Saturday 25 November 2023

Peer support - An antidote of sorts.

Sitting with parents of children with challenging, violent and aggressive behaviour this week was an absolute pleasure in the worst sense of the word. 

I wish we did not have to be there, but we were and we made the most of it.  

It’s an easy group to facilitate, in that people just talk to one another and that is often enough. We supply the coffee, biscuits and a roof over their heads. 

We don't need to begin because immediately people relax and start to talk to one another and genuine and warm connection happens. 

The moment of eye contact and the knowing nod of the hear, people agree and say ‘yes, that’s us, I feel that’ the isolation thaws in the warmth of company that does not just intellectually understand but ‘gets it’, I mean really ‘gets it’.

Today the conversation eases towards connection, everyone in the room describes the slow constriction of their social networks, the fracture in relationships and the separation that they live in as they care for their child. Children whose version of normal isn't, children who break your best friends vase or get their cousin in a full nelson on a back garden bouncy castle. 

As we talk the conversations coagulate around this disconnection from the world around, this othering that acts as a lens to focus the isolation even further. 

Worlds that have become small. 

Fractures in relationships that we relied upon in previous times, times before complicated children. 

We are a tribe now, all our stories are different, adoption, biological, kinship, fostering. We walk the same path but we are connected.  

Peer support is often characterised in professional circles as the cherry on the cake of adoption support, an added extra so to say. However, I increasingly believe it's the cake, interventions are good but they are a moment in time, peer support is often woven into every day and minute. 

To finish I mangled a quote from brighter minds 

For families peer support can offer a culture of hope, resilience and 'normality' as opposed to a culture of hopelessness, isolation and a sense being perpetually on the outside of society.*

* the original quote is in relation to adult mental health 'Peer support can offer a culture of health and ability as opposed to a cul­ ture of “illness” and disability' Curtis, L. C. (1999). Modeling Recovery: Consumers as Service Providers in Behavioral Healthcare. National CouncilNews, pp. 7-9. Rockville, MD: National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.

Tuesday 14 November 2023

Shut up and listen.

The desire to be heard seems fundamental to who we are. In the book 'Sapiens' Yuval Harari explains that the telling of stories defines us and sets us apart from all other animals. It allows connection and helps us organise and co operate. 

It's clear to me for that to be true then our stories need to be heard, we need to be heard, we need to be able to tell our stories. 

Scrolling and occasionally doomscrolling through the various social media feeds I’m connected into and the need to be heard and to be listened to bounces off the screen. So many of those that post articulate that they have not been heard, by family, friends and services. They talk of being judged, misrepresented or misunderstood. Living with children with complex needs and the associated risks for challenging and complex behaviour is the norm amongst adoption, foster care, kinship, SEN and guardianship communities. The consequences for the adults so frequently is isolation, blame, shame consequently compounding challenges being faced. 


A common thread amongs these communities is the experience of 'not being listened to'.

Being heard or listened to isn't a substitute for tangible actual help but without it then there's limited chance that we'll even get to the start line of help. Being sent on courses that don't fit, being disbelieved or judgements being made on limited information are all too common in these communities and the underpinning issue is a lack of listening. Admittedly, some people caught in the maelstrom of child to parent violence or childhood challenging violent and aggressive behaviour struggle to articulate what is happening and what it's doing to them. But still they need to be listened to. Often as professionals we are waiting for our turn to talk rather than listen.

I've been social worked and I can tell when they aren't that interested in my story. 

Now I sit on the other side of the curtain, I'm invited to speak to parents and carers to offer help and insight. It's not an easy spot to be in, the issues are complex, multilayered. The solutions are often bespoke as we try to turn downward spiralling systems around while propping up struggling adults and expect them to work towards change. 

I often enter into these situations with fear and trepidation but often it's simple. 

Shut up and listen.

The effect is often remarkable. 

'You get it' and 'You understand' are often the phrases used. 

Perhaps then I tell a little of my own story and there's a palpable sigh of relief. 

The message is clear, 'You're not alone'.

We look for stories like ours to make sense of our stories, validate our feelings and legitimise our thoughts. 

Telling our stories and hearing others' stories connects us. 

This is a complex world and if you're living with a child with high levels of need and behaviour that can be challenging then it can be hard to navigate amongs families living in the  'normal'. 

I've been blessed having had some amazing professionals and that I felt heard was often the magic ingredient. We need professionals that can listen and listen without limits, be curious and acknowledge peoples' stories and connect.


Friday 5 May 2023

Adoption Crisis: The Jarring Reality Of Adoption - Update

Been a really interesting and busy week in terms of the Adoption Crisis report that Fiona Wells et al. produced. We've spoken to the great and the good across several meetings and had some very informed and productive meetings. 

There's not one person that doesn't see the issues or isn't aware of the challenges that many families face. 

The Julie Selwyn 'Beyond the Adoption Order' report from 2014 loomed large over the conversations, are we still looking at one third of adoptive families in crisis, one third with some struggle and one third doing ok. I'd say probably that's just a view from here. 

Well, there's no empirical data and we talked a lot about looking to build some sort of knowledge base in terms of that as well as in terms of pre adoption order breakdown or post order disruption. The keys to getting that data are complex but it would be a helpful step. It can feel dull but data drives decisions and the adoption community can help with that in terms of lived experience of interacting with services and agencies. 

We talked in terms of the interface of RAAs and local authority safeguarding teams as they often get drawn into the crisis' that families face. We need to have informed and knowledgeable practitioners that understand the complexity of caring for children with complex histories, biology and behaviour. That would not only benefit adoptive families but from a numerical perspective SGO families and families caring for children with SEND. Everybody wins. 

Respite was bandied around and some interesting thoughts in terms of what that would and should look like were had. Adopter preparation was also discussed, how do we effective prepare prospective adopters? There's broad guidance in the Regs but beyond that different RAAs and VAAs do it differently, do we need national minimum standards or steal ideas from fostering where post approval foster carers are required to evidence training and development. 

Ideas are fine and there's no shortage of them, however  initiating and creating change and building consensus is a wholly different matter. The political reality is that we're likely in the run up to a change of Government and that being the case if we're to see the political will for long term change we need to be lobbing this government to initiate change and any future government to maintain that change and see it through. That's complex especially in a landscape of austerity, cost of living and resources being stretched. 

I'm a pragmatist, there's things we can aim for that are within the gift of those that we met but changing culture in adoption is a long term project. 

So, what next?

Well, we're letting the dust settle on the conversations we've had and then come up with some steps we can take to ensure that the issue remains on the agenda and that we can aim for the achievable and build for the longer term objectives. 

Tuesday 26 April 2022

Roll the Dice..........

Childhood Challenging Violent and Aggressive Behaviour is complex, it's emotive, its scary. It's challenging for professionals to walk into a home and unpick the murky soup of trauma, behaviour, biology, history, family etc. 

It seems like a little overstatement but picking up the phone to ask for help can be one of the hardest things we do as a family. Beyond the usual barriers, shame, guilt and embarrassment, the uncertainty of what the response will be can strike absolute terror into the heart of any parent or carer. 

This picking up the phone and 'rolling the dice' is what we do as we don't know who will come or what they'll do. 

We've had some amazing professional involvement, which bizarrely we take full credit for*. We've put in the legwork, built the relationships, worked hard at effective communication (and occasionally education). Being honest we've also seen professionals step up and step in when needed and it's been a life saver, those good ones are worth all the gold in the world.  

When it's not been so great it's rarely been intentional but more often professionals finding themselves in situations that they're not equipped or trained for. Of course, sometimes it's just plainly outside of the remit of the agency or they have a lack of resources or capacity for complex work. Mostly the come in and say, 'I'll need to talk to my manager'. 

This week two people contacted me, they'd 'rolled the dice'. For one it went much better than expected, they'd held off for months, absorbed behaviour, violence, aggression for fear of not knowing who will come and it fell favourably. For the other, not so well. Veiled concerns over their parenting, what was going on, ineffectual collaboration between professionals, confusion over roles, a mess added to a mess. Worse still families drawn into child safeguarding at the expense of adult safeguarding. (Note: Everyone needs safeguarding often)

If we can believe that the prevalence of #CCVAB #CPV is between  3% and 10% in the general population and higher in specific cohorts (SGO, SEN, LAC, PLAC) then the powers that be need to take this seriously. It may not be present in every case a children/families/adoption/SGO/LAC social worker has but it will be a feature of some families. We need the profession to build on the knowledge base and be more effective at supporting families and offering effective solutions. At least we need specialists within LA/RAAs to be available to consult with frontline social workers, offer support and guidance. 

Families should not feel like they roll the dice when they pick up the phone to ask for help. I know the solutions are complex, messy and uncertain. However, the basics of listening, understanding and showing empathy and compassion should be our start point regardless and those be a foundation to build effective interventions off. 

*I think I have a problem, I do have compassion for professionals turning up a our door. 

You can see the training that I'm delivering on #CCVAB #CPV for professionals, parents and carers here

Thursday 17 February 2022

System Literacy

I'm being chased by a metaphoric and actual storm. On my bike heading to the station to catch a train a day early as LNER have informed me it's all gonna go 'Pete Tong' due to storm Eunice. 

The phone rings, I pull up and take the call. 

It's early help, the duty social worker is calling back after we called the duty team to ask them if the duty social worker that came out to see us after the allocated social worker had been unavailable after they'd not come out for two weeks after they had promised cos a thing had happened to them, anyway this duty worker has spoken to that duty worker who had come out and now she understands why we called. 

Yeah, you know how it works.

We talked, I explained, she understood. She said there's been a referral for early help. 

Time slowed, I chose my words carefully. 

"Actually, at the fear of becoming the person that doesn't want early help causing an escalation in concerns, can I say that I don't want early help and I won't be having it thanks....................."

"Ah, ok." was the reply, phew we dodged a bullet. We talked some more and I made sense of why a referral had been made and why we'd asked for it to be made. It's all a bit of a dance. 

It is worth noting that MrsC's views on the impact of an earlier early help 'intervention' if articulated in full would make a pirate blush. 

System Literacy is a real thing, as a parent with ongoing social care involvement it's the difference between disaster and success. We know it's a terrible thing to fall into the hands of an angry social care system. 

A couple of years ago I spent two hours on the phone to a friend walking her through roles and responsibilities, pitfalls and dangers encouraging openness but warning against naivety, how to speak, how not to speak and how to get help and not get trouble. 

Adoptive parents understand that they will need to support thier children and hopefully they are prepared to do so in the process. We need to prepare and support them for the lifetime of professional interactions, how do dance with services, how to advocate and keep our children safe. 

There you go a little story from my day. 

Friday 10 September 2021

Adoptee Representation

In most every way it's obvious, any group that has a significant life altering legislative and policy framework dedicated to them which has lifelong fundamental implications for them and their dependents and forebears should have some influence over it. 

Well, apparently it's not so obvious. 

Adoptee representation within the system has been missing, of course there's individuals that have worked within the system and brought personal experience and perspective to bear but rarely do we see systemic representation of adoptees in policy context. 

We do get 'adoptee of the month' invited into roundtables or events, willing participants at Adoption Prep groups or the like and of course groups for young adoptees frequently given opportunities at events and conferences. All of that is welcome, but it's adoptees by permission, open to the accusation of being curated by adoptive parents or adoption agencies to ensure that they don't stray too far from the adoption orthodoxy. Or at worst young voices welcomed but given no permission or possibility to affect change or influence power.

Of course any 'service user' consultation is challenging, fraught with diverse views and perspectives, disagreements and complications. 

For example, what knowledge to adoptees have of the actual system? often too young or not privy to the forms, processes or paths that their adoptive parents travailed. 

For example, if you were adopted in the 60's or 70's how relevant is your perspective on the Virtual School role for previous looked after children in high school? 

Adopted adults views change and flex but that true of every human that ever lived. 

All the above are reasonable points when considering adoptee input into the current system. 

But it's all nonsense given my first paragraph, even if the role and influence is limited it's time for adoptees to come into the rooms where policy and practice are discussed. 

We owe those that have found themselves cast into this system a voice in its running. Those that have passed through it need to be listened to, it may not be comfortable, it may not be pretty, but it may not be that hard and we may find areas where adult adoptees can improve and direct us to a better way of caring for children who can not and should not live with their biological families. 

I say all this not as an adoptee but a witness to the adoptee experience and I'd argue that is valid enough but again I'm a palatable voice that may be too bland for some and too spiked for others. 

Sunday 5 September 2021

First day at a new school for a fostered or adopted kid - A guest post by Phil Watson

Kindly re posted from Phil Watson's blog which you can view here- Fostering & Adopting with Phil

“I’m not going”.

My wife and I were not surprised that The Little Man didn’t want to go to a new school.

Anything new, anything different, anything out of the ordinary set his ‘survival brain’ into overdrive.

We’d learnt his preferred response to ‘anything new’ if he was in public was ‘to freeze’ or ‘to flop’.

If a stranger spoke to him, for example in a shop, he’d simply stare until they went away.

It’s quite effective, even if it appears a bit rude.

If the stranger continued to probe, he’d put his hooded anorak over his head.


If he was with us, in our home, he’d fight.

‘Fighting’ could involve biting, kicking, swearing and smashing stuff up.

‘Throwing things’ was pretty popular too.

He had never resorted to ‘flight’.

‘Flight’ would mean he’d be on his own and he was too scared for that.

My wife and I began to hatch a little plan about how we’d handle the first day of term at his new school.

We’d worry about the second day later.

There was little point in getting ahead of ourselves!

The fist part of the plan had been to casually introduce familiarity.

We’d taken him to his new school for an open day.

We’d shown him the school website.

We engaged in as much of the school’s transition activities as possible.

His new school was a couple of miles away and we drove that way a few times over the summer.

We didn’t say we were visiting his new school, rather the pub opposite.

If you’ve experienced massive amounts of trauma and fear, particularly at a young age, your amygdala will kick in very quickly, often when it’s not warranted.

We popped in for coke and crisps.

We played on the slide.

We hoped that the area would appear less threatening.

We hoped that we would make his ‘first day journey’ less terrifying.

We hardly mentioned school at all over the summer holiday.

We knew there’d be questions we couldn’t answer, and we knew that would add to the anxiety.

We bought school uniform and equipment via the internet.

We had decided that  his new school bag would in fact be his brother’s old school bag.

We’d negotiated with his school, that contrary to some regulations, he’d be packing a variety of fidget 

toys and favourite phone cases.

The Little Man knew this was happening but we made as little a deal out of it as possible.

We hid our own fears and anxieties.

We only discussed what we’d do in whispered tones when he was busy watching YouTube clips with his headphones on.

He had some trust in us.

He didn’t need to know that we didn’t know everything, although he probably had his suspicions.

On the ‘big day’,  we divided the tasks.

We decided I’d be responsible for getting him ‘there’ on the first morning.

If that went successfully, I’d be responsible for bringing him ‘back’. 

We knew he’d respond best if only one person was in charge.

We knew we’d respond best if only one of us had to make the decisions.

Everyone else’s task was to keep out of the way.

We kept everything as low key and as unemotional as possible.

As our birth kids and my wife left the house on that September morning, we avoided any overt show of emotion or goodbyes.

We did not take a ‘first day photo’ on the ‘first day’.

With just the two of us in the house, we got dressed, we ate breakfast, and we watched Paw Patrol.

“We are going now. You can sit in the front or in the back of the car. It’s your choice”

I knew that giving him some autonomy may help calm him.

“I’m not going”.

His response was the one I’d dreaded but I didn’t let my face show it.

I got the car keys, opened the front door and turned the alarm on.

I left the house and got in the car.

My face was still impassive.

As the 30 second beep countdown urged us to leave the house, he appeared at the front door.

He appeared beside me on the passenger seat.

“Please be in charge of the radio”.

He chose the familiarity of Radio 2.

Astute readers will have noticed that whilst our house alarm was on, our front door was still open.

This was a risk I was willing to take.

The seven minute journey to school passed without incident.

I chose not to speak.

I let Chris Evans and Coldplay fill the silence.

On arrival, there was another minor stand off.

He didn’t want to get out of the car, so I just got out and walked away.

I was pretty sure he’d follow me and I was right.

As we reached the school gate I handed him my phone.

“I will meet you here when school ends.  You can give me my phone back then”.


A few hours later I met him at the appointed time and place.

He returned my phone with a nod.

When he wasn’t looking, I took the SIM card out of my ‘back up phone’ and slid it back into the phone that he’d been minding for me all day.

I’m not completely daft!

You can view Phil's blog here Fostering & Adopting with Phil