Tag Archives: violence

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

Are all adopted children destructive?

Today’s problem shared comes from a prospective adoptive parent looking for some help on expectations and risks of adoption…

I have just finished the assessment process and am due to go to panel next month. I am well A Problem Sharedadread on attachment issues and how adopted children need a different style of parenting. I know people who have adopted and have adopted members in my own family.

I came to adoption because I have always thought that it would be selfish to have biological children when there are so many children in care, waiting for a family. Conscious that I could meet Mr Right and he could want his own, or may not want any kids I waited until I hit 40, but he never showed up. I have never had any particular drive to desperately want children, rather that I have a nurturing personality and have room in my house and my life and I think I would do a pretty good job as a parent, albeit as a single Mum.

So here I am, living my nice little life, with my content little existence in the country with my dog and hens and job, knowing that adopting a child will turn it all upside-down but that it will be well worth it. I have been on the adoption training course and follow up workshops and theraplay courses etc etc. and have had more than a dozen visits from the social worker who has just completed my PAR… when I read Sally Donovan’s Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting.  Now, I know there will be ups and downs, but I know I would not be able to cope with that level of violence and undesirable behaviour. I then looked up blogs online and they all seem to also give me the jitters with more examples of destruction and violence.

What I need to know is to what extent this is to be expected of any and all children coming from care. Or, are these examples not typical, but representative of the worst case scenario. Certainly the few people I know that have adopted have not had to endure the destructiveness or the sort of physical and verbal abuse from their children that I have read about. Maybe they are not typical?

I have already discussed matching considerations with the SW and made it clear that I would not be the right parent for a child with a high level of additional need. I expect to have to put away all precious and breakable things in the early stages… what I haven’t been prepared for is that I may not see my precious things again until after the child has left home! And I really could not live in a family where I feared the child may harm themselves, others or the dog.

Some of you will be thinking that I don’t sound like I have got what it takes, others may be thinking that I just need to be clear when it comes to matching, but I need to know which of those is the truth… I want to adopt in order to give a child a happy family life, and would prefer not to venture into it at all if there is a real risk I could let that child down by not being up to the job.

I know that early trauma is not something that I can magically fix in the first few months, but am I being too naïve in thinking that adopting a child isn’t going to be as hard and potentially devastating as some accounts describe. In my head I am wondering if all the professionals I have spoken to have taken as read that I know that this is the reality of children looking for an adoptive family, while my friends are saying that I am reading worst case scenarios and that I am worrying about something that is very unlikely. You guys are the only ones who can tell me….

Waiting for help

We really value all of the guest posts we’ve had this week – all talking about a difficult subject, but one that needs bringing to the fore. This post is no exception…

I am writing this anonymously, not because I am ashamed but because I don’t want my daughter coming across this and identifying herself in years to come.  I also find it difficult to be open as I don’t want it to colour peoples views of my amazing, sparky little girl.  My apologies in advance if it is a bit disjointed…it was quite emotional to write.

My daughter is young – 6 years old and has been with us 4 years.  She is funny, clever, energetic, chatty, caring, beautiful, amazing….I could go on but you get the picture.  She is also very angry punchingand lashes out at my husband and I when she loses it.  This can take the form of kicking, punching, pinching and biting.  She knows it is wrong and she feels shame afterwards.   She wants help – we have been waiting over 7 months for help from our local post adoption support.  We are on a waiting list for sensory therapy with no indication of when this may happen.  I am hoping it is the right thing to help her.  I am on a waiting list for counselling – again with no indication of when this may happen.  My requests to date to be assessed to apply to ASF have been denied.  I am currently considering making this request again and more officially/forcefully but want to be more knowledgeable about the therapies available and what may be beneficial to strengthen my argument.  If anyone has any suggestions/advice as to alternative support therapy that may help then please let me know via Adoption Social.

I have tried what I can to help her.  A lot of it is instinctive.  We use some simple theraplay techniques.  We use meditation CDs particularly at night. We try to incorporate regulating activities and often do life story work with her. I have explained to her in simple terms why I think she has anger problems.  She gets it – and can now tell me when she gets “that feeling”.  But sometimes it comes on so quickly – like a light switch.  Last night I just hugged her whilst she was beside herself because she had “that feeling”.  I wanted to sob along with her.  My beautiful girl in so much pain.  We can only do so much – she (we) need professional help and soon before it escalates and becomes harder to address.  The longer it is left the harder it will be to address and potentially the more it will cost.  Simple economics should dictate that it is dealt with quickly, without even taking into account the cost implications if she enters adulthood without the support provided in a timely fashion.  I know we can’t make her past disappear but I do believe firmly that she can be given the support and tools to be able to cope and lead an independent and valuable life.

We are lucky – she is young so we can control the violence but I am filled with fear as to what will happen if we can’t bring it under control.  I am angry that the required support is so difficult to access.  I strongly suspect that the behaviour is related to the violence she experienced in utero and also the drug and alcohol she was exposed to.  She has been assessed as having regulation and sensory issues.  I am also looking to get her assessed for FASD…but one battle at a time.  It breaks my heart to see her hurting so much and to not be able to fix it for her.  She (and all other adopted children) deserve to be given the appropriate support/therapy when they need it.  It is inhumane to make them suffer longer.  They didn’t chose this life and if we want to truly break the cycle then the support needs to be there.

Sorry – I have gone off on a bit of a rant 😉 The prevalence of the violence varies depending on how stressed/unsettled she is.  It is often focussed around bedtime – she doesn’t like going to bed.  Why we don’t know but I suspect it is as simple as she thinks we are up to something really exciting.  I may let her stay up one night to see the reality and see if it helps.

School know but offer little help as she is fine at school.  However they successfully manage to contribute to the situation with the way they handle things….talking about transition to new school year as early as Easter, going off timetable in the run up to Christmas in October!!!!!!

A very select (2 I think) few friends know and no family know- and without exception they are fellow adopters.  To these two people I say a heartfelt thank you as they have kept me sane (relatively) and listen without judging.  I just don’t trust that others would understand.  They seem to generally understand so little of the other issues associated with adopting so why would they understand this.  This makes me question my first statement as to whether I am ashamed…..I genuinely think my abiding concern is how it would change others views of our daughter.  She has done so well given her start in life and I don’t want people to judge her unfairly.

It is so wearing and emotionally tiring – I can’t really describe it. I feel permanently drained and exhausted.  I am always trying to be two steps ahead in an attempt to avoid any triggers.  I am often analysing my parenting decisions – I am probably my harshest critic!

If I had known what lay ahead would I have still adopted her?  Without question- yes.  I will continue to fight to access the right support for her and to love her and more importantly make sure she knows I love her unconditionally.

Introducing Adoption Sore Points

You know there are some things that are just not spoken about very often – those things that are mis-understood, scary or open to judgement, maybe admitting to them feels like you’ve failed? Maybe they’re just too emotional and holding it in is what keeps you going? Or maybe it’s just that no-one talks about it and you’d feel uncomfortable or unsupported doing so?

Here on The Adoption Social we think it’s about time that we should be able to speak freely about some of those things, no more sweeping under the carpet or dodging the elephant in the room. And so Adoption Sore Points is our new initiative to do that – a whole week of posts on a specific subject, with guest posts, resources, a scheduled Twitter chat, reviews and a #WASO theme.



Our first Adoption Sore Point is ‘Child to Parent Violence’ or CPV. There has been a little bit of talk about this recently, with research into it, and an increase in training programmes to support parents who are living with CPV, but we still think that there are people out there who have never heard of it, or think it’s normal, or are too scared or ashamed to ask for help.

We understand that being on the receiving end of domestic violence from your child is difficult. We’ve both experienced it from our children. But we know that if we want better understanding and good support then we have to share our experiences, we have to tell people what happens, we can’t help our children until we do that.

18-24 May is when we’re hosting our Child to Parent Sore Point Week, with posts on The Adoption Social, on our Facebook page and our Twitter feed.

What’s going on?
18-20 May Guest posts published
21 May Twitter chat, from 9-10pm #TASCPV
22-24 May #WASO, theme: CPV
All week – a special avatar (or image) that you can use on Twitter or as your Facebook profile to show your support and interest in CPV awareness.


On Friday our usual Weekly Adoption Shout Out will have the theme Child to Parent Violence too, but as usual you won’t have to link on that theme.
However, if you would like to write about your experiences of CPV and would prefer that it wasn’t on your own blog, please do get in touch because we can offer you a guest space – anonymously – on The Adoption Social, which you can then link up if you’d like. Please send these pieces to us as soon as possible (theadoptionsocial@gmail.com), so we can make sure they are published during CPV week. Your anonymity is assured, and we won’t share your details with anyone.

Next time
Our next Sore Point week will take place in July, and we’ll let you know the theme nearer the time.



Today @Ivavnuk tells us just how it feels to be scared.

I don’t have great knowledge to share about parenting, but I thought I could tell you some of what I learnt from growing up full of fear. My hope is that my relationship with fear may help someone in some small way.

The first 5 years of my life were full of violence. Unpredictable, unspeakable violence.

The effect of it was not just to fill us with fear in the build up to it, or in the experience of it, but actually – to fill us with fear all the time. Fear like that isn’t just something you feel, it becomes who you are. Like a cornerstone or foundation of your character – it shapes who you become, what you do, what you don’t do, what you think, what you say, what you believe.

DSC_0058 It took me many years to realise that wasn’t normal. It was all I’d known. At some point when I grew older my fears gained a great ally: denial. The very moment after that reflexive pulling back, the mind produces an alternate reality – a plausible reason for not doing it. ‘I didn’t really want to go there’, ‘there’s really no point confronting them’, ‘I’m comfortable here’. This is a propping up, or barring of the door, or sitting on the lid of pandora’s box to stem the flow and stop us being swept away.

Fear then, is like a cancerous insipid energy that spreads often unseen through your body and mind, and it needs to be met intelligently.

How it works. The best analogy for that is war – there is fighting, winning, losing, retreating, running and bravery. Fear makes you shrink back from doing something, being somewhere, saying something – and when you shrink back you are giving up ground. You’ve fled from the fields and taken refuge in the castle But fear that runs this deep isn’t tied to one place – there is really no place to feel safe. Its still right there and you’ve lost something to it. So fear lays siege to your castle and batters the door down – or seeps through the cracks in the walls.

As in war there is momentum – somethings are too terrible to look at. Like armies that are in rout – it is difficult for them to stop.

Then it’s back to the Keep, then the Great Hall, and so on until you are swept away. Until you do nothing, go nowhere, and are captive in your own dungeon. That’s losing Winning requires some bravery. Bravery is being fully afraid but doing it anyway.

Our language misled me for a long time – ‘fearless’. I was full of fear – but bravery isn’t the absence of fear. It’s quaking in your boots whilst doing it anyway. The first act of bravery can be simply seeing the fear that’s in your life – seeing that you were turned away by being scared. Winning also requires you to know your limits and to pick your battles. It is taking that ground back by being brave – but also intelligent. Practically

To fight against it you need to be practical:

Pick your battle Save up some energy.

Plan it! Run it through in your mind many times so that you know what will happen – so there will be no surprises.

Then when your stomach turns you can say – ‘I expected this, I’m OK’ Then with the goal set small and a bit of bravery you can have a win.

Knowing your limits also means recognising what battles you can’t win – so you give ground.

But this isn’t running, this is retreat. You can control what is lost – and you understand that you may have lost a battle, but not the war.

The Ground There is also recognising where the fear lies:

Sometimes the body can be shaking and the stomach turned – but the mind is freer and focusing on the doing or saying will carry you through whilst your body falls apart.

Sometimes the mind is full or endless, recycling horror – whilst the body is relatively undisturbed and turning our attention away to the physical realm will allow us to carry on whilst our mind plays out its frightening sensory dialogue. There is much more to be said on this – but I think much of it is beyond the scope of this piece of writing.

The End. What is to be said though is that there is a way back from this. I know – because I’ve done it and I hope that this, in some small way, may help others do that same. And when you gain ground – you gain ground in all things But as in war – winning battles give you momentum and you can push back the fear on more and more fronts.