A year in adoption (or when you’re going through hell, keep going)

It’s National Adoption Week 2017. The hashtag is #Support Adoption, and the emphasis is on siblings. 5 years ago 2 sisters were placed with us.  This is a summary of our year:

October 2016 – towards the end of the month Bubble has a ‘breakthrough’ in therapy, and manages to whisper to me that how her birth parents treated her and her sisters is not her fault.

November 2016 is a great month.  OH and I say to each other: ‘this is almost what typical family life would be like!’ Bubble has no meltdowns, is not physically violent to her sister, and seems to want to attach to us.

December 2016 – our girls’ Big Sis’s adoption breaks down, and she returns to foster care, leaving her other sister in the adoptive family.  We discuss how best to tell our girls about this. We ask a social work manager for the foster carer’s phone number. We’re not allowed it. We battle to get the foster carer to phone us so our girls can talk to their sister. They need to be assured that their sister still exists, and that they will still see her.  We tell the girls on a Friday evening. Squeak is hysterical.  Bubble is furious. We keep them close. Very close. We ask social work managers if we can visit Big Sis. We are told we can’t and that Bubble’s need to see where her sister is living is ‘your problem’.  We insist on the girls seeing Big Sis before Christmas, and finally they are ‘allowed’ to do that. But not at the foster carer’s. 

January 2017 – New Year Resolution time: we decide that we are not going on holiday this year as it raises Bubble’s anxieties so much it becomes an endurance test, rather than a relaxing family break.

We ask for Big Sis’s foster carer’s contact details. We are refused them, screamed at and called ‘birth family’ by a social work manager when we’re trying to organise for our girls to see Big Sis.  We submit a formal complaint.

Squeak starts therapeutic life story work.

My adopted niece – who returned to care 2.5 years ago – attempts suicide and is hospitalised.

February 2017 – Bubble continues to be furious, and Squeak remains upset and controlling.  We attempt to carry on with Bubble’s therapy, but she is becoming increasingly withdrawn in the sessions.

March 2017 – Big Sis’s foster carer won’t let our girls see Big Sis for 6 weeks.  We explain that when the girls were adopted we promised that they would see their sisters at least once a month, and that they love sending cards and letters to them.  She ignores us. Big Sis’s social worker ignores our e-mails. A social work manager tells me there doesn’t seem to be a reason why we couldn’t have the foster carer’s address.  She then refuses to give it to us.

April 2017 – we survive the school holidays by the girls taking it in turns to go to a kids club at the local leisure centre.  This gives Squeak a break from being targeted by Bubble, and allows me to do some attachment building on a 1:1 basis with each of them.

May 2017 – we discover birth parents have moved into town. We seek social work support.  It is not forthcoming.  We make our own plans to keep the girls safe, and again insist on social work support. A risk assessment is started in which a social work manager minimises the issues and dangers, and castigates us.  (Today, 18th October, it is still not completed). A section 47 enquiry is started.  We are not involved in it, or told the results of it. Social work managers suggest that we move house. We tell them we are not going to move house. We ask them to engage in multi-agency work. They refuse. 

Apart from asking when it’s snack time, Bubble stops talking in therapy. We decide to take a break from it for a while.

Despite our new year’s resolution, we go away for 3 nights in half term, to test the waters with Bubble, as we know we will not be able to stay in our own home over the school summer holidays.  We spend the 3 days away dealing with Bubble’s heightened anxiety. We call it a success as nobody gets injured. 

Whilst we are away my adopted 17 year old niece, who has just left a children’s home, messages to tell me she is over the moon that she is pregnant. We have a messenger conversation that ends in her blocking me. 

June 2017 – we submit a formal complaint to social work, copied to our MP.  Suddenly social work managers want to see us.  They tell us we have ‘parental responsibility’ and it is up to us to keep our children safe. They suggest strongly (again) that we move house. They promise us support in the summer holidays.  (It is never delivered.) They tell us that even if they discover birth family have left town, they will not tell us. 

Big Sis tells us she would like to come to our house for her birthday in July. Her social worker refuses to let her do this. We submit another complaint, and the girls’ Psychotherapist and MP back us up.

July 2017 – Big Sis comes to her birthday party with her sisters, accompanied by a support worker, whom she has never previously met. Despite the support worker’s sensitivity, Bubble thinks she is here to take her away. She is extremely anxious all day, which culminates in her deliberately bashing her head on her bed. The following week she continues to be highly anxious. We tell her repeatedly that she is not going back into foster care. She does not believe us. 

We are visited by an Independent Investigator, who seems appalled by the response of social work to the girls’ plight.  (Today, 18th October, we are still awaiting the outcome of the investigation).

Squeak is resisting therapeutic life story work, and we decide to take a break from it. The summer holidays begin and we go to my sister’s home for 2 weeks whilst she is away.

We give Big Sis’s social worker 5 weeks notice of Squeak wanting Big Sis to come for a sleepover in August.

August 2017 – Bubble struggles with being away from home, her anxieties are huge, and she targets Squeak physically and verbally. On her birthday she tells us that she is not a part of our family and wants to return to foster care. The next week Bubble goes to pony camp for a few days, and this seems to calm her somewhat.  I take Squeak away to visit friends.  We then all go away as a family to a lovely twitter friend’s house. We meet other lovely twitter friends.  Bubble seems to be a bit less anxious to be away with us.  She goes off to PGL with her other sister for a week, and has a brilliant time.  Squeak and I go to Cadbury World, and have a brilliant time. Squeak keeps asking whether Big Sis is coming for her sleepover, and I have to explain that it’s not going to happen as Big Sis’s social worker has not replied.   Suddenly 2 days before the intended sleepover the social worker rings to say it will be happening. We cancel the plans we had made, and go with it.

September 2017 – back to school and Bubble is moved classes to give her extra support. There are lots of behavioural disturbances in the new class, and this appears to be triggering her anxiety and anger.  She cannot tell the teachers and they don’t notice.  A boy in Bubble’s class slams a door so violently that her perforated ear drum ‘pops’ and she gets an ear infection. The teacher apologises and tells us she is not meant to be on her own with the boy in the class but she was that day.

As Bubble’s anxieties are rising again, and she is self-harming, I ask the GP to re-refer Bubble to the Paediatrician.

OH and I attend a ‘contact meeting’ with Big Sis’s adoptive parents and social workers. Apart from agreeing that Big Sis does not need a support worker with her when she meets her sisters, it is a waste of time. 

Our social worker visits.  She says social work will not work with other agencies to help find a solution to the problem of birth family having landed in our town.  She also tells us that social work will no longer refer to an OT for a sensory assessment.

We go to look around a special school with a mind to Bubble’s move to year 7 next year, knowing that she will not cope in a mainstream school. The school is great and we can imagine Bubble thriving in it. 

Our MP sends us a letter the local authority have submitted.  It is full of lies about the support they have offered us.  We arrange to meet with the MP. 

We talk with Squeak’s Psychotherapist, and agree to re-commence therapy, with an altered approach.

October 2017 – Squeak’s first therapy session goes well.

We attend a meeting at school, and say that once again we are requesting an EHC assessment for Bubble, and looking to special schools for Bubble’s secondary education. School clearly do not agree with this.  An adoption support agency comes to help us.  The worker says she had to google FASD. She observes Bubble in school, writes a report supporting us and then closes the case. The social worker tells us to use some of the hours we have left for Bubble’s therapy to ask her Psychotherapist to write a report for the EHC request. We arrange this with the Psychotherapist.  The next week we get an e mail from the social worker to say her manager says we can’t do this.  I spend 2 weeks looking for a private Educational Psychologist. 

Big Sis is moving to another social work team, and the new social worker’s manager e-mails me to tell me to phone her urgently about ‘contact’ on Sunday. It’s a Friday evening, I have had enough and ping a sarcastic e-mail back, telling her I am not a worker, and suggesting that she get her ducks in a row.  I get a very apologetic phone call on Monday morning.  The next week I drive 50 miles to meet with this manager and Big Sis’s parents. Big Sis’s social worker is not there.  It seems like a waste of time.

OH and I meet with our MP.  She seems very concerned at our family’s plight, is aghast that social work will not work with other agencies to look for a solution, and decides she is going to talk to an influential and knowledgeable councillor.

I spend 6 days and 10 phone calls attempting to talk to Bubble’s old Paediatrician when I discover that the triage team have rejected the request for Bubble’s re-referral. When I finally get to speak to the Paediatrician she tells me that we need to be with CAMHS. I ask about a referral for a sensory OT assessment.  She tells me the NHS don’t do that around here.

Bubble has a meltdown one evening and eventually is able to tell me that the previous week at school she was stopped from going out to play because she hadn’t finished some work and she felt very angry but couldn’t tell the teacher.  I spend 40 minutes the next morning telling the teacher and the SENCO why this is not the best approach. We put in place a system whereby Bubble can let them know she is feeling angry without having to say it.

I’ve started to keep a record of how much time I’ve spent in meetings, on phone calls and filling in forms to get the support our girls need. In the last month alone it is 30 hours. 

 And now it’s National Adoption Week and the hashtag is ‘Support Adoption!’  Oh I do! I have! For years and years and years. But where is the support from services for our girls? As we battle on, desperately attempting to get the support our adopted daughters need, the effort drains us of the energy we need to therapeutically re-parent our children. We’ve thought about retreating from services; about attempting to cope with all the trauma, loss, attachment issues and  disability, on our own. Its tempting. But we know we need help to do this as effectively as possible. So we continue expecting the impossible: support from people who are paid to provide it. 

#Provide Adoption Support




Living in a pressure cooker

5 years ago we were bright young(ish) things, sitting attentively, listening to our future children’s Social Worker explain why she had decided we could not meet our future children’s birth parents, why we could never go near their home town, and why we could never send them photographs of our future children.

5 years on, and we are older, wiser and decidedly jaded things sitting on the same sofa, listening to yet another Social Worker tell us that their team is not going to work with other agencies to consider positive ways of supporting the birth parents to move away from the town they have suddenly landed in, the town that they have no links with, the very same town in which we’ve been establishing our family for the last five years. 

The word ‘contravening’ crops up. Ah! Yes! A senior social work manager has told our MP that we have asked them to ‘contravene’ article 8 of the Human Rights Act!  That’s the Local Authority’s take on our request that they do something so that we can live safely as a family. It’s a classic retort taken from The LA Rulebook, Section 3: ‘How To Justify a Bad Decision With a Totally Irrelevant But Popular Piece of Legislation To Make It Look As If We’d Like To Help, But Can’t’.

 We ask the Social Worker ‘what about our girls right to a safe family life?’ We get a shrug, a sympathetic look, and a reiteration that her team is not going to work with housing and probation agencies. We respect this Social Worker.  Highly qualified, she’s been the only worker who has previously bothered to attempt to get to know Bubble, and who has referred us on to the appropriate therapy for her. But this time she has been warned by her managers.  Threatened, probably: recently she told OH that she could not afford to lose her job over this.  We feel for her: her pained expressions tell of the inner struggle she is having balancing her professional values and pity for our predicament against what her managers are forcing her to say to us.

Back in May when we discovered that the girls’ birth parents had moved to our small town, our entire focus became how we could make this situation safe for our girls. We had lengthy discussions with each other about how we might possibly connect with ‘old mum and dad’ (as the girls call them); that maybe they didn’t pose such a threat to our girls now; that perhaps we could all co-exist safely in the same place.  We talked to our girls’ Psychotherapist. We looked at court reports.  We sought information about old mum and dad’s current lifestyle. We did not have to look very far: a walk to the town centre regularly provides ample proof that alcohol and drugs are still a dominant force in their lives.  Our clear conclusion was that old mum and dad still presented a threat, if not of abduction, then certainly of re-traumatisation of our girls. 

The adoption support team disagreed. Despite our then Social Worker telling us old mum and dad would not hesitate to cross the street to approach us, her manager decided there was no risk to our girls or family! His risk assessment has since been re-written (by a worker he supervises) and concludes there are certain and definite risks to the girls. But despite this, social services still won’t work with other agencies.

This week the Social Worker told us she will look into funding for OH and I to go to therapy, and for financing some of the time we have to go away to stay safe.  (We’re not holding our collective breath: the same was promised in June but never materialised.) But they won’t do what really needs to be done: engage in an effective multidisciplinary approach to solve the actual problem.  They have said that they won’t even tell us if they know that old mum and dad have left town. 

Our stress is sky high, and despite our best efforts it is impacting on the way we parent.  We try to hide our stress from our girls, but they are hyper vigilant, and Squeak particularly is very sensitive to any slight fluctuation in emotional temperatures. Bubble doesn’t respond well to ‘no’ and it’s becoming increasingly hard to find ways of telling her that we cannot go into town or to the park or scooting or any other of a myriad of things without saying ‘no’ and without having – in her mind – a good reason.

Every day we wake up determined that we will get through the day in the best way we can. But increasingly the situation is taking its toll. We’re living in a pressure cooker, and the reality is this may not end well.