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. 

 

 

 

 

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Day 150

It’s Day 150 on Friday. 

150 days since we discovered the girls’ birth parents now live in our small town. The same parents who subjected them to horrors that no child should have to endure. The same parents who have several recent convictions for assault; who seem to be frequently drunk out of their skulls in town; the same parents we were told not to meet before placement, and not to go near their town, or send them photos in letterbox contact. Social services now believe the very same people no longer present any risk to our girls, and why don’t we just get over it (and bog off ourselves if we’re that worried?). They take no account of the potential for re-traumatisation should our girls even glimpse their birth parents. 

To celebrate Day 150 we’re meeting with an agency to re- kick-start our campaign for an EHCP and alternative education provision for Bubble.

On Day 152 OH and I are once again facilitating a sisters meet up. The last one – 2 weeks ago – was a tad fraught. We’re hoping the Super Therapeutic Goddeses shine on us on Sunday. 

On Day 153 the adoption support social worker comes a calling. Please god she’ll finally finish the risk assessment her manager started in May & his manager had a crack at in July. 

On Day 156 I’m taking Squeak to re-start therapy after a break over the summer. 

On Day 157 OH and I are going to look round a special school for Bubble. We don’t subscribe to the notion previously espoused by a social worker that how the system works is that Bubble will have to go to secondary school, fail and be excluded in order for the authority to do anything. Yes! We were actually told that at a meeting, in front of other professionals. Sadly, it doesn’t seem amazing any more.

This is our life now.  Repeatedly explaining, begging, pleading, with ‘the professionals’, and then resorting to a useless complaints system when no help is given. All because we are not going to give up trying to get what our girls need. 

On top of this we’ve become hyper vigilant pseudo prison guards, ferrying the girls to school and back in the car, taking different routes, scanning faces for danger. No stopping at the park, scooting, biking or going for treats after school for our girls any more. Oh no! We drive them straight home, where for the most part they stay until the next school day. We can’t stop at the shops on the way home. We have to be super organised now. 

When Bubble needed an eye test recently we both had to go, OH dropping us off next to the opticians, and then coming back as close as possible to minimise the risk of Bubble being seen. We’ll have to do the same soon for dental appointments. Squeak goes to Brownies with a hat pulled firmly down. I pray for rain on those days so a brolly can shield her further.  

At weekends we get out of town so that we can have some safe time as a family. In school holidays we have to go away. Bubble hates going away with us. Her anxieties go through the roof and her needs totally dominate our time away. We count ourselves lucky if we return without bruises. 

This is our life now. It sucks. And there’s no sign of any change. 

Day 121 – a tired old rant & a bit of reflection.

Day 121 of knowing that birth family have moved into our town. Day 121 of living like fugitives. Yep, we’re pretty tired, pretty stressed, and comfort eating for Britain.

We had heart breaking news about one of the children from our adoption group dying at the weekend.  Everyone in the group is in shock, and attempting to support his family, who really just don’t want anyone or anything right now.

This week Bubble is at PGL; I took Squeak away for a few days; and OH returned to work after a fortnight off.   So imagine her delight when she was plagued with ‘phone calls from older sister in foster care’s Social Worker to arrange a sleepover this week.  A sleepover that we invited her to 5 weeks ago. A Social Worker who thinks it perfectly acceptable to ignore the invitation for 5 weeks, give us 2 days notice, insist on taxi times that just don’t suit us, and tell OH that she had to say yes or no immediately!

Older sis is here now, and she and Squeak are having a great time.  The taxi arrived 45 minutes before it should have done, so quite clearly there are some communication issues between said Social Worker and the transport department.  Not just with us then.

I was helping my mum with a few jobs this morning.  OH was looking after Squeak and her sister.  Imagine her delight (again) when aforementioned Social Worker chooses today to plague her with calls about Sunday’s ‘contact session’, or what we prefer to call ‘sisters’ meet ups’. Call after call after call. After call.  After call.  He’d received an e mail 3 weeks ago about Sunday, but had chosen today – knowing that older sis would be here and we would be busy – to repeatedly phone to organise what should really be a quite simple thing.  After the seventh phone call (I kid you not) he returned to the plan that poor old OH had suggested in the first place. And he had the cheek to say to OH that all he had wanted was for older sis to enjoy herself with us.  Yes! This is the same Social Worker who had tried to stop older sis coming here for her birthday party.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?

More positively, we have finally (106 days later – isn’t there a timescale for these things?) received a risk assessment that is looking more acceptable.  We need a few tweaks here and there, but at least I’m not labelled as having low emotional resilience anymore, and OH isn’t labelled at risk of losing her job. Oh yes!  The first few risk assessments actually did say both of those things.  Even though its focus was meant to be the safety of our children.  Which clearly they are taking very, very seriously. Clearly.

Whilst Bubble is away at PGL the difference in Squeak is remarkable.  Her previously unrelenting controlling behaviour seems to have dropped off the face of the earth.  We are under no illusions that it will return lunchtime Saturday with the return of Bubble.  We realise that we need to give our girls even more time apart than we are currently managing to do.  Very difficult though when we can’t actually use any community facilities in our town, and when we seem to be at full stretch separating them as much as possible over the weekends anyway. We need more ‘respite’. More PGL weeks perhaps?  I’m not sure Bubble would feel happy going without one of her sisters there though.

This week we had a surprising chat with my mother (an ex-teacher), who told us she believes, as does my sister (a teacher), that Bubble will not cope in a typical secondary school setting.  We have been banging this drum for over a year, but to no avail, with a rejected EHCP, and little understanding shown of her needs at her current school. She has one year to go before secondary school, and we know that we have no chance of a therapeutic school environment.  So we’re going to start banging the drum again loudly and ask our Social Worker to start attending the school meetings.  We’re also going to ask for a re-referral to the Paediatrician so that we have more  back up when the inevitable happens at secondary school, and we re-apply for an EHCP. It just seems so wrong that Bubble has to get to secondary school and ‘fail’ as her previous Social Worker said, before any other option can be considered.

And there we have it. Day 121 is nearly over.  We’ll get up tomorrow and do it all again.  We’re off to the beach hut with Squeak and big sis. The phone signal there is terrible – what a pity.

Day 78

Here comes the summer! School term ends today, the 78th day of knowing that the girls’ birth family are now fully installed just a mile from our home.

Last year we were quite excited about the summer holidays as OH was off work, and I don’t work anymore, so we had the whole 6 weeks as a family to look forward to.  This year it’s a totally different story.  OH is back at work.  The girls are more anxious and disregulated because one of their sisters returned to care.  And we have to get out of our home town for the summer because of the birth family presence.

In June the Adoption Support Team promised to look into giving us some help with getting away this summer, but this never materialised.  In fact, we’ve given up hope of getting any help at all from social work now, and for the good of our mental health we are not going to engage with them further once they have corrected the many mistakes in what they laughingly call a ‘risk assessment’.

So, summer survival plans. We’re going to family and friends’ houses whilst they are on holiday; we’ve got a few sleepovers for the girls lined up; Bubble is going to Pony Camp and PGL; and Squeak is having breaks with me in Dorset and then Cadbury World. OH will take a few days off here and there, and between us we will also have to make sure my mum is supported, and that our animals and garden are kept going. It’s a bit of a logistical nightmare: good job we are incredibly organised people.

I am concerned that this constant moving about is going to further disregulate the girls, particularly Bubble, who has difficulty with family holidays. Last year we returned from a week away bruised and battered, and vowed we wouldn’t go on holiday again.  Last half term, knowing we were going to have to go away for the summer,  we tried 2 days away and although Bubble’s anxieties were raised, there was no physical violence.  That was only 2 days, this is 6 weeks, and sometimes even staying somewhere already known to her causes anxieties for Bubble.  But needs must: with birth family in town – and very visibly so – we cannot take the girls anywhere local.

Super therapeutic capes on then, and all fingers crossed. First of all a bit of down time for the girls in our home, camping in the garden, a day at the beach hut, a sleepover with a sister, then 2 weeks spent half an hour’s drive away where we know the girls are safe, and we can go out as a family. We’re making sure that as many of the usual routines as possible are in place, so as to minimise anxiety levels.

We’re also making sure that OH and I get some time off, mostly separately, and with the support of friends and family, we’ll have a few days together whilst the girls are having sleepovers.  With good luck and a fair wind we will survive the summer holidays in the best way we can! And on Day 126 the girls will return to school, and we will swing into term time survival mode once again.

 

 

 

Forewarned is forearmed.

Well here we are. The beginning of the ultimate nightmare scenario for us as adopters has happened. Our daughters’ birth parents are now living just one mile away from us. We live in a very small town. The likelihood is that we are going to come across them.

It is not safe for the girls to have any contact with their birth family. Enough said. 

I can’t say how we found out that they have moved here. But if there is a positive in all of this it is that we did find out. 

We’ve spent a frantic day ensuring school put additional measures in place, and desperately trying to get hold of the social worker to ask her to set up an alert with the police. Our adoption group was timely last night, and allowed us to vent and to take on board their wise words and support. 

We’ve realised that we’re not going to be able to take both girls out together, especially if there is just one of us around. We’re going to have to decline any offers from friends of taking the girls out locally. We’re going to have to avoid certain places,  the town centre, sports centres, local soft play and so on. Activities with local clubs will have to be closely monitored or curtailed. We won’t be able to use local kids clubs. In short, our world will shrink dramatically. 

This feels dreadful. I feel a horrible anxiety pervading every fibre of my being. Goodness knows how this is going to play out.  The most important thing, of course, apart from keeping the girls safe, is that they don’t pick up on our anxieties. 

So we carry on, attempting to re-parent as therapeutically as possible. And to look after ourselves. We’re going to have to keep calm, hold fast and just do the best we can. Wish us luck!

Great Expectations.

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”

Charles Dickens, ‘Great Expectations’

I was thinking today, whilst I was pottering in my potting shed in an attempt to regain some mental equilibrium, that the weight of expectations on adoptive families and on individuals within those families sometimes seems overwhelming. Some of those expectations are of our own making, but there also seem to be a lot of outside pressures bearing down on us at the moment. Here are a few of them:

Both Bubble and Squeak are going to therapy sessions.  Whilst Bubble’s is currently focused on building our attachments, Squeak’s is aimed at reducing her anxieties, and helping her make sense of her story so far.  Therapy is draining for all of us, and our therapist clearly expects us to be Super Therapeutic Mummies All Of The Darn Time.

Squeak is having problems at school.  She’s the smallest girl in the school, and she is attracted to ‘trouble’. This is not a winning combination. Recently having left her at the school gate as usual,  she did not appear in the classroom.  She was found 30 minutes later playing tig in the car park, with another girl. Her teacher dealt with this really well and agreed with me that she needs extra support for the beginning and end of the school day, as well as at playtimes.  Of course the school can’t put this into place until after Easter. Why on earth would I expect otherwise?

Bubble’s teacher has just admitted that perhaps we were right that Bubble needs more direction and support at the end of every school day (just as she had had in previous years).  Better late than never, but we don’t expect to see this realisation translated into action.

Bubble was just beginning to show the first small signs of settling down a little after the upset of one of her sisters returning to foster care. But this week we will be celebrating Squeak’s birthday, so Bubble is currently feeling jealous and acting mean. Cue extra vigilance to ensure Squeak is not physically hurt. I am expecting at least one family member to comment on how well Bubble is coping with her sister’s birthday celebrations later this week.

We continue to ensure that our girls see their sisters, and with one of them having returned to foster care, this has become increasingly complicated.  After enduring 3 months of nonsense from social workers about ‘contact’ and a refusal to give us the foster carer’s phone number, they now expect that we will provide free respite for their foster carer! It is also expected that we will facilitate ‘contact’ with all of the sisters.  We don’t see either of those things as our role, so we won’t be doing them.  What we will be doing is focusing on the best way forward for our girls, and doing what they need us to do.

I’m going to attempt to throw off all expectations over this week.  It may help.  It may not.  I don’t have any great expectations either way.

 

 

 

Keeping it real.

Brace yourselves: it’s going to get ranty!

We had a hard emotional day today, so to stop issues whirring about in my little whirligig head, I thought I’d listen to ‘Open Book’ on Radio 4 whilst I prepped tea. I love that programme. Usually.

I couldn’t even tell you what book they were discussing now.  All I heard was a woman say something along the lines of ‘she was adopted, so she went to look for her real parents’.

I know, I know, deep breaths, adopter folk.  Breathe in 2 3 4, and out 2 3 4. In… and out.

Better? No, I wasn’t either.

Maybe the speaker was well-meaning but naive. Maybe she knew exactly what she was saying. She used the phrase more than once.  So who knows?

What I know, though, is as an adopter I am real parent.  Our children have birth parents, who they refer to as ‘old mum and dad’, and us.  They have no contact with birth parents: sadly it would not be safe.  We are their parents.  We are real parents. We are actual, genuine, authentic, bona fide, pukka, legitimate, undeniable, certain & true parents.

Rant over, I’m off to do some real parenting.

Connection

I’ve blogged previously about not thinking in terms of ‘attachment’. It’s too big and too woolly.  I find it easier to celebrate ‘connections’. The only problem is the connections with Bubble are few and far between at the moment. 

At the weekend she initiated a conversation with me that didn’t involve her seeking sweets or telly once. Once. All weekend. I had a moment of hope on Saturday afternoon when she said ‘Mummy, you know when…’ but this was quickly dashed as the sentence progressed ‘ you said we could have some mints…’.

When we try to talk with Bubble she responds with one word answers, if at all. When we switch to talking to Squeak, Bubble interrupts constantly. 

How on earth do you connect to a frightened anxious little girl who doesn’t trust anyone? Nothing we say or do is reaching her at the moment and this has been the case since her sister returned to foster care.

When we ask her to do something, she does something else. It is as if she is testing us as much as possible. When we don’t respond, or when we set a boundary, she takes it out on Squeak. 

We’ve decided to separate the girls as much as possible to ensure Squeak’s safety. If they are in the same room one of us is with them. 

We’ve also decided to minimise verbal input with Bubble in the hope that she will have more space for her own thoughts or just ‘being’.  If it doesn’t work we’ll have to find another way through. Again.

It feels like crisis management. It’s horrible but we’re going to have to ride this latest storm. Hopefully Bubble will decide eventually that she wants connection with us. Until then we’re hunkering down.