We laughed. We cried. We survived. 

National Adoption Week is nearly upon us again.  Tempting as it is to assume Head in Sand position, I am trying to change my narrative, so I’ve decided to embrace it. Well, not exactly embrace, more tolerate it, try to make the best of it. The old Blitz mentality.  By the end of the week I may have resorted to gathering up my pinny, doing a little jig, and waving my fist around wildly, whilst screaming ‘Do your worst, you haven’t got me yet!’

My problem with NAW is that the focus is on recruiting potential adopters, without much in the way of discussion about the reality of parenting a traumatised child. I don’t want to rain on any parades. I’m gay, ergo I love a good parade. It’s in the Gay Rule Book: thou shalt love a good parade.  What I would like though, is for NAW to reflect the reality of being adopted and being an adopter, rather than some honey coated version of ‘lucky’ children and ‘amazing’ adopters.

So here’s our family’s reality over the last year:

Bubble was diagnosed with ARND, Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder.  Aha! I hear you cry. Bet that diagnosis had the professionals flocking to offer support! Err, well, no actually. Nothing. Nada. Diddly squat. Zip.  The Consultant Geneticist told us there was ‘no point’ referring Bubble to the Paediatrician. Oh hang on! I’ve just remembered. There was an offer of support: school wondered if she needed a hearing test.  I found myself having one of those Twilight Zone Floating Above Your Body As You’re Saying It Because It’s So Ludicrous That You Should Have To Say It experiences, explaining to a teacher, SENCO, social worker, and educational psychologist, that it is Bubble’s memory and executive functioning that are damaged rather than her ears. We’ve been left to work out for ourselves what this diagnosis means, how best to support Bubble, and to once again plead with the school to embrace her differences and needs.

Having been advised Bubble would not get an EHCP,  we’re currently completing the forms ourselves.  We don’t think we will be successful, but we have to do everything we can to attempt to get the right support for Bubble.  We’re hoping that at least with it all written down it will focus the school a little more on the support she needs to reduce her anxieties.

We attempted to have a dialogue about Bubble’s transition to a secondary school setting. We asked for a therapeutic educational environment, but were advised by a social worker that in order to possibly come anywhere near achieving this Bubble would have to ‘fail and be excluded’ from a local secondary school. (Insert your own swear words here.  I’ll stick with my new favourite phrase, courtesy of @NowWeAreSix, ‘say WHAT now?’) We were then advised to ‘go private’.

We visited a semi-local secondary school, and were delighted to discover the SENCO actually Gets It.  The school is fairly small, all the staff have been trained in Attachment Awareness, and the SENCO has agreed to come to our next meeting at Bubble’s junior school.  Cue virtual kissing of said SENCO. I am still wondering whether I actually dreamed this meeting.  I don’t think I did, as the SENCO was wearing what can only be described as stripy Cuban heels, and I cannot imagine that my subconscious would tolerate such a fashion faux pas within an educational setting that is not the New York School of Performing Arts.

We finally started Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy. We have a fabulous psychologist and are now obviously in a wonderful state of co-constructing narratives with Bubble, who would much rather be eating or watching television. We take our co-constructing chances where we can.  We will get there.  This will help. We have decided this.

Squeak moved up to junior school, and twice endured being referred to by her birth surname.  The first time was in front of her entire year group on the taster day. Cue apologies and assurances from the Head that it would never happen again, staff understood how upsetting this was etc and so forth. The second time occurred on Squeak’s first day at junior school. This time her old surname was plastered over books, coat peg and drinks bottle.

Squeak is now bed wetting most nights.  Sometimes twice a night.  Her anxieties are ramped up. Her controlling behaviour is totally over the top. At least we don’t need to wonder what prompted this. We’ve asked for an assessment for life story work.

My employers decided that after 2 years flexible working I had to work full time. No negotiation. According to my then line manager I ‘knew what I was taking on’ when I adopted. Caring for 2 developmentally traumatised children doesn’t really fit with being a full time social worker in a local authority, so I forked out for a lawyer, won my case, and left.

We worried all summer about the possibility of one of Bubble and Squeak’s siblings returning to care. Thankfully it did not happen. They’re all still clinging on. Theirs is another adoption reality story.

My adopted niece continues to run away from the local authority care to which she had returned. Currently she is hiding out at a ‘boyfriend’s’ house and refusing to return to the care home.  There’s more adoption reality for you.

My partner and I set up a local adoption group.  To be fair the local authority had made an attempt to do this a few years ago, but there was very poor attendance at their initial planning meeting so they immediately gave up.  Oh well!  They had tried, hadn’t they?  The ‘we tried, honestly we did’ box had been ticked for the inspectors.  We now have a thriving, supportive, friendly group of adopters who share knowledge and experience, and help each other to do the best they possibly can for their families. How did we do this? We networked. We used our charm and ready wit. We made it appealing. We chose a comfortable friendly venue. We offered sandwiches.

We got a lot out of @TheOpenNest’s brilliant conference in July. We met some lovely people. We also had good feedback about some badges we sold for the charity, so I opened up the Thelmatopia shop on e-bay.

Last, but not least, we found a babysitter. And I think this one will stay, despite Squeak’s best efforts. Huzzah! Selfcare hash tags all round.

And there, gentle readers, we have it.  Our own adoption reality highlights of the last year. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve survived.  Just. So, with a Gypsy Rose Lee flourish, I bid you adieu, and urge you in the forthcoming National Adoption Week  to embrace the Adoption Reality Sharing Experience.*

*The very lovely and wise @ProseccoSue advises not to shorten Adoption Reality Sharing Experience as a hash tag on twitter.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sense of identity

Us human beings are a strange lot. Whilst we need a sense of community and belonging, we also strive to portray the essential essence of ourselves, to mark ourselves as different from other human beings.  I define myself in various ways, just like all other human beings. I was born in this country.  I am from this  family.  I have done these jobs.  I live with this person.  I am a mother.  These are my values. And so on.  There is a narrative, a continuity, a past, present, and – hopefully – a future.

Imagine trying to look upwards and outwards without a solid foothold in the past. All you have are moments lost in time,  fragments of scenes that make no sense and offer no cohesive narrative. Some of these are in sharp focus, technicolour, frightening ; others are ghost-like shadows that slip in and out of memory.

Imagine living your life dominated by a whirling maelstrom of uncertainty, constantly searching for order, attempting to fit together shards of half remembered scenes in an effort to work out who you are, and where you belong.

And then add another element to that picture.  Your brain is damaged. You struggle to remember and sometimes you cannot make sense of everyday things.

It’s a perfect storm.

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’.

 

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.

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…