoption support sites – my father teen sat once a week so I could go to a choir and I got the occasional in house respite and my parents slept here overnight so I could go away either to POTATO meetings or hill walking with friends and the wee dog. I was threatened with prosecution for allowing truancy and a hearing was held about this and whether a care order would be granted – luckily we escaped both but things dragged on as before – more professionals, more behaviour charts…….luckily we still had some good support but they were also powerless in the system.

Finally a room became available in a nearby unit for supported living for young people with mental health problems – getting her there was difficult, and the first few months there were many ups and downs -particularly downs.
But it meant I could get my life back – I started working in a homeless hostel – but my confidence had taken a HUGE knock – I found it difficult to speak to colleagues – I was physically unfit and very overweight and had no faith in my ability.

Gradually over the last 3 years I have worked to get my registration back, and now have a permanent job which I love – not the field I had specialised in – in fact the last place on earth I would have imagined ending up in. I have new friends , sing in 2 choirs and am feeling more confident than I ever have in my life – I still have counselling and can collapse at any hint of criticism or aggression – real or perceived. Best of all is my relationship with my daughter – she is not functioning as other people her age do – she never got back into education and she is on full disability benefits – she lives in a local flat with her flatmate but they both need a lot of support- any letters they do not understand get “lost” – benefits get suspended because they are too scared to attend appointments and are suspicious of professionals ( she has had well over 100 over the years and some have been good, some dreadful – and often services pull out without much warning). I spend more time that I would like chasing professionals, helping phone benefits offices etc. than I would like – I fear she will always need a lot of support and worry what will happen when I am no longer around to help sort out “muddles” – she is my daughter and it’s not her fault her early life has handicapped her to this degree. We now have a very good loving relationship – something I never thought would happen when a wee girl moved in terrified, raging, hating and if I touched her or her belongings – she would get a cloth and wipe where I had “contaminated”! She is kind and caring – in her own way – and a lovely person – all this never seemed possible during those dark years.

www.thepotatogroup.org.uk

The Potato Group News

An open letter to all the professionals involved in our family life,

In 2009 we adopted 2 children aged 5 and 6 from a background of physical, emotional, sexual abuse and neglect. In October, following a few years of increasingly difficult to manage behaviours (violence/ stealing/ lying/ self-harm etc.) we asked for respite for the first time. So now social services have re-entered our lives. One child took an overdose in August so we also have CAMHS. Our post adoption support service became therapeutically based a couple of years ago, so we have a therapist supporting one of our children (our other child refuses to go). We are both in therapy as individuals to keep afloat. We have friends meeting with us on a regular basis just to try to give our marriage a chance against the daily onslaught of traumatised behaviours that we encounter. This week, we get to meet with an ‘adolescent support team’ who will no doubt tell us what else we’re getting wrong. I’m sorry; we’ve never had adolescents before. Let alone adolescents whose inner world is so utterly fractured. We know we’re getting things wrong.

But how hard would it be to hear, in a unified voice, all you ‘support’ services saying what we actually need to hear, rather than a sense of social services just checking off a risk assessment checklist to see if we have the emotional capacity to parent our kids (because we asked for respite)?

How hard would it be for someone to believe in and say the things we really need to hear? Things like ‘It’s so hard to do what you do – well done for doing it.’

Or ‘I know you’ve read every piece of therapeutic literature on parenting adoptive kids and have tried so hard to put it into practice – everyday. I think you’re doing an incredible job.’

Or ‘ We know you’ve read Winnicott and want so much to be more than ‘good enough’ and you’ve read Erickson and we want to help you re-establish self-control in you and your kids and you ooze Dan Hughes because you know you want to resist the brain changes that happen to long term carers of traumatised children. Even with your mistakes and humanity, you are more than good enough and we want to help you with the things that are still hard for you.’

Or ‘Who knows how much harder it would have been for your kids if they hadn’t had adoptive parents who spend all their waking moments wishing they could get it more right – your kids are really lucky to have you.’

Or ‘I know that some days your kids do things that make it hard for you to get out of bed. And that’s not because you’re useless parents, it’s because of the abuse that happened before they ever met you. I am proud of you for choosing to keep getting up.’

Or ‘I can’t believe that it has taken till now for the proverbial whatsit to hit the fan. You must have really been putting some effort into parenting. I am glad that there are parents like you in the world.’

Or ‘Who else chooses to stay in a role which involves undeserved daily abuse? We don’t have to – if anyone abuses us, we get to walk away and they get in trouble. You are amazing to love kids who abuse you because you represent someone else.’

Or ‘How hard it must be to know you represent someone else and to know that one day your kids may choose to abandon you for that someone else. How strong you are to keep on loving them regardless.’

Or ‘I know that you choose to lie down at night and tell your child you love them, even though that day they hit and kicked you or verbally abused you. I know that you choose to remember that they had to do it to you to test if the world was safe. I know that you want so much for them to believe that the world is safe that you overcome every emotion in your body to go into their room at night and hold them.’

Or ‘I hear that you cry at night, not just for yourself but because, even after all this abuse, you wish your kids could trust in just one relationship. I’m here to support you too.’

Or ‘I know that you hate the mistakes that you make. I know that you hate the fact that you had to ask for respite. I know that you hate the fact that that request has brought more judgement on you than you can bear right now but that you are choosing to stand up under it and continue anyway. I don’t want to be part for that judgement – I want to do the job I signed up to do which was to genuinely help parents like you.’

How hard would it be?

I tell my kids that if I go for a walk with someone and it starts to rain, then I stop to put up an umbrella. I don’t do it because I want the walk to stop, but because I want the walk to continue. When I ‘stopped’ to ask for respite, it was because I wanted the walk to continue but I needed some resources to make that happen. I don’t think the umbrella shop should make me feel bad for asking for an umbrella. It’s not particularly helpful to be handed a small umbrella that only covers my kids. (And if you hand the umbrella straight to my kids then they’ll almost certainly refuse to carry it themselves.) I have yet to find a shop that sells big golf umbrellas. I don’t want critical comment on how I’ve been walking up to now. (I’ll be criticising myself for walking into this storm anyway.)

If you have suggestions on a better route to help me, then let me know; but please put up an umbrella first so we can be dry while we look at your map.
If you’ve read this far, thanks for reading. It’s genuinely good to know I’m not the only person who goes above and beyond. Because it’s the only way our kids stand a chance in this world. Maybe you’ve gone above and beyond in other ways that support my kids that I don’t know about. Thank you for that too. I hope that when you’ve finished ticking your boxes, that you’ll believe that I also go above and beyond the things that you write down about me. Every day.

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.

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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