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.