Monday, 28 December 2015

This Year

Christmas is the time I consider the year gone and the year ahead. Right now the house looks like a blend of an explosion in a tinsel and  a derelict children's play area after a brawl. Not good but that's Christmas. The worst of it's over now so as I languish in the netherland between Christmas and New Year my mind drifts to the year that's been.

It's been a mixed year with the children, I re-calibrated my expectations in that regard many years ago so there's no abiding sense of disappointment or loss. It is what it is and we do what we do.
There have been some interesting  moments, a bit of police interaction which was very positive, an Initial Assessment by children's services which was interesting (the second in 12 months) and we instigated the assessment of needs out of curiosity. I feel sorry for my Post Adoption Social Worker she has to put up with me and my unauthorised use of her as a monitoring and logging tool. She'll no doubt rue the day I got her email address, bless her.

Otherwise I've been here there and everywhere. Met load of fascinating people. Mixed in all of the work stuff there have been some high powered meetings and speaking opportunities, all very la dee dah.

However, the most profound moment was the day I posted on living with violence. I uploaded the post teatime on a Thursday and by 7pm I was being told to tweet the link and pass on the details. My phone buzzed without ceasing for the next 48 hours with hundreds of notifications as people messaged me, emailed and spoke of their experiences, fears and circumstances. Many heartbreaking and distressing stories were passed to me. But it's stuck with me and re reading it I'm not sure what provoked the response in my post as the issue seems to have been touched on by many organisations and bloggers before and since but I seemed to hit a nerve on that day. It's lingered long in my mind and was a remarkable few days. The reality is that adopters care for children who can easily be categorised as 'at risk' but in doing so many of us put ourselves 'at risk'. Thought provoking stuff.

Lots of other stuff of course, the DfE, the ASF, moving house, Sarah came home, work and the long summer without internet access at home all made up a remarkable year.

As for the future, well, we keep on keeping on. There are plenty of opportunities and lots of work to do. I'm aware of the gaps in my knowledge and understanding and am hoping to develop that to inform all that I do in the home first then professionally. One of the key issues facing this community is the efficacy therapeutic interventions is close to our families heart and I am convinced it will become the issue that many will wrestle with increasingly in 2016. More importantly I see that the voices of adoptees are often the quietest and least heard. We've work to do.

Of course at home there will be hard days, good days and the odd and unexpected easy days. We'll see what comes our way here at Coates Acres.

I wish you all blessings for the coming year.

Albums of the Year:
The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream
Ozzy Osbourne - Tribute

Books of the Year: 
Maya Angelou- I know why the caged bird sings (I've not finished it yet!)
The Cruel Sea - Nicholas Monserrat

Film of the year:

Blogpost of the Year
Suddenly Mummy - Seven Stages of Being dumped with a Stranger

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Little Boy

I've been ahead of myself and written up a blog recounting the protracted and somewhat tense negotiations this weekend in relation to Flossy's desire to ring Childline. Of course it's the same old same old and perhaps a little formulaic, a little too predictable. As it was unravelling and reaching it's head butting crescendo, her not me I hasten to add*,  I couldn't help feel that it was blogging gold. What a strange perspective.

But then I got a text whilst on my commute that knocked the wind out of my sails.

"How long was I in care for, I'm filling a form in for Uni'

It was Ginger.

I sat teary eyed in the carriage, how had that happened? How had that little boy 20 months old, totally besotted in equal measure with Mrs C, his new mammy, and Thomas the Tank Engine turned into this 6 ft tall man on the cusp of university and adult life. More than that it was a reminder that he wasn't always part of my life and he traveled a rocky road to our life.

I sent back the dates from the last century of the beginning and end of his LAC journey. A lifetime ago for him with no personal memory just secondhand stories from us and his big sister and pictures in a book.  I recalled the vulnerability and the strain I felt in those first years when we formed a family. The challenge of his initial disinterest in me and my failings, my mistakes and insecurities. How that thawed and I grew up a bit. Grew up a lot, I was 27 when he came into my life with his big sisters.

The memories flashed round my head, the days we did this and he did that, the fun the tears and the laughs. What a sentimental fool I was being, if it were not for the other passengers I would have wept.

The time has just gone too damn quick and I can't go back and savour the moments that the 44 year old me knows that the 27 year old me should have done. Of course that's the advantage of age and experience. So, it dawned on me that I've less than a year to savour with my little boy, I need to give my head a shake and slow down, pause the moments and be with my son. This man that I feel so proud of, not like me in so many ways, but such a part of me and my life.

Its a reminder to me that I need to slow down and savour the moments with all my children. Of course I exclude the Childline moments, maybe.

*In her defence I think it was accidental, though it still hurt.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Tectonic Plates

Over the last few weeks I've been playing a game. I slide up to people I know, brighter and wiser people, and all nonchalant like, when they least expect, it I ask them:

'So, what do you think about adoption?'

What interesting things people say. They normally ask for clarification 'why, what do you mean, eh?' Then we talk, I ask few questions and they give a few answers and the things people that have said to me have been very interesting, very interesting indeed.

It's not a game. My views have shifted, slowly like tectonic plates from the naive ill informed enthusiasm of 18 years ago to now. The trouble is that I'm not sure what I think, I am but I aren't.

Riding up the country gave me time to ponder, but I came up empty, more questions than answers.

The money that changes hands and the business, the dogma and the ideology, injustices and punishment, the challenges and recruitment, the expectations and the promises, the hopes and the dreams, the realities and the wonder,  the adopters, the families, the children, the love. I've not even mentioned human rights and parental responsibilities.

Increasingly I struggle to articulate my thoughts in words and though I can offer to demonstrate my views through expressive dance there's too much to say.

In no way am I turning my back on adoption and I am certain that I love the children in my life I've been given to parent. I even struggle to say my children these days. Perhaps that's a reaction to the US adoption month stuff that floats around the internet. Perhaps that's too much airy fairy social worky thinking. Perhaps it's all too much airy fairy social worky thinking.

Of course my views are informed by my relatively narrow experience and the experience of those I come into contact with. But there's a yearning to know more. So, blog about nothing but that's what I'm doing now looking for more understanding and nuance. I worry that my views push beyond my knowledge and into opinion that I become an empty vessel, hollow but loud. So, if you seem me slide up to you prepare yourself I might expect you to give account of your views.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

EAG Adoption Support Group: Education

The quarterly DfE Expert Advisory Group rolled around and this time the focus was on education. Crickey, release the floodgates. Without doubt one of the topics that I'm sure any parent, adoptive or not, will be able to share an opinion or two on usually with gusto. 

To start with we touched on the meeting that the Adoption UK's Adopter's Voice programme had held at the DfE and Sally D and I fed back from that. 
We then moved onto the main focus of the meeting and with Peter Sandiford giving feedback from the PAC UK's survey on education.  Our special guest, Gareth Marr,  followed this with a presentation on thoughts and benefits of the Virtual Schools incorporating adopted children into their remit.  Both very good and helpful, to be honest they were preaching to the choir and we all saw the benefits that could be actualised if the Virtual Schools did this. Certainly Gareth's charismatic presence added weight to the argument and it was a pleasure to have his experience brought to bear.

It's clear that in the short term that no edict will be issues to make heads of the virtual schools incorporate adopted children into their virtual schools. However, some have and  this has been found to be beneficial for the adopted children and as was noted if it benefits one child in a classroom then it is likely to benefit all the children. 

One of the key roles of the Virtual School is to train teaching staff and I find the argument that in training and equipping schools to support and accommodate adopted children they will develop a skill set that will benefit all children. So, to sell it to schools re frame the training required as part of a range of necessary teaching skills in supporting pupils in relation to loss, separation, bereavement, trauma and, finally, attachment. The number of children that are impacted by these events far out number adopted children. I'm thinking divorce, separation, children of those incarcerated or in the armed forces, bereavement, those experiencing abuse or living in a violent home. A range of experiences but the reality is that if schools see the bigger picture they are more likely to be able to incorporate specific children's needs as well as histories and home contexts.

In no way was the meeting derogatory towards teaching staff and it was acknowledged the challenges that they face in the context of Ofsted requirements and increasingly punitive behaviour contracts and  the like. Lots was discussed and there is more to be unpicked and that will no doubt be done over the next few months and added into the pot.

So, in summary a positive EAG meeting group discussion. 

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Day 4: To Northumberlandia

12:49 am and day 3 had creeped into day 4. I was laying in the swallow barn in a barn, eating Hula Hoops and trying to read my copy of The Cruel Sea I'd lugged 306 miles up the country. My mind dotted around conversations and thoughts from that evening with Amanda B to the pondering that I'd indulged in as I rode. If anything I've come away more confused than ever. There appears to very few certainties in the realm of adoption with nuance and questions in direct opposition to dogma and historic practice. 

We slept late and took a lift to the nearest bike shop after I've fixed yet another puncture.

After a quick fix we headed off into the rain. In all my days cycling I've never been so cold with the wet. Zippy weeped with joy as his rear mech unravelled, stood under a bush I pushed my skills to the limit while he ate yet another snickers and giggled. 
23 miles later we drew up to my old friend's, D & D. As adopters of 15 children they are legends and caught Mrs C & I when we fell. Top draw people. 
True to form they fed us and dried out our clothes, two hours later we set off on the last leg wrapped in plastic bags, classy.
The last leg through the industrial landscape of County Durham and Tyneside was in stark contrast to the central London landscape we'd set off from. The temperature dropped and we slogged past the iconic northern landscapes.

Then we arrived in the dark, Mrs C a Colour Carwen and Lotty welcomed us an we were relieved.

We said some words, I threw my parliament green mud at her face. Northumberlandia is a thing of beauty but to many who live in her shadow she's a symbol of corruption and greed.

We prayed and then we took our last trip less than a mile to my home. 

Zippy is an awesome companion. Tensing to Hillary, Oates to Scott, Golum to Frodo. I swear if he offers me one more Snicker I shall not be responsible for my actions.  

Monday, 30 November 2015

Day 3: Into the darkness

Like an over keen puppy Zippy announced that he'd got another puncture over the breakfast table today. So, as he settled in for another round of toast, tea and croissants I toiled on his mobile thorn catcher.
I can confess that the delicate balance of our relationship had deteriorated somewhat and his chirpy attitude had worn very thin.

With hope in our hearts we set off with our eyes on the sky and minds on the hills. The morning flew by and with the wind on out backs. It's impossible to not be cheered at the sight of Zippy ordering a cubic yard of chips then consuming them to the amazement of all bystanders. So I have to confess to feel a slight warming of my frosty attitude.

From York we climbed to the North Yorkshire foot hills where disaster struck on a particular speedy dissent my spoke snapped. Hoping that I wouldn't lose my registration I seconded the local toilets for a makeshift repair shop.

Then onwards and upwards into the blackness we headed for the Open Nest's secret mountain hideaway. A stunning, though nervous ride, through the dark night was the highlight and lowlight of the night.

Then we arrived to an evening of thoughts, chat, and plotting.

98 miles in the hardest of circumstances.

Tomorrow 95 miles on a broke bike. Without battle there is no victory.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Day 2: Wisbech to Retford

In theory this was going to be the 'easy' day but the fates had a different plan. As did Zippy who proactively sought out every thorn he could find in Lincolnshire.

With hope in our hearts, prayers on our lips and thought in our minds we set off.

The cold wind was on our backs but as we slowly headed West we caught the stout 16 mph head/cross wind. 50 miles into a headwind is no fun and the Fens flat landscape had promised an easy ride but in reality it gave us no respite from the wind.

Hours of grind and even Zippy's cheerful disposition dissolved and we drew back to our own inner worlds as we slogged out the miles. If you cycle you know it can be a marvellous place for reflection and I did plenty of that, writing imaginary blog posts that I'll never publish, gnashing my teeth at the injustices.

By the time Zippy was on is third puncture I confess to have become somewhat miffed and this was exacerbated as he napped while I fixed it. If we remain friends it will be a miracle.

One of the thorns

We finally arrived at 7:30pm , totally done in and 100 miles nearer to our destination.
Tomorrow we head for The Open Nest in the mountain top hideaway.

Anyway, must sleep.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Big Ben to Northumberlandia: Day 1 (setting out)

With hope in our hearts and porridge in our bellies we set off before dawn. I had been a little distressed the night before as  I'd snapped a spoke and been unable to true the wheel. So it was all a bit wobbly, physically and emotionally.  Zippy was also concerned so I tried to lighten the mood by announcing that my training had consisted of eating pies and thinking about cycling. He was not impressed nor was his concern eased. I’m slightly worried about Zippy.

We went to Parliament Green and I stole some soil to take back, a symbol, and off we set.

By good fortune we arrived at the door of Condor Cycles at 8am and they kindly had it fixed and had us back on the road by 8:35. They even gave us free energy gels when they heard that we were stupid enough to be attempting to ride to Northumberland.

So onwards. The rest of the day consisted of city, towpath, hills, rather smashing cycling paths in Cambridge and a slog through the Friday night commute in the dark.

Zippy did fall off but I blame that to the 20kg of Snickers that he has in his back pack, it clearly unbalanced him. He was attempting a rather flamboyant 180 aerial manoeuvre that would have made Evil Knievel baulk and he hit the ground like a bag of hammers. Honestly, I could hardly breath as I laughed so hard, I think I may have soiled myself. My social work training is good for something, and I like to think my empathic response was evident as I checked his snicker supply for damage.
Anyway he was fine and he is a splendid companion and in no way am I annoyed at his endless enthusiasm.

108 miles.

Lots of thoughts about the state of the nation, time is something you have when you cycle and my mind is full. 

So far I've a great title for a blog, no content, just a title without any content.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Day 1: The route

Not including the distance from Zippy's pad to Big ben (9miles)
Day 1: It's many things but it's not a gentle start. Zippy claims that this is just a 'warm up' but clearly has has no idea what he's talking about. His capacity for optimism is only matched by his love of Snickers bars and Ale.

Zippy and the Anchor (me) head home.

Seven years this month ago I left work, it's a long story so I'll not bore you with the details in essence we were unraveling, failing and at the time it was doubtful that we were going to be able to keep going. Our LA had contracted Post Adoption Support with an agency that had gone bust and we'd just been through a two year legal battle that we kept losing only to win at the 11th hour.

We were broken.

So,  left work as financial insecurity seemed to be the obvious route to fixing the issue. Then I did the next best thing got on my bike.

I set off one November lunchtime and headed south, each day I stayed with friends old and new adopters and family. Eventually, 10 days later,  I arrived at Parliament having travelled nearly 600 miles as I'd zig zagged across the country on my way. Why did I go, well that's the big question, I think it was desperation. Having seen the outrageous treatment of my daughters by the 'system' I felt I needed to do something and to make a pilgrimage to the seat of all power seemed to be the obvious thing to do. So that's what I did, a kind of pilgrimage, wth the full backing, endorsement and promotion of Mrs C I headed off and prayed for justice. At the time it as a truly miserable experience, I arrived at Parliament Green in the fading light with saddle sores, wet and cold on a dark Sunday afternoon, said a prayer (God, I'm sick and my kids are traumatised, please do something), shook my fist at the sky and the houses of parliament and then got the train home.
It just seemed like the thing to do so I did it.

Of course there's more to it than that, the people I met and the things I thought, but that's the bear bones. The problem is that over the last seven years the nagging thought that I should cycle home festered inside.

So, like a man with no grasp of common sense or regard for weather, distance or practical realities thats what I'm doing.

Big Ben to Northumberlandia (the naked lady is only a mile from my house)

This time I'm taking a trusty companion the immutable Zippy.
414 miles, 4 days, two bikes.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Unresolved narrative

It's been a hard week for a load of different and mainly external reasons. Of course it goes without saying that I can't say what, when, who, how or why. Of course I can confirm that they're all related directly to the early lives my children and their route to my door. I'm not down or depressed. I just am.

I was speaking to a friend about something or other and he noted that some folks he knew struggled with what I wrote sometimes as there was, as he said it, 'an unresolved narrative'.

Well if it makes you feel any better so do I.

I write what happens, what I see and what I think. Of course I filter and edit it but it's an account of our lives from my perspective. Other perspectives are available of course but I feel that I'm fairly representative of a large number of parents who care for children who have experienced trauma, loss, separation and have travelled through the care system.

I write to make me feel better, to get the dirty water off my chest. I'd love to write about all the warm hugs and beautiful moments that blossom out of difficult experiences. Perhaps I do but in different less obvious ways, I think I find hope.

Today as Mrs C and I returned from our recent sessions with one of the massive's therapist I confessed that I didn't know how all of this is going to turn out for us as a family. Not the immediate but the long term. Not depressed just pragmatic, what does the future hold? I never thought that we'd retire to the seaside, see the grandkids once a week for a slice of Battenberg cake and a Wurthers Original, crikey no.  But I'm not sure how in the medium to long term some of my children's adult lives are going to play out. Our journey so far indicates that for some it will be ok but for some it's not so clear,  so our narrative is unresolved, but can anyone's be resolved?

This week my heart skipped as I walked through the shops, Lotty's 10 year old hand took hold of mine and we walked and talked. Her hand felt small but it was just so natural with an easy familiarity that was precious. Big deal, you say but I'm her dad and I'm the proudest dad in the world because she loves me. I also know that in 5 years this time holding hands will not happen.

Sometimes I hold onto that second in time when my hand is held because in that moment my narrative actually feels pretty much resolved.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Roll the dice

As I try to open a rather awkward container with an inappropriately knife, usually implausibly sharp and outlandishly pointy and more suited to hacking bamboo down, I think:

'This is a stupid act, this will end badly'

So, no surprise when I nearly have my thumb off, blood gushing and the sounds of family members screaming while others pass out. And I think to myself:

'Yup, that's exactly what I thought would happen'

I weigh the short term benefit, in that I can't be bothered to pick up the scissors, against the risk of pain. Sometimes I win and the awkward container is subdued by my flamboyant lack of regard for personal safety. Sometimes I lose and we re enact a scene from a Crimean War field hospital.

The Xbox

I weigh the benefits of an hours peace and calm against the potential for the prowling, pacing and simmering dysregulation that may befall the rest of the day.

For a few weeks lately things have been ok in relation to Flossy's Xbox time.
We've put the usual safeguards in place.
We give the allotted amount of time leading up to meals to have a positive reason to come off.
We give clear expectations around appropriate behaviour after coming off.
We cross our fingers.
We give 10 minute warnings, then 5 then 1minute.
It was working, not perfect but was easily offset against the hours peace we managed to get when Flossy played on the Xbox.

The hour, or so's, peace is sometimes a self care moment, or more often an opportunity to get on with some jobs, housework, make dinner etc.

But then that all changed, the usual control measures were no longer effective, dysregulation, name calling, insults, fights ensued. What happened? Then we realised the broken headset was fixed. The relative safety was encroached by school friends through the microphone. Overstimulating social interaction invaded the relatively controlled environment of our home.
The hour of necessary respite with her playing on the Xbox is followed by four hours of raaaagh.

So we pull back, consequences, boundaries re tightened, headsets and Xbox withdrawn. The hour of peace is alluring, convenient and needed but it comes at a cost.

Everyday it seems we weigh benefit against risk and cost. We roll the dice and somedays we win somedays we lose.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Challenging Behaviour Top Trumps

I like conferences and training. Though the conference and trainy bit can be hit and miss, ranging from excellent to dire, it's meeting other people on a similar path that feels the most rewarding. Chewing the fat, crying on shoulders and sharing tips and tricks.

Of course, you meet at least one person who you can't help wonder how they managed to get approved as adopters and one person on the edge of firebombing their local adoption office.

One of my favourite bits is when we all play 'Challenging behaviour top trumps' in the breaks. There's always someone who starts with a relatively modest,

'Oh, we have challenging bedtimes, sometimes I have to get really firm'. 

Sensing an easy victory another will come in.

'Well, I must tell you that Tarquin spontaneously combusts at the mere thought of bedtime'

Not to be outdone a bystander will add.

'Combusts? Once when we tried to get Petula to bed she held a three day rooftop protest that had to be quelled by the local branch of the territorial army'

And so it goes on, the anecdotes slowly getting more extreme, we laugh and our mouths are agog at the scale and scope of the challenging behaviour. Of course someone wins, my friends true story of having cement poured down their toilet usually wins.
But all the losers walk away feeling much better and thinking 'Crickey, I thought I had it bad, little Franella seems quite tame by comparison'. In fact it was quite productive for the losers and they can pick up tips, tricks and the number of the local TA.

Of course there are other break time activities including my personal favourite, 'Stupid and Insulting things my Social Worker Said Snap'.

The best bit being that we're in environment where we can use shorthand, not have to start at the beginning and can share our fears, joys and journey with people who get it. The 'games' are a therapeutic and  important part for all the above reasons. Of course, everywhere parents meet, playgrounds and playgroups, similar games are played. It's a parent thing.

So, in light of this I wish all of you at the Adoption UK conference a smashing day and next year they should formalise the games and give out awards.

Thursday, 5 November 2015


In the interests of balance I asked Flossy, age 11, some similar questions to those asked of Lotty, she felt able to write the following, all her own views and perceptions. 
I'm resisting the temptation to clarify, contextualise and correct. Her words her way.

Do you think adoptive parents should tell their children about their lives before they came to live with them?

Yes I do because I think it is important for them to know about there past and not take their birth parents example so yeah it is important for me to know about my past and I think it is important for other children to.

How old should they be before they tell them?

Well well that’s a hard one I think they should be about 8 9 10 ish because I think it is important for them to know at an early age so they can think about their future.

Are there things that they could know when they are younger?

Yes like their birth familys name  what they were like stuff like that.

 Are there things that they shouldn’t tell them?

Well, I think there are certain things that they shouldnt tell them like crinimal offences till their about 10 or 11 because I think they should know at a later age so they can think about their future and they are mature enough to take it in the right way.

Do you remember being told about your life before you moved to mam and dad’s house.

No. I don’t but I would have liked to know. But when I was about 9 mam and dad sat me and Lotty down and told us that we were ready to hear about our past so we were given a book,a life story book, it had all sorts of thing in it had picture of my birth mam in and her age and all that what I was like when I was little what im good at what I like etc.
So I think it is important for a child to be given something to remember their family by.

Do you think that you’ll want to know more as you get older?

Well yes people already say im a talented cook and a footballer and I like all of these things a lot but as I get older I will see my real strenghths and weaknesses. And I will decide  from there but I don’t to do all of the above.