Flowers

photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

I previously wrote a blog about the break down of the long term foster placement and guardianship of our sons older sister, I ended by saying that we hoped that the the new placement the sister had been moved to was a good one and would offer her the security she so deserves.

Thankfully that appears to be so, it does seem like a good placement and the new foster carers are committed and seem to be giving her the family life she needs and indeed some of the security that has been lacking in her life recently.

Most importantly she just seems happy.

She is a sweet child who has spent much of her life caring for others and as a result is thoughtful and selfless. She has had it tough all her life and being 4 years older than our oldest was more aware of the neglect and the consequences of that while in the birth family. At the age of 5/6 she was attempting to ‘mother’ our boys, stepping in where birth mum was failing.

What we have now discovered is that the almost 5 years she spent with the previous foster carers were not as positive as we had thought and in fact we have really had to reevaluate our reaction to the break down of that placement.

We were aware that the carers were very strict and lacked pastoral parenting skills, but it seems that the situation for the sister was anything but ideal, we have been told that she was made to do most of the housework and ironing as well as various other chores, apparently time was dedicated for this before and after school everyday and most of Saturday and if this is true it strikes us as being quite inappropriate.

Again we question where social services were throughout this, but now she has moved from that placement and seems happy I feel we should all be looking to the future.

So things are good – or certainly looking so. However we are concerned about the effect the break down of the placement has had on the sister. Yet again she has had parents who have failed here, yet again the family she thought was for life has proven not to be so, yet again she has been thrown into the unknown.

She is aware that – all going well – the new placement will only be until she is 18 as the new carers are not offering guardianship and as yet we do not see any suggestion that they will remain ‘family’ beyond that.

We have been really concerned for her and when we finally met for contact – after a year of not being able to – we asked how she was doing and if she felt settled and happy, she was her usual cheery self and said that she was pleased to be where she was and that life was OK, we asked if there was anything that bothers her or that she had concerns about and her response shocked and saddened us as she opened up and expressed her concerns for being alone after she turns 18.

We assured her that her fears were unfounded and that she was loved by all of us and that we would always be there for her as she was our family. We hope that we offered some kind of reassurance, but somehow we are not convinced as it was evident just how alone she felt.

Her exact words will always stay with us:
‘I don’t mind never being adopted I know it’s difficult for somebody to take a child of my age and that’s OK, the only thing that really bothers me is when I think of the future and not being in a family it upsets me to think that if I was to die there would be nobody to bring flowers to my grave.

She is 12.

Ask the 8 year old.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had been processed and passed by the adoption panel for two children and as first time parents we really hadn’t even consider taking on any more. We originally saw the details of our sons – where it was stipulated that they had to be placed together – with no reference to other siblings.

Of course when their full CPR came through their siblings and half siblings were included, as indeed were details of the close relationship the boys had with their older sister. It was explained to us that as they had not found an adoptive placement for the three together, the sister had been asked if she would like to stay with the foster parents in long term fostering, freeing up her brothers for adoption together.

She was just 8 at the time and she was being asked if she wanted to stay in the home she had known for – at that point – over 2 yrs with people who cared for her and offered her the only real security she had ever really known – at the expense of staying with her brothers. Or to continue to wait for… well, the totally unknown.

She obviously chose to stay.

Good news for social services, who’s life just got a lot easier as placing a 4 and 5 yr old together – although not easy – is a whole lot easier than when there is a third aged 8.

Good news for the boys as it gave then a better chance of finding a forever family,

And of course good news for us.

It seems the only one with not such good news is the 8yr old who’s decision made it all possible. She will never be adopted and technically at 18 (although at the time it was still 16) be ‘family less’.

The foster parents were caring, but quite elderly (60&70) and very old school, they were very strict and although great for short term fostering they seemed to have little understanding of the ‘pastoral’ care looked after children so require.

We were aware of this and if I am to be brutally honest I have to admit that we chose to ignore it. We had already been building an attachment to our future sons and didn’t want to complicate matters, anyway surely Social services knows what’s best.

Also, if we decided not to proceed because of the sister, that would not result in the three being kept together, but in social services finding other parents for the boys. The boys who were already starting to feel like our sons.

Regular contact between the three and also their baby sister – born after they had all been taken into Care – was arranged twice yearly with both sisters and their families. It was tough at first for our boys, but it did mean we maintained contact with their foster carers who they were very attached to.

Although not perfect, all was fine until 2 yrs later when the foster parents declare that they are giving up the sister because ‘she has become too much to deal with’. They site various episodes, but basically it boils down to an understandably troubled 12 year old defying their ultra strict regime.

We are angry. Angry at social services for not addressing what was clearly a problematic situation before the inevitable, angry at the foster parents for not respecting the commitment they made and angry at ourselves for sitting back doing nothing while it suited us and also now, not being able to take on the older sister because we just don’t feel ready or able.

In addition we are angry for all the children, the sister for the horribly raw deal she got and for our sons and their baby sister who experience yet another family breakdown.

The sister has now been moved to another long term placement and is apparently settling. There has been no contact now for almost a year and the boys are missing her terribly, it should resume soon.

We have said that we want more contact and that we want to take the sister away with us when we holiday, but we have no legal connection with her and social services have no reason to acknowledge us – and they don’t. They have ignored our letters of complaint and so far our requests to be involved in the child’s life.

To us that is a mystery, but no doubt they have their reasons.

Let’s just hope the new long term foster placement the sister in now in will prove to be the happy home she so deserves

Any Advice Gratefully Accepted

Having read theImage 1 recent blog about sibling contact I thought I’d write asking if anyone has had any problems with direct birth parent contact. I know that to most this may seem like a strange ‘problem’ to have but here goes…
When I adopted my daughter I agreed to annual direct contact with her birth father. I didn’t want her to hit teenage years with all the possible angst that that can entail and ask why I wouldn’t let her see him when there was no reason for me doing so other than ‘I didnt want to share you’. Had I not been a single adopter and had it been her birth mother who wanted contact maybe I would have felt differently, who knows. Anyhow for one reason or another we fell through the cracks last year and contact was not arranged. I tried unsuccessfully to contact social services leaving voicemails but no one returned my calls. I finally heard from them saying they would chase it up and get back to me but they haven’t and now another year has almost gone by.
I guess what I’d like to ask is whether anyone else has experienced this and also if any of you know whether it is my responsibility to be chasing up contact. I’m also worried that a gap of two years (spanning ages three to five) will make seeing him harder for my little one.
Any advice gratefully accepted.

Photo taken by Lili Gooch

Flummoxed, Perplexed and Bewildered

peppaI am perplexed…

Forgive my bluntness, and I’m sorry this blog won’t be more entertaining but I’m desperate for information so I’ve come here to get it off my chest and let it all hang out…
We brought our beautiful three year old daughter home 2 years ago as a 13 month old baby and were informed she was the youngest of five (to our knowledge) siblings and half siblings dotted around the country. All have the same biological mother but apparently (again – to our knowledge) one of them may well also have the same biological father making this a full sibling. This information was tantalisingly and casually dropped into one our many conversations with birth mum’s social worker who hinted at it but couldn’t say more than it was extremely likely.
Our daughter is an only child in our house and talks longingly of wanting brothers and sisters at home with her. I don’t want her to grow up not knowing these siblings if there is a chance she could have a real relationship with them. I also don’t want her thinking that we just didn’t bother; we have and are bothering and yet we are getting nowhere.
Social services did manage to track down one sister (which had me jumping for joy) but her adoptive parents made it clear they would reluctantly accept only yearly letterbox contact despite living not that far away and that this is non- negotiable. My partner and I were flummoxed, then angry; we cannot understand their decision. If it were the other way around, we would definitely be willing to support actual contact on a regular basis. We cannot help but think they are thinking of themselves, not their daughter. We cannot help but think their decision will backfire.

Another family seemed to be completely off the radar yet I was able to find them on a social media site with literally no information other than a name. I duly forwarded this information to social services who then used it to contact the family but got no response. It’s killing me that a sibling is so close and yet the family refuse to respond to invitations for contact.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a rose tinted picture of the Waltons all sitting round a big table in harmony, I just want the best shot at some sort of a relationship for her with her brothers and sisters but it seems impossible.
As far as the other two siblings go, one is literally nowhere to be found – despite having been adopted and therefore known and documented somewhere; and the other one is in the care of a member of the birth father’s extended family. Ironically, at a our meeting with birth mum she attempted to pass us the contact details of this closest sibling but it was intercepted and deemed inappropriate by the powers that be and we are now no nearer to having any contact with this one either.
I’m ranting I know, and it’s probably difficult to even follow the threads of all the avenues we have had to follow to try and find her brothers and sisters. But how do other adoptive parents feel? Is our experience typical? Normal? Do we just have to accept that she will not know her siblings until she grows up and even then, only if they and she feel like it? Couldn’t the biological connection of siblings be a source of security and warmth in her young world, and couldn’t it also have the very real potential to grow and develop into much more in adulthood? Her siblings all seem tantalisingly close yet out of reach and I find it really hard to just accept that it has to be this way.

Tears before bedtime, and any other time too.

wpid-img-1407228241252-v.jpgI know this isn’t exactly earth shattering… I just need to share it with someone…

The following is a list of things that have made my 3 year old inconsolable today.

She had to get dressed.

My hair wasn’t curly enough.

I wouldn’t let her choose the shopping.

Her collection of Top Trump Frozen Cards were too ‘cold.’

She hasn’t got an Elsa doll that lights up.

I forgot to give her all the CD’s to hold during the 5 minute journey to Nursery. (This was an epic melt down in which she questioned me – between gasps and sobs – Gestapo style as to how I could possibly have let this happen, and was I aware of the bad it was..)

She wasn’t allowed to wear her Peppa Pig onesie to school.

She realised that she hadn’t heard Mungo Jerry’s In The Summer Time recently.

She remembered she didn’t have an ice lolly today.

She still hasn’t been taken to Disneyland Paris even though ‘there are planes that go there.’

We didn’t go swimming today.

She wasn’t allowed to take every single one of her toys to nursery with her.

I helped her put toothpaste on her toothbrush.

I helped her out of the car seat.

I wouldn’t let her drive the car.

I combed her hair.

She wasn’t allowed to stand in the toilet.

I wouldn’t lie on the floor and let her use my stomach as a trampoline

I wouldn’t let her cut my hair.

She didn’t like my shoes…

Sometimes it makes me want to laugh, but if I’m tired and we’ve had a day of it (see above) it makes me want to cry with the frustration of what is to follow if I don’t immediately comply. Where does this sudden rush of indignation come from? I love my daughter so much and simply want to be as close to her as possible in the most harmonious way I can manage, yet I must carefully pick my battles or I’d be negotiating in a high stake situation all day long.

I’ve noticed that most of this procrastination is reserved for me. My partner gets some of it but the lions share comes straight at me as though a fight is eminently preferable to peaceful hugs and smiles. I know she needs to test boundaries and it is a good thing that she clearly feels safe enough to do so with me but I miss the little toddler who so recently ran into my arms for hugs and kisses and who seems to have suddenly grown up. The one who loved getting dressed and laughing with me at silly things all day long. I crave the hugs we used to have and feel like I’m going cold turkey. It’s all I can do to stop myself from engineering a situation in which she might hug me in her on order to get my fix.

It’s all a learning curve I know, but I didn’t anticipate this neediness in myself. Being a parent is like having someone constantly hold up a mirror and show you the bits of yourself you didn’t realise were there… and if I’m like this now, what on earth will I be like when she leaves home?

You Won’t Ever Leave Me Will You?

20130511_114156As much as we know that the right thing is to insist that the boys stay in their own beds, we find nothing more lovely than a warm body crawling in between us as we wake in the morning. If either of them do wander into our bedroom in the middle of the night we take them back to bed immediately, but on the occasional morning that it happens we are more relaxed and are delighted to share in the huge comfort that it clearly brings to us all.
It’s a special time full of tight hugs, morning breath kisses and whispered conversation. There is an intimacy in these moments that is difficult to achieve as you rush about your day to day lives and it feels special and rewarding. It’s a time for reassuring them of your love, for forgiving the mis behaviour of the previous day or for preparing them for the day ahead, but most of all, for us it’s a time to relish the sheer wonder of being a parent.
It is one of those mornings and our youngest is snuggled between us with his arms around my partner, I’m listening to the whispers and as usual there is a smile on my face at the sweet things he is saying and the pure innocence of his conversation.
Then I hear ‘you will never leave me will you? Promise me that you and Daddy will never give us away?’
The heartbreak of these words – that could surely only come from an adopted child – touches my heart and erases my smile in an instant. We know he struggles with his past, we know he is confused and angry at the changes he has endured so far in his short life, but we really thought that he was now – after more than two years with us – sure of our love, sure of our role in his life – and we assumed – sure that he was totally secure in his forever family.
Clearly that it not the case and it’s a painful realisation.
We feel confident that we couldn’t give any more love than we do, that we couldn’t repeat more frequently how important they are to us, how we are the best family in the world and indeed that this family is forever. It feels that barely a day goes by when one of us isn’t reassuring them in every way possible.
We know they are happy, we know they have attached, we know they feel like we are a family. Yet regardless of all that we also know that our son’s lives to date have taught them that nothing is for sure and that families are not permanent.
They have lived through being removed from their birth family and then after almost three years from their foster family. Their various siblings and half siblings are scattered and are living in a number of different families, some permanent and sadly some not. In addition our life is full of other adoptive families, all of whom – of course – have children no longer with their birth parents.
How to un-teach what life has taught them? In fact, is it even possible?
What more could we do to convince them? To really make them understand that this is a forever family and that we will always be their parents.
Can our love and verbal assurance truly impact on their inner feelings and fears and can we override all that they have learnt and what has been the reality of their lives to date?
We have had our doubts and after our son’s early morning plea we are less sure than ever.
All we can do is to continue to do as we have been doing and just hope that little by little we chip away at those doubts that they are clearly harbouring.

We’ll take that

WAF LOGO DEC 14We were recently invited to a party by our sons Foster Mother of almost three years, for her husbands birthday. It was a surprise party with family and friends and a good opportunity for the boys to see – who they call – ‘Nanny and Grandad’ outside the twice yearly contact that is arranged through social services.

We arrived suitably early for the surprise and not knowing anybody we sat and awaited their arrival.

We were aware that the boys had met some of the extended family during their time in the foster placement so we were surprised that nobody seemed to know them, also that the boys didn’t seem to recognise anybody in the room. Having said that they were both being quite coy and uncharacteristically shy and did not want to leave our laps, which we put down to the emotion and maybe confusion of mixing their old lives with their new.

Just a couple of weeks prior, we had reason to be deeply upset with the foster parents – that’s a whole other blog – and had seriously been considering our ongoing relationship and indeed not attending the party at all. However, we had previously accepted the invitation, the boys knew it was planned and it was very obvious that they were both terribly excited.

The big moment came and Nanny and Grandad arrived. It was clear how thrilled both boys were to see them, even more so than at regular Contact which tends to be all about the four children. Our youngest seemed especially happy and his little face lit up the moment they walked into the room, in fact he didn’t want to leave Nanny’s side for most of the night.

The boys had a lovely evening and it was blindingly obvious that they got so much from being in contact with these people who were once the only parents they had. It was clear how wrong of us it would have been not to have gone to the party and to have denied them something so special.

Indeed we can see how important it is that ongoing we must put aside our ill feelings and maintain a good relationship with these people who are clearly very important to our sons. It will be tough as the issues are quite significant, but we realise that first and foremost this has to be about the boys and what is right for them, regardless of the difficulties that represents to us.

We were introduced to various members of the family throughout the night and a number of people realising who the boys were declared how they had not recognised them and how much the boys had changed in the two plus years since they had last seen them.

Mid way through the evening a woman approached us and introduced herself as another Foster Parent and explained that she had on a number of occasions looked after our sons for respite care while Nanny and Grandad were busy with other children placed with them, or when they just needed a break.

She too said how they had changed and that she had not realised they were the same children she once looked after, she added how well, how healthy and most importantly how happy they looked.

We said that we were aware how much they had grown and compared to photo’s taken after they first came to us, clearly looked so much more mature. She said ‘No, I don’t mean older, I mean fundamentally changed. They look wonderful and are a credit to you. You are clearly doing a great job and it’s a joy to see’. She went on to say that she had been fostering for ‘decades’ and knew what she was talking about as she had experience of hundreds of looked after children.

A little embarrassed we politely brushed off the compliment in that very British way and got on with the party.

However, her comments stayed with us. She was clearly being sincere and it felt very genuine.

On the way home, with the boys having immediately fallen asleep in the back of the car my partner and I discussed it and – with the embarrassment out of the way – we recognised that it was a very significant thing to have been told.

We know we are not bad parents on any level, but we do – daily – question our parenting and often feel inadequate and well… somewhat at a loss. We know we make mistakes and we know that we all too frequently get things wrong.

We of course focus on all these negatives – which make us try harder. Yet we suddenly realised that in doing so we had been failing to allow ourselves to look for and to acknowledge the positives. To allow ourselves to feel that we are doing a good job too – possibly a damn good job.

Not only that, but to see that the good job is getting clear and apparently obvious results.

So we will, we’ll take that compliment and wholeheartedly allow ourselves to feel that we deserve it.

In addition I will share it (or maybe it’s brag about – if so, sorry) in a Blog, for others who in the turmoil of day to day parenting also forget to give themselves an occasional, very well deserved pat on the back.

Then of course, I will immediately go back to worrying about our bad parenting.