My 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.
I 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.
Social 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.
Hearing that We Are Family and the South London Adoption Consortium were running a presentation on “Why Children Placed From Care Need Support In Schools” was exciting news for me on multiple fronts. As a prospective adopter, I am trying to gather as much information as possible to help me prepare for life as an adoptive parent, but additionally, by day I work as a Deputy Headteacher at a London Primary School, and am always keen to learn more about how I can support vulnerable pupils at school.
So with two hats on, I felt like I was well placed to write a review (or two) of the evening. Thanks to We Are Family for giving me the chance to share my thoughts!
As a prospective adopter
My wife and I are underway with stage 2 of the adoption process, and keen to absorb as much information as possible to help us prepare as best we can. This fascinating talk was both worrying and massively useful for us in thinking about supporting an adoptive child through school.
The evening began with a (needlessly) nervous Scott Casson-Rennie taking to the stage to deliver Gareth Marr’s thoroughly researched presentation on the issues surrounding adoptive children in schools.
This part of the talk highlighted the serious problems that are evident for a worryingly high proportion of adopted children (and children under Special Guardianship Orders) in schools. Adopted children are much more likely to be permanently excluded from a school, and adoption disruptions are much more likely to happen around times of school transition (e.g. starting school at Age 4/5, and especially moving to Secondary school at age 11).
Despite these worrying figures, the level of support in place for adopted children falls well short of that available to children in care, who are supported by a “Virtual School” within each Local Authority. The Virtual School Headteacher plays a key role in supporting schools to do the best by these pupils, putting Personal Education Plans in place, and provides guidance to teachers in schools who may have limited experience working with children who have suffered trauma and loss. Once the permanence order is in place – no such luck.
Scott shared some of his experiences as an adoptive parent to 3 boys, all of whom had experienced difficulties at school. These clearly resonated with many of the current adopters in the room; children having angry outbursts at school, struggling to cope with changes in routine and working with different adults, and clearly, a sense that too many teachers had no understanding of the background or context of adopted children.
Scott and Gareth warned that too many schools lack training and understanding in how to best manage children who present difficult behaviour that is surely a result of their experience of trauma and loss. Scott told us how he came to dread collecting his boys from school some days in case he was intercepted on the playground by a teacher telling him about what a bad day it had been for their behaviour. The nods in the audience told me that this was a feeling many had shared.
Already, I was making mental checklists of the issues I will need to think about to help deal with this. How will I help prepare my child for starting school, or moving school? How and what will I need to share with my child’s teacher/s to help them understand? What will I do when my child lashes out in frustration at school, and I am confronted with this on the playground at the end of the school day?
Hermione Michaud then took the stage to share her expertise as the Virtual School Head for the London Borough of Islington. She was clearly not only knowledgeable, but warm, approachable and empathetic to the needs of traumatised children and their parents; in short, just the sort of person you would want overseeing your child’s education. Encouragingly, Hermione has extended her oversight to include Islington’s adopted children as well as those currently in care.
She told us that early in her teaching career, she had known very little about the impact that trauma can have on young lives, and that teacher training had not prepared her for how best to work with children no longer living with their birth families. Now, as an experienced teacher and Virtual School Head, she clearly has a wealth of expertise, and systems in place to share this with the Islington schools that need to hear it, not least through providing training to teachers to raise their awareness of the needs of such children.
Hermione advocated being involved and informed as a parent choosing a school; looking beyond an Ofsted report and taking the time to visit schools to get a sense of their ethos, and how welcoming and supportive they are to those children who can find things more difficult than most (more notes for the mental checklist!).
As prospective adopters, the highlight of the talk for my wife and me was the list of questions she provided to ask a school before enrolling my child. Asking things like “how does pastoral support work at your school?”, “What training have staff had on attachment and the impact of early trauma and loss?” and “is there any support for children during less structured times like playtimes?” will give us a clear sense of whether the school is going to be willing and able to meet the needs of our child when things don’t go to plan. More than ever, our focus will be on finding a school that understands that prioritising children’s wellbeing is the route to achieving the best academic results, all the more so for adopted children.
Overall, it was an incredibly useful, if sobering, event, and has helped equip us for yet another possible future challenge as an adopter. It was encouraging to hear that both Gareth and Hermione are looking at ways to get their message across to the Department for Education and to schools – that Virtual School (or similar) support for children post-adoption is crucial to securing the best education for them. We can only hope that there are some keenly listening ears out there to help make this a more widespread reality in the very near future…
As a Primary School Deputy Headteacher
As a Deputy Head, I often find myself with the opportunity to stand in front of a group of people and share my thoughts, and hopefully inspire some of them along the way. Listening to this talk put me on the other side of that fence – and it was not a comfortable place to be. Through the evening I felt a growing need to take a turn with the mike and have my voice heard. What did I want to say? In bold: “It doesn’t have to be like this!”
You can’t argue with the personal experience of those, like Scott and Gareth, who have not felt supported by schools in the past. And the picture painted by both the data, and the collected experiences of adopted parents, is clear – schools are a source of major anxiety to far too many adopted children and their parents. But the vibe in the room that evening towards schools was very negative, which I worry is nothing but counter-productive in helping to improve the situation for our children.
You see, my experiences of working with children who are living with trauma and loss have been overwhelmingly positive. Not that they have all been calm, happy and well-behaved – far from it! I have been punched, head-butted, spat at, kicked and sworn out more times that I can count. But I have seen first-hand that when schools work with families to deal with these issues, things invariably improve. Communication, and a united front are key: if a child sees that home and school are on the same page whether things have gone well or badly, they get the consistency and security that they so desperately need. If school and home are not talking, or saying two different things to the child (or both), then things can begin to go badly wrong.
Though I’ve never worked at a school where a child has been permanently excluded, I have only ever seen that possibility on the cards when the relationship between school and home has broken down. In these cases, I’ve seen parents (maybe unintentionally) undermining the school’s approach to supporting and addressing their child’s behaviour.
One case that has really stayed with me illustrates the power of the home-school partnership. Seb (not his real name) joined my school aged 9, having just been removed from his mum’s care for the third time. He had previously had failed placements with a foster family and his paternal grandparents whilst mum struggled to cope with alcohol addiction and a turbulent relationship with dad (now in prison). Seb was now moving from the North of England down to London for a new start with his paternal uncle Dave and aunt Sophie (again, not their real names).
Uncle Dave made a point of coming to meet with me before Seb started at school. He was frank and open about what Seb had experienced in his young life so far, and let me know about the difficulties Seb had in his previous school. Immediately, I was able to talk to the teacher whose class Seb was due to join, and help her begin to think about how she would make Seb welcome, and plan for what to do if he was struggling to concentrate, distracting others, or becoming angry.
When he started, it was clear that Seb was a funny, cheerful and charismatic boy with a beaming smile. He was also on the move non-stop, didn’t know how to manage his friendships without sometimes upsetting or physically hurting people, and had crushingly low self-esteem about his academic ability, especially in writing. In short, he was a real handful for a class teacher.
We had some issues; big ones. I held meetings with Dave and Sophie on several occasions dealing with the fallout of incidents that included violence, persistent disruption and racist language. I’ll be honest – Dave and Sarah didn’t always agree with how I had handled things; sometimes feeling that I hadn’t taken Seb’s point of view into account enough. But they were polite and reasonable in letting me know how they felt, and crucially, always backed me up in front of Seb.
Over time, we saw fewer of the big issues. Seb was settling well at home with his Uncle and Aunt, who clearly lavished him with love, got stable routines in place for him and gave him space to talk whilst still making sure he got his homework done. At school, we arranged to spend Seb’s Pupil Premium Plus on weekly sessions with a play therapist. We kept talking to Dave and Sarah, I would always make a point of chatting to them at the start or end of the school day, and sharing all the good things that were happening for Seb. Dave and I would stand together at the touchline while Seb was playing as goalkeeper for the school football team, cheering him on and celebrating every save he made.
Ultimately, Seb left us at the end of Year 6 with a good set of test results (which hadn’t looked likely when he joined!) But more importantly, he was enjoying school, had positive friendships and much improved self-esteem. I am convinced that it was the relationship that we managed to forge with Dave and Sarah that made this happen. And I am convinced that for other families and other children, the same is possible.
So my plea to adoptive parents is this. Firstly, take Hermione’s advice and take the time to visit a school and check that they support an inclusive approach; that they want to work together with you to understand what your child’s needs are and will do their level best to meet them.
Second, talk to your child’s school before they start. Tell them about your child and how they can help them. Tell them if you are uncomfortable with being approached on the playground with bad news and ask them to give you a phone call instead, or write it in a note, or in a behaviour book (like it or not, the school will have to tell you if your child has punched someone, or spat at them, or done something else fairly serious). And make sure you share the successes and the positives with them too, as they hopefully will with you. Thank them when you know they have done something to make school a better place for your child.
Thirdly, let your child know you support the school and trust their decisions. Let the school know politely if you don’t think they’ve made a good decision in dealing with something, but make sure your child doesn’t know you think that. It is important that they carry on seeing home and school as a united force trying to do the best for them (even if sometimes that means both sets of adults putting in place consequences for a bad choice).
Working in a positive partnership with school isn’t going to be a magic wand to fix all the issues your child is experiencing with school but I’m convinced that it is by far the most likely approach to lead to improvements.
Overall, the evening of talks was a disheartening experience for me as a Deputy Headteacher. But I did come away with a better understanding of how many adoptive parents feel about the school system, and a stronger resolve to do everything I can to build bridges with the families of vulnerable children. At a time of unprecedented change and considerable stress in the school system, many thanks to Gareth, Scott and Hermione for bringing our attention to what is clearly a vital issue to be tackled.
We had listened intently at the prep’ course, read copiously, had scoured the internet, picked the minds of the experienced parents around us; we thought we were prepared. However, can anything truly prepare you for the impact of an adopted child coming into your life? Especially when a child displays the trademark – and oh so challenging – behaviour of a traumatised child?
We are taught what to expect and indeed one of the biggest criticisms of social services by many of our fellow adopters during the adoption process was that they were overly negative and continually painting the bleakest of pictures. Even if it’s not as bad as it could be, it seems that most adoptive parents go through a tough time once that initial ‘honeymoon period’ is over; it takes us by surprise and immediately rocks that solid foundation we thought we had built with all our preparation. Some of us had years to prepare, yet when we are faced with the reality we realise that it’s simply nothing like we expected.
The impact of a child arriving in your – often calm and in hindsight easily manageable – life is truly huge. Apart from the immediate pressure of the responsibility for these little lives and the exhausting non-stop care and consideration that they require, there is the enormous emotional turmoil that I am sure none of us could have anticipated.
Before placement and in the early days I think many of us can be in denial; a child is just a child and our son/daughter is going to be just fine regardless of what we are being told. I think this can be especially true of adopters of babies or very young children. When the reality of our children, our family, our new life hits it can be frightening and with social services stepping back it can feel worryingly lonely.
To use a cliched metaphor, for me it really did feel like being in the middle of an endless ocean on a rickety raft; I truly felt adrift and uncharacteristically helpless. On good days it felt like I had oars that could dig deep into the water and make progress, on other days it was oars that barely skimmed the surface or indeed on the worse days (and there were plenty) with no oars at all – bobbing along at the mercy of what life was throwing my way.
For somebody who likes – no, needs – to be in control this was new territory and I was far from comfortable with it.
I needed a life line – oh how I needed a life line – to help me pull the raft ashore and to give me some control again. Turning to our network of family and friends helped tremendously, but as we all no doubt discover, advice and help from parents of birth children is not always what is best for us parents of adopted children.
Then I was introduced to the We Are Family Parent Group – which has proven to be exactly the life line I required.
I can’t say it has ‘solved’ my family’s problems, but it has helped me understand them and most importantly helped me to put them in to perspective. It has made me realise that we are not alone and that what we are dealing with is not exceptional; that others out there are struggling just the same as we are and that it is just fine to be doing so.
The parent group is for sharing – sharing your experiences (good and bad) and your worries and your fears – and the group is also about listening, listening to others who clearly understand what you are living through and dealing with as they too face the same challenges and indeed the same joys.
No advice or suggested solutions tend to be offered directly – as nobody is qualified to do so – but by sharing our stories, our problems, our difficulties and of course the many positives we are experiencing, we support each other and we can take away what we feel we need to take or what we feel can help us.
It is most certainly not all about the difficulties we face. Between the tough times we are all equally overwhelmed by the wonder of being new parents and by the marvel that are our children and this is just as important to share, if not even more so for some.
If nothing else, the group just gives us a chance to vent – to let it all out – and not to feel judged on any level while we are doing so. That is enormous, that is appreciated and if you have never been along, that is highly recommended!
For more information about times and locations, or if you think you may be interested in starting a group in your area please click on the contact us button in the menu.
Here it is! Everything you ever wanted to know about the blog in 2015!
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 32,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 12 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
This blog is long overdue, all I can say by way of an excuse is it that starting a kid in nursery school is no joke: we have been taking turns in being ill since the beginning of September. Our kids (and their illnesses) trumps all! Anyway, here is what I have been meaning to say since a lovely day late in the summer hols:
On the 26th August 2015 we became a fully fledged charity! With the official number: 1163318. Oh what joy in a short sequence of numbers.
Hurray to us all!
Becoming a charity is a welcome recognition for all that we do, edging our way as we are towards support for all adopters, starting with London. The new status, however, does not change our profound wish to remain a grass roots organisation with a good sprinkling of the grounded and inclusive, hosting regular, informal and largely free or very low cost events for all our families.
Our focus remains stoutly the parents, hoping that supporting them will help support all our children as well.
It fills me with great joy and pride to see how far we have come in just two short years.
We now count no less than seven groups across London and beyond (East London, Enfield, Hackney/Islington, Richmond, Shepherd’s Bush, Southwark and North Buckinghamshire). In addition, we have three groups lined up, with a view to launch these in the New Year. These are Croydon, Havering and South Buckinghamshire.
Our core activities remain:
· Parent Support, which is run by all but one local group
· Playgroups for under-fives, which is run in five out of seven
· Family days
Furthermore, our groups are able to access pan-London subgroups, that is, our Prospective Adopters group and our Single Adopters Group. Both these groups popped up as it became clear they needed different kinds of activities and meetings than we were then offering; both groups are thriving.
We are also proudly working with four out of the six London Adoption consortia, in the acknowledgement that the dialogue with the professionals is key to being a successful organisation.
But fundamentally, there is no denying that our main asset is our volunteers and members: our fantastic parents and our parents in waiting. You know who you are. Without you, there would be no WAF. Your dedication is what keeps it alive, and as it happens, keeps it growing.
In building WAF we have been able to draw on the vast resources of our members and their skills (the range of professions in our midst never ceases to amaze me). Adoptive parents tend to be older parents, often professionals with a well-established career, and often ready for a new challenge, perhaps even a new career. WAF benefits enormously from this pool of extraordinary people and their warm energy.
To date we have been operating with practically no money. It’s a new world, we are in a recession, and frankly an awful lot can be done with very little. But there is no denying that we have been extremely fortunate in finding much support from a number of local authorities, adoption agencies and other professionals. Without them we would not be where we are today. Full stop.
The relative success of WAF may also be seen as a part of a new trend in self-organised volunteering. A move away from established charities that are often seen as corporate, whether or not that is a fair perception. Whatever the reason, we are part of a larger trend of people across the country are getting involved locally; they want to make, and feel that they are making, a difference – here and now. Thus adopter-led groups are springing up across the country.
The core of emphatic parent enthusiasm is a strong motivator and definitely our driving force. This fact makes the learning curve no less steep. We are certainly skipping along a tight rope. We are trying our hardest to strike a good and sustainable balance between the intimacy of grass root ideals – including the autonomy of our local groups and establishing replicable and reliable events and groups – with safe working parameters for some of our society’s most vulnerable people. Not an easy thing to do.
Thus, at a central level (yes, we now do have a central level!) we are working apace to develop necessary policies, establish procedures and digest it all to produce easy to follow guidelines. Some of this is simply necessary to protect our members and those who take a more official role. But we are adamant to try to keep these policies and procedures to a minimum, so our members can continue to dip in and dip out as they see fit. It is the hope to make all this (dare I say boring) work an open and free resource in order to inspire and support others considering setting up similar groups.
Perhaps the mission closest to my own heart, as the interim chair, is for WAF to be anti-isolation by nature. Isolation is a major factor in all kinds of depression (PADS included), as it is in all families in crisis and in adoption breakdowns. So if you are reading this is in crisis, the number one thing you can do is to draw on your network. Ask for help. But even if you seem to be bumbling along nicely, build on your network, and listen to those who need to talk. It is our hope in WAF to help building such supportive networks, face-to-face. To break down towers of isolation. We just provide the platforms.
I would like to end this brief look at the two-year-old WAF with some thanks, that cannot be overstated or repeated often enough.
If you are a WAF’er: Thank you for your particular part in this, for taking a chance on us. You are the reason we are here.
If you are one of our lovely supporters: thank you for believing in us and for giving us the help you have! There is no way we could have gotten this far without your help and trust in us. No way.
[Opens champagne: POP! Spills it every where, OOUHhhh, oh dear…, oh well…]:
Here’s to the future! THANK YOU EVERY ONE!
Having adopted through choice (i.e. not infertility (that we know of)) is not something that we talk about any more. It just doesn’t feel appropriate to casually mention to our newfound adopter friends who we appreciate so much, and I have got tired of explaining to others anyway. My partner and I discussed adopting fairly early on in our relationship and talked about how much we would like to do it. We are not religious but I guess we suffer from that middle class, privileged background angst that can drive you in a similar direction. Our adoption assessment was straightforward (our lives were labelled ‘perfect’) and we were matched quickly with our darling boy who was 1 at the time. We adored him from the first photo viewing, when we met him it was all confirmed in our mind. He was meant to be ours. After a short introduction he came home with us and to all intents and purposes seemed to settle really well. My partner was able to take several weeks off work so we got through the first month daze together and learnt how to care for our boy. Then reality hit. The cliquee playgroups, the assumptions I was the nanny, the loneliness, the ‘I just have to get through to the weekend’ mentality and then finally the ground breaking realisation that it was unlikely we were ever going to be a ‘normal’ family. Our son was young but I was his third mother following a neglectful start and a not really adequate foster placement. He was confused, disorientated, grieving and expressed his anger at me freely and relentlessly. We had read the books but nothing could have prepared us for it. Now nearly two years in I am out of the fog and feel I can review and improve my parenting, and rationalise and even avoid the anger outbursts. We chose this path and I’m so glad, I love my boy with my whole heart but the realisation that I deserved empathy and was desperately in need of it so that I could start to empathically parent was what saved us. To all those who’ve shared a kind or understanding word with me, I am so grateful!
This post first appeared on the 1st April on the brilliant The Adoption Social. No, it’s not an April’s Fool.
Today’s post from We Are Family tells us how they are building a post adoption support community and their hopes for the future…
So why are we, as adopters, so alone when it finally happens? Alone in our new role with one, or possibly two, grieving children?
There is no NCT for adopters, no baby massage, no mummy and tummy yoga for adopters. There are places where wide-eyed mums with tiny infants can meet other wide-eyed mums. But by the time we come along with our tots, biological mothers of children the same age as ours have been meeting months, if not years. Many biological mums just aren’t that interested in establishing new friendships at that stage. Particularly while (or because?) we are catching up. And that is to say nothing of the dads out there.
I see the early placement period is particularly fertile ground for creating good, stable, nurturing families, based on mutual love and respect. These are the days when support would be really, really useful.
Centrally to this argument is the word containment. We have it drilled into us that we need to contain all the turbulent emotions of our up-rooted children. That’s our primary job. But who contains us? At the best of times parenthood is the most exhausting and unrelenting 24/7 job you ever had.
Blogging has made it much easier to speak of the difficulties of becoming and being an adoptive parent. At sites like, and connected to, the Adoption Social feelings like anxieties, depression, confusion, being overwhelmed are discussed regularly. These are by no stretch of the imagination unusual feelings. But to many they seem dangerous to acknowledge. Especially at first. No wonder that Post Adoption Depression Syndrome is rife. These feelings are recognisable to biological parents too. My point here is that we are a minority type of family. As newborn families our needs are different from birth families of a newly born child.
Meeting and talking with other adopters can offer respite. The gratification of recognition can feel like opening the curtains on a summer morning, letting the warm sunlight stream in. Letting go to feelings stuck in the system, or identifying the help you might need, may become clearer as you share and listen. Feelings are funny and stubborn like that; they wont let go of their vice-like grip until they have been properly acknowledged.
I don’t think mankind were ever meant to do parenting on our own. Although we all have to find our own way of raising our children.
It’s said that it takes a village to raise a child. But then, that village is no longer there by default. We have to make it for ourselves, with people how are like us, and hopefully also a lot that are very different. And that is what we have done in We are Family.
We dream BIG dreams in We are Family. We dream of a free NCT for adopters, across the UK. We hope we will one day go viral, with or without our nametag. We are working on toolkits and sustainable ways of supporting more local groups. We are enthusiastic and motivated. But we are young. Barely nine months old. It is our hope that our three London networks will be blue print groups to inspire others to do the same. We hope to work out successful formula that can be replicated elsewhere.
We are painfully aware that we need to have good working models before we expand ourselves too far. Having said that support is needed across the country right now. So here are a few ideas for you all, while we get our ducks row.
We have tons of ideas. But they all boil down to the same basics model:
to created informal local networks of adoptive families to meet and connect regularly! With their children and without.
Not once or twice a year. But once or twice, or even three times, a month, if not a week. All for free, with only voluntary donations toward playgroups etc.
We recently coined the term ‘organic buddying’, meaning that once you provide the opportunities for people to meet and make online contact buddying will follow.
‘I have made friendships in this group that I hope and think will last a lifetime.’ Those are the words of one of our members; she voices the sentiment of many others.
In fact we have learned that connecting via email and social media is an important part of the identity of our groups. It helps the sense of a supportive community between meetings at the playgroups or the parent support evening, the two cornerstones. Imagine this: you are home for the 10th day in a row with a sick and contagious child; by now you are going stir crazy and need to connect with someone. You child is reacting to you in ways you don’t understand and don’t recognise. You need to ask some questions about ‘Is this adoption? Or is this ‘normal’?’ So the phone or going online are your options.
With regard to meeting in person the playgroups seem easy to establish – our model is to tag onto a welcoming and well-run existing playgroup. In this way not only do adopters meet other adopters with their young children, a local playgroup will help them meet other local families with children of the same age, thus easing the way in to the community with a child.
It is the adults only support group that appears to be more difficult to set up, but such groups are just as direly needed as the playgroups. These evenings are where the parents can spill all their beans, through all their toys out of their prams, and be heard and feel understood while they do. You could, of course, always just meet in a pub over a pint… But this is very different to the undisturbed and concentrated discussions of the parent support evening.
On top of these two main initiatives, there are now a plethora of other initiatives within our groups such as social events, family parties, clothes swaps, one-to-one play dates, coffee mornings. Much is done via email or text, and it is always informal. Much of it driven by the members themselves (as opposed to the head of the groups).
So far we have found the following values helpful and essential:
- If you want to set up a local network, make sure you are not doing it alone. Have at least one sparing partner.
- Listen. To what the needs are.
- Be reliably regular – no cancellations, especially early on. Do have your plan Bs ready. Members should know they are never far from meeting with other adopters.
- Have no expectations of any one turning up – and don’t be disappointed if that is the case. It can take couple of months for a group to get going. It is important that people do not feel pressured to come, but only come of their own account (if they like the playgroup, they may try to change their arrangements so they can come).
However, if no one turns up for a good few times in a row, it could be that the time and day is not good for the people you want to reach. In which case consult with them and your sparing partner.
- Be inclusive. Open to all faiths, race, shapes and sizes.
- Keep your initiatives free and open to all. Avoid exclusivity – We all know how we don’t need that!
- Beware of data protection and safety. So encourage online aliases and be careful about who and how you disclose your group. Consider the security of the chosen venues the initiatives.
- Work closely with local SW in LAs or charities.
Currently all three groups are working with local Social Workers. In Hackney/Islington we are operating on consortium level with a dedicated working group, and we are moving towards this is the other areas. This is in recognition that we cannot do this work on our own, and that we are stronger if we can collaborate constructively and closely with our local adoption authorities around issues such as post adoption support and life story work. We ask them to steer new adopters our way, so we can welcome them into our midst when their children arrives. That is if they haven’t made contact already.
A crucial part of the network is of course for our children to have the possibility of growing up with other adopted children.
I am not fond of the word, but in want of a better one: A support network like We are Family will help normalise the adopted family, and integrate them into their local environment. We don’t want to create an adoption bubble. We want to support people while they find their feet and we want to continue to be there so throughout their lives as families.
We are not competition to existing group and networks. We just believe that there could be much more post adoption support for all adoptive families, no matter how old their children are or when they moved in.
This may well be premature to promote our community at this early stage. But we are in it for the long haul. And we will keep you posted…
We are Family made our villages in three parts of London. Your village is next.
Connect with We Are Family
Two years ago I became Mum to an adorable, charming child who I can’t imagine life without but still no adoption order. The delay? She has undiagnosed complex needs, and I need financial support to ensure she gets the support she so deserves. I am pursuing the placing authority and they are ducking and diving from the reality that she is not the problem free child they conjured up in the initial profile; and that her two years in their care and the previous eight unknown months in utero have caused her trauma and impacted her emotions, behaviours and ability to ‘fit in’. ‘She is very affectionate and hardly cries making her a pleasant friendly toddler’, they said. ‘Is that usual?’ I said. ‘That shows she doesn’t have attachment problems’, they said. Alarm bells rang in my head and continued to ring when this ‘pleasant’ behaviour continued after placement. Yes she was affectionate, hugging and kissing anyone who responded to her wanting to sit on their laps and being picked up, including strangers in parks and shops. And yes she hardly cried, even when she fell over or touched a hot plate straight out the oven, for the first few weeks she only cried when we had to leave a playground or when I found her sitting up silently rocking in her bed in the dark. The placing authority felt she was settling well and ‘I was an inexperienced neurotic new mum’. (Ok…they didn’t say neurotic). So two years on despite her wonderful progress I have found love is not enough to make up for her previous losses and that long term I have to plan for what could be years if not a life time of therapy and support to enable her to function better in social environments which is basically everywhere outside our front door. I now accept the fact that I have to dig in and fight our corner even though I have doubts every day whether waiting is the right thing to do. Maybe if I sign the papers tomorrow, everything will suddenly become right; the complex needs will disappear; I will go back to full time work/income; she will simply sail happily through the school years; she will start to communicate without hitting and scratching and I will be able to sleep for eight hours straight! Much of our time together my daughter is a bright, articulate and caring quite ordinary child who happens to process some information slower than others yet desperately wants to understand the world she inhabits. However she needs more help than I can give her which is so hard for a former teacher and all round know it all to accept. I feel that I am now rarely that patient and calm mum I and others thought I would be, recently resorting to feeding my daughter lollies for breakfast just to be able have a shower without her having a meltdown. Naively I didn’t expect that getting post adoption support would be so hard, but I also didn’t expect to love my daughter so deeply that putting life on hold to get that support, would be an easy if not frustrating choice. Single mum of one brilliant little girl.