Tag Archives: trauma

Top Secret Adopter

BABY 

Once again, we find ourselves surprised by developments. X has brought so many twist and turns into our lives but 10 years on we are still surprised by the influence of external events on our delicatw equilibrium.

News comes, mother has had a baby. We all pause and check our feelings. News of babies usually comes with excitement and congratulations. This comes with unanswerable question and unique feelings.

To make a long story short X finds out.

That’s where it starts to get difficult and where the difficult questions come from. There are no easy answers, no certainty or assurances. All the things that cause X to wobble and make the ground beneath X’s feet uncertain are laid out in front of her.

“You can adopt the baby!” she exclaims

Well, it’s not that simple is it? I’m not sure we can, it seems like we’re just coping and a baby wont turn ‘just coping’ into ‘easily coping’.

She’s angry. Irreconcilable loss mixed with blind optimism and sprinkled with a light dusting of trauma informed behaviour are a recipe for trouble. So, that’s what we get more trouble, tempers, tears, sadness and confusion. Anger is directed at us as she shouts, ‘why not?!’

We verbally walk through the challenges and the reasons, ‘we’re too old, we don’t have the room, it’s not our decision, Mother may keep the baby’ the list is exhaustive. X is having none of it dysregulation layered on top of heartbreak, it spills into all the corners of X’s life and consequently our lives. X can’t make sense of the dual feelings of excitement and loss.

This is complicated stuff, more complicated than I’m equipped for and in the middle of all that I’m managing my own feelings. This child feels emotionally connected to me, I feel like I should say yes, that I should throw our hat into the ring. I’m struggling with guilt, uncertainty, trying to figure out how it would work. The right answer is no but I’m struggling to say no, to this point I’ve always said yes but that’s how we got to here, good and bad.

I lay awake and wonder could we but the reality is I’m tired to the core, adoption, or some parts of it has eroded parts of me that will never be restored. There’s been magic too going back to nappies seems like too much, I’ll be in my 60’s when the baby reaches 18, no is the right answer.
On a routine social work visit we’re informed that mother has had a baby. The question is asked, why I’m not quite sure considering the fact we’re still having routine social work visits, would you consider taking the child.

Every fibre of my being says ‘yes’, my mouth says ‘no’.
@AdopterX

 

CITIZEN SMITH #ParentPower

 

 

 

 

Life Story Work – There must be a better way?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@mistersglluest

The Potato Group News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.thepotatogroup.org.uk 

The Potato Group News

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.thepotatogroup.org.uk

The Potato Group News

 

 

BAMBOO SCAFFOLDING 

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

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

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

Bamboo Scaffolding: part one – getting there

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.thepotatogroup.org.uk

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

 

 

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.

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

Feeling low but can’t move forward

I’ve always struggled a bit with my mental health – with short bouts of depression through my university life, and then at stressful times later. It was touched upon in our homestudy but I was able to show how I had previously recognised my depressive times and sought help A Problem Sharedappropriately.

These days it’s different. Without a doubt my mental health has been affected by my children; by adoption. I’m by no means in tune with my children 100% of the time, but I am a lot of the time and I’m down when they are down. However, it doesn’t work the other way – when they are up, I’m still mentally shelving the bad stuff, and preparing myself emotionally for the next angry and anxiety filled moments.

I don’t know what to do now. I can see I’m suffering with my mental health, and I know why.
I have ‘me’ time and I enjoy it, I take pleasure from it and do not feel remotely selfish (as I thought I would). I have mindfulness apps, I try to lift my own mood, I practise yoga, I’ve tried reiki, I eat well, I’m taking anti-depressant medication and have tried speaking with the mental health nurse at my surgery. Where now?

Many thanks to the adoptive mum that wrote this post, I think many of us can identify. If you have advice, please share it below…

EMDR Therapy- My Experience

Today Sarah from The Puffin Diaries shares her experiences of a fairly ground breaking therapy.

I got to a point where I would shake when my twelve year old son got angry. I utterly feared the possible outcome. Mass sort of hysterical thoughts, of the worst possible situations we had already experienced, and more, would flood my mind.image

I explained this to our social worker and later to the therapist assigned to work with us. The therapist suggested a course of EMDR, Eye movement Desensitisation Reprocessing Therapy.

So what is this and what does it involve.

Firstly I think it’s important to identify what was actually happening to me. Often in adoption the transfer of a trauma from a child to a parent, or main care giver, is called secondary trauma and this is what I was suffering from.

This is when the parent/care giver is exposed to constant behaviour which is angry, aggressive, impulsive, defiant and disruptive. As a result of this, the parent/care giver can feel over whelmed and unable to cope with the prospects of living through these repeatedly traumatic incidents.

The therapy involves working in detail with a particularly traumatic event. I was asked to describe in detail what had happened and verbalise my emotions and thoughts related to this event.

For me there was a very difficult night at the end of our last summer holiday when my son really lost it. I could see how it happened but what followed seemed inconceivable to me. The things he did and said were exceptionally painful. I knew I had never fully recovered from it.

I found it very difficult to relive and talk about how it had made me feel, it was like revealing my inner most awful self to someone. However, having been through numerous types of therapy, in the past, I was able to be open and honest. This is very important for this therapy to work; you have to be able to say exactly what it is in your mind at the moment you are thinking it. You can’t feel inhibited or awkward about these thought or the process will not work.

The therapist took a very detailed report of the event and asked me to pinpoint a specific image which was the worst moment of the incident. Whilst visualising this image I had to recall what my thoughts were about myself and my son. Bitter honesty is required.

I’d like to say that was the difficult bit out of the way but it’s not. Our next session we started the actual EMDR.

Whilst sitting across from each other the therapist holds up two fingers and moves them from side to side, almost as if she may be trying to hypnotise you. I watched the fingers and moved my eyes from right, left, right, left, following the fingers. I was able to do this; there are other methods (one is, the therapist taping your left and right knees alternately) which can be used if following the fingers is difficult for the patient.

Once the method to be used is established, the therapist asks you to recall the moment you have specified as the worst moment. When you are reliving the moment she takes up the method you’ve agreed. You keep with the memory whilst watching the fingers go back and forth. The therapist asks you to stay with the memory whilst she repeatedly moves her fingers back and forth. This process is repeated many times.

Initially this intensified the event for me, and I was flooded with fear and anxiety whilst I sobbed. After watching the fingers for what seemed an eternity but I’m sure was less than a minute, the therapist stops moving her fingers and asks “how do you feel?” She then records your reply. So initially my response was “I can’t believe it happened to us” or “why didn’t he stop.”

We continued this process for almost an hour, with brief breaks, in which the process took me through many aspects of the event, recalling the lead up to the event and the aftermath. I also went through my own range of emotions around the event and how it had impacted on all of the family.

By the end the crying had stopped and I felt a lot calmer when being repeatedly asked to recall that single image, in fact the image was starting to fade.

In our second session, we returned to the image again and continued to explore different aspects of it whilst I watched the fingers go back and forth. By the end of this session, I was thinking about how, as a family, we might be able to enjoy a family holiday together this year and the recalled vision, whilst I could still see it, had no huge emotional connotations for me.

We have encountered a couple of mid level outbursts from my son since the therapy and whilst there is a level of anxiety, it is appropriate to the situation. Also I have definitely felt more able to cope and been calmer in dealing with the incidents. So for me this therapy has definitely been really successful.

The science of how this works is not something I can explain but if you want to read more please follow the links below.

http://www.emdria.org/

http://www.emdrassociation.org.uk/home/index.htm

http://www.emdr.org.uk/