Tag Archives: trauma

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/

Using the Pupil Premium Plus – Teaching the Teachers

Today’s post on ‘The Blog’ is from adoptive father Gareth who writes about Pupil Premium Plus…if your school is uninterested or unsupportive, do direct them to this article.

The Pupil Premium Plus
This is a new payment from central government to help adopted children and their parents. From April 2014, £1900 will be paid to schools for each adopted child in the school. In brief the eligibility criteria is –

  • Adopted on or after 30/12/2005
  • From reception to year 11
  • Parent has declared the child’s status to the school
  • School records this on the January School Census. (In 2014 by 16/01)

As we know many of our children have experienced grief, loss, and poor attachment in their early lives. 70% of those adopted in 2009/10 entered care due to abuse or neglect. It is now being recognised that our children don’t suddenly experience a miracle that makes everything all right when we adopt them. Their early experiences can have a lasting impact which may affect them for years after adoption. The Pupil Premium Plus (PP+) acknowledges that teachers and schools have vital role to play in helping our children emotionally, socially and educationally to raise their attainment and address their wider needs.

Schools are required to use PP+ ‘to improve the educational and personal outcomes’ for adopted children. It is not to ‘back fill the general school budget or be used to support other pupil groups such as those with special educational needs or low attainment’. The Department of Education’s announcement did not however specify how schools should use the premium beyond the above comments. They suggest that schools might use it for staff training or tailored support for a specific child. There might be other uses but it must be used for the benefit of our children. I understand that Ofsted will be checking the use of the PP+ in future inspections and will expect to see evidence of the PP+ resulting in improved outcomes for adopted children.

What can we do?
Well, not much if the school doesn’t talk to us! It is disappointing to see adoptive parents tweet that some schools won’t discuss the use of PP+ or that they will get ‘half price school trips’. I am sure that many schools will use the opportunity to work with adoptive parents to agree the best use of the funds for their children, but it is a pity that the D of E did not specify that schools should discuss this with us.

But what we can do is go and see the Head or the designated teacher and put forward suggestions. (Every school is required to have a designated teacher responsible for adopted and looked after children in the school. In a small school it might well be the head.) It would be disappointing if a school will not agree to a meeting. After all if they didn’t have our children they wouldn’t have the money.

children's feetMy strong view is that all schools would benefit from expert training on caring for children with attachment difficulties and the effects of abuse and neglect. Our son is now 11 and came to us when he was 6 so has been through years 1 – 6 in the local primary school. We didn’t appreciate at first what he was going through at school. We knew something wasn’t right. We were told he talked too much, he couldn’t pay attention. His year 1 teacher gave him a ‘naughty book’ to mark down all the times he chatted or didn’t pay attention. He was bullied, but in a clever way. The bullies worked out that if they pushed him hard enough, he would react and they could then ‘tell’ on him. So he was then the ‘problem kid’ and we often had the class teacher/ head in the playground waiting at pick up time to tell us of another incident of his ‘bad’ behaviour.  In year 3 he was cornered by 3 boys in the playing field and in defending himself scratched on of them near the eye. He was marched to the head’s office and sat outside on his own, frightened and in tears, whilst other children walked past him taking in the afternoon register. The school equivalent of medieval stocks.

That incident happened the last day of term. It took a couple of weeks to heal our son from the trauma. Every time he was hurt at school, when he went to bed that night, the horrors of his early abuse and neglect came back to double the hurt.

One might think that this is a poor school, with teachers failing their pupils, from the story so far. But it isn’t. The problem was being unaware of the way our son’s brain works, the different way he will react to bullying and to discipline and school life. He talks too much to fill his head with sound, as he doesn’t want the memories of the hell he came from to come in. He looks around all the time because he spent 4 ½ years not knowing where the next blow was coming from. Calling him ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ confirms what he knows. He was a ‘naughty’ and ‘bad’ child as nobody wanted him. He struggled with maths because maths is either right or wrong and he desperately doesn’t want to be wrong. He spends time scanning his surroundings to check there are no unexpected threats. Moving from class, to lunch, to play, means more scanning and more punishment for ‘talking in line’.

After the ‘stocks’ incident I met the head and went into detail on the damage that had been done to our son. I also found out she was the designated teacher for adopted and LAC. I offered to help by speaking to her staff. To her credit she recognised where she had gone wrong, apologised, and agreed that I could speak at the next inset day. The talk had a real effect on the teachers. Some were in tears when they understood the damage poor attachment and early trauma and abuse has on a child’s developing brain and how their ways of managing children can cause further damage.  After all most of them were mothers and became teachers because they wanted to help children, not hurt them.

I believe that teaching the teachers about the issues that arise from poor attachment, early abuse and neglect is the most effective way of helping our children have the best possible outcome from their time at school. The training should also be regular and for all staff who work with children. Our son is now in year 6 and there are new teachers, TAs and playground assistants who didn’t hear my talk 3 years ago. The cost should not be more than £500 for a ½ day session. Well within the PP+.

What have I done?
I am pleased to have made some progress locally. I took our head to an Adoption UK workshop in January. She welcomed refreshing and increasing her understanding. We are organising a day’s training for the September inset. Two sessions, one for teachers and TAs, one for all other staff who work with children. She also thinks that refresher sessions every 2 years will help. I managed to source a highly qualified training provider for the sessions.

As an independent member of the local adoption panel I regularly see matches where it is obvious that the adoptive parents are going to have issues to deal with when their new child goes to school. We provide a loving, secure and safe home to help heal hurt children and then when they are 4/5 they then move to a place that can be scary with people who do not understand them. PP+ can help all children like ours.  Through panel contacts I have been able to meet with senior social workers and the Virtual Head for our Local Authority (LA) on the use of PP+. I was pleased with the progress we made. We agreed –

  • The LA’s will be asked to send a letter to all adoptive parents on their records about PP+. The letter will encourage them to contact schools and ask to be involved in spending decisions for PP+, with a focus on teacher training. (I get to draft the letter!) We will ask for feedback on schools’ responses.
  • We will build a list of training providers for adoptive parents and schools in the area to access.
  • The virtual head is to try and set up central training for heads on attachment and vulnerable children.

Another breakthrough came last week when the head of children’s services for the LA announced that virtual heads will be responsible for adopted children from the date of matching to one academic year after the adoption order. (It helps that she is a care leaver and is passionate about education). Virtual heads are usually only responsible for Looked After Children, not adopted. This means that they will now work with new adoptive parents in finding schools, work with the school and be there when needed for continual help.

What else?
Further steps I would like to see are at a national level. I believe –

  • Schools should be required to discuss with adoptive parents the use of PP+
  • Teaching the teachers should be a national priority
  • Virtual heads’ responsibility should be extended to adopted children nationally. Parents need support with schooling. Consideration should be given to PP+ funds being under the control of virtual heads rather than individual schools.

Finally, I presume the cut-off date of 30/12/2005 was due to costs, but all adoptive children need this help, so let’s ask government to extend PP+ to cover all adoptive children from reception to year 11.

I have written to Sir Martin Narey and he has promised to look into this. It would also be useful if our friends at Adoption UK and BAAF supported us in these initiatives with national government.

If our children succeed at school, they will succeed in life. Working in partnership with our children’s schools we can achieve this and PP+ is the fuel that can power this partnership.

Gareth Marr
I am an adoptive Dad and an independent member of a local adoption panel. My wife and I adopted our son when he was 6, my wife was 48 and I was 57. I recently had a recurrence of throat cancer so retired from the day job to develop a new career as a Barry White or Darth Vader impersonator (depends on the audience).  My experience with our son and at panel has led me to focus on 2 key areas in adoption –

  • Encouraging non-traditional adopters. Older, single, LGBT. Many of these are willing to take on harder to place children who are older, disabled, have learning difficulties or suffered major abuse. I was older, had had cancer, and an interesting life story but a great social worker backed us and we now have beautiful boy who is doing well.
  • Working with schools. After our role as parents, schools have the most important effect on our children’s success in life and it is essential that we work together to give our children the best chances as members of society as they grow up.

If you’d like to know more, or support Gareth in anyway, please comment below, or contact Gareth via Twitter – @garethmarr or email at garethmarr7@gmail.com

Anna Writes: Trauma

PhontoThe separation of a child from their biological parents is a trauma.

Fact.

 

 

 

Removal, relinquishment, via bereavement or forced separation across geographical boundariesregardless of the circumstances surrounding the event, it is always going to be traumatic.

For those children who have not only experienced a primary severance of connection, but multiple placements (and losses) since, their grief must increase incrementally, becoming further compounded by each new start.

Trauma has a multi faceted impact on people, from the physical to the psychological and relational and everywhere in-between. We know a lot about trauma from eminent scholars and scientists in the field like Bessel Van Der Kolk, Daniel Hughes, Babette Rothschild and Antonio Damassio, to name a few, we know because of people like Allen Schore and Sue Gerhardt who have written more recently and so accessibly about pre and peri natal brain development and the effects of cortisol on the brain.

We know because it’s there. It can be seen in the eyes that bear an ever present layer of sadness.

I have a really terrible memory, not just in a ‘where did I put the remote- oh, it’s in the fridge’ sort of bad memory but a full on wipeout. Before the age of 10, I have a handful of memories, if I were to draw a timeline, there would be a big blank space and then later on some more smaller, less profound ones.
I sometimes wonder if it’s a result of something like cortisol that could have caused this- was there something in the separation that caused my amygdala and hippocampus to go offline? did something in my brain short circuit, when as a baby, I cried and cried and the right person wasn’t there?

When I met my birth mum she told me that when her own mother found out that she was five months pregnant, she beat her with a wooden coat hanger all over her body- what does that do to a person stress-wise? What happens in other cases where a child isn’t immediately removed from that environment but left to suffer until agencies intervene? Layer upon layer of trauma. More obvious trauma.

And I get that we need to focus on that, and there is so much more understanding about the effects of trauma on the brain and how to parent therapeutically and empathetically to support positive connection and develop healthy new neural pathways, it’s wonderful that science and reality are starting to level with one another.

But what of children that are ‘just’ given away? There are loads of us- not as common these days of course, but from when records began thousands upon thousands of babies have been relinquished and adopted. I’m not entirely sure that we are included in the trauma informed rhetoric because ‘we would have never known any different’ but my experience tells me that being separated from my birth mum is probably one of the most traumatic things that has happened to me. I was 10 days old, so how can that be?

How can it be that I grew up with a pathological fear of rejection, abandonment issues, nightmares, bed wetting, low self esteem, destructive coping strategies, poor concentration, an innate disrespect for authority, identity issues,a wonky moral compass, eating problems and a need to always be doing 10 things at once?

When I think back now on those early years, I feel like I was a stone knocked down a narrow alley, scratched and bowled, over and over, submerged in a shame, so quiet and pervasive…was a
chemical to blame? Is this the pickling in cortisol that the clever folk talk about? Because my birth mum didn’t use drugs and she didn’t drink, she did sport and ate well – so I cant help but come back to the separation, was that the bit that broke part of me?

I think the adoption world is much more trauma informed now, and it gives me a lot of hope that children who have been adopted in more recent times will have the benefit of parents who are willing to learn and understand their experiences from their perspective, and potentially be able to access external support when needed rather than keep things under wraps or try and cope alone.

I would like to think that any child who is relinquished (at any age) or placed in care or removed or abandoned or has survived the many ways that attachment can fail is afforded the understanding that what they have experienced is a trauma and is supported by the system accordingly.

Trauma defined-
1.
a. Serious injury to the body, as from physical violence or an accident
b. Severe emotional or mental distress caused by an experience
2.
a. An experience that causes severe anxiety or emotional distress
b. An event or situation that causes great disruption or suffering

The separation of a child from their biological parents is a trauma.

Fact.

My fact, at least.

Anna.W

The Apple Tree Centre and CPRT

Today we’re pleased to bring you a guest post from the newly launched Apple Tree Centre…

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We are Rosie and Jenny, two Play Therapists and mothers to small children. Just this month, we launched The Apple Tree Centre in Sheffield.   As part of our work to support children, young people and families, we are running Child Parent Relationship training courses for parents and carers.

Child-Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT) is a structured training programme for parents and carers. Delivered by qualified and experienced Play Therapists, the course introduces parents to the essential principles and skills used in Non-Directive Play Therapy, so that they can become “therapeutic agents” for their own children. The training is usually provided to small groups of adults, in ten weekly sessions of two hours each. Additional individual support can be offered if this is needed.

Play is really important to children because it is the most natural way children learn, process experiences and communicate their thoughts and feelings. Bearing this in mind, we train parents and carers to conduct special 30-minute playtimes with their child in their own home, using a kit of carefully selected toys. The adults learn how to respond empathically to their child’s feelings, build their child’s self-esteem, help their child learn self-control and self-responsibility, and set therapeutic limits during these playtimes. For 30 minutes each week, the child is the absolute focus and the adult creates an accepting atmosphere in which the child feels safe to express themselves through their play. This is not a ‘normal’ playtime. It is a special playtime in which the adult follows the lead of the child. Within this half hour, there is no criticism of the child or the play, no praise, no questioning or instructions for the child on what to do or how to do it, and no evaluation of the child’s behaviour or what he or she has produced.

During these special playtimes, the parent/carer will build a different kind of relationship with their child, and the child will discover that they are capable, valid, understood, and accepted just the way they are. When children play under these conditions, they are free to explore their worries in the play and, in the process, release anxieties, stresses, and burdens. The child will then feel more positive about themselves and this will bring about significant differences in their behaviour. CPRT trains parents and carers to focus on the child rather than the child’s problem, and they will begin to react differently to their child both inside and outside of the special playtime.

Co-founders Jenny Reid and Rosie Dymond at the launch of The Apple Tree Centre

Co-founders Jenny Reid and Rosie Dymond at the launch of The Apple Tree Centre

The course is delivered through a mixture of presentations, video clips, group discussions, demonstration and skills practice, including discussion and debrief of the play sessions carried out at home.

Parents are taught

  • to identify and respond to their children’s feelings
  • to use active and reflective listening skills
  • to set effective limits, and
  • to enhance their children’s self esteem.

CPRT is equally suited to enhancing already positive parent-child relationships, enabling parents to support their children through particularly difficult experiences, and helping to build relationships which are new or have been damaged by ill health or life events. The system has proven effective in many different situations, including

  • families with step parents and children
  • foster and adoptive families
  • parents who are imprisoned
  • families affected by physical and mental illness
  • children recovering from trauma and abuse.

CPRT was developed in the United States by Dr. Gary Landreth, from the University of North Texas: a respected practitioner and teacher of Play Therapy. The programme is relatively new to the UK. However, the principles on which it is based have been used therapeutically since the 1960s, and the programme is constantly adapted to ensure that it is equally appropriate for parents, carers and families in Britain. We are really excited to be able to offer the training here in Sheffield, and look forward to contributing to the evaluation of its effectiveness here in the UK.

If you’d like more information about what we offer, please look at our website: www.appletreecentre.co.uk

 

Adopting a Balanced View by Colby Pearce

Today we’re delighted to bring you a post from Clinical Psychologist and Author Colby Pearce.

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I was born in January, which is the height of summer here in Adelaide, Australia. As such, I have always thought of myself as a “summer baby” and considered that this is why I enjoy the warmer months as opposed to the cooler months. In contrast, I have a lifelong aversion to feeling cold and for many, many years I felt below my best during winter. I have questioned many people about this and have discovered that most people prefer either the warmer months or the cooler months. Many of them are just not happy until their preferred season returns again.

About three years ago, and with the emergence of joint aches and pains during the colder months, I had the thought that it was a bit of nonsense really to consider myself a “summer baby” and defer happiness until it was warm again. I have always been a keen gardener and have a large hills garden. Looking after my garden is an act of looking after my self. Water is an issue as it is scarce and expensive, my garden is large and summer is hot (As I write this it is the fifth consecutive day of over 40C). So, I bought some rainwater tanks and now I pray for as much ‘bad’ weather as possible during the cooler months. I check the weather radar each day and feel let down if forecast wet and wintry weather blows south or north. I still have my aches and pains and look forward to the warmer months when they trouble me less, but I also look forward to cooler, wetter months now as it is a boon for my efforts to maintain a magnificent garden. And the garden? Well, with the additional water supply it has never looked better.

What has all this got to do with looking after children; particularly those children who experienced significant adversity in the first days, weeks, months and years of their precious lives?

Well, it has to do with how we perceive them and the effects of this; both in terms of our own experience of caring for them and their experience of being cared for by us.
I am particularly interested in the idea of “self-fulfilling-prophecies”. In Psychology, these take the following form. I have a thought. My thought induces an emotion. My emotion activates a behavioural response. My behavioural response precipitates a reaction in others. The reaction of others often confirms my original thought.

Let’s try one. Thought: “nobody loves me”. A common feeling associated with this thought: hostility. Common behavioural responses to feelings of hostility: withdrawal and/or aggression. A common reaction to withdrawal and aggression: admonishments. An inevitable result: confirmation of the original thought.    Lets try another. He is damaged by his early experiences. I feel badly for him. I try to heal him. He keeps pushing me away. He is obviously damaged.
And, another: He is such a good artist. I am so proud of him. I support and encourage his interest in art. His skills develop and he is often affirmed for his artistic achievements. He is such a good artist!

There is much literature about how early trauma impacts the developing child, including their acquisition of skills and abilities, their emotions, their relationships with others and even their brain. This literature focuses on the damage early trauma does and there is a risk that we, their caregivers, see these children as damaged.

One of my favourite allegories is the one that the author Paulo Coelho tells in his book, The Zahir. Coelho tells the story of two fire-fighters who take a break from fire fighting. One has a clean face and the other has a dirty, sooty face. As they are resting beside a stream, one of the fire-fighters washes his face. The question is posed as to which of the fire-fighters washed his face. The answer is the one whose face was clean, because he looked at the other and thought he was dirty.

The idea of the looking-glass-self (Cooley, 1902), whereby a person’s self-concept is tied to their experience of how others view them, has pervaded my life and my practice since I stumbled across the concept as a university student. Empirical studies have shown that the self-concept of children, in particular, is shaped by their experience of how others view them. In my work, this has created a tension between acknowledging the ill-effects of early trauma and encouraging a more helpful focus among those who interact with so-called ‘traumatised children’ in a caregiving role.eyes1

I am just as fallible as the next person, and I do not have all the answers. But as a professional who interacts with these children and their caregivers on a daily basis I strive to find a balance between acknowledging and addressing the ill-effects of early trauma and promoting a more helpful perception of these children. I strive to present opportunities to these children for them to experience themselves as good, lovable and capable; to experience me and other adults in their lives as interested in them, as caring towards them and as delighting in their company; as well as experiences that the world is a safe place where their needs are satisfied. I strive to enhance their experience of living and relating, rather than dwelling on repairing the damage that was done to them. Most of all, I see precious little humans whose potential is still yet to be discovered.

Eyes are mirrors for a child’s soul. What do children see in your eyes? 

References
Coelho, P (2005), The Zahir. London. Harper Collins Cooley, C.H. (1902). Human Nature and the Social Order. New York. NY: Scribner  Publishers

Prepared for The Adoption Social by Colby Pearce (Clinical Psychologist and Author), ©2014

Other articles and books, by Colby Pearce…

Overcoming Attachment Trauma: http://colbypearce.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/overcoming-attachment-trauma/
Proactive Needs Provision Required to Heal Trauma Hurts: http://colbypearce.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/proactive-needs-provision-required-to-heal-trauma-hurts/

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Life on the Frontline – Week 3

lotfA weekly blog from a family made by adoption, warmed by the laughter, broken by the sadness, held together by love with a big dollop of hope, oh, and often soaked in mummy tears.

I’ve mostly been struggling to keep my confident parent face on this week; my game face has definitely been slipping. I put it down to having to deal with lots of new professionals who don’t know me or my family, there is change all around and it doesn’t always suit me.

There is the staff at the support school that Small is attending in the afternoons (Well not really that much yet but we’re trying), who all seem very competent and say a lot of the right things but I’m still not really sure they get my boy, or me for that matter. It leaves me feeling vulnerable and uneasy, so I often babble during our meetings and then feel annoyed afterwards for not putting my point across adequately.

At Small’s school a new headmistress has everyone looking over their shoulders and whispering in corners. I’ve always felt supported by the school, but there is a noticeable edge of anxiety flowing through the corridors, and the chill of it prickles me skin when I’m there.

So at times this week the dreaded doubt has been seeping in and I ponder,

“Have I been too soft on them?”

“Do I know what I’m doing?”

“I don’t know what I’m doing”

I’m really not very good at this parenting thing”

“Why was I allowed to adopt?”

“Do they all think I’m a bad parent?”

“I am a bad parent”

You know the drill, I’m sure.

One day this week, I watched one son crawl on the floor of his school hissing and growling at the adults stood around him. We went home not long after that and I haven’t as yet sent him back, pending a meeting this coming week. However it struck me during our calm down period that, if I am feeling anxious about the new situation we find ourselves in, if I can sense the growing anxiety within his school and if I find all these new professionals a little over whelming, how on earth must Small be feeling?

For Tall the start to school has also been a roller coaster, there was a detention at the end of his first week and we’ve escalated to a half day internal exclusion by week three. Before I had even hit publish on my first week’s post, the school were on the phone.

 Dear High School,

 I hate to say I told you so but “I told you so”.

 Kind Regards

 All knowing and knowledgeable mum.

He’s been fighting, walking out of classrooms, being disruptive and there has been rudeness.

Again, I did try to warn you.

I think when he forgot his science book and was asked “Where do you intend to write then?”

And Tall replied “On my face”, the penny dropped.

I must say that I’m impressed by the way they have responded and he is receiving, for some of his more challenging lessons, extensive one to one supervision.  They say they have concerns around him but things are being monitored and support is being given.

For me the biggest worry is the decline I can see in his self esteem. A few knocks, not from school but instead from his own judgmental view of himself, let’s call it shame, means there is no longer a hop and a skip to school. More the dragging of heals, the hanging of head and lots of skulking about.

This change in mood makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention as my adoptive mummy instinct kicks in. Time to hide all electrical items, fire making material, chocolate, sweets and money.

So it’s the weekend again and I feel as if I have stepped into the eye of the storm, there is some quiet for now, as we gather our strength, restore calm, instil belief and prepare ourselves for the coming week. It can only get better can’t it?

In Other News

 I know this is the announcement you’ve all been waiting for, I managed to buy a new lipstick.

We went to a 100th birthday party and Small was going to attend as a Vampire, but at the last minute and at the last service station he changed his mind. However the vampire costume I feel will be seen often.

I paid Small one pound so I could brush his hair before the party. It felt like a new depth of lowness in our battles but at least his hair was neat.

Tall is doing so well with coping with his school troubles, I’m so proud of him.

Life on the Frontline – Week 2

lotfA weekly blog from a family made by adoption,  warmed by the laughter, broken by the sadness, held together by love with a big dollop of hope, oh, and often soaked in mummy tears. 

Well, week two of school was never going to be easy.  In fact, just like day two, after an army boot camp work out, the pain has been excruciating.  I know that may sound dramatic but wait and hear what I have to say first.

As I stood by the car door, trying to tease a sobbing boy from the car, all the school filed past us to assembly. All their little heads craning to see what the wild little boy was up to now. Out of the corner of my eye I saw two figures in uniform approaching. Two police officers were soon at my side assessing the situation. They were in school to deliver an assembly and one teacher had felt that the strong arm of the law may be helpful to our situation.

“Now come along young man time to get into school” gruff and assertive policeman said.

“Yes we’re here to tell you some important things in assembly” less gruff police officer said.

“And I would like to tell you to GET LOST” super anxious and traumatised child said.

“Well that’s not how you speak to a grown up” gruff says.

“This is none of your business” was Small’s reply.

“This isn’t helping” I say and step between the officers and my boy and they take their cue to leave.

Again I did eventually get him into school but again it was far from triumphant , the wildness in his eyes as he ran down the corridor, scanning for a safe place to hide, made me feel sick. But I left him, I really didn’t want to but I did and again I cried.

As I opened my front door, those police officers popped into my mind again. They would still be in school.  What if someone decides that a stern talking to is what is required,  a bit of “this boy needs a firm hand” sort of approach. An approach I’d already seen attempted that morning and an approach with no consideration of what this might trigger for a traumatised child.

An obvious trigger to those in the know. You know, that moment when police officer enter your home and remove you from your birth family. Yes that trigger.

I picked up the phone and called school.

“I do not want those police officers speaking to Small please” I said and provided the explanation as to why. I felt relieved that I’d been able to catch that ball before it dropped and went about rewarding myself with a cup of tea.

Not ten minutes later the phone rang. It was school.

“Now I don’t want you to be alarmed but, the police have had to get involved” the anxious voice delivered the blow.

Small had managed to escape from the school and as the officer was there, he felt that it was his “duty of care” to retrieve him and physically return him to the building.

Obviously my heart lurched and I had to suppress a massive urge to go, scope him up and bring him home. I managed to calm, I was reassured by the voice at the end of the line, but felt certain I would be going down there soon to collect him.

The phone call half an hour or so later was that he was calm, doing an activity outside of the classroom but he was fine.

Even later he skipped across the lawn beaming as I stood expectantly at our front door. Now I got to scoop him up and he wrapped his legs around me. “How was it I asked?”

“Good it was good “he replied.

I’m sure many will be asking, screaming the question. Why are you doing this to him and you? And believe me I have been wondering myself. There are two reasons.

  1. We are not yet finished exploring the support that Small can access in school, his addition educational needs are currently under evaluation and if recognised will provide him with greater support in school. Plus he has started this week, at a local support school every afternoon, which works with a small group of children who struggle in school. There is a real feeling of nurture around the small centre and a high ratio of good, understanding staff to pupils. More on this later but it could work.
  1. “Over my dead body you’re home schooling me” is one of the things that Small has voiced about this option. He actually does like some aspects of school and is adamant he wants to still be part of it, he just finds it difficult to go there and some aspects of being there.

So there is the excruciating pain I experienced this week, I would have much preferred the hurting muscles to the heartache that morning brought.

So here’s hoping next week might be getting easier and I may not need to sit almost on top of the telephone all week.  I might even get to a large shopping centre some miles from our home, to buy a new lipstick. I know thrilling, bet you can’t wait to find out.

In Other News

 Tall has been so helpful and supportive in trying to get Small to school, offering rewards of his own and useful suggestions. At times I need to ask him to step away but on the most he’s really good with him. I told him he’ll make a great parent one day, to which he replied “I’ve learnt from the best”. There, now you see why this has made the news.

Small has started his own fashion catalogue full of clothes for me and his teddy bear. I have got some fabulous numbers, often with a little too much cleavage showing.

Tall’s friendship with his one really good friend, let’s call him D, is wonderful to see. They are really supportive and kind to each other. Tall came hurtling through the garden gate the other day after school, shouting “F**k off” to a gang of Year 9’s.

“I heard that I said” as he came to the door.

“But they were picking on D, I had to protect him”.