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!

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The ‘care’ system.

When one of our girls’ sisters re-entered the care system in December we had to fight to ensure that all the girls met up before Christmas.

We fought again to get the foster carer’s phone number. It took 3 months to get it.

We’ve asked at least 5 SW bods for the foster carer’s address so that Bubble can see where her sister is living, which we believe will help to reduce her anxieties. The girls also want to send their sister cards and letters. We still haven’t got the address. Nor have we been given a reason for this. The girls wrote to their social worker about this 5 weeks ago. She hasn’t replied. 

It’s been suggested to us that we attend a meeting about the girls’ sister: a meeting to which her parents weren’t invited. We said we would not participate in such a divisive meeting. 

We’ve endured ‘contact’ meetings in which the foster carer has all but ignored us. I’ve asked why the foster carer has to be at these meet ups. The last SW manager I spoke with agreed there didn’t seem to be a reason and she would phone me back. 3 weeks later and there hasn’t been a call.

The foster carer insisted  that there had to be a routine weekly phone call, and she should phone us, rather than us phone her. She wasn’t prepared to be flexible about this. Yet there have been weeks where she hasn’t bothered to call. That happened again this week and when we tried to phone we were cut off.

Now apparently the girls’ sister can’t meet them for 8 weeks. Why? Presumably because nobody in the system is actually bothered. Our Adoption Order stated the sisters must meet up every month. We’ve done this – usually much more frequently – for 4.5 years.

The result of all of this for our girls is that they are far more anxious. Parenting them is made harder, and what little energy we have left is taken up with dealing with this constant nonsense from the local authority.

Meanwhile social work managers continue to ask us to provide (free) respite for the girls’ sister! And we keep saying that we will be very happy to have her for sleepovers – as we always have – when they acknowledge that it’s not ‘respite’ or ‘contact’. It’s just the sisters doing what they have always done since being adopted. 

I’m coming to believe that all the sisters are victims of a callous institutionalised incompetence. The term ‘Best Interests’ is bandied about when it suits, but very little that is happening now appears to be in any of the sisters’ best interests. Quite the contrary in fact: trauma is heaped on trauma. The ‘care’ system simply isn’t working. 

No More Mrs Nice Adopters

Last month, you may recall from my ranty blog & tweets, one of our girls’ sisters returned to foster care. The social work team ignored our offer to support her here until a long term appropriate placement could be found. 

We had to battle so that our daughters could talk to and see their sister.  I’m glad to say we managed a meet up just before Christmas. 

The SW team then decided there would be a weekly phone call between sisters at a particular time on a certain day. They hadn’t bothered to ask us if it was convenient. As Squeak is busy imitating Olga Korbut – or perhaps that’s Ronnie Corbett in a leotard full of hormones – at that point in the week it certainly wasn’t going to be happening then. 

Surely the catalogue of incompetencies was complete at that point? 

Err, nope.

Today we discovered The Most Astounding Social Work Decision Made Without Any Consultation With Us.  Here it is (brace yourself!): at a LAC review last week they decided we will be giving our girls’ sister’s foster carer overnight respite each and every month! 

Yep! You read that right! It was the first we’d heard of it. We were not at the meeting. We had not been asked if we would like an arrangement like this. And, if we hadn’t been the lovely people we are, it could have caused serious fallout with our daughters’ sisters’ mother, who was at the meeting & was astounded to hear the decision. 

So, just to be clear, we’re not playing ball anymore. Our girls will be seeing their sisters regularly – as they have always done.  Their sisters will be coming on sleepovers. We will do everything we can to ensure their relationships are nurtured. But it is not ‘contact’.  And we will not be dictated to.  

No More Mrs Nice Adopters.

Homework

Bubble missed a lot of school in her early years and those who should have known better insisted at the time of her placement with us that she would easily catch up. If her assessment  had been at all probing, it would have been obvious that expecting Bubble to catch up with her peers would be unrealistic. At the time we followed the professional advice.  We wish now that we had not, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.  Bubble did not catch up. She continues to struggle academically and she always will.

Bubble has ARND, alcohol related neuro developmental disorder, which means she has problems with memory, storing and retrieving information, abstract concepts, predicting outcomes, and organisation.  Some days, some moments, are better than others.

Bubble has always had problems doing schoolwork and homework.  She’s 9.  This academic year her homework book has 3 tasks every week. 3! Multiplication tables (most of the time she manages 5x and 10x), spellings (most of which she cannot pronounce let alone spell), and project work. Every week. That’s in addition to the expectation that she will read most evenings.  Did I say she was 9? Did I mention she has been diagnosed with ARND?

Homework has caused rages. Bubble’s, not ours. Although, we have got pretty close to feeling the rage at times!  Homework, however creatively we approach it, feeds in to Bubble’s shame and low self-esteem. She resists, she dissociates, and if we persist,  she rages.

This year we asked for an EHCP. We were advised Bubble did not meet the criteria.  We asked for therapeutic schooling. We were advised Bubble would not qualify as she does not meet the EHCP criteria, and anyway there are no therapeutic schools in our local authority. We asked that Bubble stay an extra year at junior school.  We were advised that our local authority does not like doing this.  The SENCO advised us to look at privately schooling Bubble from year 7!

Last term our social worker suggested to school that in order to take some pressure off at home, they offer a homework club.  School advised they would look into it.  This week we were told by the SENCO that there simply wasn’t going to be a homework club this year.  We countered this with our fallback position that Bubble will not be doing the majority of the homework.  We will continue to support her when her anxieties are low enough to attempt some homework, but we will not be encouraging her to complete the homework at the expense of  her mental health or the emotional temperature of our home. I am not convinced that Bubble’s teacher understood this, but she accepted that we need only show that Bubble had attempted some of the work.

I remain perplexed as to why schools and local authorities are insistent that traumatised children just have to fit in to their systems. Bubble is doing all she can to survive at school, but I am yet to be convinced that school is doing all it can to become trauma and attachment aware.

homework

 

 

Dear teacher (again)

Dear Teacher,

On the first day back at school Bubble’s teaching assistant excitedly rushed up to tell me there was a bike course and Bubble was keen to be on it. I told Bubble’s teaching assistant that I was happy for Bubble to bike on the playground, but it would not be advisable for Bubble to bike on actual ‘real world’ roads as she cannot yet safely cross roads on foot.  In the previous 2 weeks alone she had cracked her head on a lamp post, twice attempted to run across a road without looking, and had to be physically stopped from walking into a cyclist.  She cannot concentrate if there are food or food wrappers, dog poo, insects, people, loud noises, sirens, or vehicles of practically any description about. Given that the TA could not guarantee the absence of any of the above (!) I decided that Bubble would not be cycling on the road.

On the second day back at school my partner was subjected to the same conversation with the same TA, and she answered with the same decision for the same reasons. (We’re annoyingly like that, my partner and I.  We find consistency is one of the keys to good parenting.)

In the second week back at school we were asked to complete a form to give our permission for Bubble to bike on public roads. We promptly completed said form, reiterating all the information we had already offered, outlining why we did not want Bubble biking on public roads.

Today you ‘phoned me to say Bubble had completed the first part of the bike course safely on the playground. Although you knew we did not want Bubble to go on the road, you wondered whether we would now change our minds this very minute so that you could rush out to the playground and tell the instructors that she could bike on the road?  Once again I explained why our decision remains as it was.

The tone of your ‘phone call was received loud and clear.  To you we are clearly over-controlling parents who do not appreciate our daughters’ abilities. So, for the second time in 2 weeks, we have decided to have a meeting at school. (The first meeting concerned your institution repeatedly calling our other daughter by her birth surname rather than her legal surname).

We would really like you to understand that the Bubble that you see at school is very different from the Bubble we see at home, and that we are not over-controlling parents.  We are intelligent but somewhat knackered people, attempting to therapeutically re-parent to provide a frightened little bundle of energy with safety, security, love and the opportunity to grow in the best way she can with the brain she has.

Bubble needs you to take the time to listen and reflect and start to understand what trauma has done to her.  She is helpful and compliant at school – fidgety, work-avoidant, and very behind academically – but as compliant as she can be. At home she is oppositional.  She rages, shouts, hits and kicks, throws stuff, and is very defiant. These behaviours are frequent and intense. This is not because we are ogres. It is not because we are controlling. It is not because we are crap at being parents.  It is because Bubble is working out issues from her previous trauma, and our home is a safe place for her to show her anger. Her anxieties are raised by many things, of which school is just one. She’s too frightened at school to show you how scared she is. So she shows us instead.

Bubble needs you to understand what Alcohol Related Neuro Developmental Disorder is, and the effect it has on her memory and ability to think logically. She does not need to be told that she needs a hearing test as she does not appear to be taking everything in. She needs you to learn from last year’s teacher, and the teacher before that, both of whom observed that Bubble did not really settle in the classroom until the last month of the summer term.

We have needs too, as Bubble’s parents. We need to be treated as the experts about our daughter.  Our knowledge of her needs must be respected if school is to become a safer place for her.   Our advice needs to be acted on. You are the experts academically.  But we know, more than anyone, more than Bubble herself most of the time, what lies underneath her presentation and behaviours. And we know that until Bubble feels safe, she will not be as open to learning as she can be.  It does not help us to hear in meetings ‘Oh, but she doesn’t do that at school’ (sub-text: what are you doing wrong at home?).  It merely demonstrates that you do not understand our daughter or the effects of trauma, and the damage done to her brain.

So, please discard your assumptions, open your heart, and listen to us when we meet with you.

Yours frustratedly,

Bubble’s Mum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeds of hope

This week’s #waso theme is ‘finding inspiration’, and a jolly inspiring theme it is too! I’ve realised that a few months on from quitting the grim and grimy world of local authority social work, my brain has been freed up to take inspiration from a multitude of places, people, and things. One of the most nourishing sources of inspiration for me is nature.

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The girls and I love being outside, busy pottering, growing stuff. OH likes to watch us, book in hand, from the relative comfort of a deck chair.

Bubble and I spent a glorious afternoon in the Easter holidays constructing a vegetable planter. Bubble made a sign for it, and I strung up old cd roms as bird scarers. Inspired by our efforts, we’re now turning a massive old row of wooden pigeon holes from a local church into another vegetable planter, and an old meat safe into a cold frame.

Bubble loves sanding and hammering. Squeak loves painting. And it is when we are engaged in these messy tasks in our garden, that joy and wisdom emerges, and thoughts and humour are shared. We’re making connections and memories.

We may even decide eventually what to do with a couple of old wooden ladders that belonged to my dad. Current thinking is that they could be the sides of an archway over steps up to the lawn. Runner beans and everlasting sweet peas would love it. I have visions of a ton of beans hanging down from the top. Bean bunting!

Connections

I’m not going to talk or think about ‘attachment’ for a while. I’m finding it too difficult: at the end of each day when I have a little reflection (you can take the girl out of social work, but… etc.) I’ve  been having various thoughts: that there’s a problem with my attachment with Bubble; that after 3.5 years we should be further on; etc and negative so forth.

So I’m going to stop thinking about ‘attachment’ and start thinking about ‘connections’. I’m going to really notice the little things. The moments when eye contact is made, when humour is shared, hugs are given. Very infrequently Bubble tells me she loves me. Instead of wishing she would say it more often, I’m going to treasure the times she does proclaim love. I’m going to store this all up in my memory banks. Snapshots of connection.

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And maybe, just maybe, Bubble will be storing these memories too, and her connections will be getting stronger.

Loving memories

As we walk up the path to our beach hut we pass lots of benches. This is my favourite.

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I have no idea who Sam and Vera were. Sometimes I make up little stories about them, for my own enjoyment. They didn’t have a perfect life, but they weathered the storms together, and made lovely memories.

When I was a child we had a beach hut here. I have happy memories of being at the seaside. Cricket playing, kite flying, donkey riding, paddling, digging, picnicking, happy times. And now we’re creating our own family memories by the seaside.

OH and I have been painting the hut this week, and today we took Bubble and Squeak there. Whilst I got a bit messy with more interior painting, OH went for a walk with the girls. When they returned we sat outside, dipping cookies into steaming mugs of hot chocolate, brewed up on the camping stove.

I love these moments. I store them away for later years when Bubble and Squeak will have developed their wings and flown away. I imagine a time when OH and I will be huddled in deck chairs, wrapped up against the chilly breeze coming off the sea, and complaining about our rheumy joints. We’ll have such fond memories about the family times we’ve shared at our hut.

Maybe one day the girlies will dedicate a bench to OH and me. I wonder what it will say.

Bubbling under

This week Squeak, who is 6, has become increasingly anxious, loud and an even more accomplished sleep-resister with frequent bouts of bed wetting.

Yesterday morning she told me that she had been thinking about old mum and old dad – as the girls call them – but she had not wanted to talk about it for fear of upsetting Bubble. Bless her! She decided she wanted to look at her life story book after school.

Usually Bubble runs a mile (sometimes literally) when Squeak’s life story book comes out. Yesterday though, she decided to have a look at hers.

I sat in the middle of the girls and whilst Squeak was asking me if old mum and dad liked taking vitamins (her word for drugs), and were they really allowed to have (insert a number) of children, and if they loved us why didn’t they look after us, and was the old house full of spiders,  Bubble sat quietly.

She flicked through her book, looked at some photographs, and sat devoid of expression, not fidgeting or jiffling. Normally Bubble is the jiffliest jiffler in Jiffleville. Then, as Squeak asked if old mum and dad loved them and I replied that they really loved them but could not look after them, Bubble announced she was going upstairs. To her bedroom. Alone. Bubble hates being in rooms on her own.

I gave her a few minutes and followed her up. She was standing by the window,  perfectly still, with no expression, still clutching her book. She didn’t want a hug. She didn’t want to talk. She didn’t resist my hand on her shoulder, though. We stood for a while together, lost in our own thoughts. I made the usual declarations about how lovely she was and if she needed a hug or a chat to let me know. How useless and empty those words seemed.

This morning when Bubble Scowled In A Prolonged Manner at me over a Toast Incident I was almost relieved.

It’s hard living with an angry child. That’s what I’ve thought for years now. It’s so hard. But living with a child who won’t let you in is even harder. At least the anger gives you something to work with. So I embrace Bubble’s anger. I will ‘work’ with it, and try to support her the best I can. From it may come strength and resolution. Maybe not, but once again Bubble has taught me much.

And so our adventure continues…

National What Week?

It’s that time of year again. It can be a bittersweet experience  for many of us. Nationally and locally the rhetoric will be unrelenting. Adoption is a GOOD thing. Do YOU have the love to give a child? Etc. and turgid so forth.

Those of us who are affected by adoption all have a different and individual story to tell. 

I love Bubble and Squeak. Sometimes my heart feels as if it will burst for them. I have cried tears of joy. I look at my partner loving them and I feel deep love for our family.

We are lucky. We have a good, no a great,  Adoption  Social  Worker. She gets ‘it’, the Big T. Trauma. She listens. She observes. She supports.  She provides access to psychological assessments. We’re about to start therapy funded by the Adoption  Support  Fund.

We struggled for over a year to get access to that support. We were initially told by the team manager we were ‘anxious’, that Bubble was a ‘typical’ child.  We were not anxious; we were furious.  We went to the Head of the service in order to get the support our family needs.

When I went back to work after adoption leave I asked to work flexibly. Managers prevaricated and then rejected my request.  I had to go to the Director to get my request approved.  I’ve  been doing the same hours for 2 years. Now my employers want me to work full time again.

I can’t support Bubble and Squeak and work full time. It is that simple.

I wasn’t  offered any other solution. There was no discussion at all. Just a rejection. I have appealed. They have not reached a decision. I have had to submit a grievance. They have not responded.  And then there’s the intimidation. I’ve  submitted another grievance. They have not responded.

We’re now past the date they told me I have to return to full time hours.

The stress at times feels overwhelming. Luckily I’m an adopter and have learned to be hardy and resilient. I am fighting back. I have the union and Google on my side. My employer has access to lawyers and HR on theirs. It feels like a secular version of  David and Goliath.

And whilst all this rages on I still support my adopted children and work as best I can.

My job? I’m a local authority social worker.

So my message in National  Adoption Week is simple: listen to all those lovely happy ever after stories if you will. But don’t  be fooled. For the government and local authorities it’s about statistics. For those of us in the thick of it, it’s  more about survival.