Category Archives: Citizen Smith #ParentPower

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

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.