The Safe House goes French

It’s been half term this week for The Safe House and we’ve had a holiday with friends in France. 

It’s been a lovely week. There’s been some sunshine and heat for start! With that comes the ease of days out and fun at the beach flying kites or just paddling and playing.

  
There’s been a bit of culture with a wander round an old Chateau and absolutely tons of food consumed!

  
Once upon a time the thought of holidaying with other people would have brought a shudders of terror to mind. In fact we’ve had our share of the horrific and disastrous holidays but perseverance has improved them. 

The main benefit for Biggey is that there is no school and the further away from school the better she seems to be!  For Littley she is usually ok if she is with us.  

Our wonderful supportive friends have a house in France and when we stay there Safedad and Biggey sleep in a tent in the garden and Littley and I have a room inside!  The sleeping arrangements suit us all absolutely perfectly. Biggey likes to have time away from people, time on her own, time with nature so she definitely gets that in the tent.  Littley is inside in a bed right beside me with the light on and story playing and the sound of us chatting in the living room. Littley can’t bear to be far way from people and sounds, so that suits her perfectly too. 

One other couple brought their 3 year old grandchild and my girls have a great time playing and keeping him entertained. Biggey is so much more comfortable with little people (rather than kids her own age) or with adults that this suits her too!  I can easily see where she is slipping back into that comforting role of caring / parenting that she used to have to do before she came to us.  Yet it is a joy to see her so happy and without pressure to “fit in”.   I’ve been slightly surprised (in a good way) at Littley’s willingness to play with this little boy as she is usually more ego-centric, so that’s been great to see too. They all seem to have decided the tent is the “play tent” and go off happily there. 

  
There have been a some strops and a fairly significant screaming fit outside a French supermarket (which does really frighten and worry me as I’m never sure what she might do, or what other people around will do).  I’ve found for Biggey there are usually a couple of largish ‘episodes’, one at the beginning of the holiday and one in the middle then we can enjoy the rest. For Littley she’s usually ok once we arrive then has a wobble half way through when she is home-sick and at the end where she worries we will leave her behind. So, even the strops and wobbles have seemed to develop their routines over the years (but shhh don’t tell them I’ve noticed!!!). 

There have been a couple of real achievements this holiday. Littley has actually slept. For a girl with an amazing ability to keep herself awake in new and different places (an early safety mechanism) she has slept quite well this week. 

Biggey – the girl who can’t cope with school – the girl who is so full of shame she finds it difficult to speak to anyone she doesn’t know – went into the Boulangerie (bread shop) and asked for bread!  For her, that’s amazing!

Trois pain s’il vous plaît

Child to Parent Violence in the Safe House

I’m joining the theme this week from The Adoption Social where they are talking about and raising awareness of Child to Parent Violence #CPV.  That means then, that we experience it here, in the SafeHouse.

How ironic is that?  Here, in the home that we are striving so hard to ensure is “safe”, we are not safe.  So whilst my children spend hours, days or minutes at a time wondering if the threats of their birth parents will ever come true, I spend hours to wondering if the violence, tantrums, rages, strops will happen today.

Don’t get me wrong, “It” doesn’t happen every day and I don’t spend all my time thinking about it, but I can see situations and circumstances that are likely to escalate the situation.

So why don’t I do something about it and stop it escalating?

What if I could stop it escalating?

Well, that would be bloody brilliant would it!  What if I could remove all situations that would mean Biggey is able to stay calm and regulated and kind.  Well, in order to do that I would have to remove her from society.  Eeek, as I type that, it sounds draconian and old fashioned!!!

IMG_2874

The fact is, as many other bloggers have mentioned this week, we do (mostly) understand what is going on.  It’s where their feelings and emotions have built up, slowly or quickly to the point of explosion.  Its a pressure cooker effect.  In order to stop it escalating we would have to literally remove her from society, from school, from social events as these all raise her anxiety and raise her levels of adrenaline.

Sadly the world as it is now is fast paced and busy, with demands on all of us, not least our children. School is incredibly pressured and hard.  School staff, particularly at secondary school are very much, “do as I say” and they are under pressure and put pressure on our children – on all children.  So that pressure builds on a daily basis.

Biggey has never really felt safe and never really been heard, listened to or given attention until she came to live with us.  The other sad fact is that she was placed with a sister who can talk for England (and Scotland / Wales / Ireland …..).  For Littley, talking is her way of getting noticed and it’s hard to switch off from her.  So it’s hard for Biggey to switch off from her too, or hard for Biggey in her anxious little world to get any semblance of peace and quiet that she needs to recover.  We have to make sure there is space for Biggey and sometimes we don’t manage that.

The Feelings

The mixture of feelings she has is huge.  She’s hypervigiliant.  ALL. THE. TIME.  A busy supermarket (actually even a quiet supermarket with only a few old people tottering around) is really stressful for Biggey and she cannot contain her feelings.  She’s also knackered; from being hyper vigilant, from studying people, from trying to fit in, trying to be calm, trying to remember everything she’s supposed to remember.  When any of us are tired we are less tolerant.

A bad day at school with lots of reprimands, sanctions or even just people saying “take some deep breaths” leaves her coming home in tears, sulks, moods and saying “I can’t even do that” “I’m so stupid” etc etc.  So we are then creating more negative feelings.

In short, she really hasn’t a hope in hell of being able to manage to contain her intense feelings.  It’s the fight response in Fight, Flight Freeze.  Simple as that.  Biggey does all three.

Does that make it OK?

No it doesn’t.  It absolutely doesn’t.IMG_2875

It’s not OK that I am almost always wearing bruises.

It’s not OK that she has to feel this way.

It’s not OK that she is triggered so frequently and replays her early traumatic incidents as re-enactments in our home.

What to do?

We used to hold her (when she was little) just wrapping her up in our arms, holding tight and rocking and murmuring.  It helped lots because as human beings we all need touch, we find it soothing.  There has been experiments and scientific proof about that.  For us, we know she could not tolerate to be touched, so that in itself sent signals to her that this was different to early experiences and it would help.  Now, she’s 4 inches bigger than me!  I can’t wrap her in my arms.  On a good day, I have developed a random technique to get her sat on the floor where I can crouch and cuddle and rock.  However, we absolutely do not speak!  We murmur, we do ‘oohs’, a bit of ‘there there’.  For her, the tiniest word is like a spark to a flame and can escalate everything all over again.  We muddle through, what works one day doesn’t the next.  What works when she was little can no longer be applied.

IMG_0630

We’ve spend years as therapeutic parents keeping her close, staying beside and with her.   We’ve had to spend years teaching her to go to her room with lots of soothing provision, cushions, food, music, colouring books.  Sometimes she wrecks her rooms, sometimes not.  We’ve done a huge amount of work reinforcing that her room is a safe place, with safe things around her, encouraging her to look at what reminds her she is safe.  It has helped a little.  It goes against therapeutic parenting but it does keep her safe and sometimes keeps us safe.

Our house shows sign of the wear and tear of living with traumatised children.  We don’t even bother trying to pain over the cracks any more. SafeDad and I are also showing signs of wear and tear, yet we try and focus on keeping the SafeHouse together.

I’m linking this with #WASO on The Adoption Social @theadoptionsocial.

 

Getting the Best for Adopted Children in School

So, I was at the PAC-UK / Yorkshire & Humber Conference (Being Family) on Monday about Getting the Best for Adoption Children in School.  Can I stress that these are only my notes (with my views in blue) there may be errors and omissions. Please don’t hold me to account! 🙂

It was a packed agenda where a selection of Social Workers, Adopters and Schools from the Y&H region were invited to attend.  There was reasonable attendance from all areas, although I would have liked to have seen more from schools if I’m honest.

Being Family Logo https://adoptmum.wordpress.com

Even if you are not in Yorkshire & Humber, I hope there are some nuggets in here that everyone would find helpful or provide hope of this type of support eventually becoming more widespread across all schools and Local Authorities!  I’ve attempted to give the highlights.

Mick Gibbs, Chair of Regional Adoption Board began with some comments, most notably a mention that

Instead of School Inclusion and Exclusion,  think about School Attachment

Contrary to popular belief, care does make things better

Next up Sir Martin Narey.  He talked about adoption changes over the years and the number of myths surrounding adoption and breakdowns.  He said adopters were not treated well but that the process for recruitment has changed to improve that. There are still significant challenges with time taken for matching, behaviour of courts and the support fund being only available for one year. Personally, I believe we are still not treated well, we are still not respected and recognised as being a powerful force that can create a change in these children.

The issues are schooling can be solved quite easily with few changes because the issues do not disappear overnight.

There is nothing else like adoption for the ability to transform a life.

Sir Narey said that he is happy to be contacted by email and he attempts to answer every one received!

Education: from Rainbows to Reality

logopacukPAC-UK’s Chief Exec, and their refreshingly straight talking Education Psychologist Emma Gore Langton talked about there being a disconnect at all levels that there is a misguided view that adoption is ‘lovely’. Key things were that

  • Brain structure changes our view of the world – all this we know.  (We do!  I’m not sure everyone knows, certainly not all schools and educators).
  • A teacher will hold on to information about a child in misunderstood ‘confidentiality’. (They do!  I’ve experienced that more than once much to the detriment of my children!)
  • Schools are anxious about parents’ expectations, so they don’t communicate.  There is particular difficulty in secondary schools.  (Really?  I agree they don’t communicate, agree secondary schools are particularly difficult.  I’ve heard schools saying “we deal with in school” which may be a bigger reason for not communicating.  I’ll give this the benefit of doubt!)
  • On exclusions, no real data but Adoption UK Survey said
    • more than 50% were at secondary schools
    • 1 in 5 children were age 6 or younger
    • there is serious impact on the most vulnerable children.
  • Education is a key reason for seeking post adoption support (true for me!)
  • Transition from primary to secondary increases stress on families according to Selwyn report. (absolutely!  It has nearly broken my family)
  • Curriculum issues can trigger crisis (yes, and schools will not listen)
  • There is a DFE grant for schools in the Y&H region to become Attachment Aware. (Brilliant!)

Pupil Premium

Alan Clifton, The Virtual Head from North Yorkshire talked about Pupil Premium and even though I thought I knew lots about Pupil Premium he had some interesting perspectives.

There are 152 Local Authorities across the country and all have a Virtual School Head (VSH) responsible for Looked After Children (this is statutory now). That means that there are 152 ways to allocate Pupil Premium and it’s uses!  DFE Guidance (from 2009) says “it is good practice for adopted children to be monitored”.

  • All adopters should find out who your local Virtual Head is.
  • Personal Education Plans (PEPs) are a good monitoring tool (although not statutory) but helpful for progress, attainment, outcomes, relationships and even friendships, because it should cover Social and Emotional Wellbeing too.  You can get a sample PEP from your VSH or from him (Alan Clifton).
  • Pupil Premium money is NOT ring-fenced for your adopted child.  Schools can pool PP money for staffing, tracking, nurture groups etc.
  • You should work with the school to identify
    • barriers to learning,
    • specific learning needs,
    • how to ensure your child progresses
    • your child’s feelings (that’s a big one for me, I find teachers talk ‘at’ rather than listen to my child)
  • The key thing is relationships! (Absolutely right, this is what is missing in their early lives and as human beings we all need those relationships, our children need them more so.)

A Special School’s Approach

There was a really lovely presentation by a Leeds special school about the work they did with a particularly troubled child.  They had some training from Family Futures and talked about what helped and what worked.

  • Key Needs are Communication, Consistency and Care.
  • Provide choices
  • Model behaviour, explain what that behaviour should look like and what it means.
  • Set limits and explain expectations
  • Be specific with wording (rather than “well done”, say “I really liked how you lined up”)
  • Pick your battles
  • Address the child’s sensory needs
  • Be aware of anxiety and stress

The most valuable resource?  HIS PARENTS! and the Adoption Social Worker.

(I wanted to jump for joy when they said parents were most valuable resource, because I, and many of us, feel we are ignored or not listened to.  Yet there still seems to be a lack of understanding that we don’t all have social workers any more or any other professional support!)

Adopter Experiences

From the wonderful ladies Sarah, The Adoption Social and Amanda, The Open Nest.

Amanda and Sarah said everything I wished I was able to say!  Both highlighting the inability to work when we have adopted children who struggle with life and school.  Sarah mentioned there has been perhaps 3 weeks this year when both children have been in school “where they should be”.  It is a full time job being “on call” for school so she can bring her child home.  (Oh yes, I know that approach!)

Many adopters talk about schools trying to “force a square peg into a round hole”.  (I wanted to stand up a cheer at this point!  That’s exactly what I have been saying!)

Sarah went on to say that our children have a right to an education and they way they are treated does not help our children’s self esteem.

Can schools please find some square holes for our children?

Amanda explained about her issues with 3 different schools by the time Jazz was 8 years old before resorting to a version of Home Education.  Highlighting that there are big groups of adopters who home education because they feel they have no choice.  (I know!  I’m been close to that many times.)

If you do feel you have to Home Education, ensure your child stays on the school register so that you still have links and can hope to progress to a slow integration back into school.  Amanda had the same teacher at home for 10 hours and then the same at school.

It is useful to have some days at home as Therapy Days so families can invest in that time and reduce school stressors, work on attachment and have calm down time.  (Whoop, whoop Amanda.  That’s exactly what I arranged for Biggey last month.  Although, it only happened because school said they can’t cope!)

When Amanda talked about friendship issues and the fact that “sometimes the only people at birthday parties were the teachers” there was a big ahhh all around me.  Will it be enough to create a change though?  I certainly hope so.

There’s more.  That will have to follow in blog part 2.  For now, I’m linking up with #WASO.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Matters of Life and Death

What an eventful day I had on Monday!  It was already planned to be a fairly eventful day as I was due to attend the PAC-UK / Yorkshire Adoption Consortium Conference on Education (more of this in another post).

Whilst ploughing through the usual Monday morning routine, my Littley was a bit of a mess with fussy difficult behaviour.  Often I will stop everything and give her the attention she needs, however, I didn’t really have time, so was doing my best to jolly things along and just get them both to school.  We were nearly there and she breaks down, wailing, weeping, (she’s very dramatic)

I think I’m going die.

Oh god.  Here we go.  Does it really have to be today?  This morning?  Of all mornings? (and some silent swearing …..) Whilst I’m busy drawing breath, composing myself to do some wondering she went on

There’s these big boys at school, keep saying they’re going to kill me …..

I manage to grab her and just cuddle, holding tightly to her shaking sobbing body and she continues

But they can’t really can they …

They would need a gun, it’s really the only way I can think of to kill someone, and you have to be 18 to have a gun don’t you?  So they won’t have a gun, so they won’t be able to kill me, will they?  Oh, I didn’t think of it like that.

Oh darling.  Well done.  You sorted that out yourself, just by talking about it.  Isn’t that amazing.

Inside my head, as I’m sure you are thinking – she hasn’t figured that there are more ways to kill someone, that this is just a saying, that if someone is going to commit murder they are not going to be concerned about whether they are the right age to have that weapon or even if it is legal or not!

So here’s an 11 year old, thinking of things in a 3 year old way, expected to go to secondary school and function, safely, on her own, under threat, fearing for her life because of the stupid phrases that people use and the mindless threats that big boys make.

We avoided death – for that day.

Later, whilst in the conference, I got a text from school asking if I could give them a call.  Erm, no actually I can’t, can they text me?

Oh, just wanted to update you.  Biggey is saying to people she is pregnant.

Marvellous!  School said, we haven’t discussed it with her, cos she hasn’t said it direct to staff.  Oh well, that’ll be fine then.  I suppose you do the same response if one of those big boys is saying he’s got a gun in school????  More silent swearing, mid-conference.

Here is a girl who runs away, associates with the ones we’d rather she didn’t, is a prime target for exploitation and this could (if she ever went anywhere) be true.  Lying is also a classic reaction in attachment difficulties. So they ignored it.  Great.

I sent a long text back with detailed wording of what to say, how to say it.  They did but oh, it needs so much managing that again I wonder if it’s worth it.

 

We are not pregnant.  No new baby.  No choosing baby names.  No knitting.  No reason to keep her off school!!!!!

Death and new life is not happening in the Safehouse just yet.

How ironic that all this happens on the day I’m at a conference about how to help these children in school.

 

Will My L.A. Help Adopted Children in Schools?

Last October, on the back of the marvellous work by @garethmarr as detailed in his blog , I tweeted my Local Authority and asked if they would do something about helping Adopted Children in schools. Surprisingly, I got a response asking me to come along and see what the Virtual Head was doing. Sounds great, although slightly puzzling because I hadn’t heard of anything happening.

The meeting didn’t get fixed for ages but I remained hopeful and eventually met in February 2015 for the first meeting.  I went along with a fellow adopter from our local support group and there was the Virtual Head, Director of Children’s Services and the Head of Adoption Support too.

Reason for Meeting

I positioned my reason for asking to meet. Explaining that at our support group, every time we meet there are school issues raised, that individual adopters are going into schools to teach and train the staff, which works quite well, providing the adopter has enough knowledge, feels comfortable doing that and that school will allow us in!  I asked explained that we then have to continue to go in year on year to update, starts again with next member of staff, or whatever.  Is also expressed how difficult it is do this when the child goes to secondary schools (as I have experienced) because there are so many teachers and members of staff and in any event, the schools are reluctant to let you in.

I mentioned Gareth’s success in his LA and I asked if it was possible for this LA to work with us to look at using training and pupil premium money to cascade down something more helpful at has a longer term impact.  I  also highlighted (as we all know) that this will have a positive impact on our children in the school.  I gave the usual Pupil Premium spiel, that the government recognises these children need additional help etc etc.

Hurdles

There was some discussion about how difficult it was to identify adopters because our LA do not place within the authority. I asked them to use the school census to begin to identify, to also use their adopter records along with records that could potentially be found from the support groups. There was also a suggestion about promoting things via Twitter and other places to encourage adopters to get in touch.  (Tick, one hurdle dealt with).

 

The Initial Outcome

By the end of that meeting, they were going to take it forward and agreed to do a few things:

  • Look at gathering information about adopters,
  • Look at the available funding from pupil premium
  • Look at some sort of central training across the authority
  • Get message out to Head Teachers

We asked to meet again in a couple of months to review the situation.  It was step in the right direction, yet I wasn’t about to start singing and dancing about it yet!

The Follow Up

We met again in middle of April and I wasn’t feeling that hopeful. My contacts in schools had not particularly heard anything and we had not seen any information about contacting adopters.  However, it was better than I thought!

They had done quite a bit of work and

  • Have been in touch with other nearby Local Authorities to see what they are doing and share information
  • They have identified how many adopted children there are in each school.
  • Looked at some case studies (in addition to the ones recently released by BAAF).
  • Looked at what training was available
  • Looked at providing information to schools.
I explained that there are a number of booklets, leaflets and helpful documents around that could be used for this.  (I probably have copies of all of them so will be sending them those soon!)

Latest Situation

By the end of this meeting there is

  • Identify an adoption lead in each school (probably the one responsible for Looked After Children, as it would make sense to extend their role)
  • Provide training to schools and the Adoption Support Team.  This is looking at providing training in schools, rather than having staff go outside of school and outside working hours (as I had said that relies on them being willing to that).
  • Raise the profile of how staff talk to children has a huge impact
  • Explain how the usual shame-based sanctions are so detrimental.
  • Brief all Head Teachers and Governors at the next LA briefing session
  • Put together a “working party” to develop an information booklet of guidance to schools where my fellow adopter and I will be part of this, along with (a very good) Ed Psych and others.
  • Extend PEP (Personal Education Plans) to all children which will be reviewed termly.
  • Have Pupil Passports for all adopted children
  • The Director of Children’s Services is also going to come along to a meeting of the local Adoption Support Group!
So, quite a productive meeting and more work and meetings still in the pipeline.
It’s good that they are keeping me involved.  At times though, I do get slightly peeved that I am doing all this as an voluntary adviser.  I do also wonder if any of it will ever by effectively in place in time for my children.  Yet, I keep going, living in hope of better support, better provision for all adoptive children so that it has a positive impact on the parents too and reduce the #adoptionschoolstrain.
Now, where do I send the bill for being a consultant advisor????

Continue reading