Our big adoption friendly / attachment aware school choice gamble.


I don’t buy lottery tickets or gamble, but when my husband gave me responsibility of selecting our adopted daughters school, that’s exactly what I did.

Almost three years ago, we met our fabulous children and started family life together. While in the throes of building a family relationship and surviving instant parenting of a 1 & 3 year old, we were pressured by our children’s social worker to select and apply for our daughters school place fairly early into our placement. Under time pressure, not knowing many local families with school aged children and being fairly emotionally exhausted, I will admit to doing fairly limited local research… visiting one school. Excluding many of the immediate local faith school options, I grasped onto a neighbour’s recommendation of a free school which was nearby. It had only been open for 2 years so came with many risks but, it sounded amazing. After looking at reviews and reading about the school, I applied assuming that being a London school, they would have some experience of the needs of looked after and previously looked after children. I was sold on the sound of the nurturing but classic education offered with firm behaviour expectations. To be honest, I didn’t even visit the school until the place was allocated.

Writing this reminds me of the big gamble I took with our children’s education. It was always a risk going with a recently opened school and I was aware it would be a work in progress. So how have we got on?

Our daughters school place was confirmed and I waited for the school to get in touch and arrange a home visit. When it became apparent this was not going to happen, I contacted the school only to have doubts well and truly set in. They no longer offered home visits, could not be less interested in allowing my daughter to visit the school to help prepare her for the move and the (then) head teacher along with her extremely bad attitude, left me spending the summer regretting the school choice and feeling like the worst parent ever. I debated changing to another school but, my husband and I both felt that we had to follow through having made the choice.

Our daughters first few weeks starting school were a test for me. She loved it immediately. I got 5 minutes on her first day to help settle her in the class and then had to leave her to it…. And it was so hard to leave. There were tears.. Mine! My assumption that the school would be experienced with understanding and meeting the needs of children who have experienced developmental trauma and have compromised attachments was fairly misguided. Thankfully, her teacher despite being newly qualified was incredibly nurturing and willing to learn / understand. Yes, some mistakes were made for example: seating a distracted hypervigilant child with her back to the door, not anticipating that changes of staff, environment or school trips lead to edgy/ hypervigilant behaviour.

Collecting my daughter at the end of the day was a lucky dip of either a food angry, emotional daughter who could fly easily into aggressive tantrums and rages or a delightfully happy little girl, loving school and wanting to share every moment. My lowest point was sobbing in the senco’s office about the tantrums and self-destructive behaviours which started about the time our daughter started the school. Hitting herself in frustration or giving herself massive nosebleeds, sometimes nightly, as a result of emotional anxiety and consequently many mornings she and her bed looked like there had been a massacre. I learnt to come to pickup armed with pockets full of snacks and not expect a hello or hug until at least half had been quickly consumed.

While I had conflicted feelings about the school’s lack of attachment experience / awareness, my daughter was thriving. The teachers were fabulous, the curriculum was amazing and being a new “free school” the parents wanted to make it a success There were many, many positives. Changing schools was not an option we would consider, as it would be further disruption. Speaking to other adoptive parents in the borough who had placed their children in school’s known to be experienced with adopted children, I realised we were not alone in having challenges regardless of the school’s experience.

I decided that I would become a squeaky wheel and (be annoying) encourage…… the school to work on becoming attachment aware, transparent regarding how the Pupil Premium Grant was being spent, share my experiences to ensure lessons were learnt and improve communication. Luckily, the head teacher left at the end of our daughter’s first term in reception and a senco started. New staff arrived and it was a breath of fresh air. On a mission, I contacted and met with the interim head which was a refreshing experience. After off loading, and then meeting with the senco laying out all the issues, the school were thankfully receptive to working with me on ensuring our daughter’s needs were met and receptive to feedback on areas of improvement needed. Our daughter thankfully now gets drama / play therapy sessions weekly, consistent staff to support her with changes, I’m notified in advance of changes to prepare her, she has access to confidence boosting clubs / activities and is thriving. The school remain receptive to feedback and ideas, taking on board anything I feel our daughter might benefit from at school. They have started arranging regular follow up sessions with parents of children needing support and are working on encouraging parents or carers of previously LAC to meet up/ support each other. Despite the odd tantrum and nose bleed now, it’s remarkable to reflect how much more settled our daughter is and very excited she is to be returning to school shortly in year 2. After the long summer holiday break, I’m excited she is back to school shortly too!!

As our son prepares to join his big sister and start school in a few weeks, I’m reminded of how far we have come! What a lovely feeling it is this time round to know he will be in good hands with a school who has observed him at nursery, had him do visits to the class/ meet his new teacher, provided him with a book of photos of the class/ school/ teachers to look at over the summer, his teacher is coming to visit at home and a phased starting school plan organised with clear parent/ school communication to ensure his needs will be met. Nurture spaces are in place and support is evident. Staff have had had attachment training and once he settles, there will be discussion on how his Pupil Premium Grant can be used to support him.

While the school continues to work towards becoming an “Attachment Friendly School”, it is really nice to appreciate how far they have come in two years. I realised early on that there was not the joined-up approach I had assumed would be in place regarding information sharing on things like talks on “how to become an attachment friendly school” or free training offers actually being offered directly to the school. I took it upon myself to share with the school any information I came across regarding talks or training opportunities for school’s especially the free ones. I would follow up and repeat if needed. Thankfully, a deputy head and the sendco have embraced the school working to become an attachment friendly school with full support of the head teacher and governors. They have gone to great effort to attend talks, become actively involved with virtual schools, signed up with PCT and more. Most importantly, they are working in partnership with parents such as myself on ensuring the school understands and works towards meeting the needs of their looked after and previously looked after students.

The icing on the cake apart from knowing how our children are benefiting is to hear from a fellow wearefamily parent, giving positive feedback about hearing the deputy head from my daughter’s school, speaking at a local virtual schools talk about the benefits of schools becoming an attachment friendly school… So far thankfully the gamble in paying off. Perhaps it’s time to buy that lottery ticket ….

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The Diagnosis

It’s been one week since my son was diagnosed at St Thomas’ with ASD (Autism), ADHD, ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and major emotional regulation difficulties.  He was diagnosed by a panel consisting of a Paediatrician, Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Speech and Language Therapist and Occupational Therapist who spent 3 hours assessing him.  They were thorough, professional and understanding.  

I came out of the feedback in shock, it was not what I was expecting to hear from them, though of course I suspected it all.  Four years of having been continuously told it was our parenting and attachment that were really the issues doesn’t give you a lot of hope in being understood.  They did understand.  Engaging him with the assessments was a challenge they told me, the motivators changed from moment to moment.  Not only is he easily distracted, he is very interested in what he is distracted by.  And of course he just does not understand people and how they communicate.  They could see how on the edge he was at any given moment, a coke bottle on the brink of fizzing over.

I had to get my son home.  We surprisingly managed without incident considering what he’d just been put through. We walked through the door and I cried.  For the first couple of days they were tears of devastation.  It’s a paradox but although I know we’ve done everything we could have I did really want someone to say, ‘just try this new thing and it will all be ok’ (a magic cure), ‘give him some Ritalin and he’ll cope’ (I would try it!), ‘turn your parenting around and he’ll be better’ (we have, things got a little better), ‘try some therapy, he’ll engage’ (we have, he hasn’t).  What they actually said was ‘you have turned your world upside down for this child, but you can’t do that for him forever.’  They think his problems will be lifelong and are mostly influenced by his genetics.  So that’s Developmental Trauma out of the window, at least partially.

Others’ reactions to the diagnosis have also been difficult.  People immediately questioning it’s accuracy, whether we’re convinced, ‘was it really that thorough?’  The people who’ve been the most supportive and helpful on our journey have effectively been congratulating us on finally achieving some recognition of our difficulties as a family.  They mean well but they have missed the pain that comes with the confirmation.

Some have pointed out that he is still the same child as before.  Well of course he is but we must now shift our expectations and rethink everything.  We are worried for his future, and ours.  I have hope, mostly based on the relationship my husband and I have managed to build with him through sheer perseverance despite his difficulties and the lack of support.  I do believe that with the right support (that we will continue to fight so hard for) our love for him will mean that he finds his way.  That love now has to guide us through some difficult choices.

Somebody Else’s Child.

We have been given somebody else’s child!

That fact is astonishing.

We have been given what has to be the most valuable gift one could ever receive, the gift of a human being – a life.

A life to raise with our values, our ideals.

I think sometimes the magnitude of this act is lost in the fact that there are no benefactors and that it is generally understood that in fact the gift has actually been taken away from others.

Also I think it is often perceived that the children are the ones receiving, after all they are getting the parents that they don’t have, a family to be part of, they are getting a life that is hopefully full of love and full of hope.

But that is not a gift – surely that should just simply be a given for all children.

However it is truly a gift to us the adopters and it is immense.

We are receiving the gift of somebody else’s child, the gift of becoming parents, parents of a child we love and cherish as our own.

The gift of somebody else’s child who we watch develop and mature and who are the sons or daughters we have always wanted.

Somebody else’s child who calls us Daddy or Mummy.

A child who becomes our child. No… who IS our child from the moment we meet.

We must never lose sight of just how incredible that is.

In the eye of the beholder

​I have just come home from a wedding where one of the guests leaned across the table  and asked “Is that your daughter running around?” When I answered in the affirmative she triumphantly announced to the table “I knew it! She is the absolute image of you! It’s like someone has taken a blue print of you and put it into a little person.” Satisfied with her deduction she grinned at us all and had I been in other company I may have thanked her for the comment without response, but several guests knew of our adoption and it made me self conscious so I put her in the picture.

“Well actually she’s adopted.” I whispered, and then I had to repeat myself as the guest looked entirely bewildered.

“Pardon? … Really?… But she looks so much like you”.

I’m pretty sure I made her feel like she’d said something a bit stupid which was the last thing I wanted to make her feel. Especially as I enjoy people seeing a similarity.

But it got me thinking because so many people are clearly looking out for this stuff. It is by no means the only time it has happened to me, and I hear similar stories from other adoptive parents too.

Only last week I was helping out on my daughter’s school trip and was walking along holding hands with her and another little girl when one of the mums called out ‘How funny! Your daughter walks exactly like you. She’s completely inherited your physicality and way of walking’. This time there was no need to fill her in but it’s clear that spotting a likeness does seem to please people; and I suppose that is why the matching process is so important, although at the time I thought it was absolute nonsense. I couldn’t see why we were told it was unlikely we would be considered as prospective parents for a mixed race child because we are not mixed race ourselves. Or that we wouldn’t be considered for a child of any other ethnicity than our own for the same reasons.

I remember we felt certain we were ready to take on the challenges, and to love and parent a child of any background and culture. But had we been matched with someone who was clearly not biologically related to us would we all now be enduring the opposite responses from people?

Instead of people commenting on our likeness, would they now be constantly asking us why we didn’t look alike? And would that become hard to deal with? And what would that be like for our child? Maybe it would be ok – I get a sense that it would – but it’s not clear cut and I’m not sure how I feel about it anymore..

Reawakening – Tiara 2

When booking a recent holiday to DisneyWorld, my partner searched online for recommendations of essential things to do, and regardless of how inappropriate I felt it would be for our family he duly booked ‘Dinner with the Disney Princesses’.

Our oldest son (10) was mortified when we told him and he made us promise we would not tell his friends, surprisingly his 15 year old sister was actually quite excited… as indeed was his 9 year old brother.

Three years ago I wrote a blog about our youngest’s love of jewellery (which he calls his treasure) and the piece he most valued and wore with pride – a Tiara. Over the years since we started to see less and less of his Tiara and he hasn’t worn it for maybe a year or so, in fact he generally seems a little less fascinated by his ‘treasure’ nowadays.

It was the day of the dinner and we found ourselves in one of the dozens of shops selling everything Disney – including princess Tiaras, our youngest with a twinkle in his eye and a smile lighting up his face immediately sees one and puts it on. ‘I think I need this for tonight’ he says. Knowing it will probably be worn once and forgotten about we point out that he has his own money and it needs to be spent on what he thinks will be best value.

The Tiara it was.

That evening there was noticeable excitement between him and his sister as they discussed what was about to unfold. We arrived at the genuinely impressive DisneyWorld Castle and were ushered in and met by Cinderella (for a ‘photo op’), our son was clearly enthralled and stood starring at Cinders with his mouth slightly ajar and a look of true wonder on his face.

We were seated and then our waitress appeared with a wand and two swords, on being offered his sword our son asked for a wand instead and was duly brought one. The dinner is a three course meal, throughout which you are visited by a number of princesses who engage with the children and pose for photos. It was evident that our son was truly taken in by the whole experience, but just how much so was only evident as we left and he beckoned me over and said ‘Daddy can I buy a Princess dress?’.

I am a little ashamed to admit that I hesitated before responding. As I explained in my previous blog we pride ourselves on never judging our sons for their choices and just want them to be happy for who and what they are, but I guess I was caught off guard and by a request that was more surprising than we have seen previously. In my moment of hesitation his sister (with a clearly judgemental look on her face) declared ‘of course not, you are a boy’, and on witnessing the crest fallen expression this resulted in I immediately corrected her and said ‘of course you can, if that is really what you want’ but could not stop myself from adding ‘but only if you are really sure’ – his smile returned as he nodded ‘yes’. Full credit to his sister at this point as she looked at me and said ‘ Wow, I think it’s really cool how you don’t care about ‘that stuff’.

Next morning we awoke and with an ever broadening smile the first thing he said was ‘We are getting my princess dress today aren’t we?’ confirming his desire and decision to go ahead. On entering the park we were dragged to the shop where unbeknown to us he had apparently spied the dresses the previous day – but interestingly had said nothing at the time. It’s a large store and entering from the opposite end we were walking around looking for the dresses and I see a sign above an entrance that says ‘Girls section – Princess Dresses’. Without thinking I point it out and we head in that direction, however our son pulls me back and says ‘Daddy it says ‘For girls’, I dismiss his apparent concern with ‘don’t worry about that, it’s just the shop being silly’ and carry on. However, as we reach the dresses it is clear that the excitement has left him and with a noticeable sign of misgiving from our son we start to look through the dresses. I realise what has happened and I ask if he has changed his mind and he says ‘I don’t know’ confirming to me that he does indeed still want a dress, but has been confused by the sign we have just walked under.

I notice my son looking around and I see a sea of little girls all excitedly running around picking out dresses and various ‘princess’ accessories and I realise that there is not another boy – or indeed father – present. There was a desire to dismiss his concerns again and to try to make him realise that is doesn’t matter about anybody else and that this is about him and his own choices, but I stop myself. I realise that in fact he is now at an age where there is clearly a stronger comprehension of what his choices represent in the wider world around him. Realising that his decision to say ‘he doesn’t want it’ is as important as the decision to say that he does, stops me from encouraging him in a direction he is he now clearly less comfortable with.

I say that we are going to look around the rest of the shop and if and when he feels that he wants to come back and look at the dresses we will, we leave the ‘For Girls’ section and do not return. In fact a princess dress has not been mentioned since.

I feel saddened that he was so clearly ‘shamed’ into repressing such a clear and natural desire, however I do feel confident that it was a decision he reached with a full understanding that we would support him no matter what.

We still feel that his ‘feminine’ side is not at all an indication of any confusion around his sex or indeed his sexuality, from day one we have been acutely aware of his more boyish side too and we have a house full of decidedly ‘masculine’ toys which he plays with and enjoys – in fact as I write this he is upstairs with his brother in the middle of a ‘Nerf gun war’ (so much for our ‘no guns’ policy). He is every bit a little boy and in fact is quite into rough and tumble and is far too handy with his fists which gets him into trouble with some frequency.

I guess he is just growing up and we are seeing signs of a maturity that is leading to new and different decisions. As we were told to expect, being adopted he is young for his age and I think that maybe we were seeing him living out his ‘toddler years’ with us, which sadly he was deprived of at the time.

He can be the sweetest, most charming little boy and we can’t help fearing that side of him could be crushed as the masculine side dominates, that would sadden us and we will always be encouraging him to ‘be himself’ and we just hope that means himself will be one that comes from within and is not too conditioned by the wider society around him.

Daddies are bad.

Daddies are bad because they get up early and go to work before I wake up so we can’t have a hug and a kiss and even though I said they couldn’t have a hug and a kiss for a billion years and twenty-eight, they could.

Daddies are bad because they say the mushroom pool is closed for swimming because they want to go the heated warm one instead.

Daddies are bad because they don’t sing to me at bedtime like Mummy and when they do they don’t sound as nice as Mummy.

Daddies are bad because sometimes when they tickle me it makes me do a little wee in my pants.

Daddies are bad because they’re boys and Mummy’s not a boy and I’m not and girls are better.

Daddies are good because they let me steal money from their pockets and put it in my money box.

Daddies are good because they hold me upside down and spin me round and make me laugh, but one time they made my nose bleed but it didn’t hurt.

Daddies are good because they sometimes don’t do the voices when they read at bedtime when I tell them not to, but their voices are quite good actually. Excepting for Merida; that’s not good.

Daddies are good because they sometimes pick me up when my legs are tired and then they hug me and kiss me, because that’s a rule, and even though they’re not supposed to for a billion years and twenty eight.

Daddies are good because they do the rough-and-tumble and when I do Number 4 from my rough and tumble book and jump on them, they laugh and say “I submit” and don’t mind when I keep doing it anyway.

But Daddies are bad because they say they can’t do Number 4 from their rough-and-tumble book on me til I’m six. And I really want to disappear and come back again. But I’m only 5. That’s bad.

My Summer of WAF

 

 

 

​There have been plenty of highs and lows for all of us over the last months and years but sometimes it’s nice to dwell on the good stuff.

So here’s some of mine.

 

I want to thank We Are Family for building such an incredibly supportive network of adoptive parents because I am blown away by the families I now have in my life.
Over the course of this summer I have been away on no less than three amazing holidays, all with families I have met through WAF.
Actually I’m forgetting one! There was another glorious weekend camping in the English countryside with two more WAF families.

Our children have played and swum together.

They have eaten and argued together.

They have swapped toys, clothes and stories together (some of which have been extremely helpful to my daughter in understanding her own story).
And we their parents have shared a million thoughts, concerns, experiences and glasses of wine, and become closer and closer.

What a thing! Together We really Are a Family…. a proper family.
So if you’re struggling and need someone to listen to you.
if you want to talk to other people who know what it’s like.
Or if you just haven’t got round to it yet, I urge you to make use of this wonderful resource by attending a parent group or other activity to form these bonds because It’s a wonderful thing! And we should all feel very proud of what we are creating.

Thank you so much We Are Family.