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.