A little stranger?

We spent the whole of last year attempting to get therapeutic input for Bubble from the Adoption Support Team.  In December we met a new Social Worker.  Bags of experience,  tons of qualifications: at last a glimmer of hope on the horizon. 

H and I went into the new year feeling a tad perkier. We’re a good team, we told ourselves. This year cannot be as bad as the last, we said hopefully.  Then, only 3 days into the new year, our optimism was crushed when I caught Bubble trying to steal a lipstick from a supermarket. She had managed to conceal it in her coat pocket.

In the previous fortnight we had been having discussions with her about stealing and lying. I had made the mistake – in a fit of festive optimism – to buy chocolate baubles for the tree. Stupid, naive, ridiculous!  What on earth made me think our girls could cope with that? When they all disappeared,  and chocolate-smeared sheets appeared on Bubble’s bed I castigated myself for my seasonal frivolity. And we used the opportunity to gently reinforce with Bubble and Squeak that we don’t take things without asking, and that we don’t lie in our family.

Stealing from a shop seemed to us to be a whole new ball game. Perhaps it isn’t.  Perhaps it’s just a continuation. Perhaps Bubble was used by her birth parents to help them shoplift. Perhaps Bubble was testing us. Perhaps she wanted to do something she knows is wrong to prove that she is bad, as she believes herself to be. Perhaps she just wanted the shiny red trinket. Perhaps she’s telling us she doesn’t want to be with us. Perhaps perhaps perhaps.

Bubble won’t talk to us about it, so we don’t know her motivation. We suspect she doesn’t know either.

We’re going through the process of feeling disappointed, furious, confused. We’ve also been absolutely incredulous that after two years with us Bubble has attempted to shoplift,  and that she’s not buying into our value system. Useless and perhaps damaging emotions and thoughts  that we know logically don’t really apply with adoption. At times Bubble feels less like our daughter, and more like a little stranger.

Timely then to  read @frogotter’s blog yesterday about trying not to set false deadlines:
wp.me/p3sVjv-b8.

Yes, it is shocking to us that our 7 year old daughter is attempting to shoplift.  We will do all we can to stop this behaviour, but we won’t be wasting any more energy wondering why two years with us hasn’t made as much difference as we originally expected.

Thank goodness for the lovely adoption community on Twitter, and thank you @frogotter for your timely blog.

Dear Mr Timpson

Thanks so much for your letter. It’s good to know that such a senior public official has experience of and a keen interest in adoption.

Sadly for many of us the post adoption support system isn’t working.  There are a multitude of reasons for this, only some of which may be blamed on lack of resources.  Systemic and managerial failures at a national and local level also have a massive part to play, as does the fact that social  workers drowning in paperwork have little opportunity to improve their skills and understanding.

So what would help parents who are attempting to therapeutically re-parent developmentally traumatised children?

1. Honest and thorough reports on children prior to matching.

2. A firm commitment at the point of matching, that each child placed with a family has a support plan.

3. A dedicated, long-term adoption support worker for each family. Someone who is experienced, knowledgable, and empathic, who can build up a positive relationship with the family, and offer sensible emotional and practical advice.

4. Therapeutic resources widely available in a timely manner.

5. An end to the bureaucratic bickering between authorities in the case of out-of-county adoptions.

6.  Support groups in all areas.

7. An undertaking from schools that the use of the Pupil Premium + will be discussed with parents.

8. Attachment training for all public servants who work with children.

9. Regular respite for adoptive families.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on these issues.

Yours sincerely,

Take2mums

How are you?

It’s National Adoption Week. How are you?

I’m angry, well, maybe not so much angry, but frustrated. I’m holding a simmering resentment that appears to be grinding me down.

It emanates from my feelings of powerlessness in the face of social services’ responses to our requests for therapeutic intervention for Bubble. And it is stoked by the lack of al local support group. Friends do their best, they are good-hearted people. But if I hear ‘all children do that’ one more time, I’ll have to head to the car wash for a therapeutic scream.

We asked social services for intervention 13 months ago when Bubble’s rages had hit a new extreme. We were sent on the Safebase course. Great as it was, the course did not tackle the underlying causes of Bubble’s behaviour. We asked again for intervention. A few weeks later the social work equivalent of Victoria Wood’s spotty looking youth in plimsolls came round to waggle the ariel and wolf the gypsy cremes. In fact he was the  manager of the Adoption Support Team.  And he called all Bubble’s behaviours ‘typical’ and labelled us ‘anxious’. We weren’t anxious. But we were, by this stage, pissed off.

When he realised we weren’t going to let him leave without an intervention plan (!), he mumbled something about sending someone round to work with Bubble ‘for a few weeks’.  Months passed, and nobody headed our way.

Then in June I bumped into our old assessing Social Worker, who asked how we were doing. Bless her. She was by then doing some freelance work for the Adoption Support Team. Double bless her. And she offered to come and assess. Triple bless.

We talked. She listened. We were not patronised. But once again the point was missed.  Bubble’s behaviours were attributed to the grief H was dealing with after her father’s sudden death a few months previously. The high-energy sensory–seeking child had been there before this awful event. Whilst her behaviours had increased, perhaps as a result of the change in the emotional temperature in the house, they had clearly been there all along. We agreed to note our experiences over the summer.

The summer came and went, and in September we met with our Social Worker again.  This time she agreed to ask the  manager for a referral to a Paediatrician for a general assessment. Two weeks later we texted for an update.  Nothing had been done. Another week later I e-mailed the manager. A very confused reply indicated that perhaps the school should submit the referral, but a Social Worker would speak with me about it.

ENOUGH!!

I talked to school, I wrote the referral myself. 2 days later we met. They copied and pasted. They submitted the referral. Job done. Now we’re waiting for a reply.

This has turned into a rant now, hasn’t it? I’m on a roll though, so stay with me if you will. 

My frustration with social services was compounded by the Adoption Support Team making a half-hearted attempt in March to bring local adopters together to form a support group. When only 3 of us showed up, the manager decided he would send us everyone else’s e-mail addresses and let us get on with organising something ourselves! 8 months later, and we are still awaiting those e-mail addresses. The best possible scenario here would be that he has realised he should not give out other people’s e-mail addresses without their consent. And the probable scenario is, well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Result? 

Frustration.  And a little girl, and her adoptive family who are struggling to make sense of their world. 

So what would help? A firm commitment from social services at the point of matching, that each child placed with a family has a support plan and a dedicated, long-term worker.  Someone who is experienced, who can build up a positive relationship, who has resources at her or his fingertips, and who listens. What is so difficult about this? The Adoption Support Fund is being rolled out nationally next year.  You can bet it will be with great fanfare.  So let’s make local authorities listen to adoptive families, and use those additional funds to best effect. 

End of rant. Have a lovely weekend. 

Taking care

Today H and I went to the Taking Care conference in York, so fabulously organised by @TheOpenNest. 

It was one of the best experiences we have had in our adoption journey. We left feeling refreshed and grateful.

It was brilliant to meet people I’d only previously met in the Twitter sphere, and to share a little more of our stories than 140 characters allows.

To spend a day listening to people in the adoption world who have struggled, and become stronger through this process, was inspiring. Each speaker had found the energy to reflect on and make sense of their journey, and then the courage to share their experiences.

There’s some fantastic work being done to raise awareness of both the effects of trauma, and the need for agencies to improve their responses to requests from adoptive families for support.

So H and I have come away from the conference determined to  take more care of ourselves. We’re going to rid ourselves of the drains. I’m going to sort out my constant exhaustion, and H is apparently going to indulge in some ‘me time’ – but draws the line at watching Neighbours.

Earlier this year the local authority adoption support team half-heartedly attempted and failed to organise a support group in our area. So we’re going to make more local connections and attempt to organise a group ourselves. As Margaret Mead wrote: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.’

Tiddly Om Pom Pom

In the summer (remember those lovely long days?) we splashed out on a beach hut.

image

It may possibly have been the best thing we have done since our daughters came to live with us. 

We’ve had glorious sand-between-our-toes-ice-cream-licking-sand-castle-building-paddling-days. The girls love it. It means freedom for Bubble to run,  and dig, and splash. And Squeak loves paddling and cleaning the windows!

In the week before a new school, being at the hut helped Bubble put her anxieties on the back burner for a while. She bubbled, but she didn’t rage. And the night before school started, she cried, she sobbed, and she told us her fears. A major break-through.

The girls’ sisters met us at the hut a few times in the holidays, and they enjoyed big picnics and lots of sisterly shenanigans.  Bubble and Squeak’s happy books are full of photos of them all, happily munching ice-cream, snuggled under a big beach towel.

Being at the seaside is helping Bubble learn how to play with others, take turns, and look after her things. Squeak’s learnt how to throw and catch, and look where she’s going! They’ve played with other children and they’ve made friends.

We’ve had fun and laughter, and we’re creating lots of lovely family memories. Slowly, slowly, we’re building a family unit, bonded with love, and our beach hut is helping us do that.

Digging up the past

My dad died 7 weeks after the girls were placed with us, 3 days before Christmas. I’m glad he met them, and although he rarely demonstrated much emotion, he seemed genuinely pleased for us.

H and I agreed what we would tell the girls: that Grandpa had become a star. Squeak was 3 and Bubble was 5. Squeak patted my arm. Bubble asked when tea was going to be.

On clear nights the girls sometimes point to the sky and ask ‘is that Grandpa?’.

We buried his ashes in a plot between my mum’s parents and her grandparents. Mum was clear what she wanted in a headstone, and it didn’t include a vase. Over the last year at her request I’ve staked two pots of heather by the headstone, as well as putting the obligatory wreath there at Christmas. But this week, which happens to be both the 30th anniversary of my Grandpa’s death, and what would have been my parents’ 52nd wedding anniversary, she decided she wanted me to sink a jar into the grave for some daffodils.

It was with some trepidation that I set off for the cemetary this morning. I had not enjoyed staking the heathers in, but at least they were at the side of the grave. The jar was going to have to go in the middle, and that meant digging directly over the box containing my father’s ashes. I delayed: I cleaned my grandparents’ headstone, I weeded my great grandparents’ grave. I arranged daffodils in their vases. I paced up and down. I re-arranged the daffodils.

Finally, I dug. A few suprised worms wriggled away through the rich, moist earth. The hole wasn’t deep enough for the jar. I dug again. CLANG! Metal hit metal. I jumped back. I must have hit the plaque on the box. Oh. My. God. For a surreal second I considered digging up the box. In the next moment the jar was in the ground, earth replaced, water poured in, followed by daffodils. I stood back and contemplated what had just run through my mind.

13 months previously I had been the one who had placed the box in the grave. It had struck me then what a lovely box it was. Solid. Square. Hard wood, with a brass plaque in the centre of the lid. Dad would have approved. It seemed a shame to be burying it. Maybe I just wanted to see it again. Maybe I wanted to feel close to him again. Perhaps I was reacting to just having finished ‘The Book Thief’, the story of a foster child in Nazi Germany, narrated by Death.

It has occasionally struck me over the last year that I haven’t given myself time to grieve. Sometimes I convince myself I’m doing really well, and don’t need to grieve. Most of the time I like to believe I’m too busy being a mummy who also has a fairly demanding job to afford the time to grieve. Today showed me I need to make the time. And I need to do it not only for me, but for our girls. They’ve lost their birth parents and their foster carers. To truly empathise with their feelings of loss I need to get in touch with my feelings, however hard that may be.

Squeak, come out of the drawer robe!

It’s been a funny old week. It started with Squeak’s birthday. After a weekend of small celebrations with sisters, and then other family, we went out for tea with one of Squeak’s schoolfriends. It was absolutely fabulous to see older sister Bubble looking after the schoolfriend. It is a side of her we rarely see.

On Tuesday Squeak got stuck in the ‘drawer robe’ (her version of wardrobe). She had decided to climb in as obviously neither mummy had responded quickly enough to her request for trousers. Much hilarity later, and Squeak was safely rescued. We go to Granny’s for tea on Tuesdays. This week Bubble read her school book to her. I overheard a little snippet: ‘The people who writed this book really know how to draw cows, don’t they Granny?’ ‘That’s a goat, dear.’

Wednesday brought Bubble’s second foray into Rainbows. She loved it, and returned clutching cards and daffodils for us. Wednesday was also the day I discovered that the Head Teacher of the girls’ school did not know that the Pupil Premium Plus existed! The school is very good, and the Head, in particular, is fantastic. We were shocked she had no idea about the PP+. She invited us to a meeting on Friday.

Thursday was tricky. We had both had difficult days at work. H was awash in homeless issues, and I was drowning in paperwork. I returned home to a very grumpy and hyper Bubble. Calm approaches just didn’t work. One early bedtime later, and we heaved sighs of relief into the merlot.

Friday was heralded by Bubble telling us she had her ‘good head on’. Thank goodness. H and I met up with the Head Teacher and educated her about the PP+. She was mortified she didn’t know about it. We agreed that Bubble would have an hours home tuition a week with a Teaching Assistant, and that Squeak’s dance classes will be paid for by the PP+. Result! We’ve also asked that some of the funding is used to train staff in attachment issues.

And so to the weekend. The girls have giggled their way through hiding Mothers’ Day cards and gifts they have made at school. It will be amazing if they find them again on Sunday! And so, as my old primary school teacher used to say, ‘ONWARDS!’