Unattached to school.

Photo by lili Gooch

Our son has been kicked out of school.

That is two and a half years of almost constant struggle (and endless meetings) with the school reduced to just one line.

Two and a half years of trying to get them to realise that his behaviour is not naughtiness and that is is controllable, two and half years of trying to make then understand his needs (which are quite typical of adopted and traumatised children) and the correct way to address them, two and a half years of him suffering and consequently failing to get an education because of their inability to make him feel safe and calm.

Sadly, ultimately it boiled down to that one simple line and that is all that now matters for us.

The school tried – at times they tried very hard indeed – but their attempts were often misguided and sadly short lived. They would feel that they resolved one issue and another would raise its head and then they would simply give up. It has never felt that they were wanting to learn and to grow as a school, frustratingly it always felt like they were doing what was required to placate us – the frustrated, demanding parents. Without the belief that it was benefitting them too I fear that their investment into it lacked any true conviction.

We never felt we had the understanding or the assistance of the SENCO to fight our corner or from the ‘Pastoral support teacher’ who barely seemed to even understand pastoral care – so it always felt like a battle we were fighting alone and in hindsight we can see that it was one we were never destined to win.

The suggestion of finding him a ‘special school’ was made regularly throughout the two and a half years, yet nobody could tell us what kind of school he needed to be in or indeed where to find one.

Fortunately we had started looking into alternatives and had found a school that seemed to offer an amazingly therapeutic approach within reasonable distance of where we live and which does indeed put the special needs of its children first and foremost.

However we were yet to introduce ourselves to the school or indeed apply for admission for our son when on the last day of term the old school informed us that our son is no longer welcome there.

Thankfully the school we had found has been incredibly understanding and have accepted him pretty much immediately as they could see that it was a critical situation.

It’s very early days and we are fully aware that we are in a ‘honeymoon period’, however we are full of hope as so far things have been amazing. Our son is clearly at ease and comfortable in an environment that is welcoming and inclusive of his emotional needs.

They have not witnessed one issue so far and have said that his behaviour has been exemplary and for the first time in a long while he is concentrating on work and he is actually achieving.

It is a total turn around.

He is the same child, we are the same parents parenting in the same way that we always have – yet the old school just couldn’t accept that THEY were failing him and creating the environment that was so difficult for him to function in.

We are told as adopters that mainstream schools must meet our children’s needs and I understand that the government are allocating a dedicated teacher in every school who is aware of the special needs of our children and will be there to support them.

However, how well trained and how capable they will be and just how willing the school they are part of is to listen to what they have to say remains to be seen.

Our son is not a bad child, in fact family and friends around us are shocked when we share the issues that the school have been facing as they know a child who is nothing like the one the school knows.

Even if it is just a ‘honeymoon period’ which comes to an end and the new school are subjected to the behaviour that the previous school struggled so deeply with, we know that they will still not see him as a bad boy and just like we have learnt to do at home, they will see that they are doing something wrong and they will address the situation accordingly – and they will get the results required.

Isn’t that what ALL schools should be doing?

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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.

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.

12 blogs under the Christmas tree #10

20161223_131101My one special present under the Christmas tree would be a mini, pocket sized version of our family therapist. I could then pull her out to consult at those moments when I’m a bit lost as to how to respond to our daughter’s more dysregulated moments, or am just in need a bit of a confidence boost. We’ve been so incredibly lucky to find her and to have had six months worth of Theraplay and family support sessions funded by the ASF. We certainly weren’t in what I would call a ‘struggling’ place, so I’m sure we wouldn’t have qualified for support pre the fund. We would have just kept on trucking on. But having our therapist come to work with us with her warmth, expertise, experience and support has been transformative for our family and to my confidence as a mum. Our daughter is bubbly, outgoing, very bright and seemingly coping with everything fine, so many of our non adoptive family and friends couldn’t see any issues – it was a case of ‘oh she’s fine, all kids do that’. But our therapist immediately spotted the challenges our daughter has with hyper vigilance, emotional regulation, control and being extra demanding of me, as her mum, having been let down by so many mum figures in her past. Talking to our therapist made me feel like I wasn’t going mad, there were some problems we could get help with and it was okay to find things difficult. The games we play seem so innocuous and often silly (you should see me with a foam soap ball on my nose!) but gently and subtly they are nudging all of us towards healthier ways of relating and allowing our daughter to truly and deeply accept the loving parenting we so much want to give her.

Realistically high expectations.

20160701_114148I started a Blog a while ago suggesting that adoptive parents needed to have realistic expectations of their children’s school and especially of the child’s teacher. Our children are (usually) 1 in a class of 30 and expecting the teacher to ‘get them’ and to cater for their specific needs is of course a tough ask – especially when we parents can often struggle on a one to one basis at home.

Something stopped me completing the blog and now it is evident why that was so… I was wrong! Which sadly in our case has resulted in us failing to protect our son and failing to do right by him.

Our son displays much of the typical behaviour resulting from trauma that we are told to expect – which can ONLY be controlled through therapeutic parenting/teaching. In his first two years at this school his teachers understood this and did a great job of making him feel secure and valued, however his teacher last year clearly didn’t ‘get it’ at all and this has resulted in a terrible year for our son and as a result of that it has been a very problematic and indeed stressful one for us.

A couple of months into the year we became aware of issues in class and we went into the school to discuss the situation, we attempted to point out our son’s history and his needs, but we were shut down by the new assistant head with ‘of course we know how to deal with adoptive children, we have plenty of experience and in fact we have about a dozen adopted children in the School at the moment’.

We accepted this at face value, as adoptive parents we often feel that we are ‘one step behind’ and we thought that it was perfectly reasonable to assume that professionals in a professional environment would be better equipped than us.

Yet it is now clear to see that these were hollow words and worse still that we were accepting them from the wrong person.

For 6 plus hours a day our children are sent to school and left in the care of another adult – this is likely to be as much time (or indeed for some – more time) than they spend awake with us the parents during a 24hr period – this is huge and the importance of this relationship in their lives can not be underestimated. It is imperative that we make sure that the teacher – and indeed any teachers assistants – caring for our child know their needs and know exactly how to deal with them.

Regardless of what the school thinks it knows or how good an understanding it feels it has, it is the direct relationship with the teacher that is most relevant and it is OUR responsibility to make sure that they do indeed understand and have the skills to cope.

My thinking that we should make allowances for the difficulties that teachers no doubt face – although empathetic – was naive and on reflection very foolish. They have a responsibility for our children and they have a need to ensure that our children are being treated appropriately.

Quite simply our son was not, his teacher failed him, the school failed him and we failed him too for not being on top of the situation.

Now we know better and this new year will be different, we have regular meetings with his new teacher and we have made her very aware of his needs and how to deal with him, in addition we have furnished her with books and handouts that we feel will help her in her understanding.

Sadly it is evident that quite a bit of damage has been done and we can see that our son’s relationship with the school, the teachers and in a broader sense adults in general has been badly affected. Great efforts now need to be made to address the issues – and the resulting challenging behaviour – that the year has brought about in him and we are making sure that his teacher is very much part of that process.

Parents need SUPPORT in order to ‘Parent Therapeutically’!

miranda's heartMy take on ‘therapeutic parenting’ is this; a way of parenting that reduces a child’s suffering, which allows ‘emotional’ release which in turn makes healing possible. In fact the kind of parenting that every child would benefit from.

Having trained as a psychotherapist and participated in years of personal therapy, what I know is this. To feel safe in relationship is imperative. To establish such a relationship when one is not born to it takes time. Trust doesn’t develop overnight. Connection is necessary.

Listening is key… deep listening; listening below the words, below the behaviour, below what can be seen and heard; with warmth, without judgement and most importantly with acceptance.

I thought I was ready for that until our little monkey arrived. Children are bundles of emotion; children who hurt, who have experienced trauma, have a layer of intensity that cannot be explained. This sure threw me adrift, found me on my back foot!!

I want to ask you a question…

How does it FEEL, to parent a child who is quietly suffering!?

How does it FEEL, to parent a child who is hurting so bad, they flip into high octane expressiveness in a second?

How does it FEEL, to be with your child’s feelings, to be with such raw emotion – overt or covert?

Do you or can you even allow yourself such reflection? Exhausted, drained… how to fill your emotional tank, let alone strengthen your own resilience in the face of such emotional intensity!?

Yet, here we are, parents of traumatised children, expected to be able to listen and support our children’s feelings when we can hardly handle our own!!

In the helping professions it is a known fact, that caring for people who have experienced highly stressful events (trauma) puts the caregiver at risk of developing similar stress-related symptoms, also known as secondary traumatic stress.

Have you heard of compassion fatigue? vicarious trauma?

What about your own life story?

After our daughter arrived I read “The Primal Wound” by Nancy Verrier. It was one of those aha! moments where it dawned on me that my life story began with a disrupted attachment. That was the beginning of me realising, with some certainty, I needed to tend to my own wounds if I was to be able to do the same for our daughter.

If you have your own unresolved or unconscious developmental/relational traumas, if you have had some difficult times growing up; they too will likely be re-stimulated. You may recognise such moments; these are our triggers, hot spots, the times we feel our buttons pushed, our blood boil or feel like we are losing our minds, going crazy. If you are unaware of being re-stimulated, chances are you frequently experience feeling controlled and/or manipulated by your child and their behaviour.

Where is your emotional support?

All parents need and deserve support for the hard and complex work they do. This is a key ethos of the We Are Family community. It is imperative for adoptive parents – for anyone who becomes a parent to a child from care… foster carers, kinship carers, special guardians!! We are at risk! We live with our children’s trauma 24/7! That’s before even looking at our own attachment or trauma histories. Please don’t get me started….

I advocate that we parents need regular, personal emotional support! At a bare minimum each and every one of us needs someone to listen, a “Listening Partnership”, where we can offload emotional tension, brainstorm solutions and ease the pressure and judgements we place on ourselves. A “Listening Partnership” is a way to get back to being the authentic parent you want to be.

You don’t love me anymore.

20160214_153718Social workers are just people doing a job and of course like all of us they are sometimes less than perfect; however they are dealing with people’s lives so even simple mistakes can be emotionally wounding. We became very aware of this through our own experience and also that of friends who have also been through the adoption process. It can be as simple as failing to immediately tell you of a change in the panel date – which of course means a huge amount to you, but is just a correction in a diary to them – to fundamentally not “getting it”.

There was one incident by our sons’ social worker in particular that resulted in upset to us and great distress to our eldest very early on in the placement.

He and his brother had been with us for just a few weeks. It had been weeks full of every effort from us to build a bond and to get the boys to attach, every effort to prove our love to them and to convince them of the fact that we were now a forever family.

Things were going well; they are warm and loving little boys and from the very beginning they were open to our relentless hugs and kisses and really seemed to accept us and indeed start to attach very quickly.

We had lots of fun and we were making the most of the time together as a family while I was off work. They seemed happy – on the surface anyway – and they both seemed to like the fact that we were their new parents and that this was their new life.

We used the term ‘forever’ as much as possible and would break into the 1970’s disco classic ‘We are family’ at every opportunity – it’s amusing to see that our support group was equally inspired by that track.

It was early days and I don’t for one moment think they were fully bonded or attached, but they certainly seemed to like the idea that this was forever.

Their social worker was new and quite inexperienced and on her first post-placement visit we remembered the advice from prep group that it can be a difficult and confusing time for the children and we thought we had prepared the boys well in advance and that they understood that she was coming to see them and to see how they were doing. She arrived and the boys greeted her with smiles and hugs and kisses and after 20 or so minutes they were sent upstairs leaving us adults to talk through our first few weeks as parents.

At that stage – still well in the honeymoon period – things were good and we had few issues to bring up, and looking back we realise that the social worker’s inexperience meant that she asked very little and offered very little, consequently she was soon ready to leave.

We called the boys down to say goodbye and only the youngest came. My partner went to find his brother and returned saying that he was acting very strangely, hiding under the sofa and refusing to come out. As he tried to coax him out he was told, “Go away; I know you don’t love us anymore.” My partner said it was clear that he was very upset.

At this point the story of a close friend who had also adopted came flashing into my mind. It was the first visit of her daughter’s foster parents whom the child loved dearly and as my friend opened the door with her new daughter in her arms, the child took one look at who was on the doorstep and turned with a look of total bewilderment and grabbed my friend with all her might. Clearly the presence of the foster parents from her old life was threatening and in her little mind could mean only one thing; that they were there to take her away from the security of this new forever family.

Which is exactly what our son was thinking, upstairs, alone, hiding under the sofa. Then – and only then – I recalled being told to look out for exactly this situation during our preparation.

Suddenly it was all very obvious to me and I immediately took control of the situation. With my partner left to say goodbye to the oblivious social worker, I went to sit with our son and reassured him that he was safe and secure with us and that she had not come to take him back. He was not immediately convinced and stayed in his hiding place until I went to the window and told him that she was now in her car and he could came and wave goodbye from the safe distance of a first floor window.

It was all so very obvious; both my partner and I were truly ashamed that we had not anticipated the inevitable and saved the anguish that the situation had so clearly caused our son.

Yet our prep group had been nearly two years before this and dealing with two children coming into our lives and turning everything upside down meant that nothing was as obvious to us as it should have been.

However, the meeting was organised by the social worker and although new, surely she had a responsibility to be prepared, to make sure we were prepared and, more importantly, to make sure that the children were too?

She didn’t and as a result our son was deeply upset, which of course hurt both of us too.

I guess it could be considered a small oversight on her part, but it is exactly situations such as these where their professionalism is essential and – novice or not – some things are just too important not to get right. The incident has stayed with us and it has made us extra-cautious of anything from their past coming back into their lives.

It also made us very aware that social workers, like all of us, are fallible and not the perfect professionals we sometimes need and perhaps unrealistically expect them to be.