Tag Archives: trauma

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.

ColbyPearce

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/

book2 book1

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”.

Announcements from The Open Nest

Today we bring you exciting news from the charity The Open Nest.

openNest

We are proud to be able to announce the names of all the charity trustees and bring you an update on the charity’s recent activities, including the launch of a short animated film which highlights the problems adopters have in accessing post adoption support. Finally there is news of the first ever The Open Nest conference….

So firstly we would like to announce the trustees of The Open Nest:

Amanda Boorman: Adopter
Jazz Boorman: Adoptee
Fran Proctor: Adoptee
Sarah H: Adopter and co-founder of The Adoption Social
Vicki N: Adopter and co-founder of The Adoption Social
Sally Donovan:Adopter
Krissi Thrustle: Therapeutic Support Worker
Kayti Boorman: Events and admin manager

 UPDATE ON ACTIVITIES

The Open Nest is in development and aiming to become Ofsted regulated later this year in order to offer post adoption support and most importantly specialist respite.

So far funds have been raised by selling holidays through La Rosa and by public and private donation. Also, in the charity’s first year, the following awareness raising projects have been completed.

-Launched a charity website, twitter feed and blog.
-Attended ‘The Care Enquiry’ presentation in Westminster 2013

-Featured in Community Care and The Guardian
-Attended a ‘Guardian Masterclass’ on social media and charities.
-Severance: an art exhibition in London during National Adoption Week 2013
-Severance: a booklet containing the voices of many of those involved in all sides of adoption
-Shared and sponsored a promotional stall with The Adoption Social at the Adoption UK conference 2013
-Sponsored adopters to attend the Adoption UK Conference 2013
-Sponsored The Adoption Social to attend Britmums 2013
-Become professional members of the Kinship Care Alliance
-Made professional links with adoption teams in North Yorkshire and The North East.
-Presented at a conference at The University of Sunderland 2014
-Made a documentary film for training purposes portraying a real life story of an adoption which nearly broke down.

Most recently The Open Nest commissioned the making of an animation based on the difficulties some adopters have in accessing post adoption support. The online Twitter community helped to provide the content of the film and so we are proud to now present the finished item, below, please feel free to share. You can find the original film location HERE

The Open Nest. The Lost Children Of Trauma. from marry waterson on Vimeo.

IN THE FUTURE 

Severance: the art exhibition will be shown at Family Futures in London November 2014. This will be a prestigious event and a debate between professionals on ‘Openness in Adoption’ is planned. 

The Charity will also be working with life story professionals to improve outcomes and safely gain voices of birth family relatives in order to support the emotional development of adoptees

AND FINALLY We are very excited to announce The Open Nest Conference…

 The Open Nest Conference will be on October 18th 2014 at The Royal York Hotel.

This will be a unique conference led entirely by adoptees and adopters.

The theme is positive and set around gaining meaningful grassroots and community support in times of LA budget cuts.

The cost is being subsidised by the charity making it affordable and accessible to all at £25 per ticket including lunch.

As soon as we have details on how to book you will of course be the first to know, and there will also be news of The Adoption Social get together and social event which we will put on during the evening of the conference.

Do they Still Remember?

There’s one question bothering an adoptive mum….

Remember

I’ve read the posts and nodded in agreement, the ones with a list of ridiculous statements or questions, that none adopters sometimes utter. On the whole however, none adopter’s unawareness can be forgiven, I mean I wouldn’t be that interested in learning about early life trauma if I wasn’t living with it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fascinating how the brain of a child is damaged through neglect and abuse, but with all the other things that family life can bring, would I really go out of my way to understand it if it didn’t overly affect me?

However recently one of these questions has been bothering me and I think deserves a little space for consideration. That question is “do you really think they still remember?”

This question alerts us to one of the fundamental problems that adopted children can face when coming into contact with individuals that are not trained in, or understanding of, early life trauma.

The concept that our children suffer from nightmare style memories of their previous life, and that in time these memories fade and disappear and the child is then cured of their past. I myself may have had this naive belief at one time or another, way back in the early days of dipping our toe into adoption.

I’ve now however come to believe that this idea is one of the main points to understand with children within, and from the care system. Just to clarify, the point is that, challenging behaviour is not always to do with or just about, conscious memories of a past life; it’s actually much more to do with damage to the brain. This damage is caused by a lack of relevant stimulation, or detrimental interaction, during formative years of brain development. It’s not that it has nothing to do with memory, many of the difficult behaviours our children display are triggered by something that stirs memories from their subconscious be it noises, smells or certain images.

However, a child’s lack of understanding of certain situations or an inability to perform certain tasks is unlikely to be as a result of a memory from their past, but is instead more likely a result of their brains not being wired in a way which allows them to do so.

My understanding is this. The part of the brain that they often operate from is The Reptilian Brain, where primary needs for safety are contemplated and the actions of fight, flight or freeze are instigated.  Whilst this part of the brain functions, the other part of the brain that allows logical consideration and thoughts cannot operate.  Whilst children living in a abusive and neglectful environments spend extended amount of time operating from the reptilian brain, other areas of the brain which enable a child to think logically and problem solve, remain under developed, and necessary hard wiring of the brain does not occur. If this wiring of the brain does not occur in the brain during the relevant period of infancy, then some development may never occur or at least take an extended amount of time to stimulate and fix.

As an adoptive parent and someone who has immersed herself in many a book by Dan Hughes et al, I take for granted sometimes, that because I get this, that others do too. And lots of people do get it or make the effort to try to understand, in an aim to support children in their family, of friends or that they work with. All efforts to understand are much appreciated. However it very much saddens me that some people, who work supporting children and their families, do not get this, at all.

Of late I had a lady, who had been referred to us by post adoption support say to me, “they’ve been with you seven years, they’re yours now”. To me this person very much saw early life trauma as vanishing memories as opposed to brain damage.

It frightens me that some of those supporting our children have the naive belief that their past lives will fade into insignificance and the love of their new family will make them forget.

As I said parents of none adopted children can be forgiven for not understanding the concept of early life trauma, but is it really acceptable that those working to support those living with it don’t?

So in answer to that question, do they still remember?

Each child’s experience will be different. I know my children have very few conscious memories of living with their birth mum. This has created its own problems ,as my oldest struggles to understand that such life changing decisions have been made for him, based on things he can’t remember. So I will pose the question now.

Do you think you really think it matters if he can remember or not?

Eggshells

Today’s anonymous blogger doesn’t have her own blog, but wrote this post about living with trauma and wanted us to share it. We’d love you to comment and show your support…

Being an adoptive family isn’t easy. There are ups and downs like any family, except our ups seem higher and our downs seem lower than other families.

You see, it’s there all the timetrauma…that word haunting everything we do.
Trauma is prevalent in our lives, but not like a scary poltergeist popping up and throwing surprises at us, more like a chill in the air, there all the time, wrapped around the everyday little things, ever present and hard to warm up from.eggshells

Every day I look at my son and think about his past, his first mother, his future, and what’s happening in his young head. But that’s OK – that makes him what he is.
It’s the day to day things – not being able to disclose family history to a doctor, wondering why he’s been spooked by a bad dream, seeing him panic if he can’t get to me in the playground straight away, knowing he’s concentrating so hard on fitting in and keeping those demons in, that he can’t join in with his friends, understanding that he can’t give me a hug, but will offer them freely to strangers – those things are always there, always trying to be understood, always needing understanding and empathy.

I don’t know if it’ll every go away, that trauma, or if we’ll just learn to live with it. Will we ever stop feeling like we’re walking on eggshells?

If you’d like to share a post, either anonymously, in a pen name or in your own name, please do email us at theadoptionsocial@gmail.com and we’ll publish it on The Blog for you.

Crazy?

crazy

“Are you crazy?” is probably in the top three things said to me when I told people we were adopting again – obviously along with “congratulations” and “how long will it take?”. People were genuinely pleased for us, but they were slightly puzzled too. You see our journey with our other adopted children has not been an easy one, so people naturally thought we were a bit odd to be doing it all again.

Our two older children were adopted eight years ago. When they arrived, at the ages of two and three, they were beautiful, funny and affectionate. Some of their behaviours were confusing and difficult but I put this down to normal toddler stuff. However, slowly I began to learn that what I was actually seeing was the result of attachment difficulties and developmental trauma – the attention seeking, controlling, hyperactivity, poor empathy, excessive shame – I’m sure all the adopters out there get it. As an adopter, it becomes your ‘norm’ and you somehow learn to understand the language of trauma.
The years that followed have been somewhat of a rollercoaster which has involved losing unsupportive friends (but making some much better ones), fighting my children’s school for just about every ounce of support possible, requesting and fighting for assessments, therapy and statements, etc.. There are times I have cried, times when I have been on my knees and times when I felt like running out the door and not coming back.

So why would we choose to put ourselves through it all again? Well the short answer is that as difficult as things have been, I would not change my children for the world. They are quite possibly the most gorgeous, funny, kind and unique children in the world, and they are my world. I love them more than I ever imagined to be possible.

 

So actually, the question for us was how could we NOT want another?

Obviously things are not quite that simple and a huge part of our decision making was around our two older children and their ability to cope. These are two children who struggle with changes, are deeply possessive of us and have huge anxieties – but somehow I knew they would cope. Not many people believed this but as a mother I just knew.

The type of child we wanted had to be quite specific, again with our older two in mind. We opted for a baby to limit the threat to them, and also specified gender.

At first Social Services were unsure of our ability to cope and actually put us on hold for 6 months to see if our older children ‘improved’. I actually found this very offensive as my children should not have to ‘improve’ to be able to gain a sibling. Obviously the welfare of any new child joining our family was important, but my children were considered to be a ‘problem’ that needing sorting out and I found it quite upsetting that they were indirectly being blamed for us not being able to move forward at that time. Thankfully our assessment did start moving eventually, albeit very slowly and two years later we were approved. The approval journey was very difficult for our older two because they needed to be involved, yet the waiting was very hard for them. They had school friends having baby brothers or sisters and they were jealous of this.

We thought after approval things would get easier but it was actually harder. We were turned down for many children because we already had two – or I suppose unofficially we had ‘baggage’! I would pick my children up from school every day to be asked “has Kevin found us a baby yet”. Kevin, our social worker was trying hard for us and was by this time searching nationally for a suitable match. He was honest in telling us that most social workers preferred uncomplicated couples – and we were far from that.

We were eventually told about a baby who sounded perfect and their social worker liked us. We were given photos and a CPR. I fell in love. After three weeks of dreaming my world came crashing down when I got a call to say that a relative had popped up and they needed to assess them. I broke down in tears, devastated. At this moment one of my children walked in the room, seeing me in this state and asking what was wrong. I felt so guilty and it made me question what we were doing and if we should continue. That evening my partner and I had a heartbreaking discussion. We had been approved for 9 months by this time and we agreed that we would give ourselves another 3 months on this rollercoaster before getting off and moving on as a family. We were worn out and emotionally drained so we knew we could not carry on indefinitely, this was the final countdown.

Then about a month later came a call which should have been special, but unfortunately wasn’t. I was told about another baby, very young and apparently a straight forward case. We saw the CPR, photos, a video, had meetings and met the foster carer. All this time I waited for the excitement to kick in, but it didn’t. I felt empty and numb, like the last 3 years had just about knocked every last ounce of excitement out of me. We went to matching panel and I was asked “Why have you chosen this baby?” – I couldn’t answer because I didn’t know anymore. Luckily Kevin pulled things back for us and explained about our difficult journey. I left matching panel and cried because I so desperately wanted to feel excited and happy.

Two weeks later we met our baby. I was so worried I would feel nothing and had prepared myself for faking it. Yet when I looked at this beautiful little baby everything changed. Suddenly it was real, this baby was real, I was a mum again.

This was a year ago now, and although things have not been easy, our newest addition has settled in really well. Our bond grows stronger and our love deepens with each passing day. Our older children have been wonderful and we have been immensely proud at how they have coped. Both myself and my partner have had low times, which we expected, but have managed to pull ourselves out of it with the help of family and friends.

Things are never straight forward and I don’t want to give the impression of a ‘happily ever after’ fairytale, however we are doing okay, we have lots of happy times and we all love each other. Sadly, trauma will always be part of our family, that’s the nature of adoption, but we try not to let it consume our family. We try to acknowledge it without letting it take over our lives. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t.

So when I say to people that one day I would maybe like another, you can imagine what people say to me!

Today’s post has been written anonymously for us. If you’d like to share your own story, then do email us at theadoptionsocial@gmail.com – we’d love to host your post.