Thursday, 26 March 2015

Loss

I try to make my ramblings upbeat and I can assure many aspects of life in Coates Towers is positive. Of late it seems like there’s been a lot of tricky stuff going on for the kids and us. Re reading my posts I wonder if my blog should be titled ‘How not to adopt’ or ‘101 things about adoption you never cared to ask’.

This is our life at the moment and it reflects my belief that to adopt is to embrace sadness at some level. Even in the most successful, harmonious and straightforward adoption* at its heart lies an unavoidable sadness. We live with this tension and it’s varying manifestations in our lives day by day. It's the cup we drink from.

Added to our measure this week was the death of a close family friend. Over the last 8 years she had been an invaluable and unique source of support, insight, information to Mrs C and I and to Flossy and Lotty. Though her death was anticipated it has come as a shock to the children. Their response is complex it’s their first experience of the death of someone close. Predictably we’ve seen some interesting behaviour and grief manifested in many ways. Complex emotions and challenges to their understanding have left them in a fog of dysregulation.


Our friend, Flossy and Lotty’s birth Aunt, came into our lives in unique and unusual circumstances. We insisted on contact with her against the wishes of our Local Authority, and our Fostering Social Worker pled our case to the judge at the placement order hearing** and it was reluctantly granted. Tentatively we built trust and confidence and slowly, very slowly, she became a friend and then family.

We’d see each other weekly, Mrs C would talk and text daily. The two dimensional pantomime villains of our children’s paperwork became real people, lives hopes, dreams, mistakes, tragedy and wrong decisions. She was a firewall between us and the less safe elements of birth family and an open door to the safe elements.

She broke the news of birth mum’s pregnancy to Mrs C, the imminent birth of Peanut. Mrs C and her agreed that it was best if Peanut came to live with us and 20 months later Peanut did***.

Flossy and Lotty loved their aunty, she was a tangible part of their lives and history that could not be replicated in a life story book or letter. She was an essential part of our lives she was a member of our family. We were blessed to see the pleasure she took in seeing her nieces grow.

All our grief and loss is compounded by our inability to attend the funeral to share our loss with her loved ones. Mrs C covertly was able to attend her bedside in her dying days and thank her for all she had done. This is the end of a special chapter of all our lives.
We feel blessed to have known her, rest in peace J.


*No such thing

**It’s complicated


***It’s very complicated

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Sunny day

I'm the kind of person who on days when the sun is shining finds it impossible to believe that it will ever rain again.

Either a chronic optimist or plain stupid, it's a fine line that I've walked all my life.

Anyway, on Mrs C's computer desktop is a picture of Peanut, Lotty and Flossy.
They're wearing the most joy filled smiles that you could ever wish to see, not posed or staged, just a frozen moment of care free abandonment and happiness.

I look at it and I wonder what the fuss is about, I'm just making this all up, fancy airy fairy blogs spouting off about about how 'hard' it is caring for hurt children.

Some days we get up and go to bed and everything in between is pretty good and I start to imagine that I've woken up from a dream.

When I see the joy of a goal scored or save made, if I hear the carefree singing from the bathroom I wonder if I we made it, we've stepped out of the shadows in to the sunlight never to return.

When I see the twinkle in her eye that could light the darkest heart I can't but think it's all going to be ok.

Maybe it's a dream of a different 'normal' life that we stretch out to touch and believe that we can.
Maybe I'm naive or just plain stupid, but without hope the heart grows sick.
I know those little captured moments keep the flames of hope alive and I know that a grain of hope can absorb an ocean of doubt and fear.








Thursday, 12 March 2015

ASF

To cut a long story short I was invited to be a part of the Department of Educations Adoption Support Expert Advisory Group at the end of last year. Clearly, I need more things to do in my life but this seemed like too good an opportunity to pass. So, with a little trepidation I got myself down to that London, cycled through the city and rocked up to the Department of Education's HQ.

It was a long meeting with some of the great and good of the adoption landscape, civil servants, experts and the like. I worked hard and managed to not shame myself or the person who nominated me though it's early days and my capacity for stupidity is bordering on world class. I confess to feeling like Mr Bean as I got slightly lost on my way to the toilet in the corridors of power I broke into a minor panic anticipating Hugh Thornbury morphing into Malcolm Tucker at my ineptitude. He did not.

I'm there for no other reason than I've adopted children and appear on first glance to be able to string a few words together. I'm conscious that there are many adopter with a range of experiences. Reflecting on my position I can't help but think of the scores of adopters that find themselves in a position that they did not necessarily anticipate as they set out on their road to adoption.


We anticipated living with our children within the realms of normality, perhaps not in a little house on a prairie bubble of loveliness but at least in the spectrum of normal. We love our children, as Mrs C says every child is a gift. Some of these gifts come with shadows cast across their short lives and in need of support that stretches our knowledge and abilities.
So, we find ourselves at the mercy of the state, perhaps financially, but certainly in relation to provision of therapeutic support. Too many of us have been told their are no funds available or wait months for emergency referrals only to be told that they don't meet the threshold for services.

The Adoption Support Fund is a finite resource with its long term future yet to be clarified but it is here now and those of us who need it should grab it while we can.
Of course there are questions, uncertainties and as a new service areas for clarification and improvement but my hope is that it is symbolic of a change in government perceptions from a romanticised happy ever after 1960's model of adoption. That this will help to transform adoption into a contemporary service that is formed to meet the needs of children and adults. Where not only our right to assessment is enshrined in law but the needs identified in that assessment are met.

So, if you feel you need help call your Post Adoption Social Worker and ask them for an assessment of your family's needs and at least begin a conversation.

If you have a thought, question, query or comment then get in touch through twitter, blog or Google+. I'm not an apologist for the fund nor am I responsible for it but I endeavour to represent adopters in all their incarnations.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Hurt: Part 2

I didn't anticipate the reaction people had to my last blog. I'd written it in a fit of pique after what is becoming a regular bust up at the weekends. The usual argy bargy leading us down a path we all regret. I spewed it into the drafts folder of my blog account and laughed to Mrs C that I'd just written a blog I couldn't publish.
She read it, insisted and after some thoughtful editing I posted it.*

Before I'd even Tweeted that I'd posted it or linked it up I started to get a few notifications, initially telling me to tweet a link then, after posting, the few became a torrent. Conversations snowballed and before I knew it I had only a thin grasp of what was going on. I was included in conversations that spiralled around the subject of holding, restraint, Social Workers and child violence.

Hundreds of notifications universally positive** and thankfully none of a sympathetic 'ah, hun you ok' type. Comments coming thick and fast all expressing the varied approaches and policies that Foster Carers, Social Workers, Therapists and Local Authorities had.

Parents and carers, some behind veils of anonymity, talked of holding their children to keep families safe without permission from the powers that be. Others told of pragmatic advice to just do it. Others of being instructed to not do it in any circumstance.
Encouragingly there were stories of people finding support and training, enabling them to therapeutically protect themselves and their child. Knowledge of de escalation techniques, backed up by sensitive and proven methods of control, safe holding.
Helping children to keep their inside and outside worlds safe.
Helping children and parents regulate.
Helping families to stay together.

Trying to make sense of it now I believe the crux of the issue remains that the risk of not using safe holding to keep my child, and others, safe is lesser than the risk of letting the behaviour run its course.
Professionals need to have a nuanced and long sighted perspective. Weighing cost and risk now against the potential long term consequences for parents and children. And dare I say it the stability of the family unit.

Amongst the notifications were some quiet voices, messages from scared, weary parents not knowing where to turn. Trapped between the policy decisions, short sighted risk aversion and the violence they were living with. People struggling not knowing where to turn.
Distressing to hear, not knowing how to affect actual help from a virtual place. Some still lingering with me now.

Was this just a Twitter storm in a teacup one weekend in March? Others have blogged, written and Tweeted before so I don't know. In the midsts of the notifications a swell of proposed actions was suggested, a gathering of voices to raise speak out and make this plight known, a 'flash mob' of blogs, or  'blog bomb', a gathering of experience and knowledge.
All to try and affect a change to a more informed model of practice for professionals, empowering, equipping and enabling the many carers and parents who live and love children who sometimes are unable to control their hands and feet.

So watch this space.


If you are struggling and are looking for support or advice I can recommend
The Open Nest who are able to offer advice, insight and support
or DM me on Twitter if you want or through the blog.


*I took out the sweary words and toned down my critical tone (come on I have my HCPC registration to think of).
** one comment accused me of being an angry foster parent, I invited them to look closer. They did and bravely apologised.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Hurt

I'm caught between a rock and a hard place.

My local authority don't feel that training adopters to restrain their children is appropriate. This is in direct contrast to my unwillingness to be assaulted, allow my family to be assaulted or have my home destroyed.

If you're a Foster Carer I'd say, step back & make yourself safe, they're not your child. You can call the duty team, call the police, call your Social Worker, put your 28 days placement notice in and invoice your LA/IFA for the damage.*

If you're a children's residential worker, step back make yourself safe, they're not your child. Call a colleague, call the police, call the duty team, go off shift and have a day off.

Physical violence has been a constant feature of our homelife for many years to varying degrees.
I assure you a punch to the face, headbut or kick from a child hurts. Not a one off but a sustained purposeful assaults. It hurts my body it hurts my heart. 
I've resigned myself to be verbally abused but I will not let my house be destroyed or my family be hurt.

When our crap hits the fan we need to keep our her safe and the rest of us safe.
We know how to de escalate and the stages that precede violence.
We've had the interventions and therapy.
We also know when the die is cast and it is going to only end one way, violence.

She needs me to be strong and safe but she hates me for it.
Sometimes she needs me to help her control her outside world to keep her safe, to help her control her inside world.

We can't be the only family that sometimes have to hold hands rather than get punched or have our front room windows broken or wrap our arms around a child and hold them close to stop being head butted. It's not pretty, it's not nice but what is our choice.

But if I hurt her then what and what if there's a bruise?
I'm just doing my best trying to keep us all safe.
Increasingly the most common question I'm being asked is "How are you keeping safe?'

There are no courses on how to keep you and your child safe in such incidents and dare use the word 'restraint'.
As I said my LA don't believe in restraint, so do they believe in me holding my child to keep me and them safe.

If it goes wrong and there is a bruise everyone can wash there hands, 'Our policy is that we don't restrain children'. 

I know that this is 'off message' and not the happy ever after, it is not the 'Halo'.

But I can read and each day on Twitter I see careful words being used to describe people being assaulted, intimidated, bullied and having their property destroyed.
Perhaps they sometimes 'hold their children's hands'

If I was being cynical I'd suggest that this blog won't get re tweeted by the big guns, that to acknowledge my quandry and run a course, with advertising and publicity, means that we have to acknowledge the truth in the phrase, 'Hurt children hurt' is more frequently true than we would like to admit, that some adopters get punched.




*If you're lucky

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Halo

There appears to be a determined and almost immovable halo around adoption.

Believe me I've tried to knock it off and I've tried to present my own lived adoption experience as relatively normal but I see the same enthusiastic determination in the eyes of prospective adopters that I had in mine. Aaaaaah, adoption.

In social circles eyes well up and hearts swell with sympathy at the revelation of my children's status as adopted.
Aaaw, look they're fighting. Aaaaaah, Adoption.

It rubs off on at least two sides of the adoption triangle.

So, regardless of my insisting, and Mrs C's confirmation, people refuse to believe that I'm generally a grumpy old git. How could I be, aaaaaaaah adoptive dad. Bloody halo.


I don't get asked to volunteer on adoption preparation courses. Now it might be because I talk too much but it might be because I might put them off. Don't be stupid, they've all been touched by the adoption Halo. You can almost see them think:
"It's all gone wrong for him, he must be doing something wrong. I've seen Annie, it's a doddle. Adoption always works out ok in the end"

That's the halo.
Aaaaah, Adoption.

Sometimes it's a pain, when we ask for consideration or understanding then the halo blinds people. In their minds they're thinking 'Those children have been there for years, they should be fine now. I've read Oliver Twist and he did ok'. In their eyes I'm just over an over fussing type. Aaaaaah, adoption.

If I was a cynic I'd suggest that politicians have worked this halo out.

Politician 1: 'Nasty Social Workers are slowing down adoption approval.'

Newspaper: 'Aaaaaah Adoption. Those nasty Social Workers.'

Politician 2: 'Aaaaaah Adoption. Those nasty Social Workers.'

Man on the street: 'Aaaaaah Adoption. Those nasty Social Workers.'

Politician 1: (Halo)



But I'm not complaining we managed to get money off our last family holiday because the salesman 'found out' we had six adopted children.

Aaaaaaah, adoption.







Sunday, 22 February 2015

Off grid

After an eight and a half hour conversation with @TheOpenNest and @UKTransracial it felt like we'd just about got started.



Mrs C and I had been invited to the remote secret lair of The Open Nest and nestled in the northern woodland we shared stories and caught up on all the latest comings and goings. We'd given the 'massive' the slip and having assured their wellbeing with a subtle blend of bribery, threat and a crack team of babysitting ninja's we revelled in the 'off grid' day.

But the meat was in the conversations we shared, the kind that you can't have in 'nice' company. I often worry that my blogs focus on the negative, with limited reflection on the positive elements of the adoption experience. I shy away or draw a veil over some topics for fear of compromising my children and myself or opening cans of worms, allowing the worms to wriggle off into unfriendly corners of the internet. Similarly when I meet adopters or prospective adopters I try to be careful and sensitive to their experience, hopes and location on the adoption journey as not to be perceived as a bitter or cynical old salt.

But in this not so polite company, sat around the open fire, we opened the cans of worms and shared thoughts, experiences and worries.
Conversations about violence, harm, destruction, love and shame.
About balancing control against risk.
About family, fears and hopes.
About safety and danger.
About power, control, social work and money.
About politics, personality and policy.
About race and culture.
About the future and the past.

Stuff that needs to be talked about, but with limited safe forums.
Rich soil for blogs.

We talked right through the day and into the night. I believe we all need friends in the woods.