Just Get On With It

Littley was left alone and hungry for long periods of time. Very long periods.  Taken into care at 22 months and coming to us weeks before her 4th birthday.  She has BIG issues with abandonment. Understandable don’t you think?  

She’s now in Year 7 at Secondary School and is just about dealing with the huge change.  I’ve pushed for some key adult to check in with her frequently in order to build a relationship with a key adult.  It’s happening, slowly, painfully and with many calls from me to push, react, inform, ask, remind and explain.  It’s tiring, time consuming and tedious; it’s very necessary.

My latest call was about supporting her right now.  In addition to the issues at home caused by Biggey (which are making her feel very insecure), she had friendship issues and an impending overnight school trip. 

I was explaining that when her friend says

 “I’m not your friend any more” 

She feels very abandoned all over again. She will then fuss more, seek attention more, annoy her friend more and generally make matters worse. She’s also one of a group of 3 girls no that’s not a good combination!  I asked that they look at some specific friendship and relationship help for her in school and also see if they can pinpoint some other girls who have not formed great friendship in her classes and see if she can be grouped with them on the school trip. 

A discussion took place and then the school said

At some point she will just have to get on with it

Now this person was previously the lead safeguarding staff member in school! You would think they know a bit more wouldn’t you!  Clearly not.

Into my (very well rehearsed) speech.  It went along the lines of

Maybe she will,  yet it is well documented that children from difficult backgrounds have trouble building relationships, that means friendships too.  That’s also the reason you are frequently checking in with her. The government recognises these children need extra help and support, the school do get additional funding for her with Pupil Premium. It may be that if she is left to ‘just get on with it’ then she will become so anxious and stressed about being alone that she will not concentrate on lessons because the fear of being alone at the next break time is too terrible for her. I wonder how that will help her attainment and progress? I wonder too what will happen if that escalates even further and she struggles to attend school at all? (I’ve already said she didn’t want to come to school today.)  I wonder how often her anxiety and stress and associated illnesses will occur and how will that affect her work and school results?  I wonder if it would be much more beneficial for everyone if she is helped and encouraged into making more friends so that she can do this with supportive scaffolding and so reduce her worry and anxiety and improve her ability to engage in all areas of school life?  

“Yes, OK. I’ll see what we can do” they said. 

“Good. Thank you” I said. Then hung up – and swore – a lot. 

Then I gave up a quiet message of thanks to Mr Dan Hughes for his teachings about “wondering”. It get results with more than just the children. 😄

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Children Who Fail

Our kids already feel they are rubbish, no good, failures, failing because of their early life experiences. The way we are treated shapes our brain, shapes our view of ourself and the world around us. Adopted and Looked After children are removed because they have been severely mis-treated, neglected, abused. It’s has to be really bad to taken into care.  So, they have to have suffered significant terrible early experiences. This does not just disappear in a puff of smoke when they “find a new family”.  

The SATs Tests

They struggle at school; with relationships, friendships, with brain functioning, with feeling safe and now our lovely government (who reckon they’ve done loads for adopted children) have now decided they are going to increase the pressure on SATs tests.    Not only will they have to endure these tests in Year 6, now they will have to re-sit in Year 7 if they don’t get the required result.  This will simply and very effectively re-inforce their view of themselves and the world.  So, we are again going to saying to these children you failed, you are not good enough, you got it wrong, do it again.  For what gain?

The result of a test, exam, certificate or qualification is not a true reflection of anyone’s academic ability or knowledge. The politicians themselves are proof of this aren’t they! 

The Wider Impact

This is not just going to affect our adopted children.  There are many other children in schools with underlying issues, separation anxiety, Looked After, young carers, young people with mental health issues, those who still live in families with domestic violence, drug and alcohol dependant adults, poor housing, poverty and the rest. All these children are going into school every day struggling to settle to be able to learn. Then this pressure and expectation is put on them and raises their anxiety hugely so they cannot think clearly on a daily basis, never mind in SATs week. 

Both my children are at secondary school now yet this idea still beggars belief.  At their old primary school they already have many of the above-mentioned children in their school and did try to use the information I was able to provide about how adopted and traumatised children function. They implemented knowledge and methods across many pupils in the school. Most evident was the sensory calming tools and techniques that could be used in the classroom and even during the SATs tests. Things like having something to suck or chew on to calm and aid concentration. Having things to fiddle with and items to squeeze also helped. 

Did all this help SATs result? Maybe, who would ever know?
Did it change the way these kids feel about themselves? No. 
Even if they did achieve Level 4 will they begin to believe in themselves? No

What’s the point of the whole thing anyway when there’s going to be more changes to the way children are measured when they bring in “assessing without levels” as detailed here https://www.gov.uk/government/news/assessment-without-levels-commission-announced. So will a level 4 even be a level 4 if there are to be no more levels. Maybe they’ll end up being a 4, or maybe a carrot, banana, goat or maybe even a D (for dunce perhaps?!). 

Does anyone in this government really know what on earth they are doing?  Are they even talking to each other?  

The Government admit that they recognise adopted children struggle at school and so provide Pupil Premium for them. Are these same people talking to those who say these children “who struggle at school” will have to “re-sit SATs”!  Is this really about children failing tests? Or are politicians failing our children?

There’s also so much in media at the moment about Mental Health and how schools need to help improve children’s mental health. Maybe they do. This testing, re-testing, measuring, judging, labelling is not going to improve their mental health either. How does this improve self esteem?  Can they increase their resilience and bounce back from the stress and anxiety of failing or getting not-good-enough SATs results? Even if they can, it’s still chipping away at any confidence they might have. 

Overall, what message does SATs tests and re-sitting give?  It reminds me of football spectators chanting

“You’re sh*! And you know you are” 


I think I know who I will be chanting at!

Cards on the Table

After the last blog post where I was waiting for a social worker to visit me on the Monday – they actually came on the Thursday!  No surprise really and that probably only happened because of my husbands skillful handling of phone calls and explainations.

Meanwhile, on the Monday, Biggey didn’t come home after school. School were so concerned about her they checked at4pm and asked me ring the police (again) and so we made yet another report of child missing. She rang home eventually from friends house and we collected her about 7pm.

On Tuesday whilst I was at work, school had rung hubby to say she had left school site and could he come.  It wasn’t even lunchtime. He had explain this to his boss too!  On his arrival at school, Biggey was back on school site but running rampage and managed to take a significant bite out of hubby when he tried to get her to car. As awful as this is, we were kind of pleased that school witnessed this.

Their final words were that they couldn’t cope with her in school and she should stay at home until after our (pre-planned) meeting on Thursday. Oh dear!!!!

Wednesday was difficult as both hubby and I were supposed to be working and in our type of work it’s not easy to just not go, to phone in sick or something else. Reluctant Grandparents stepped in from 25 miles away and juggled Biggey around caring for 90 year old Nanna.

Thursday arrived and so did two Social Workers. One from Safeguarding and one from Post Adoption. They were sorry that the Adopter Worker from last October was not available so sent someone else. Didn’t matter to me!  Turns out to be a bit of a result that we got this lady. She knew her stuff.  Saw us and Biggey could see the shame in Biggey straight away. I got Biggey to say a few words about how she was and what she thought of school. I then got Biggey to take puppy for walk. During that time I played them my videos of Biggey in meltdown. She totally got that we had a teen replaying early trauma. Yippee.   Poor Mr Safeguarding just sat and took notes!

We persuaded them to come along to the meeting at school that morning.

Later at school

12 of us squashed round the table (school were not expecting my entourage!). I’d even managed to get Camhs to come along too!  After introductions the new school Senco drafted outline of agenda.  I felt for her, she was new, was trying to make an impression. She would have done OK too, except recent events made this no ordinary review meeting.

I let her have about 5 minutes of her planned agenda the interrupted and explained that things had moved on significantly.

I played my videos, first of Littley saying how scared she was to live in our house at the moment. The second of Biggey in full meltdown. It lasted 50 seconds.  50 seconds until someone said can you turn it off.

I did turn it off. At the same time I pointed out that we are living with that noise, that violence, that aggression, that trauma, every single day. That particular episode lasted for over 3 hours the previous weekend and started again later in the day. I asked them to keep that sound in heir minds for duration of the meeting.

OK. So now I had their attention and I wasn’t about to let it go.

I reminded them that they had now said they couldn’t cope with Biggey. We were struggling to cope with Biggey. I wanted her at that school if they will still have her, yet we have to all acknowledge that she is struggling and currently plans are not working. I also pointed out that her Statement says it has concerns about whether she will manage Secondary school at all.

I was on a roll, I told them I was putting my cards in the table and it’s up to them to push back and tell me what can and cannot be done. (Deep breath)

She needs,

  • 2 days at school in higher support with specialist provision and more training of staff
  • 2 days in specialist therapeutic provision of (a local) farm school
  • 1 day at home with me to ensure time to re-connect / build attachment / work with Adoption support.

They nodded!  They bloody well nodded.

What? Really?  Surely it’s not that easy?

No, it’s not that easy!!

They did admit she is the most complex child they have ever had. (Wished they listened to me in first place then)

They also said its going to take time and need approval to get these things in place and that means protocol and red tape and Education Panels and places to be available. They did agree to make phone calls that day to speed things up.

In the meantime they will also request a provision for home tutoring (although home tutors do not tutor at home!!)  so that will need to be somewhere Biggey feels safe.  Libraries are often used apparently but may not be suitable for Biggey so I’m going to have to sort that out and pull some strings somewhere (slightly peeved that I have to sort that).

They have now asked that I go into school and talk to staff involved with Biggey – oh yes, that’s fine I said. (Slightly peeved that I offered last year and was told – by different people – that ‘it would not be appropriate’).

At my request, Adoption Support are going to begin an assessment in readiness for the Adoption Support fund rolling out in May.

I haven’t even mentioned the bits where I tweeted the Chief Exec of LA or emailed the Director of Children’s Services and Head of Special Needs.   I think they know who I am now. 

So the ball is rolling for change. A lot of this is what I asked for in October last year. Yet I asked different people with different evidence. Such a shame that it came to this.  So wrong that it all depends who you ask, when you ask, how you ask, how pushy you are and how bad it is.

That said, when schools go back on Monday after Easter holidays I have no idea where Biggey is supposed to go and I am probably left to sort that out myself too.

 

Thinking about Chocolate

Well, it’s Easter weekend.  Life in the Safe House is $*.7!  The one consolation is that we have more than the usual amount of chocolate.  Awesome.    I couldn’t bear to blog about life’s ups and downs, so I’ve distracted myself with this little bit about my favourite interest!

Research shows that, on average, adopters Britons enjoy about 11kg (24lb) of chocolate a year, making the UK one of the biggest consumers of chocolate in the world. Only the Swiss and Germans eat more.

It’s not a new thing. There are stories through history about cocoa and chocolate and under “discovering chocolate” section on Cadbury.com they say that “in the 17th century, the Dutch … brought cocoa beans from America to Holland, where cocoa was greatly acclaimed and recommended by doctors as a cure for almost every ailment…”  [Bring it on!]

Some researchers say that Dark Chocolate

  • Has many powerful antioxidants
  • Is rich in minerals such as Iron, Zinc, Magnesium and Copper
  • May reduce risk of heart disease
  • May improve brain function
  • Increases “feel good” chemicals

There’s a neuropsychologist in US who wrote about “The Resilient Brain” and she works with and writes about people with brain injury and says that dark chocolate is great for brain health. So I do wonder, given that our children’s brains need healing too, if similar applies. It probably can’t do any harm although I’m not sure I can spare my good quality chocolate for them!

What makes us reach for chocolate in times of stress or difficulty? How come we use chocolate as relaxation or calming aid? Well, when we look at it in a sensory and psychological way it may explain.

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What senses are most active when we eat chocolate?

  • There’s the look of it – highly attractive packaging, smooth dark sultry shapes …
  • There’s the smell – chocolate, vanilla, sweet, bitter …
  • There’s the taste – firing all those taste buds across your tongue, sweet, bitter…
  • There’s also texture – that smooth, silky, sweet, stick to the roof of your mouth

In addition, we know what to expect, there’s a learned response in use, so we think about chocolate and our mouth waters; we remember the previous experiences of calm, joy, comfort, relaxation or whatever.

So we enjoy the feeling that eating chocolate produces in us.

Here’s the other thing: when we are babies, our first soothing experience is when we get milk sensation in our mouths, with the smell of our mother, the taste of familiar sweet, smooth, comforting milk. So it’s one of the closest things to replicating our early soothing experiences.

We know when we are born our brains are hard-wired to respond to certain things in a certain way and that soothing is one of them. We just don’t realise that chocolate provides that for us too!

Do you prefer your chocolate with nuts in or hard and cold from the fridge? Then the need for crunch is, in sensory integration terms, related to other emotions being associated too! (That’s a whole other blog of information about sensory eating.)

What about the psychological stuff?

Chocolate does also produce those “feel good” chemicals yet some scientific people would argue that our bodies regulate those chemicals so that if we have too much our body try to create a balance. These researchers at University of Texas say that we could become desensitized to the effects if we have too much over time! Well, I for one, am happy to be their guinea pig in that study!

However, remember too, we can learn behaviour from our experiences.  So were you, as a child, given a ‘treat’ for good conduct? This practice of using food as a treat or as a mood enhancer then means that when we find ourselves feeling stressed, tired, fed up, our mind is wired to desire those same foods because it believes that is what makes us feel good again.

 

Whatever is driving your chocolate eating, remember the sugar intake that goes alongside consuming large amounts of chocolate is another issue. Consuming more dark chocolate – that is over 85% cocoa – is considered much better because of the higher amount of cocoa, so has more health benefits than milk chocolate although there are similar calories in both dark and milk chocolate!

Interesting eh?  Will this change your chocolate eating?  It doesn’t change mine!!

 

I linked this with The Adoption Social and the Weekly Adoption Shout Out #WASO