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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!’