200 days : a declaration

Today it’s 200 days since learning that our daughters’ birth parents had landed in our small town.  We are living a reduced, hypervigilant life. Every time we step out of the door with the girls we take a risk. Every time OH or I walk past the birth parents, they are totally high or drunk. Every day we scan the court reports to see if either of them have been imprisoned again. How desperate it is to hope that two other human beings will be imprisoned so that our girls can be safe! And what a damning indictment of the ‘caring’ services that we are still in this position, 200 days on.

The list of things our girls can no longer safely do in their own town is extensive. Go for an ice cream. Play in the park. Take part in concerts. Go to friends’ homes. Spend their pocket money.   Go to cafes and restaurants. Walk anywhere.  Take part in the Remembrance Day Parade. Go shopping with us. Use the sports centre. Go to kids clubs. Ride a bike. See the Christmas lights being switched on.  Visit OH at her work. Etc. Etc. Etc. 

Imagine being a child and not being able to do those things. How small your life would seem.  Heartbreaking, isnt it? Damaging too, when we’re constantly trying to help develop the girls’ attachment, confidence, social skills, and sense of safety.

A few weeks ago we finally got a completed risk assessment which, after months of battling, did not label or castigate us.  It says we’d be helped by having therapy.  We said ‘Yes please! We’d like therapy to help reduce the stress we’re under.’  Social work managers – the same ones who had signed off the risk assessment – said we couldn’t have it! The Social Worker had to ask them repeatedly, and then they demanded a report from our girls’ Clinical Psychologist about our stress levels before they’d agree to it!

Now The Adoption ‘Support’ Team are going further. They are refusing to even apply to the ASF for a sensory integration assessment for Bubble until our therapy is finished. Why? Apparently we wouldn’t be in a state to support her with it whilst we’re in therapy. But I’m currently supporting Squeak in her therapy, as they know. They tell me that’s ‘different’! And that they hope we ‘get over this crisis’ and then they will consider our request! 

Oh! And not forgetting their big fat ‘NO’ to respite so that we could have a break from caring for our disabled daughter. 

Why are we getting these responses from people paid to support adoptive families? The answer is simple. It is because we formally complained about their unprofessional and ignorant responses to our requests for support when the birth parents landed here. The big bullying local authority do what they always do when challenged: they become aggressive and intimidating.

So today, after 200 days of nonsense from the people who are paid to support adoptive families we are making a declaration: NO MORE!

We will no longer engage with petty, bungling and bullying bureaucrats who are so deeply mired in the flummery of this local authority that they have lost all sense of what social work is about. 

Like countless other adoptive parents, for the sake of our children we will go it alone. We want our girls to have fun, flourish, and grow up with confidence, believing that their horrific past does not determine their future. We can’t focus on that whilst we’re engaged in constant battles with workers who, far from doing what their professional registration dictates they should do, seem intent on increasing stress and trauma. 

So we’re stepping away. Far, far away from it all. We’re returning to living a considered life, away from the tangled, spiteful blundering of registered social workers who should know better, people whose job it is to protect and safeguard, and to promote the welfare of children. People who have lost any sense of the knowledge, skills and values that should inform social work practice, and who are instead engaged in punishing a family who has dared to complain. 

NO MORE!

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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. 

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.

 

 

 

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.

Adoption breakdown

The Children Act 1989 is clear about social workers responsibilities when placing a child who can no longer live with their parents. The Act is clear that the social worker is required to consider preferable placements with wider family/friends. Indeed guidance is clear that this will always be the first choice, provided that the welfare of the child is never compromised.

Two weeks ago I informed a post adoption support social worker of my concerns for our daughters’ sister and her adoptive family.  I was clear that we had offered and would continue to offer to take her on a short term basis should the adoption break down.  Surely it would be better for her to be with her sisters and two adults who love her, and with whom she has a positive bond, than in a placement where she knows no one. From this place we could help ease her transition to a longer term placement.

This week the adoption broke down. Instead of coming to us X was placed with emergency foster carers. We have spent the last 2 days re-iterating our offer to support her short term until a suitable long term placement can be found.

Our offer was ignored. We persisted.  Our phone calls were not returned.  When we finally managed to speak with him, the social worker would not even agree that the post adoption team’s social worker had spoken with him about our offer! He hid behind ‘confidentiality’.  He told us he could not place a child without assessing the potential carers.  Come and assess us! we begged.  We’re here.  We are adoptive parents.  I am still  registered as a social worker and my partner works in the care system. We have nothing to hide.  We are concerned for X’s welfare.  He did not even reply.   Later he advised he would speak to his manager and get back to us.

I gave him 2 hours to phone back.  Of course he did not.   I contacted the head of service.  Immediately the situation looked brighter.  Perhaps we could be approved as temporary foster carers through regulation 24.  A manager would call us back.  No phone call was forthcoming.

4 hours later we finally managed to get hold of a manager. As far as she was concerned X was safe and ‘calm’.  I asked how they knew X was calm. She’s extremely compliant, and even at the happiest of times would say anything she thought an authority figure wanted to hear. This was met with a tirade of how experienced the social worker is.

This manager had made her decision.  She was not going to change it.  We enquired whether X had been asked if she would like to come and stay with us on a temporary basis.  She had not. We questioned why she had not been given this option and pointed out that the Children Act 1989 dictates that the views of the child should be sought. Silence. Then we were informed that the manager will be considering future options for X on Monday, but that would not include her coming to us.

We asked for contact details for X.  She refused to give us them. She wanted X to be ‘more settled’ before she had contact with us. We pointed out that X had nobody she knew to speak to this weekend. Point blank refusal. Why?  X has been suddenly wrenched from her adoptive family to a placement where she knows nobody.  She has not got a mobile phone.  She has no means of contacting anybody she knows.  We cannot offer her any comfort: this weekend she will not hear us tell her that we love her and will always be there for her in any way we can.

We’ve submitted a complaint.  I have no doubt it will be treated with the callous disregard already amply demonstrated in the last 48 hours. And, anyway, the damage is done.

Today I am going to buy a scrapbook.  We are going to fill it with photos and messages and love and happiness.  And next week we will get X’s contact details, and will be visiting her, and giving her the book, and reassuring her that we are here for her no matter what.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FASD – an adoption reality

FASD – What is it? 

FASD is an umbrella term that covers Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND), Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD), Foetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) and partial Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS). Its effects range from reduced intellectual ability and Attention Deficit Disorder to heart problems.

http://www.nofas-uk.org

FASD is 100 per cent preventable by not consuming alcohol in pregnancy. Nobody knows the true prevalence of FASD. It is thought that in the UK the majority of children with FASD are adopted or fostered.

Some of the issues for people with FASD include difficulties processing information,  predicting events, and understanding consequences. They have attention and memory defects. Issues with problem solving skills result in a struggle with abstract concepts – time, maths, money. Social skills, immature behaviour, and poor impulse control are a feature. Sensory issues play a part. Hyperactivity may be apparent.

What life is like in our family

Bubble is 9.  She was placed with us at 5, with her sister, Squeak, who was then 3.  This year Bubble was diagnosed with Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND). Our  reality is far from what we thought family life would be. Some days every single interaction seems tinged with ARND.  Like all adoptive parents we’re helping our children deal with developmental trauma and loss.  Bubble has disorganised attachment. The ARND is the icing on the cake, and in the cake, and dripping down the sides of the fricking cake. Forget soggy bottoms being the problem, the whole cake is a gloopy amorphous hodge podge of trauma.

In order to help Bubble we have had to make massive changes in the way we live our lives. We have to be consistent, patient, repetitive, have routines. Oh boy, do we have routines! If we deviate from the routines we know it’s not going to be A Good Day.  We have adjusted our expectations, and every day we have to really focus on building  positives and connections, because the ones we built yesterday have been forgotten by Bubble.

Bubble may understand things one day but may not know them the next. When her anxieties are heightened this may be minute to minute. School is a confusing nightmare for her. Some days Bubble comes out of school super-charged with anxiety. She lies to us about whether she has had a spelling test, she attempts to leave her reading book at school, she does not want us to know anything about what is happening at school. And she can have trauma rages at the mere mention of homework.

Bubble is unpredictable, and can be angry and aggressive, with Squeak, her younger sister, often the target. We have also been kicked, slapped, and had things thrown at us.  Bubble does not understand consequences. Telling her that she may hurt Squeak if she pushes her out of the way to get out of the front door first every morning,  is just not computed.

Bubble has sensory issues.  Some days she is a whirlwind, and can become very easily disregulated. She gets distracted easily.  She struggles with some food textures. She can trip over fresh air.

Bubble loses things and forgets things. Some days she cannot remember that she needs to brush her teeth, or wash her face. We have had mornings where she does not appear to recognise us.

Bubble has very low self esteem – her pot of shame is easily topped up and often appears to be overflowing. As Bubble grows, the differences with her peers becomes more marked. Her social behaviours are way below her chronological age. She does not want friends over, and is rarely invited to friends’ houses or parties.

We constantly try to find things Bubble enjoys doing.  So far the short list includes sorting and resorting fossils into particular patterns, tennis without the competitive element, and horse riding. We attempt to big up Bubble in these activities.  We try to have conversations with her about them after the event, to spark further moments of connection through her enjoyment of them. Sometimes she seems to have forgotten them as soon as they are over.

Obviously in all of this we also have to be very aware of Squeak’s needs.  Whilst encouraging their sibling relationship, we know that Squeak can be perturbed by Bubble’s presentation.  Bubble is becoming increasingly jealous of Squeak. We ensure that they both have 1:1 time, and particularly at weekends they both have the opportunity for this with @ProseccoSue or me. This seems to help both girls, but it’s a far cry from my previously imagined version of happy family life.

What may the difficulties be later on?

Adults with FASD have difficulty maintaining successful independence. They have trouble staying in school, keeping jobs or sustaining healthy relationships. Less than 10% of adults with FASD live independently due to impairments in life and social skills, despite having low average or average intellectual abilities.

http://www.nofas-uk.org

In Bubble’s teenage years we will need to talk with her about ‘interdependence’ rather than ‘independence’. We know that when Bubble leaves home she will probably continue to need support with time management, budgeting, organising, shopping and cooking, personal hygiene, social relationships, housing, and finding and maintaining employment.  Unless there is a major shift in services’ understanding of FASD, I am extremely sceptical that Bubble will receive any formal support when she is an adult.

Services need to focus on prevention, diagnosis, and support

It is important for the family and the individual to get a diagnosis because research has shown that without a diagnosis the secondary outcomes are very poor: 90% of patients with FASD will develop mental health problems, get into trouble with the law, have sexual difficulties or go on to have their own alcohol and drug problems. If FASD goes unrecognised at an early stage, there is a high risk of these adverse life outcomes.

http://www.nofas-uk.org

When Bubble came to us, despite social services knowing her birth mother’s history of alcohol consumption, and despite Bubble’s presentation, there was no dialogue about the possibility of FASD.  We asked for help. Repeatedly. But nobody seemed to understand our struggles. On one memorable occasion we listed Bubble’s behaviours to a social work manager. His verdict was that these were ‘typical’ behaviours and that we appeared ‘anxious’!

When a Consultant Geneticist finally made the ARND diagnosis earlier this year,  we were told there was no point referring Bubble to the Paediatrician, as in our area they had been refusing such referrals.

At a school meeting, not one of the health, social work or teaching professionals sitting around the table knew what ARND was. Most had heard of FASD, but didn’t appear to understand the implications of such a diagnosis.   At a subsequent school meeting as we explained Bubble’s issues, her new teacher asked us ‘why are you telling me this?’

Alongside clear messages to all expectant parents that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, this is what children with FASD and their families need from health, social work and education professionals:

  • An early diagnosis.
  • Comprehensive assessments from knowledgeable social workers.
  • Honest discussions with potential adopters about the possibility of an FASD diagnosis, and what it may mean.
  • Personalised support in schools, and a willingness to embrace other teaching styles.
  • When working with adopted teens, a recognition that the ‘immaturity’ they appear to be displaying,  may actually indicate undiagnosed FASD.
  • Active and non-judgemental listening to parents, whatever the age of their child.

A final word from ‘Understanding FASD’, Maria Catterick & Liam Curran, 2014:

‘It is time to make everything less of a battle and more about equity in terms of rights to public health services so that more children will be protected from alcohol exposure in the womb, and those that are prenatally exposed will be able to achieve the goals that much of society take for granted. ‘

 

Response to a Community Care Article

Until January this year I was a Social Worker in a local authority.  I am also an adopter who has struggled to get the appropriate assessments and support for our children since they were placed with us over 3 years ago.  This is why I was less than encouraged by Community Care’s article of 17th June: ‘Adopting more children from care will save £310m, says government’.  

The Prime Minister is ‘unashamedly pro-adoption’, and, of course, governments trot out financial arguments to justify their moral agenda. Given the austerity agenda, this financial claim feels slightly chilling. It is also misguided. Adoption will never be the only answer, and for a lot of young people it is not the best answer.  Whilst fostering and adoption agencies are in a better position to argue the actual figures, and charities such as the Open Nest are far more eloquent than me on the ideology behind the claims, I thought I’d have a little reflection on my own experiences of adoption support so far.

As those of us in the thick of it know, adoption isn’t a lovey dovey ‘aren’t they lucky’, ‘all you need is love’ kind of a thing.  At times it resembles more of an endurance sport of the jumping through multiple, varying sized hoops repeatedly in slingbacks whilst blindfolded kind of a thing. To illustrate my point here’s a little snapshot of recent times.  3 weeks ago our youngest child was kicked in the eye; I was kicked badly on my ankle, and my partner had a heavy object deliberately thrown at her forehead.  2 weeks ago we had an e-mail to tell us that the Social Worker we had ‘requested’ (through a complaint) a year ago because of her expertise will no longer be working with us. We asked for a meeting.  We had no reply.  Last week we also attended a DDP therapy preparation session with a Psychologist. The therapy with our daughter starts next week. This week we have an appointment at a genetics clinic.  We are half expecting and half dreading a diagnosis along the lines of FASD. The week after that we are at yet another school meeting in our attempt to ensure our daughter has access to the right therapeutic environment and support for her learning.

The DDP Therapy is being funded by the Adoption Support Fund. We are grateful for it, but also aghast at how long it has taken to come about. We started asking for therapy for our oldest daughter a few months after she was placed with us.  3 years ago. A year in we were told by a social work manager that we were ‘anxious’. Then we were sent on a course, which was brilliant, but it wasn’t the therapy we had asked for.  We had to complain in order to get any action.  Last year there was a psychological assessment.  Another year on, and we’re getting to the therapy.  We have been saying for 3 years that there are sensory issues that need assessing by a Sensory Occupational Therapist, but this has still not been addressed.

After adoption leave I returned to my job as a Social Worker on a flexible working basis. I had a battle to secure this, but eventually I got it. Two years on and they announced that I would have to return to full time working.  Living with a traumatised and angry child, providing therapeutic parenting, and attending meeting after meeting is not conducive to working full time.  I left work.

So, my advice to the ‘unashamedly pro-adoption’ Prime Minister is this: forget the trite and inaccurate impact assessments. Forget the focus on regional mergers and speedier matches. Instead focus on supporting the professionals who are there for our children. Teachers, Social Workers, Health Professionals.  Give them the training, the time and the tools. Free them from the paperwork, and let them get out there and do what they came into their roles to do. This government has the power to ensure that every professional any child will meet on their journey into adulthood is attachment and trauma aware. It would not take a major investment input to make this a reality. It may mean that some children will not even have to enter the care system, and those who do will be better understood and supported. And whilst we’re at it, let’s change the rhetoric to ‘unashamedly pro-child’.

 

Bubbling up.

Bubble is an 8 year old bundle of agitated energy.  She’s our little warrior, who puts on a brave face every school day, and heads into the same old routines with a determined, if slightly surprised attitude. Fleetingly she’s brilliantly funny, a comic genius.  These moments are gems.  They are as if the angry skies that have been thundering for hours, stop momentarily, and a chink of glorious sunshine powers through. She has moments of inspiration in which the heavy burden of trauma seems to dissipate, and her brain is able to process clearly. Then the leaden skies return and obscure the brilliant shimmering gleaming thing that we have witnessed.

Most days it’s Groundhog Day in our home. By the time we manage to get out of the door on a school morning, there will have been repeated early morning thunderous rampages to the toilet, arguments about who will get downstairs first, battles over breakfast, fights over getting into the bathroom, lies about whether teeth have been cleaned, shrieking over getting hair into a bobble, huffing and puffing over whose turn it is to dry dishes, 10 minutes to tie up shoes, and then decide on boots instead, whilst instructing Squeak in the finer arts of tying a scarf, and skirmishes over who gets to open the front door.

Once we are out of the door there will inevitably be forgotten book bags, loud surprise at where the car is parked, clashes over who opens the car door, repeated slamming of said door, conflict over fastening seat belts,  rivalries about whether we have passed a police car or ambulance, protestations that nobody has told Bubble what the same old school timetable promises today, hostility over who gets out of the car first, and refusals to say goodbye to Squeak.

Bubble is angry and fearful.  This kid is operating from her limbic brain most of the time. She’s ready to fight.  She’s ready for flight.  She lashes out.  She jumps at sudden noises. She’s constantly jiffling, picking, scratching, stamping, slamming doors, running.   And when she isn’t, it’s because she’s disassociated.

Bubble has huge issues of control which erupt around boundary setting, sharing, any slight change in routines, and food.  Bubble simply does not appear to believe that she will get what she needs from us.  After 3 and a half years with us, she still thinks that parents are dangerous, that she is bad, and that the only way to be safe is to be in control of everything and everyone. Sometimes this emerges as rage, but most of the time  it is low level, grindingly annoying stuff. She gives us filthy looks, huffs and puffs when asked to do anything, or even just asked anything at all, about her day, about how she is feeling. She tells us ‘it’s not fair’, ignores us, rolls her eyes Kevin style at attempts to communicate with her, makes vigorous and loud attempts to do anything other than what she  needs to be doing at any particular moment, and constantly interrupts when Squeak is talking.

Given Bubble’s trauma history this is not surprising. Generally we deal with it fairly well I think, and strive to keep away from reward-punishment responses. In the 3.5 years Bubble has been living with us, we have sought support time and again. Last year she had a Psychology assessment, which recommended DDP therapy. We’re still waiting for the therapy to start. OH and I have met with the therapist, but the sessions with Bubble don’t start until next month. Three and a half years it has taken to get to this point.  Three and a half years. It’s not for lack of trying. We’re not expecting therapy to produce miracles.  If there is even a slight shift in attachment that would be great. We’re also awaiting an appointment with a Consultant who specialises in Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

What I do not understand is why we, as a society, knowing the effects of trauma and abuse, allow this sort of wait to happen.  There is a mountain of research on the effects on children of abuse, neglect, and domestic violence.  Yet social services, health and education bodies seem content to pander to the government’s agenda of proving their worth through the gathering of statistics,  and wallow in risk-averse, cumbersome procedures, rather than focus on what children actually need right now.  Individual workers in any of these sectors have only limited powers and ability to influence positive outcomes for traumatised children, and the lack of strong leadership means they struggle on individually until they crumble.  As adoptive parents we are left feeling grateful if one of the professionals ‘gets it’, when all professionals should get it and be supported by their organisations to be positive and pro-active in their approaches to traumatised children.

Bubble deserves better. All children deserve better. Perhaps we as adoptive parents need to form a national independent pressure group to demand timely, positive support for our children. Perhaps it is time for us to bubble collectively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Citizen action

I’ve been reading with interest a lot of the posts and stories from the Seven Days of Action campaign, which targets the urgent need to close assessment and treatment units and enable people with learning disabilities to be supported how they and their families believe is best for them.  I cannot agree more.  I’ve also been keenly following the Justice for LB campaign, and yesterday, of course, there was the Hillsborough inquest judgement. All of these stories are bound together with the common thread of ‘professionals’ knowing best, and denying dignity, respect, life itself.  Truth and justice denied, cover ups, blame, counter-accusations. Horrendous experiences for individuals and their families, who just want to live ordinary, decent lives.

Until very recently I worked as a Social Worker with adults who have learning disabilities.  For over 2 decades I worked in day centres, specialist hospitals, and community teams.  I worked closely with voluntary groups, I volunteered in music therapy groups. I led evening classes in basic education. In January I left social work, and since then I have set up a much needed local self advocacy group. I have also started volunteering with a local social enterprise which supports people with learning disabilities.

In my last job in a community team I was labelled as ‘difficult’ by managers who appeared to be more interested in that dubious concept ‘best value’ (read ‘cost cutting’) than people’s needs.  They would regularly try to ignore me, not answering e-mails, or delaying their replies to my requests for money and support for people, sometimes for months.  I always ‘won’ the arguments as I backed up my cases with legislation.  Managers can ignore moral arguments.  But they cannot ignore the law. Not for ever, anyway.

I decided to leave social work because I was bullied and falsely and maliciously accused of bad practice, after I had raised concerns about dangerous management practice.  The case against me, which had no evidence whatsoever,  was eventually dropped, with no hint of an apology,  after I involved a solicitor.  (The union, which I had paid into since 1990, was apparently powerless to effectively support me.) The managers attempted to gag me, and clearly persuaded my colleagues to ignore and isolate me.  Colleagues who had themselves complained in the office about management, and had previously been supportive of my attempts to complain about dangerous practice, suddenly found themselves unable to continue their support of me! Managers also refused to let me continue working the established flexible hours and insisted I return to full time work, despite being aware of my daughters’ additional needs.

I have mixed feelings about leaving social work. I put all of my efforts into it for 25 years. My sense of social justice enabled me to continue battling in those 25 years.  To the best of my ability I advocated for the people I worked with.  I got the best I could.  I never gave up. I prided myself on this. But when the system turned the full force of its horrendous power against me, I had no choice but to leave.

People with learning disabilities and their families do not have the luxury of this choice. They are totally dependent on this system, and I appreciate that from my perspective as an adoptive parent. Attempting to get what we believe is needed for our children is painful, frustrating, and slow.  As a family we appear to be heading in the right direction at the moment, but this has taken 3 years, written and verbal complaints, assessment after assessment, and still we wait for the necessary therapy. In that time I have seen the system fail my adopted niece, who in the last 21 months has had 11 – yes, 11 – different placements, and many more social workers.

The system ain’t working. It’s crap.  There’s good people working in it. And there’s bad. Leadership is lacking.  Management is lacking.  Human compassion is lacking. IT systems are lacking.  Money is lacking. The basics are being eroded. Service providers blame the local authorities, who blame the government, who blame us. Doesn’t look like it’s going to get better anytime soon, does it?  Even more reason then, that we as individuals stand up for the rights of vulnerable people in our society.

Last night in the first self advocacy group session a man told us how awful it felt for care staff to come into his home with files about him, writing things that he could not read, and spending time doing this rather than helping him prepare a meal or hoover.  And that was when they turned up on time, or even just turned up, whoever it was turning up – he never knows who to expect.  This man told us he did not think that he should have to feel like that in his own home. We all agreed with him. And the group will be helping him to do something about it.

My point? That the system does not work. It has no inherent interest in making things work.  Its only interest is in keeping the system going.   Citizen power does work though.  Indeed, as Margaret Mead said, it is the ‘only’ thing that does.

‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’

 

 

 

 

Catawampus

Catawampus!

That’s Dictionary.com’s word of the day. Adjective: askew; awry

Yep. That about sums up how I’m feeling right now. It feels like discombobulated mixed with anger.

Normally I’d be trying my damndest to supress this feeling. I have to be on top form. I have to make sure everyone else is ok. But today, just for a few hours, I’m going to go with it. The girls are at school. OH is at the gym. So I’ve taken myself off to our garden room with Cat to experience catawampus.

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The weather matches my mood. Cat and I are basking in the glow of a weak electric fire which has pumped up the temperature to 7.9 degrees. The roof leaks. So, chilly and wet. Apt. Askew. Awry. (Those aren’t bars on the window by the way. They are my home grown skew-whiff pea sticks.)

Last night OH and I organised the second meeting of our local adoption support group. This time 4 others pitched up and it was great. We’ve planned the next one. We’ve planned a day out with the children. We’ve even got the local authority to pay for our venue. And we had sandwiches. Brilliant. No catawampus there.

When we got home I checked my e mails. There was one from my old union rep, who was asking me to look at an attachment – which she had not attached – from HR about the investigation into my line manager. I left work 5 weeks ago. The union were not supportive when I was going through hell. Now, after I have given up my job, they decide to take action?! My sleep last night was marred by nightmares about work. I woke up exhausted and in a funk.

And then I turned on the radio. Big mistake. I caught the tail-end of Thought For The Day, which annoys me intensely at the best of times. This morning there was some chap banging on about motherhood. Maybe I got the wrong end of the stick, but in my funk I thought he was implying that adopters are not ‘real mothers’. I stewed in the shower.

Bless twitter and @MendingMum for making me laugh, and @mumdrah for telling me it is ok to be angry.

I’m only just beginning to believe that it is ok for me to be angry. I tell Bubble often enough that it is ok to feel anger, and I try to help her explore how she can let that anger out. And I truly believe that for her. But I grew up with the very firm message that Nice Girls Don’t Do Anger. I’ve carried that message all my life. And we all know The Body Keeps The Score. So now it’s time to discard that message for me. A little bit at a time. And what better way to do that than basking in some catawumpy ruminations in a chilly and damp garden room, with Cat on my lap?