Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Transition - A guest post

A guest post-  By Scarlett 

Whilst much is said and printed about the real concerns for those moving from year 6 to year 7 this summer and how this transition is often fraught with real concerns, I have seen little for what now seems to me to be the bigger transition of year 11 into….. …. 

Well it could be 6th form, college, apprenticeship, work or any number of different areas. For some children, particularly those who have experienced loss and trauma in their lives, this is a transition that eclipses those that went before. Such previous transitions may have seen the onset of adolescence and all that contains or different schools, different home bases, and different families. With the best will in the world adopters, kinship carers and foster carers alongside those working in Children’s Residential homes apply themselves to try to keep some level of ‘norm’ in place as the basis of security and regulation for these children and young people. This is often not for the faint-hearted and at times can lead to despair and exhaustion. During these periods we ‘adults’ may look forward to the day when it’s over, when year 11 completes and the exam stress goes back into its box. 

So what then?

Progression into adulthood is the next step, what this means and how this transition occurs can bring a range of fears leading to levels of dysregulation that are unexpected. For those children whose basis of functioning with their peers is established in routine this is a time of immense restructuring. But the basis from which to build can in itself lead to high levels of confusion and complexity. For Charlie (pseudonym) this was the biggest unexpected reality check. Suddenly the exams were over, and whilst the end date was known, the realisation of what this meant arrived unexpectedly from that anticipated, not the freedom everyone talked about but the arrival of a deep sense of insecurity.

Having spent 11 years in school, loving it or hating it, he had known where he would be Monday to Friday and when the holidays were, many months in advance. He had known via his timetable from year 7 what class he would be in on what day and at what time, which room and which teacher would be present. Prior to year 7 he had known throughout Nursery to end of year 6 who his teacher would be for the whole academic year and who the support staff were.  He had known when his break times and lunchtimes would be and what time he would go home. He knew which after school activities he would attend and how many weeks he would attend them. He knew the adults in his school, and whilst he may not have liked all of the staff he knew who they were and they knew who he was- irrespective of how this relationship existed it was familiar and known. He knew the children and later the teens in his school, who he was friends with and could feel comfortable alongside, who he was a casual acquaintance of and who peers were even if he never really hung out with them or avoiding doing so- he could recognise them as attending the same school as him- again familiar and known. For children and young people like Charlie the familiar and known is essential for the foundations of security. Then he sat the last exam, and suddenly as he left the school premises it was gone- all of that familiar and known. His Monday to Friday structure was removed, he wouldn’t see very many of those peers ever again, those adults he knew were gone from his weekly life and the question remained- what do you want to do, who do you want to be? Which led to the real concern he voiced about ‘I don’t feel like me’ he couldn’t explain it- he didn’t know if it was physical or emotional he just didn’t feel like ‘him’ anymore and this caused real anxiety and stress for Charlie.

For a child who was unable to enjoy  ‘free choice’ for all of his life so date;  much preferring and well capable of operating within a structured environment- the structure had been removed, his world may have opened up but with this it opened up into huge blank canvases.

Many young people do know very clearly what they want to be and where they want to go next, but not all. 

Yet we live in a world that expects them to make these life trajectory decisions at a time of immense confusion and anxiety. Charlie is waiting for his GCSE results to see what is open to him as a healthy alternative to making rash decisions that take him down roads he really doesn’t want to be on, out of a need to perform as expected by Connexions (the careers advisory provision) or performativity requirements. He won’t be a NEET as he has already secured part-time work for the holidays, but perhaps its time to rethink what we expect of our Youth. 

On leaving school I wanted to be a car mechanic, I then moved into office work and then into being a trainee insurance assessor before moving again into Nursing- this was all between the age of 16-18. I was lucky my parents were happy ‘to go with the flow’ and my exam results allowed me the freedom to choose and reinvent. But what of those young people who do not have such choices? How many ‘Adults’ are still in the same career trajectory as the one they chose at 14, or thought they wanted at 14 by the time they are 25 or 30? Many mature students are those adults who went down career paths chosen at a young age and by the time realisation happened that this wasn’t what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives they weren’t able to turn back; so carried on for a while before leaving the path altogether to start again. 

For young people like Charlie we need to move away from pressurising them into making life impacting decisions at a time when their world is changing so dramatically. If young people do know who they want to be then we should support their choices even if they may not be the ones we would choose for them, for those who do not know we need to provide space to enable them to think through their options and allow them time to consider what is available. For some, like Charlie, and any other child whose education has been disrupted or those with SEN who may or may not gain the predetermined requirement of GCSE ‘C' and above in English and Maths; pushing career choices on them that depend don a target number of GCSEs increases the anxiety and stress they themselves are under both pre and post exam. 

For me the greatest gift I can give my child is the freedom to choose and the space to ‘be’ so that they can ‘feel like me’ before they set off down new roads and all the new ventures this may include.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Great North Run - Pt2

I genuinely feel that my training is going very well.

Every little donation goes to to the excellent work of the Family Rights Group.

They work to keep children safe within their family network. They advise parents in England and Wales whose children are in need, at risk or are in care and wider family members raising children unable to remain at home. They campaign for families to have a voice, be treated fairly and get help early.


Thursday, 21 July 2016


Words are interesting and powerful, words matter, they get us into trouble and out of trouble. I've been pondering one word for months and years. It's the word:


Before I go any further this is all about me, not you, so if you read this and think I'm having a dig at you then you've well and truly got the wrong end of the stick. If you think it's about an organisation, and there are a couple that use the word, you're missing my point because I hold no ill will or bear any animosity at all. This is about how I feel. Me.

I've started this blog time after time month after month but struggled to put into words how I feel about potentially being called an 'Adoption Champion'. If you know me you'll know I've worked hard to duck the title on several occasions and mainly because it was just a feeling of unease that I struggled to put into words. More to the point I struggled to get to the bottom of why I felt the unease. 

I've tried to verbalise my feelings on several occasions with different people failed dismally and come away from the conversation feeling like a pedant* or a lilly livered liberal, I mean it's only a name for heaven's sake. 

I support and participate in the work that many of the 'champions' are doing, advocating for adopters and adoptees. The promotion of awareness of the reality of adoption and chipping away down the constant disneyfication of adoption in popular perceptions and media. In that regard I'm all in. It's just that word. 

I've talked to adoption 'Champions' who embrace the name and that's fine I don't want to project or transfer my unease. 

Today, it finally came to me as I sat on the train. 

Champion is an overwhelmingly positive term and to link it to social construction that at it's heart is born from catastrophic loss is the crux of my unease. I just can't reconcile the two.  

*The good MrsC will read this and say 'you're just being an colossal arse' and she might have a fair point.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Adopter's Voice - July 2016

Though marred by a concern that I should of worn shorts I headed of across a hot and sticky London to the DfE building in the heart of Westminster. Though my concerns had been monitored previously on Twitter by the all seeing DfE worker bees my fears of covert monitoring were allayed/confirmed as we'd been furnished with air conditioned room.
It was interesting to discuss a varying range of issues and consider areas that impact on adopters and adoptees. As always we draw views from a range of experiences and perspectives and look for common themes that can be considered and looked at.

We discussed the nature of transitions and some of the challenges they can bring. From the micro transitions that can present every day in a classroom to the more significant ones such as the transition into adoptive parent's homes from foster care.
I found this interesting that as we discussed this common themes around the preparation of adoptive families, advice and knowledge of attachment, dogmatic practice in relation to the isolation that some families experience in the first few weeks of placement were discussed. The limited or weakness of the research base that practice is drawn from and the willingness and lack of on the part of some adoption teams to be be flexible and responsive to families.

We discussed the challenges that the transition to adulthood can bring with the increased responsibility on young adults and the removal of responsibilities parents experience as they try to maintain their child's safety. Not an easily resolved issue but again one that many adopters face at a time when they anticipate their advocacy role reducing only to discover it is needed but not accepted.

The role of the Virtual School Heads was discussed again and it is clear that though the duty to support adopted children will be given to them the details of that remain undecided and with guidance being produced by all vested parties. It is a time for us to consider our experiences and perspectives and share them appropriately within the adoption voice forum.

We repeatedly return to issues of professionals training and of course that is an issue that we have limited control over

At the risk of repeating myself I always leave optimistic and impressed by the civil servants who are exactly that.
Is there a way to go? yes.
Will we see all that all adopters want? of course not.

My hope is that in highlighting what can be done better we will improve the experience of not only our children but those other children and adults that come behind us.

A brief report I'm afraid but if you want to participate in the Adoption Voice Forums then go to the Adoption UK website and follow the links.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Great North Run Training Pt1

The first of my Great North Run Training Videos

I'm doing it for the Family Rights Group
I'd love it if you'd sponsored me - https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Al-Coates

Thursday, 14 July 2016


Several years a go at the dawn of camera phones the big girl got her first 'hand me down phone', giddy with joy she passed her number to all and sundry. So, slightly perplexed she came and asked me to help her to open a message that she'd been sent. You can imagine my surprise when it was a picture text from a 14 year old acquaintance of himself. I say himself it was only part of himself in a state of 'happiness'. You can imagine MrsC's surprise. Clearly, young eyes were protected from this.

After a little thought we felt that a couple of decades in a Gulag breaking rocks would perhaps smooth out a few curves in the young man's character so we rang the police. I confess that they spoke a lot of sense and guided me to having a chat to the young man as to involve them would place him on the sex offenders register for the rest of his life and though tempting was perhaps a bit too much for us. So, chat we did and I suggested that if he ever saw my daughter again, let alone give her any bother, he was to throw himself under a bus or I'd release the Good MrsC upon him and the full weight of the law. Having weighed the potential outcomes he plumped for the former and that was the issue over.

Of course no trouble was ever had with the big girl again, bless her.

So back to present day and our plans with Lotty's phone have worked a treat for the last year. After the initial flush of giddy joy and frenetic texting and calling of relatives a moderation set in. Having got what she wanted she realised that it was in fact the un coolest phone in the known world and it was resigned to the bottom of her school bag to gather dust. How sad.
The deal had been, learn to have a phone i.e. don't call the police because you didn't get sprinkles on your hot chocolate*. So, though it is uncertain as to how well the lesson has been learnt it gave us another year. Job done, we've had no bother and no texts.

She has a smart phone now, albeit a second hand one from the big girl** and is making steps into the modern world. That had always been the deal, have a 'trainer phone' for a year then a 'real' phone. I like to think of technology as neutral neither inherently good nor bad. That may be true but human nature being as it is and young people being what they are I feel a fair amount of apprehension. However, this is a bridge that we cannot go around so we are tentatively stepping across it, caution and moderation being our watchwords along with the usual and reasonable ground rules and safeguards. So we'll see how we go.

Am I worried? Eh, yes.

Will it be ok? Eh, yes, we'll make it ok, that's what parents do.

*I really must tell that story sometime. 

**I really must check the photos

Monday, 11 July 2016

Summer Evening

It was 5:58pm on a Friday night and the summer sun was shining,  my phone 'pinged', so I looked.

There it was, an email from a Local Authority Placement Team looking for a bed for a vulnerable 9 year old girl*.

I paused and mentally went through the available places I have.

I can't help.

Sometimes I un pause and carry on without a thought but not tonight.

Something kept me on pause. I started to play out what was really happening in the life of a 9 year old girl, perhaps sat in a social care office, all the staff gone home for the weekend except one Social Worker looking for a safe place.

Calls being made to available carers with the matching criteria becoming less and less important as the list of Local Authority carers was exhausted.

Then they send out an email to the independent fostering agencies, increasingly desperate to find a safe place for a 9 year old girl at 6pm on a Friday night.

I couldn't shake the feeling, it hung over me like a cloak.

I purposefully did not imagine any of my children in the place of that 9 year old girl. I have a place inside me I keep the really crappy stuff and that imagining was put straight there before it was even allowed to form and develop.

I thought of that Social Worker, maybe it was their duty day, maybe the phone rang at 5 minutes to 5 and they caught this 'problem'. Maybe they had a family to go home to, plans and hopes for a summer evening in with loved ones. That was all laid aside.

I read so much about what Social Workers should be doing and how they should do it, critical voices. I'm pretty sure few of those loud voices know what it's like to find a safe place for a little girl on a Friday night when the whole world wants to enjoy the sunshine.

I re read the referral today. I'm not sure I want to be sort of Social Worker that un-pauses and moves on.

*Of course I changed the details.