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. 


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.