Forgive me for not giving a blow by blow account of what was a long and very detailed meeting with a wide range of professionals, professors, doctors of this and that, NHS types, civil servants, Social Workers, Sally Donovan and me. Edward Timpson, the Children's Minister, came at the beginning of the meeting and the fearful look in his eye of a man being stalked was not missed by me. This was the third time I'd been in a room with him in 24 hours and the second time involved a hug and a selfie.
The views and contributions by the attendees was excellent with Professor Jonathan Green's presentation on delivery models and the rationale behind them being a high point. His description and explanation of adoption as being such a high indicator of risk for children's mental ill health was reassuring for me as a parent, he clearly 'gets it'. Discussion around the alternative eco system of adoption interventions was excellently summarised by Professor Peter Fonagy acknowledging their ability to engage and work with adoptive families in ways that engaged and acknowledged the challenges we all know.
Sally and I had been given the opportunity to share the views and perspectives of adoptive parents. We both were overwhelmed by the responses that we had received when we put out the call on social media but we realised that the messages were in the main critical and raw. We'd both been impacted at the difficult and distressing stories we'd heard. So the challenge was how to maintain that honesty and still make it palatable to those who work in this field. I struggled to add much more to what had been said to me so I gave a brief introduction and read out a representative sample of direct quotes (see below). All thought provoking stuff and quite different in tone from the content prior to that. Sally followed this pulling together key themes and messages that adopters had passed onto her. These resonated with what others were saying and it was received well.
So where do we go from here? It's clear that there is desire to implement accurate assessment of children and families that links to then identifying appropriate and effective interventions. Serious considerations is being given to the formation of regional CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) that specialise in serving adopted and children in the looked after system. As you can see there's an awful lot to go at there and not all without controversy but there appears to be a move across the stakeholders in relation to making positive changes to the current system.
Those are my selected highlights. I'm encouraged and hopeful, not words I use lightly, so take heart and thank you for your help.
‘Our needs just too complex for CAHMS, is my guess. Tried a bit of everything, then time was up, case closed’
‘Emergency CAMHS services must be improved to give parents of young children genuine out of hours support and there must be a recognition of the real level and prominence of child on adult violence and access to funded safe holding training for all adoptive parents.’
‘Social Workers, including those in CAMHS, must stop blaming and disbelieving parents who are traumatised by parenting traumatised children without support! I could go on...’
‘find staff who know how to work with children, the old chestnut saying 'wont engage ' should not be allowed to pass their lips. Try something else then!! Talking therapies with children who suffer with anxiety, seriously do they think they are going to work!!’
‘We need a clear referral pathway to CAMHS; fast initial assessment of needs and support for the whole family in terms of emotional support and helping parents with practical strategies and advice for helping/managing the child’
‘My GP was clueless and not at all interested or helpful. Adoption support did agree to refer although this took 3 months from me contacting them.’
‘My daughter has issues around attachment, guilt and loss about her past experiences and birth mother. This affects her behaviour and learning. However, she is not eligible for work with CAHMS as her behaviour is not severe enough to meet their criteria’
‘Intervention is not happening before crisis point. Educate schools that pretty much every adopted child needs mental health support within the school environment, and that we are not neurotic parents, we just fear, and in many cases know, that the behaviours that happen at home will, in time, happen at school and this will affect friendships and how well they can succeed to the best of their educational ability.’
‘In my doctors surgery they hesitate to refer any child to CAHMS as they know the waiting list is so long. We are failing a whole generation and it's so sad’
‘For me CAHMS have been a fantastic service. Help when needed for both S and me (as support/somewhere to offload). We have had a huge waiting list each referral to get through, and are now 10mths into waiting for art therapy - but I know when we get to the top of the list (very soon now!), that the service will be fantastic. However, support from PAS, both here and where we originally adopted has been horrendous.’
‘We will never, EVER work with CAMHS again. I honestly believe that in its current state my local CAMHS does more harm than good for adoptive families. They insist a square peg must fit into a square hole, what they offer is what you get, regardless of suitability.’
‘….it has taken us 6 months to finally see someone who has any clue about being able to help us. It was 4 months from urgent GP referral to seeing anyone at all. It needs to be less than a fortnight. Now we we have found someone to help, I think what's being offered is excellent.’