Tag Archives: course

Review: University of Sunderland CPD courses

Today’s review is of a series of short courses run by the University of Sunderland. Many thanks to Suddenly Mummy for this review.

This series of continuing professional development short courses, Children Who Have Experienced Loss or Trauma (CEL&T), is available for study online through the University of Sunderland’s website. There is quite a range of material available, including units designed by looked after children, adoption professionals and adoptive parents.

I have completed two units, Introduction to Therapeutic Parenting 1 and 2, developed and delivered by Sally Donovan. I can honestly say they were excellent. Each unit came with a Powerpoint presentation with a recorded voiceover by Sally, a selection of online reading material accessible from the learning space, and a reflective booklet to complete. A few weeks after submitting my work for unit 1, I received a lovely, good quality certificate in the post, and I’m looking forward to receiving my certificate for unit 2 soon.

If you have read any of Sally Donovan’s books, you will already know what a powerfully honest insight she gives into the world of adoptive parenting, and these short courses did not disappoint. They were packed full not only of theory, but of real-life practical application, all delivered in a sympathetic manner which acknowledges that adoptive parents and foster carers are real people, not just automatons with endless reserves.

Other courses available cover the BioPsychoSocial model of trauma, designated teachers, attachment, foetal alcohol syndrome, and using multi-agency partnerships to support children and young people. New units are being added ready for starting in July. Each course allows ten weeks to complete the material, and is priced according to how many hours of CPD it counts towards.

I think these courses are well worth considering for anybody working or living with a child who has experienced loss or trauma. In particular, I think prospective adopters could benefit enormously from completing Sally’s Introduction to Therapeutic Parenting units as part of pre-approval preparation. They are more thorough, more practical and more realistic than much of the training I have seen elsewhere.

As a foster carer, I am able to use completion of these courses to count towards my annual training requirements. As an adoptive parent, I have found the material helpful, informative and reassuring.

(I paid for my own courses and was not asked to write a review – these are my own, unsolicited opinions!)

NVR Training opportunity

Today’s post is from Penny, who has arranged a course on NVR, taking place in Northampton at the end of March…

When I contacted Vicki about publicising the course that I’ve organised on this website, she suggested that I ‘write a guest post about what I’m doing and why’. Timely. The course commences in under three weeks and not enough places have been sold yet to meet the costs of this venture. Some reminding of ‘what I’m doing and why’ might be just what I need!

Before you read anymore – here’s the flyer for the event.

I’m not a business woman, I’m a counsellor/psychologist; my post graduate training has been in Counselling Psychology and in recent years I qualified as a Systemic Practitioner. Since 2010, I have been in private practice in Northampton, with a steady turn-over and a good reputation; most of my new clients come to me via recommendations. I’m doing ok. But cases concerning child-to-adult violence have consistently left me feeling helpless and ineffectual.

Tantruming toddlers, challenging children and rebellious adolescents, on the whole, respond well to ‘naughty-steps’, reward charts and the giving and retraction of privileges. Super Nanny has been clear – set boundaries, ignore bad behaviour and reward the desired behaviour.

But raising children is not always the same as teaching a pigeon to push the right levers (to release a food pellet reward, rather than the electric shock). There is a minority of young people whose experiences have taught them that the adult world cannot be relied upon. As adopters you will know some of these children and the heart-breaking tragedies and the stomach-turning betrayals of trust that they have experienced.

These traumatised and attachment-injured children, understandably, are prone to respond to authority with anger and defiance. Their motivation to avoid being controlled is deeply rooted in an anxiety-based, survival response. Reward and punishment will not work with them, because compliance to authority is experienced as psychological annihilation. They might play along for a bit, perhaps even long enough to get the reward, but they’ll soon feel manipulated and their resentment and anger will grow– and then they will punish person and/or property.

In April 2014, the Department of Education published the research report ‘Beyond the Adoption Order’, which made it clear that an intact adoption placement does not necessarily equate to a happy or stable one. Researchers found that 20-25% of surveyed adopters described their family life as ‘difficult’.

‘Difficult’ was option ‘C’. Option ‘D’ was ‘child no longer lives at home’; I wonder how many of those 20-25% might have selected ‘On the verge of breakdown’, had it been a response option. In my experience, where the placement is ‘difficult,’ families have often resigned themselves to ‘lives of quiet desperation’.

For those who manage to overcome their shame enough to ask for assistance, the Super Nanny-saturated culture is there, ready to point the finger. Parents are typically informed that the situation is of their own making; their boundaries were too vague and not enforced with sufficient vehemence. Too often, the necessary back-up is not there. The report tells of parents,

“…having ‘to do battle’ with professionals to get support which, even if provided, was often time-limited and uncoordinated. Adopters also commented on feeling personally ‘let down’ by their assessing local authority’s failure to keep their promise of being there when needed, or reneging on support packages.”

In the defence of time-crunched, budget-less professionals, if all they are equipped to offer, are more boxes, leavers and pellets (i.e. reward and punishment based parent training courses), their ability to help will remain very limited.

This is not a simple matter of educating the parents. Nor is it possible to take the individual child to a therapist to be ‘fixed’. For children who have been severely psychologically damaged in contexts where the community did not (or could not) protect them, healing will require a community approach. A loving, committed parent or two, in a community that merely throws the responsibility around, won’t stand much chance. Yet we still abandon parents to deal with dangerous behaviours from deeply disturbed adolescents. Some of these parents are my clients.

If we could pan out a bit from adoptive parents, to the general population of parents, we’d see many more of my clients. Not all children escape their traumatising environments – many domestic tyrants manage to keep their behaviour just shy of being prosecutable. Just under the radar. The 2015 Home Office ‘Information guide: adolescent to parent violence and abuse (APVA)’ began to address the prevalence of adolescent-to-parent violence in the general population. It describes parents living with tyrannical off-spring, experiencing corresponding levels of shame, blame & fear and helpfully explores how various professionals could do much to help.

Both reports recommend Nonviolent Resistance and accordingly, the Adoption Support Fund promotes this approach and pays for adopters to train in NVR (do claim if you’d like to do this course). But both reports are relatively recent and I didn’t do my training in this county. When I booked the trainer and the venue, I had no idea that NVR had yet to land here. Last week I told an adoption social worker from Solihull about the blank responses I get around here when I mention NVR – “you must be living in the dark ages down there!” he commiserated.

Indeed it seems that I greatly underestimated the groundwork that is necessary around here. When I tell people about Nonviolent Resistance, what they seem to hear is ‘Passive Acceptance’. One adoptive parent exclaimed “I am not Ghandi! Are you suggesting that we just stand there and let him punch and kick us?!” (Absolutely not). Perhaps this is why Haim Omer chose to call his next book ‘The New Authority’. There is nothing weak about this approach.

Panning further out and the personal becomes the political. ‘Old Authority’ thinking places power in the hands of those strong enough to apply force. Parents and professionals who are smaller, weaker or less physically able are largely condemned to remain vulnerable. ‘New Authority’ (exercised via NVR) can empower all, because it harnesses the synergy and influence of the collective. Of course this is political – NVR has its roots in political struggle and we enthusiasts find ourselves speaking almost as if we’re part of a social movement! To equip people with a source of strength that is not contingent upon being bigger, stronger and more prepared to use force is radical indeed.

From high ideological strivings, back down to earth with a thud – two weeks left until the training course starts and there are still many spaces to fill; this is the bungee cord that I’ve been attached to of late. And I am back thinking about the individual cases that have inspired this possible rashness on my part. Today their children are primary school age and things are already unbearable; both reports site adolescence as the time when these situations really escalate. In my opinion, NVR thinking can provide them, their supporters and the professionals involved with the necessary strategies to weather the coming storm. That’s why I took this risk and organised this training course. So, that’s ‘what I’m doing and why I’m doing it’. Thank you for prompting me to remember this Vicki. ☺

Penny Ruth Willis

Course review – Caring for Others, Caring for Ourselves

Today’s review is of a bespoke course for a local authority, delivered by Kate Cairns – our very own Vicki, also of The Boy’s Behaviour attended and this is what she thought…

Since The Open Nest’s #Taking Care conference in October, there has been an emphasis on self care in many of the social media channels that I use as an adoptive mum. This is great and shows that we are beginning to believe that looking after ourselves is key to parenting our children as best we can. It’s wonderful and encouraging to see the photos, and hear the ways in which adoptive parents are taking time to care for themselves.

I was thrilled to be offered a free place on ‘Caring for Others, Caring for Ourselves’, a short course that aimed to provide an understanding of ‘Secondary Trauma’, and would be delivered by none other than Kate Cairns – formerly of BAAF, and well known author.

Surrounded by 6 other adoptive parents and 33 foster carers, I attended the course, led by Kate and her husband and immediately felt like this was someone who truly understood. Kate and Brian have parented a number of children and have experienced pretty much every behaviour and challenge that you would expect to have. And beyond that, Kate herself developed secondary trauma – although of course at the time, couldn’t see that.

The course whizzed by, but Kate gave enough information on each short section to ensure that an understanding was gained. There were plentiful opportunities throughout the day to ask questions and clarify any issues.

So we covered trauma, toxic stress and the nervous system.
We used our hands to see exactly what it looks like when the connections between our frontal cortex and the rest of our brain are broken – flipping one’s lid. (Based on a hand model by Dan Siegel).
We thought about survival versus safety, escalation and de-escalation, and something called Five to Thrive – respond, cuddle, relax, play and talk.
And then we looked at the impact of trauma, recovery and resilience and secondary trauma.

I found it interesting to thinking about secondary trauma in terms of my support network – it doesn’t just affect my husband and I, or ever our wider family network, but can also affect teachers, doctors, therapists and social workers, each of whom generally work in those fields because they have compassion and they care. When they seemingly don’t care and lose that compassion, it’s not necessarily because they’re working against you (although it often feels like that) but it could be because they are suffering from secondary trauma too, and they just can’t see it.

The day ended by talking about training, support, therapy and self-care, and confirmed everything I know about looking after myself. I found Kate’s term PIES a good way to think about self-care: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spiritual factors all play a part in personal resilience.

I found this short course so useful and informative. I met other adoptive parents in my area, I chatted to foster carers about their expectations and experiences, I talked to Kate Cairns about The Adoption Social, and I know have access through Kate Cairns Associates to connected learning opportunities, including an online learning module on Secondary Trauma. If your local authority can commission a similar course then I’d highly recommend attending.

Review: Helping Children Make Up Lost Ground with Margot Sunderland

I recently attended a training day run by my local social services. They are quite active in terms of training events and workshops, but this one was bound to be popular – Margot Sunderland was coming to town.
I booked early and got myself a place, but within weeks it became clear that demand was high, and after a few more emails and uncertainty over whether a place would be available, I was lucky enough to be one of the selected few (and so was our social worker!).the science of parenting

Margot Sunderland is well known in the ‘parenting an adoptive child’ world, as well as many other worlds too, and indeed some years ago I’d read her book The Science of Parenting, now known as What Every Parent Needs to Know as part of my research when becoming approved. She is also Director of Education and Training at The Centre for Child Mental Health, London, child psychotherapist, author of many many books and holds many other positions.

This particular workshop was entitled ‘Helping Children Make Up Lost Ground’, and was a 9.30 – 3.30 session.
Aimed at adoptive parents, foster carers, as well as managers and staff working across adoption, fostering, independent review and LAC, this was a broad cross section of people to talk to and I was worried that much of her presentation would go over my head. But I needn’t worry.

Her use of language and handouts was suitable for those with no experience or understanding of brain development – and armed with a little understanding and knowledge already, I found that I easily understood.

Margot also constantly referred to a visual presentation, which included some video clips to demonstrate her work, this was a great aid too, and has since been emailed to all participants for future reference.

The workshop covered 3 main topics –
~ The impact of relational stress and poverty on the child’s developing brain;
~
The neuroscience/psychology of attachment problems and disorders;
~ The neuroscience/psychology of childhood trauma and loss.

And in all of these, we also looked at the difference we can make.

I didn’t meet a single other adoptive parent on the day, although I know there were a few there – I’d hoped to improve my local network. But I did come away some other things instead: a better understanding of the neuroscience behind attachment and trauma, a better understanding of how my child’s brain works (and where it’s faults are and why), a desire to re-read The Science of Parenting, a catalogue of courses at The Centre for Child Mental Health (and I intend to go to at least one and send my husband on another…Bessel Van Der Kolk hopefully!) and much admiration for Margot Sunderland.

Throughout her presentation she gave examples of things that adoptive parents might see in their children, and reiterated what a difficult job that adoptive parents do.

The only other professional I’ve ever seen, heard or spoken to (including those I’ve worked directly with) that has even the slightest bit of empathy for adoptive parents is Dr Dan Hughes, and that acknowledgement means a huge amount to me.

If you get the chance to see Margot Sunderland speak. Go. And I hope if you do, you feel as inspired and hopeful as I do now.

If you’ve attended a useful workshop or course but are worried about your location and identity being exposed, then please do let us know and, as we have with this post, we can feature your review anonymously.