Thursday 31 March 2016

Coming home

I sometimes sit in the car for a second longer that I need to, I take a deep breath then head into the house.

Often I know what I'm walking into, with regular updates, texts usually keep me abreast of the current 'situation'. Most times it is resolved by the time I walk through the door. But the pause in the car is just long enough to put behind the travails of the working day and get my game face on.

Of course the good MrsC is more than able to manage most situations but that doesn't mean that it's easy, pleasant or that it doesn't take it's toll. We made the decision to be parents together though but it is mostly the good MrsC doing the school runs, making tea (dinner for you southerners) and without doubt doing the lion's share of the work. I go out to work and though I enjoy my work I often feel guilty as the text updates come through. I'm lucky my employers appreciate the 'uniqueness' of my family and allow me the flexibility to take calls as and when I can. It's appreciated but reading and hearing incidents unfold from a distance is a uniquely stressful experience. There's rarely anything constructive I can do, if you've ever tried to regulate a dysregulated child by phone you'll appreciate it's like trying to put a pair of leggings on an angry octopus, an exercise in madness.

Of course saying that its hard for me seems churlish and selfish so perhaps I shouldn't admit to it. Managing it on the ground is of course stressful, upsetting and exhausting and often MrsC doesn't inform me of the trials and tribulations of the day until I get home.

I'd rather know what's going on but the impotence that it brings is debilitating at times knowing that your loved ones are caught in some illogical fracas, a dysregulated child and a struggling parent.

I want to know but I don't want to know. Sometimes MrsC tells me sometimes she doesn't.

So, I sit in the car and take a breath and get my game face on, ready for what might be, has been or is to come.

Sunday 27 March 2016

A summary of Adoption - a Vision for Change

Key new announcements  of the Adoption - a Vision for Change 

Regional Adoption Agencies

·         Providing funding and support via a RAA development fund, with up to £14m available across 2016-18 to support the implementation of RAAs


·         Developing a robust continuous professional development programme to enable social workers to develop the skills they need to make and support robust permanence decisions.

Innovation and Practice Fund

·         Introducing two new funding streams for RAAs, voluntary adoption agencies and voluntary organisations, with up to £16 million across 2016-18.

Adoption Support Fund

·         increase the ASF in 2016-17 to £21m and £28m in 2017-18, with further increases in every year in this Parliament;
·         extend support to adopted young people up to age 21 (from April 2016);
·         allow children adopted from other countries via intercountry adoptions to use the ASF (from April 2016); and
·         extend support to special guardians who care for children who were previously looked after (from April 2016).


·         By summer 2016 setting up an expert group to advise DfE and DH ministers on new care pathways for adopted and looked after children. These will set out best practice to be followed in the treatment/support of these children.


·         Use legislation to expand the role of virtual schools heads and consider how designated teachers can continue to support children who have left care under an adoption order;

see here for the announcement

Thursday 24 March 2016

Doilies and Cake

I'm in total awe of the foster carers, celebrated the steady stream of newspaper items celebrating their retirement noting the care they've given to countless dozens of children across decades. My awe is not so much for the care that they've shown the children, which of course is inspiring, it's the resilience they've demonstrated as they've given their lives over the system. Even if every one of their Social Workers has been exceptional managing the faceless and nameless system is the thing that grinds you down.

I come from a nice family, a nice working class family from the right side of the tracks. So starting out on the process of adoption was our families first involvement with Social Workers, agents of the state, and the system. It was all 'nice biscuits and doilies' to start with, nice strangers sifting through our inner workings and life stories. We didn't mind it one bit as we had volunteered and we were ultimately in control as we could always say no. We didn't mind the odd bit of inconvenience or the odd mis step as this was the path to our desired goal, children.

So, children come and no adopter will forget the tangible feeling of utter joy as we shut the door behind the Social Worker for the last time, breathed a sigh of relief and got about the business of family.

It wasn't the end for us. We had dip our toe back into that water, the system, more like we are pushed headlong into that world. This time our choice was removed and it is no longer 'biscuits and doilies' it's voicemail, left messages, emails and meetings. I didn't realise when I stepped onto the adoption conveyor belt was that I would be negotiating 'the system' for the rest of my children's lives. Schools, Post Adoption Support, Children's Services, Police, CAHMS, CYPS and various branches of medicine, all the system. The overwhelming majority of professionals, across all disciplines, that I've gone to for help have been good and some exceptional. However, they come and go and the system feels brutal at times and perpetually set against us and the professionals that we work with. I'm sure it's not but it feels like that at times.

As parents we do what we have to do, we read policy documents and school entry guidance; write nice letters, call councillors we rant, rave, campaign and blog. All the time we're drawn into this system that is alien to most of us and we find it is woven into our lives. We become experts in policy and guidance in negotiation and advocacy all to get through the system. I'm a white middle aged professional man and people listen to me, I'm articulate and reasonable and I have agency. I know the regulations and the systems of social care (it's not an accident I'm a Social Worker). We all do what we have to do.

I worry for those who don't those that struggle, don't keep their ear to the ground, can't shout and scream, are intimidated by professionals and don't know their rights. I fear for those adoptive parents that become 'problems' to professionals and the system because they say no, or have a clash of personality or opinion. I sometimes think about how my children's parents managed it. Of course that's an impossible question but reading the files I sometimes wonder how they would describe the system that they found themselves in and if it would be very different from my description. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be 'doilies and cake'.

A bit of a rambling post.

Friday 18 March 2016

House of Cards

Some times things smooth out. It's all relative of course, my idea of smooth and the general population's are probable a little different. The shouty fighty bits get a little less shouty fighty and we start to relax a little and it all seems doable. Perhaps I'm able to walk this line between push over and commandant, therapist and policeman.
As hours turn to days my confidence grows, deludedly I think that I'm good at this stuff, at least this week.

Then it all unravels.

I get shouty, snippy, pointy and dysregulated, I want to say it was provoked and it was a reasonable reaction to unacceptable behaviour. It wasn't it was over a little bit of normal child procrastination and distraction during the school run. I should have been better. Damn, damn, damn and blast. The night before I was high giving myself over my therapeutic verbal gymnastics. Now that's all gone.

My parenting feels like a house of cards that I'm slowly building sometimes I can't even get the basics  right, two cards propped together. Some times I get further three tiers of cards, the high level parenting stuff that they write in the expensive books and preach at he la de daa courses. I'm learning one things for sure the house will fall, sooner or later, I will fail.

Of course I know all the 'good enough' theories, for heavens sake I reel them off quickly enough to others. I could meditate on some Facebook meme of a kitten in a bucket advising me that

'a true measure of a person  is not how many times you cock it up but how many times you get up' 

or some such pseudo motivational pap.

Of course it was all ok in the end, no harm done, tomorrow's another day and we all make mistakes. Blah blah blah.
Doesn't mean I don't feel pants.


Sunday 13 March 2016

The Big Adoption Day

The Big Adoption Day finds itself arriving in the middle of a slightly confused or uncertain adoption landscape. At least it's confused and uncertain in my mind.

Talking to an experienced Social Work practitioner then noted that they've never know a time such as this in relation to adoption. I agree, the tranquil and steady backwater that used to be adoption policy and practice is either dried up to a trickling stream or raging torrent depending on the opinions that you listen to.

With the number of approved adopters at an all time high and the numbers of children lower than that the obvious question is why? I'm guessing that the needs of the children don't meet or alight with the capacity of the approved adopters. Also a consequence of additional funds to approve adopters and a reduction of supply of children. I know of local authorities with 40+ waiting adopters and voluntary agencies with 10+. I watch threads on social media with adoptive parents consoling waiting adopters, 'hang in there hun, we waited 2 years'. 2 years!
Do we need more adopters right now? Probably, but we need the right mix of adopters able to parent the children waiting.
Things are not what they were.

In this river  'easily matched' children bob quickly downstream to be collected by the abundance of adopters waiting for their blue eyed blond haired cherubs. It's the other children those caught in the doldrums and eddies, sibling groups those with uncertain physical, mental and emotional health needs that are struggling to get downstream. We need a different kind of adopter for those children, I'm trying to calibrate my thoughts to make adoption about children as for so long it's been about adopters. That sound obvious but not always so clear.
Things are not what they were.

The needs of the children are paramount and CAFCASS are reporting care applications increasing, that does not necessarily translate to more adoptions, the Judge's job is to judge not meet the needs of adopters or yield to the ideology of politicians.
Things are not what they were.

Regionalisation of adoption is marching ahead at a pace. How will that impact on Local Authorities or voluntary agencies? There's certainly a few rapids ahead for employees of the adoption industry, adoption used to be the safest job in Social Work.
Things are not what they were.

So in the midst of all of that we've got the Big Adoption Day. We need adopters as the river always flows but for those going to events and asking questions I'm not sure what answers can be given. I see the adverts for events but I see a limited or no reflection of where we're at and worry that we're forging ahead regardless in the hope that it all settles back to what it was in the good old days. The good old days are gone but I'm not sure the good old days were ever here for many in the adoption triangle.

The Big adoption day feels like a party that was arranged when every one was riding the crest of a wave of fun in the wake of the last kicking party.  But then as the party draws near the fun is forgotten and no one can  quite remember why the party was arranged. The invitations have been sent and the hats and decorations have been bought but the enthusiasm has waned and we reluctantly agree to continue.

We live in strange times.

Thursday 10 March 2016

Hurt: One Year On.

I can't believe that it's been a year to the week since I spilled my thoughts in to a blog post after a tricky few incidents with one of the kids. Hurt was a reaction to a ever escalating pattern of violence that had started years earlier with the lashing out of a toddler. In a big child it can be no longer brushed off or ignored. Things were starting to get broken people were starting to get hurt.

I posted on a Hurt on a Thursday evening and the response was genuinely shocking as though I was the first person to ever stick their head above the parapet and acknowledge a problem that is commonplace for many. I'm not the first and I fear I won't be the last. The offers of support and solidarity were touching and humbling as people spoke of their fears, concerns and guilt.

Since then we've had an 'interesting' year. I refuse to be held hostage and I refuse to give up. I spoke to my local adoption team and asked for supervision or to be allocated a Social Worker. They couldn't meet that requirement so I instigated my own virtual supervision by emailing concerns or specific events of violence to a LA Social Worker. I think she was a bit sick of me so I added the caveat that I expected and required no support but if they could kindly keep the email safe just as a formal record of events. We informed the local police and asked them to make a note in their records just incase they ever got an emergency call so that they were pre armed with some info. We tell all the professionals we can this key part of our narrative. In short we keep ourselves safe, we've built a narrative as a safety net for us all. A couple of those emails instigated an Initial Assessment* from the local child protection team. That was an interesting afternoon our second in less than a year the Social Worker was quite nice really but still a good lesson for my practice.

In truth though things have eased, we get the attitude but less physical. In part we are getting more savvy. I invited my local Post Adoption Support Team to carry out a formal assessment of our needs and they obliged and we got some NVR training, I'd already had it through work so MrsC and my mam went on it and it was much appreciated.

We work hard to not let it get to the point of fisty cuffs, very hard, we take a verbal beating rather than a physical one and we step aside, distract and use plain old trickery and bribery to avoid the worst.  Still, we've had some ugly stuff this year and none of us, winners or losers, feel particularly edified by any of it.

I'm sure that for as long as there are children who have experienced and witnessed violence or word and deed there will be parents who experience violence. I refuse to be held hostage, I refuse to give up and I hope we can bring it out of the shadows.

For now we as a family take it a day at a time.

*The initial assessment is a statutory short assessment of each child referred to Children's Services focusing on establishing whether the child is in need or whether there is reasonable cause to suspect that the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm

Thursday 3 March 2016


My Facebook timeline has had a fair share of posts this week from relieved parents claiming 'Little Bonjela has got her place at Saint Mavis the Indignant's school for Young Pedants'. Blessed relief and dashed hopes have swept across the land for all those children moving up to Year 7 in September.

I even posted our own good news.
What blessed relief the good MrsC and I felt, mixed with the ever present doubt and uncertainty as we release Flossy into the wild. Flossy's giddy at the news,  it was her idea to go to this school and she got what she wanted. I see it as the least worst option.

It was a complicated path as the school is in a different county and we'd already made a different choice by the given deadline. Like most parents we do what we have to do. I confess that we played every Ace in the pack, the vulnerable child card and previous LAC* card the poor little adopted kid card. We called the head of admissions, twisted every arm, give full, and frank, accounts of early life experiences and talked them into a corner and tried to vicariously traumatise them in the increasingly desperate attempt to get her admission to the school that we all felt was the right one. We expressed our concerns over the local feeder Megaschool Learning Factory, we tried everything we could. We got in.

It's made me think though. I never wanted my children's status as adoptees to be anything other than their business. Of course if you know anything of us then you'll realise that we let it all hang out and a jigsaw family like us demands a few answered questions. But I never wanted us or them to be treated differently, for years I was slightly embarrassed by our receipt of adoption support allowance as I felt that we should stand on our own two feet like every other family. I have changed. The day I tendered my resignation at work because the behaviour of the children was way outside of normal I changed. I realised that we were never going to be normal and that to try and live under the radar was potentially going to disadvantage the children and us.

So we fight the systems that would prefer all children to be cookie cutter kids, the system that sometimes baulks at children that step outside of 'normal'. We make the calls, speak to teachers and administrators and doctors and anybody who'll listen. We read the legislation and guidance arming ourselves with facts and figures and then ask the questions that we already know the answers to. I trained to be Social Worker and MrsC studied child psychology for two years in part to equip us for this journey and we've often read more books than the people sent to help us. I go to teacher inset days to train on the impacts of trauma etc. we network and soak up tips and tricks. We tell anyone who'll listen that they 'need' to understand the impact of my children's early lives. We make friends and we don't care if we lose friends we do what we have to do to navigate our children through all of this.

I sat with a friend, who has adopted children, in a professional meeting recently regarding some policy or other and she whispered I know this meetings not about my child but if it doesn't go how I want it to it will be. She was slightly scary when she said it.

I still feel sad that I'm forced to play the adoption card to get the support and care that every child should get as standard.

*'Previous LAC', what a God awful phrase.

Wednesday 2 March 2016

Dear @my_newfamily

Dear Teacher,

I am rather concerned that we do not appear to be speaking the same language when it comes to my son. Maybe its because we sat in a meeting back in July and I argued why my son’s school start should be delayed so that he would have time to settle into his new home and get to know his new family; maybe its because you feel he is settling well into school and you dont see the behaviour of a scared child like I see at home. Or maybe its just because I would like an empathetic or even sympathetic response whilst it appears to me you deal with black and white facts.

For some reason, I have the feeling that you perceive me as an over worrying parent with limited knowledge of children. Believe me, the adoption process is very thorough and I wouldnt have been approved if I had no experience of being with children. Maybe you see me as younger than my actual years - I am nearer to 40 than I am to 30 if that helps your judgement at all.

When I say that my son has said he is missing me and crying at school; please dont brush it off with ‘all children go through that - he is fine once inside’ I am my sons 5th mother figure, not including staff and grandmother; yes I acknowledge that most children do miss their parents when at school but my child doesnt believe that he wont just be moved to a new home. He doesnt trust me or anyone enough that no matter what his behaviour that he isnt going anywhere. My son wants to spend time with me because he is starting to feel that he wants to stay with me; wow how scary for him - because he quite likes it with me he expects that he will be moved or I will leave him. So please next time my son says he misses me take time with him, show him the picture in his book bag remind him that I think of him too and will be there to pick him up. 

I have tried to explain that my son doesnt show hurt/pain if he falls over; he may jump up and down but otherwise will shrug things over.  Whilst many parents want their sons/daughters not to cry at the slightest of knocks Id quite like my son to show some feeling and seek some affection at these time. When my son fell over in the playground and cleanly knocked out a tooth and had blood dripping from his mouth - he should not have ‘been fine’, he should have been shouting and screaming - he wasnt this shouldnt been seen as brave this is a scared boy who doesnt want to let on that he isnt strong and may at times need people to care for him.

I have tried to explain that my son needs an adult to help him meet his basic needs; he will need someone to take him to the water fountain and then make sure he actually drinks the cup of water. My son only really had two feelings when he came to me hunger and tired. All of his role plays involve being hungry, if he sees food/sees other people eating food he will say that he is hungry even if he has just eaten. If food is put on a plate to share, he will take a handful of food to make sure he has sufficient and doesnt go without. If on the rare occasions I dare eat a dessert when his behaviour at meal times meant he missed out then he will shout and scream the house down; he may throw things, bite me, punch me. So when he stops eating his fruit at snack time - I have the feeling something is wrong so please don’t tell me ‘they have time to eat but we can’t force them’ my son needs regulating, he needs to know that he will still have play time but that its important he eats too. If he doesn’t eat like most of us, his attention will drop, he will struggle to regulate himself, and you may seen a change in his behaviour.

When I tried to explain that my son needs to play to feel safe, and he needs to play more when tired, and even more when he has new toys - please don’t tell me all children like to keep playing with new toys. Yes im sure they do but my son needs to play because he doesn’t believe the toys will still be there when he comes home, he came to me with little if any age appropriate toys; figures of dinosaurs and cars a few jigsaw puzzles but nothing that he could actually ‘play with’. He has been know to destroy toys when angry he is still experiencing that people think he deserves new toys.

When I ask if we can speak about Mothers Day cards; please take time to listen to my concerns, don’t make me feel like I am making a fuss about nothing. I don’t know if my son has written a card before, i dont know if asked who he would want to write a card for. But ultimately please take time to consider why would my son want to celebrate Mothers Day; most days he doesn’t want a mother figure because he cant trust them, they leave him. To him a Mummy doesn’t mean someone who loves you and keeps you save, that feeds you, and plays with you. Deep in his brain Mummy’s are inconsistent, they cant be relied upon for anything.

When you approach me to say that my son has hurt several children within an hour; and I explain that he needs support to help regulate himself and that he takes time to calm down when he is angry; please dont say all children need time to calm down. Ive tried to explain that I need to hold him when he starts kicking, punching, pushing otherwise he will continue to hurt people. Ive tried to explain that even when he appears calm he is still in high alert. My son’s anger comes from a place where he is fighting for his life, he will defend himself as that is safer than anyone being a threat to him. I understand that you dont know the signs just yet when he may hurt another child. But once he has this is your cue to keep him close and safe, not just allow him to show that he is big, strong and doesnt need anyone to look after him as then even the smallest of things maybe perceived as a threat.

I could go on and speak about the fact that children get dessert when they havent eaten their main meal, or your behaviour policy and how this shames my child, or your understanding of the difficulties I face just to get him to school but think Ive said enough for now

So please next time I try and speak with you about my concerns around my son, use a little empathy and stop seeing him as the same as all the other children in your class