Thursday, 27 November 2014

Thief in the night...

Your advice, fellow adopters, would be much appreciated. I'm struggling to get my head around a problem that has cropped up in our family over the last few months...

We moved our two eldest daughter's (aged 7 & 6) bedroom downstairs. They seemed happy to move, liked the decoration and enjoy sharing a room. Since moving them we have periodically noticed that food has gone missing. When I say food, it is mostly sweets, chocolates and biscuits. We don't have much in the house but at certain times, Easter, birthdays and Christmas time we, like most families, stock up!

We spoke to our post adoption social worker about this and she felt that it was most likely due to our daughters past (lack of consistent meals) and it was a learnt survival behaviour that perhaps during times of stress she would demonstrate. Fine! I can understand that and carry bags of empathy for a child who has not known where or what their next meal will be and why should they trust the next set of adults who come along? However, our daughter has been with us for nearly two years and of course my husband and I (and other family members and friends) have fed her three meals a day, not to mention all the treats and snacks in between. Before living with us she enjoyed the same routine for two years in foster care. So why does she still feel the need to take whatever grabs her fancy? We have tried talking to her about the issue but she closes down and is not able to answer. I have tried to monitor the situation and can not find a link between changes, hunger, anxiety, stress, good or bad days.

Our Social Worker suggested leaving out some food for our daughter to eat in the morning when she woke so she would not have to wait for us to give her breakfast. I left an apple (a fruit she enjoys) on the kitchen worktop and told her to help herself if she so desired. The following morning I came down to find her eating the apple. As I went to pour her cereal she went to throw the apple in the bin. This led me to believe that she is not taking food due to hunger as surely she would have wanted to finish the apple before beginning her cereal. Later on that same morning I found that she had taken some Skittles which were on the side. Again, this guided my thoughts to her wanting certain foods rather than her being hungry.During the rest of the day she will usually choose healthy items for pudding, i.e. an apple or grapes, rather than the cake or sweets that the other children ask for. Yet the food she is stealing is always junk food.

Not only have we tried to talk to her and reassure her we, against our Social Worker's advice, have punished her too (no treats or TV). Some of you may disagree with this but when you are at the end of your tether and are desperate you will try pretty much anything. Despite all of this though, this morning two boiled sweets had gone missing again. After a couple of hours she admitted to taking the sweets and we had a cuddle whilst I tried to label her feelings and behaviour to help her understand and to see if she could help me to learn. 

The reason I am writing this now is because despite our best efforts and involving our social worker she is still taking items that she shouldn't be. I would welcome help from adopters or professionals who have experienced the same or similar and have found a way to help their children.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Response letter to Mr Timpson

Dear Mr Timpson,

Thank you for your letter (to view the letter click here) which you published during National Adoption Week, although it was good to see some government input during this important week I am still left with some concerns and many questions.

Firstly, I do not feel that the letter you wrote was publicised well enough, I only happened to see the piece due to an adoptive parent sharing it online. I believe that if your views are to be taken seriously and that we will see the change you write about, then it needs to be shared with Local Authorities, Adoption Agencies, copies sent out to all adoptive families and shared more widely with the media.

As an adoptive parent to a sibling group of three, reflecting over your comments on recruiting and matching adopters, it throws up some thoughts. I feel that aiming to get adopters approved in 6 months, whilst there are some benefits to this, I worry that prospective adopters will not be prepared sufficiently enough in this time. Learning from our own journey, the preparation leading up to the adoption was poor and inadequate. I do not think that the ‘one stop shop’ that you mentioned is widely known by those thinking about adoption. Having looked at the site I feel that it is okay as part of ones initial research. However, there are some idealistic statements on the site such as ‘It’s a long process but over time they will learn to trust you and it will transform their lives – as well as yours!’ I don’t feel that blanket statements such as this can be made, as for many the journey is relentless, under supported and the trust that is mentioned does not arrive.

You comment about the money that is being poured into both the voluntary sector and Local Authorities. However, what you have failed to mention is how this money will be spent to benefit those of us who have taken on the biggest challenges of our lives, parenting these often troubled children, whilst saving you money by taking them out of the care system.

At the end of this section you evidence how many children have found adoptive families and detail the 63% increase in the last three years. Whilst this may be positive, you have not addressed how many of these placements may have broken down or are on the verge of collapsing. The focus should not be on how many children were placed but what is being done to keep these children within their new homes.

You then begin to discuss the ‘Adoption Support Fund’ to improve access to therapeutic services. Again I do not feel that this scheme has been publicised well enough. I do not know which ten local authorities or voluntary agencies you are working with to trial this. I am interested to know if your findings will be shared with the public, when exactly this may be rolled out to us adopters who desperately need the specialised support and what hoops we will need to jump through in order to be approved for it.

 When looking at how to support adopters more thought needs to go into the daily issues that slip under the radar during the preparation stage that have a massive impact on adoptive families. Issues such as Post Adoption Depression, managing behaviours, complexities of the attachment and bonding process from the child’s and parent’s perspective etc. In our experience we have had a social worker sat in our house while our daughter has thrown a big tantrum and they have not known how to respond. But yet we as her parents are left to manage this and expected to manage it appropriately taking into account their past, feelings and fears. Post adoption social/support workers need better training and need to have a clearer insight into the problems that we are battling with each day so they can confidently share this knowledge with not only the parents but those supporting (ie: grandparents) too.

Due to health reasons we have needed to move our children to a different school, this was needed as a matter of urgency and we believe that them having an adoptive status made this process easier and gave them an advantage over other applications. For this we are grateful, as they are able to continue with their education in a stable and well-equipped environment.

Whilst we are on the subject of education, I do believe that head teachers, teachers and support staff should be trained on issues that may arise for adoptive children within the educational system. For instance, issues such as struggling to concentrate, finding certain subjects or conversations difficult or the stresses that homework places not only on the child, but on the parent too.  I feel that this would better equip our teachers and would provide a more comfortable learning environment for the child.

The pupil premium funding seems to be unclear in my mind. The money in your words, ‘is to help make sure vulnerable and disadvantaged children get the support they need to thrive at school’. However, at both the schools my children have attended they do not seem to look at their individual needs and then put resources in place to assist them but rather put on activities for the whole school or year group such as a breakfast club. I am not sure how this enables my children or helps them with their education, development or self-confidence. Surely the aim of this funding needs to be re-addressed and schools need to be taught how to better spend this form of support for adopted children!?

In reference to your comments on health and the CAMHS service which is available, I feel that whilst we certainly need a service helping our children with their mental health, the CAMHS workers need to have a much deeper and better understanding of attachment problems so they can help children and their families to tackle and address the issues. I believe that the waiting list for a service such as CAMHS is far too long. I think this can put people off accessing the service and I also believe that further problems can occur or problems grow deeper whilst people wait to receive help.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on a subject that is close to my heart. I look forward to your response.

Adoptive mother of three.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

National Adoption Week. Life with a sibling group.

As it's National Adoption Week and the focus is around adopting sibling groups I wanted to share our experience and join in the discussion.

There are so many things I want to share shout from the roof tops, but not all of it is appropriate to detail in a blog and some of it you would just not believe. 

I have read a few articles and blog posts this week on adopting sibling groups and surprisingly a fair few posts from adopters who have taken on sibling groups of three.  Sadly, there is a concurrent theme - family life has been turned on it's head, life is hard and challenges are presented daily. Their stories are filled with pain, disappointment and uncertainty. 

Our story is no exception.

Perhaps my husband and I were naive thinking we could manage the various attachment issues that we would be met with, maybe we were not given the full picture by those caring for the girls whilst in foster care or possibly it was the lack of preparation by the Local Authority. It could be an assortment of all three elements. Either way it has resulted in our dreams of taking on our diamonds has not become our reality thus far. 

So what are the challenges?
  • Never being able to split yourself equally.
  • The fight for attention - as my husband said 'from day one we were outnumbered'. 
  • Trying to understand whether their behaviour is linked to their past, their present or their age. 
  • Then deciding within a split second the best way to respond. Therapeutically? Empathetically? Super Nanny style? What was that sentence my post-adoption social worker said to use? 
  • The behaviours that take you by surprise and send you into a mild panic ie: stealing food and cutting hair.
  • The intensity of one or more of your children always wanting to be close, always presenting a need to be met and once that need has been met presents another one. 
  • The exhaustion. 
  • Lack of understanding from other people on adoptive parenting and people questioning us as to why we are parenting differently.  
  • Being able to bond and attachment difficulties. 
  • Feeling disappointed in your parenting and therefore feeling like a failure.
  • Finding and holding onto the correct form of support.
Are there fun moments? Sure, we have moments were we laugh like crazy, sing our hearts out, cuddle and have vague thoughts that we are making a difference.  But if I am 100% honest these moments are less than I would like.

One of the purposes of writing this post was to raise awareness into the realities that us adoptive parents can face on a daily basis and the need for more post adoption support. Far too many families are left to just get on with it and fend for themselves after taking on children who are traumatised.

I would say that in some respects we have been fortunate in that we have had a post adoption worker and she has helped us enormously and more importantly truly cares about our well-being. However, I still feel that more should and could be done to support us and I think this may be an ongoing discussion battle!! I tweeted earlier this week stating that I want to raise awareness, make a difference and demand more help for adopters, but like others I don't know how best to go about this. As one of my fellow adopters of three put it beautifully, 'how do we get them to see the pain behind our eyes?' Other than them walking in our shoes and feeling the pain I'm sad to say that I don't know what the answer is.

Surely, we have to keep on raising our voices and helping others to see the pain and challenges that we face daily in trying to love and care for our children who have had such a harsh start in life.

We must keep on hoping and believing for the best - for all of us.

If you would like to participate in helping bring about a change in post adoption support services, please sign the petition below by pressing on the link: Thank you!

Changes to Post Adoption Support Services

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Sweetest Place...

Sit still, my daughter! Just sit calmly still!
What higher service could you for Him fill?
It's hard! Ah yes! But choicest things must cost!
For lack of losing all how much is lost!
It's hard, it's true! But then-He gives you grace
To count the hardest spot the sweetest place.

 J. Danson Smith

Friday, 19 September 2014

Dark Days....

I have been quiet on the blogging scene for awhile, the reason I hear you ask is because things are difficult in our household at the moment. I often like to write about things in hindsight, once it is all done and dusted. I worry that people may judge us, criticise or just simply won't be able to understand the complexity of what we face as adoptive parents. To be honest I am not sure that I will press 'publish' once I have written this post and I am sure there will be plenty of editing and if I'm brave enough to press publish, I will await people's responses with apprehension.

However, these difficulties we are experiencing are not clearing up. The longer they go on the harder it seems. One way I have found help in order for me to cope is to reach out to other families, especially adoptive families. The online community of adopters has been great and I WELCOME any help with what we are facing.

So what are the issues?

Where do I start?

I desperately want this adoption to work.

I desperately want to make a difference to her life.

I desperately want to love her.

I desperately want to bond with her.

So why is it so bloody hard??

For over a year I have struggled to bond with my youngest daughter, KS. I have worked and worked on this issue with a counsellor and my social worker, not to mention reading various articles, books and talking to friends and family. However, I am still unsure of exactly why this is case. Things over the last few weeks have hit crisis point and I have asked myself a few times whether I can carry on. Needless to say it has taken my husband, social worker and friends to put me back together so I can keep on going.

Since spring last year KS has been wetting herself daily. It started with just once or twice a day, but this has slowly built up and pretty much she only uses the toilet if promoted or if she needs a no. 2. To say that I have been frustrated is an understatement. She used to be potty trained in the day and was doing really well. Thoughts of why she has regressed have plagued my mind. My husband and I have tried everything we can think of - reward charts, praise, anger, asking her sisters to take her and sticker charts. Nothing seems to work or hold her attention for long enough. She will be four in a couple of months and as time goes on it leaves us feeling more and more desperate. Our social worker has explored the reasons behind the wetting and why the above may not be working. She has suggested that I need to work on my relationship with her and then, God willing, the wetting will cease. This sounds easy in principal, however, how do you do this when you feel so low and you are struggling to build a relationship together. Many people have said it maybe due to her little brother arriving, and this may not be helping, but it started before he arrived and I don't think it is as simple as that.

KS for a long time now has been displaying intense needs. Given her past it is understandable but funnily enough that doesn't always make it easier when dealing with it in the moment. Over the last couple of weeks, with the help of my social worker, I have been working hard on trying to meet her needs, sadly this is often through gritted teeth. Interestingly, once I have met one need she immediately displays another. I can find this extremely exhausting as she keeps on moving the goal posts. As a result I am left feeling drained and as though I cannot meet her needs. My social worker and I discussed this at length this week and it is a possibility that she is trying to sabotage the relationship as on a macro and micro level this is what she has been used to. This behaviour can often throw me and at times I have sat there overwhelmed, feeling inadequate, with tears in my eyes asking myself again and again, how can I meet her needs and I am the best mommy for her?

Some good news to throw into the mix is that she has begun to settle down at night. She had got into the habit of lying in her room singing at the top of her lungs until 9pm or beyond! We are not sure what has changed to make her go to sleep quietly. We are just happy that she is quiet!

It may sound silly and I hope the point of what I have learnt does not get lost in translation whilst trying to explain. Recently I spoke to an adopter who has experienced the dark days that we are currently negotiating our way through.  She was full of good advice and one thing that she said that stood out was that we would never be a 'normal family'. It suddenly hit me that I had been subconsciously striving to be 'normal'. I have thought that if I can just solve the wetting and the intense needs, then all will be fine! Well that's a load of rubbish because actually, as parents of adopted children, there will probably always be some complex, deep-seated issue that we are trying to help them with.

I was also advised by an adopter to try and separate my feelings for my daughter from her behaviours. This is something again that had become deep rooted in my thinking that I didn't realise. Again, I thought that if I could just solve her current issues then perhaps it would be easier to build a relationship.

I haven't wanted to admit it for months as the shame of not coping has felt too great, but I have had to face it recently. I am at times battling depressive thoughts. I have started some herbal medication and I hope this can take the edge off the low feelings. I have also built in 'me' time which seems to have helped as it recharges my batteries and gives me a chance to relax and smile.

We made the decision this week that little one will attend nursery full time. This has felt like a huge weight has been lifted and the anxiety reduced. This will hopefully allow me to better meet her needs when we are together.

Time will only tell if these changes will help sustain us through the hard times. I desperately hope so as we did not enter into becoming adoptive parents lightly and ideally my husband and I want this to work. We want to look back when they are older and think "yes that was hard work but well worth it."

There are two reasons why I am sharing our story with the world. One is to gain any help and advice from those who can relate to the above and secondly, to let others know if they are experiencing the same that they are not on their own. It would be lovely to connect with you if you sit in either camp....

Thank you for taking the time to read this looonnnggg blog post....

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Our Summer in Pictures....

Our summer has been a little crazy, but we have made it to the other side. Thought I would share some pictures so you can see what we have been up to....

Lazy days on the beach...

Day trips out

Bank Holiday fun

Picnics in the cold

Fun in the Park
Plenty of this stuff to keep us going....
Birthday Celebrations!!!
& finally I am learning to have a bit of me time.....

Friday, 1 August 2014

Story of My Life

Since having E.J. the girls curiosity has naturally grown into their birth family history. The questions have been more frequent and you can see their little minds trying to make sense of who they have lived with and the time frames this all falls into. They have included questions such as, 'Where was I born?' 'Who's tummy was I in?' and 'Which hospital was I born in?' Whilst addressing these questions the best I could, my eldest daughter told me that she could not remember what her birth mother looked like. I thought now may be an appropriate time to tell her that we had been given a photo and then asked her if she would like to see it, to which she replied that she would.

Taking down the life story books from the attic, I felt nervous to share the information as I know in the past they have got upset and on occasions, experienced nightmares when confronted with their past. Sitting down at the dining room table with my oldest two daughters we opened the books. My oldest daughter only wanted to look at the picture of her mom, cried, cuddled me and then put her book away. My middle daughter however wanted to look through the whole of her book. Sitting next to her I nervously turned the pages and sat anxiously while she scanned the photos. Again, she cried and needed a cuddle. Since looking at her book she has been struggling with missing her birth family. I found it interesting to listen to her as it is clear that she does not understand time frames or when people were or were not present in her life.

My youngest daughter sat on my lap earlier today whilst looking up at a blown-up picture taken from on our wedding day. She asked me where she was when that photo was taken. I wasn't quite sure how best to answer, as at the time, her birth mother would have been pregnant with her and how do you explain that to a three year old?!

What I have found to be positive is the fact that the girls are able to talk to my husband and I about their feelings and feel safe enough to ask various questions. We knew at some point we would need to address these topics and I would rather have an open conversation with the girls over the years rather than deal with it in one go when they hit puberty! Another positive is that they have taken to their little brother and are keen to cuddle him and to help me with little jobs that need doing. I believe that the girls feel included and this is important for them.