Peer-led adoption support: The Cornerstone Partnership

The Cornerstone Partnership is a social enterprise based in Maidenhead. They work in adoption support and foster care recruitment, retention and support across 14 local authorities in London and the south-east. They’re looking for experienced adopters to run their peer-led adoption support programme (and be paid for it), and have asked me to share this with you.

Could you run a post-adoption support group?

Are you an experienced adopter? Are you looking for a flexible business opportunity within adoption services or support?

The Cornerstone Partnership is seeking people to run their peer-led adoption support programme across the country. The Cornerstone programme is a three-pronged approach with support from the very beginning of the assessment through to post-adoption-order.

The Cornerstone PartnershipIt includes structured peer mentoring, therapeutic parenting training and support groups. The success of the programme centres on placing end users at the very heart of the model.

Could you help other adopters on their journey? If you’re looking for an opportunity to fit around family life, visit the Cornerstone website (www.thecornerstonepartnership.com) and download the application form at http://bit.ly/2pKntcp.

If you have questions, please contact The Cornerstone Partnership directly on 01628 636376
or enquiries@thecornerstonepartnership.com. Or do you know someone else who’d be great at this? Please send it their way. Thanks!


BEFORE YOU GO…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
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10 mental health challenges for adoptive parents

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week. To mark the occasion, and because I believe that the mental health of adoptive parents is both (a) critical to the success of adoptive placements and (b) massively overlooked and under-resourced, here are my 10 mental health challenges for adoptive parents.

Keep reading below for my five possible solutions, and my rallying call for a new campaign.

10 Mental Health Challenges For Adoptive Parents

10 mental health challenges

These are just some of the things I  – and many others – deal with on a daily/weekly basis. Any one of these is difficult. Taken in combination they are a threat to good mental health.

  1. The fight to be respected as an authority on what is best for my children, not dismissed as ‘just Mum’ because my professional qualifications are in a different area.

  2. The fight to get them the support they need. The constant stream of forms, appointments, phone calls, waiting lists, and rejected applications.

  3. Frequently explaining to professionals and passers-by that actually, it isn’t our parenting that’s the problem.

  4. Battling to stay regulated while the children scream in my face, throw things at me, and try to hurt me, because I gave them their lunch, or asked them to put their shoes on, or said it was bedtime. (Read more about child-on-parent violence in adoptive families.)

  5. Helping them to become regulated again after a meltdown when I want to curl up under the duvet on my own and release some of the stress with a good cry.

  6. Trying not to dwell on the hurtful things they said while they were angry, and convincing myself they didn’t mean them.

  7. Living in fear of confrontations with other parents because of my child’s behaviour towards theirs.

  8. Making time for self-care, only to have it interrupted by a call from school because they can’t cope and want me to go and calm my child or collect her.

  9. Trying to ensure the children hear consistent messages about their worth and behaviour at school and at home; that they’re not thought of as ‘naughty’.

  10. Being the administrator and communications hub for every aspect of my children’s care. The meetings. The emails. The phone calls, the form-filling. The trying to get all the different parties – PAS, GP, CAMHS, OT, EP, psychotherapist, school – to speak to each other and just copy me in on emails. Trying to manage them all is a full-time job in itself. On top of my actual job. And therapeutic parenting. Oh, and self-care. And having a marriage that benefits from time spent together outside of childcare and meetings and paperwork.

Aaaarrrggggghhhh.

So what’s the solution? If only there was a neat answer. I have a few suggestions though.

5 possible solutions

  1. Prioritise self-care. MummyWriter wrote an excellent post on this recently, and you can use my free self-care resources to get started. Until things change on a wider scale, we have to manage this for ourselves. I’m sorry, it’s rubbish that it’s like this, but it is. Look after yourself. Start here.

  2. Connect with the adoption community. Reach out to other in the same situation. Twitter is especially excellent for this, but I also go to Adoption UK’s local meetings and other informal gatherings of adopters. I recommend going to adoption conferences and training courses whenever you possibly can, not just for the content, but to meet other adoptive parents and to experience being among people who understand. I don’t know how people manage without the support of other adopters. This is such a massive source of sanity for me.

  3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, pick your battles, both in terms of the children’s behaviour and the stuff you fight for with school and support services. Sometimes (most of the time?) you can be fighting battles on multiple fronts simultaneously. Of course you’re exhausted. You need support. Get the people who are supportive to fight some of them for you. Put some of the others on hold until next week. And then go and have a sleep.

  4. Don’t vote Conservative. I’m sorry to get political here but the cuts to social care imposed by Conservative governments have played a huge part in getting us into the current mess, where tiny budgets and understaffing restrict the help received by vulnerable people. THIS IS HORRIBLE. Vote for those who will fund social care, mental health, and the NHS in general. We need those things.

  5. Ask the powers that be for a proper national campaign, like the ‘Maternal Mental Health Matters’ one that ran last week. Not just the constant recruitment ads for new adopters. Adoption agencies need to care for the adoptive parents who are already living this, in at the deep end, because without us the whole business falls apart. The adoption charities need to work together on this. The voluntary agencies are probably a bit better at this than the LAs. Let’s share good practice and be open about what’s needed.

So let’s start working towards the launch of an Adoptive Parents’ Mental Health Week. Heck, I’m claiming the #APMHW hashtag now.

Join in! Tweet a few LAs and VAs and ask them to think about it. Something like this, perhaps:

Let’s make this happen. Because we’ve earned it. 


BEFORE YOU GO…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.

30 questions to ask SEBD schools

Having started the fight to get Joanna into a specialist school in the last couple of weeks, we’re keen to keep up the momentum and arm ourselves with plenty of first-hand knowledge from Actual Visits so we can make the best possible case to the SEN panel. And here is where it begins: my 30 questions to ask SEBD schools.

They want paperwork, they’re going to get paperwork. I’m going to write a masterpiece comparing and contrasting the various options. Bring it on.

30 Questions To Ask SEBD Schools

To recap: we’re looking for a specialist SEBD (social, emotional and behavioural difficulties) school for our eight-year-old daughter, Joanna. Her current mainstream primary school can’t meet her needs or cope with her dysregulation and violence. We are struggling at home  with both girls’ CPV and fighting each other. (Read more about our CPV experience here.) There have also been a couple of running away incidents lately – one from school and one from home. Arrrgh.

We’ve just had an EHCP review (brought forward after a rash of exclusions for violence last term) and although we had a good argument for a particular school based on a lot of Googling and scouring of websites, we agreed that we also need to visit the three schools under discussion in order to make an even more informed choice.

30 questions to ask SEBD schools

We’re going to see the first school (our current first choice) this week. I’ve been thinking up questions. Here’s my list so far.

The home–school relationship

1) How do you keep in touch with parents?

2) How frequent are communications – not just about academic progress, but behavioural and general comments in what’s going on for her?

3) What does the partnership with parents look like in terms of consistent strategies around behaviour to make sure Joanna receives the same messages at home and school?

Academic issues

4) How does the transition from mainstream work? What would that look like for Joanna?

5) What would the year 4 timetable look like for Joanna?

6) How do you measure academic progress?

Therapy and behavioural issues

7) What therapies are available on site?

8) Are class teachers/TAs trained in issues relating to early trauma?

9) What proportion of the pupils come from a similar background?

10) Would she miss lessons for therapy? How does that work?

11) Is therapy delivered 1:1 or in groups?

12) Joanna has been working happily in class for 90 minutes and is then given a maths question that she can’t immediately work out. Her self-esteem is threatened and she suddenly becomes angry, shouting, throwing a chair at someone and running out of the room. In your school, what happens next?

13) Do you have much sensory OT work incorporated into the classroom?

14) What are your expectations of her? What happens if she fails to met your expectations?

15) What measures do you have in place to stop her running away?

Boarding

16) What is in place for keeping in touch with Joanna during the week? Can she call us?

17) What routines are in place in the mornings and evenings?

18) Who would be looking after Joanna in the mornings and evenings? Can we meet them?

19) What happens if she’s ill?

20) Can we see what the rooms are like?

Social skills

21) What help is available to Joanna for developing social skills, building friendships, etc?

22) What are the male/female ratios in her year group? In the school overall?

23) Are there any extra-curricular activities available (eg football, chess, drama)?

24) Joanna really struggles with transitions. What do you have in place to help with different types of transitions (on a daily basis, between school years, and from primary to secondary)?

25) What behavioural issues is she likely to learn from other pupils? What are the main issues they face?

Securing a place

26) If we really want Joanna to come here, what are the arguments you’d recommend us putting to the LA in the EHCP review paperwork?

27) What’s your relationship like with the LA’s SEND team?

28) Do you have any other advice for navigating the system?

29) How competitive is your admissions process?

30) What do you think is the school’s best selling point?

More questions

These 30 questions are just a starting point. I’d love to hear other people’s, especially if you’ve navigated this process already or are doing it at the moment. Is there anything you think I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments or on social media (see below).


BEFORE YOU GO…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.

Review | The PCOS diet plan

PCOS is really common, especially in the adoption community, and can cause weight gain amongst other symptoms. Enter specialist eating plans to help lose the weight and improve the other symptoms. If you like your meals to be heavy on the science and intense on the planning front, The PCOS Diet Plan could be just the book for you.

Review PCOS Diet Plan

My PCOS experience

I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) at the age of 17. The person doing electrolysis on my rampant facial hair (picture Evan Baxter’s ‘It just keeps growing back’ scenes, if you will) suggested it would be a good idea to investigate the possibility with my GP. After numerous blood tests and ultrasounds and being prodded about Down There by student doctors (mortifying), the diagnosis was confirmed, I was handed a prescription for Dianette, and off I went.

It wasn’t until later that I read more about PCOS and the association with weight gain. I was a bit overweight as a teenager and as an adult have managed to lose large amounts of weight with Weight Watchers a couple of times, but it is a battle and on top of the trials and tribulations of adoptive parenting (read: I eat when stressed) I have not yet been able to conquer it again since the girls arrived.

PCOS and adoption

I know that many people come to adoption having had issues with fertility and that PCOS is a common problem. I ran a poll on Twitter:

The result: more than a third of my Twitter followers who took part in the poll have a PCOS diagnosis. This is higher than the average in the overall population (estimated at 10%), and especially when I didn’t ask only women to participate in the poll! It wasn’t conducted in an especially scientific manner. But it is broadly in line with what I expected, ie that there is a higher-than-average prevalence of PCOS among adopters. With that in mind, I tried out this book to see if it’s worth a go.

The Book: First impressions

If you’re either (a) really into nutrition or endocrinology, or (b) love to do a lot of detailed homework before starting something new, it’s more likely you’ll enjoy the first section of the book. I found it like wading through treacle, which, given the emphasis on avoiding refined carbs, is probably not the effect the author was going for. The first half of the book is not dissimilar to an academic paper, with lots of citations of various studies and long latinate science vocabulary that explained the why and took a long time to get to the ‘what to do’ element. I’m fine with a couple of chapters of it, but spent at least an hour’s reading wishing the author would cut to the chase and give me some sample menus so I could see what I was dealing with.

The PCOS Diet Plan: what’s it about?

The short version is that women with PCOS should aim for a plate of food that is 50% non-starchy vegetables, 25% protein (eg chicken or fish), and 25% wholegrain carbs, with yogurt of milk as a snack between meals. The long version (and it is a lot longer) involves ‘carb budgets’ and using one of the diet/nutrition apps (I used MyFitnessPal) to work out how many calories you should be on for your height and weight and then dividing those up between carbs and proteins. I’m used to having all these details figured out for me by Weight Watchers and just dealing in points, so it made my head spin a bit.

If, like me, you’re a frazzled adoptive mum looking for simple steps to lose a few pounds, you might want to pass on The PCOS Diet Plan.

I wanted to love it.

I tried it out for three days.

It was just too complicated.

I ate fewer carbohydrates, was alarmed at how much sugar there is in a mango, and had to faff about entering nutritional values into the app. Yes, I lost a few pounds. But I couldn’t sustain all the faffing on top of an already bonkers lifestyle (y’know, the CPV and whatnot). For people with more time and inclination, I’d say go for it, but it’s not for me.

The details
Professional Reader

The PCOS Diet Plan
Hillary Wright
Ten Speed Press
£14.18 (Kindle £14.99)
Published 2 May 2017

Disclaimer: I received this book free via NetGalley in return for my honest review.


Before you go…

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Review | The Special Parent’s Handbook

This book covers it all. From food issues to advocating for your child, via handling meltdowns and battling with paperwork, The Special Parent’s Handbook addresses everything with the humour and practical advice that comes from hard-won first-hand experience. Whether your child’s issues are physical, mental, or emotional/behavioural, there is something here for you.

Professionals should read this too. There is so much here about the impact of being relegated to a mere ‘service user’ on actual human beings. The Powers That Be could learn a lot from The Special Parent’s Handbook about how our mutual interactions can be improved by listening – really listening – to young people and their parents.

Review: Special Parent's Handbook

About the (amazing) author

I first became aware of Yvonne in March this year. She was tweeting about an event she was organising for parents of children with violent, challenging behaviour, or VCB. As I fall into that category twice over, I signed up straight away, and on Saturday 1 April joined 80 other parents in London for the conference.

At the conference, a well as hearing from a number of experts in the NHS and legal fields (find them all on this Twitter list) about their perspective on children with additional needs and helping them to access services, Yvonne spoke about her experience with her son Toby. As is usually the case, the people who live this are the ones who are most helpful. Yvonne talked about how she helps Toby to regulate by reducing instructions to short phrases, often sung to him to remove any stress from her own voice which could cause his behaviour to escalate.

It completely blows my mind that Yvonne wrote this book in four weeks flat having received a terminal cancer diagnosis. Yvonne – I know you’ll read this – you are such an inspiration and I have no idea where you find all your energy. Thank you. What you have achieved in this book and continue to achieve through all your campaigning and bringing people together is amazing, and I know there are hundreds of us who appreciate it all. (Do please remember to put your feet up occasionally!)

So. Why is the book so good?

About The Special Parent’s Handbook

The Special Parent’s Handbook is gold. In my Amazon review I summarised it like this:

This book is great. Yvonne has such a depth of experience and the wisdom that comes from having learned a lot of things the hard way. Her family’s story is told with humour, grace, and insight and in a way that makes it all very relatable. Her advice on accessing services you didn’t know existed and on battling for the help your family needs is invaluable. I related to so much of the content. It should be required reading for all the professionals we encounter as well as for SEND parents and their friends and families.

What it covers

Toby has a combination of disabilities: learning difficulties, autism, and a physical disability which means that he needs to be tube-fed. You might wonder, then, how his mum’s unique experiences with him translate into more broadly applicable advice for other parents. Yvonne has managed this well, by separating the advice into chapters by topic while also weaving in her family’s own story. To give a flavour of the wide-ranging advice, here are a few of the chapter titles:

  • The Advancing Army of Professionals
  • Building your Support Network
  • Siblings
  • Becoming the Expert
  • Being in Hospital
  • Hospital Appointments
  • CAMHS
  • Education
  • Social Services
  • Food Issues
  • Meltdowns

My children Joanna and Charlotte have no physical disabilities, so although I read it cover to cover, I particularly honed in on the chapters to do with support, both formal and informal, and on the behavioural stuff (meltdowns, siblings, and food issues). It addresses these incredibly well. The writing style is conversational and very accessible, making it ideal reading for exhausted parents with little residual brainpower at the end of a difficult day!

Real-life advice

Though Yvonne’s children are not adopted, there is a huge amount of overlap in the types of services she has needed to access, and the battle to be heard and respected as a parent is the same across education, health, and social care. I thought Yvonne’s advice on this aspect of parenting was one of the highlights. It includes tips such as putting a framed photo of your child on the table in important meetings, to remind the professionals that this is about the child, not their budgets and policies. My Kindle highlight facility went into overdrive on this book because it contains so much real-life helpful advice. You know what I mean. Actual practical stuff that helps. This is the book’s focus. She nails it.

Summary

Review | The Special Parent's HandbookI recommend this book wholeheartedly. Whatever additional needs your child has, the guidance on advocating for them, on surviving as a special needs parent, and on doing it all with your sanity and sense of humour intact are all here. Adoptive parents may even rejoice that there is no specific mention of post-adoption support, though social services in general are comprehensively addressed.

Once you’ve read the book, I can also recommend connecting with Yvonne online. You can find her on Twitter (@YvonneNewbold), through her website (yvonnenewbold.com), and through her various Facebook pages: The SEND Parent’s Handbook and Breaking the Silence on VCB.

THE DETAILS

The Special Parent’s Handbook
Yvonne Newbold
Amity House
£12.33 (Kindle £7.36)


BEFORE YOU GO…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.

How to find an SEBD school: the fight begins

Where on earth do you start when you realise your child’s behaviour has reached a point where you need to accept a label of SEBD (social, emotional and behavioural difficulties) or SEMH (social, emotional, and mental health) issues and start to find an SEBD school?

This is where we now find ourselves.

The latest fight for the right support has begun.

How To Find an SEBD School

Monday: transition planning

On Monday, we had an INSET day. It’s now an established routine for us to visit school on the last day of the holidays to help with the transition back, so we did that. The girls took their PE kits in and hung them on their pegs, reclaiming their spaces. We traipsed into the classrooms and said hello to the teachers.

And then the teachers kept them occupied for half an hour while we talked to the head about the transition back, particularly about how Joanna was going to handle it after her three-day exclusion for violence at the end of last term. We explained that she was not in a good place mentally, because her learning support assistant is changing to a job-share arrangement with a second person; she was worried what others in her class would say about The Incident and her exclusion; and she had heard a rumour that her ‘boyfriend’ (yes, they are only eight years old) was now pursuing the girl in her class of whom she is jealous. (This girl is clever. She’s calm. People aren’t frightened of her.)

And then we discussed the forthcoming EHCP review. The head had sent us the paperwork a few days before, and we took our draft in to show her. Her comments on the form had included the question of whether her current (mainstream primary) school was able to meet her needs. In other words: they are not coping. Joanna is only in the class half the time; the other half is spent elsewhere with her LSA, either trying to head off a meltdown they have seen brewing, or calming down after they didn’t manage to stop it. They don’t have the space or specialist training to handle her level of violence. It’s just not safe. More of this in a moment.

Tuesday: the latest incident

They went back to school. Pete went off to work. I started on my own work. And then at 10.30 my mobile rang. I always have a sense of dread when I see that it’s school.

‘Hi, it’s Amy from the school office. Joanna’s just jumped over the school wall [which has a 7ft drop the other side] and we think she might be heading home – could you walk this way and keep a look out for her?’

Gaaaaahhh.

It’s a ten-minute walk to school that is pretty much field all the way. This is all very bucolic and safe in theory, but there are little copses of trees and a river and plenty of child-snatching opportunities for those so inclined. I walked our usual route with my eyes on stalks. As I approached the school I saw Joanna’s LSA. I called out ‘Do you know where she is?’ She shrugged and gestured around the corner. It was at this point I did start to seriously worry. I went in that direction, doing a full circuit of the school before getting back to the school gate.

And then I finally saw Joanna, in the school garden, shouting and screaming at the headteacher. I’ll take that over being run over or kidnapped.

I went in. I got screamed at too. Joanna was full-on dysregulated. She threw a bucket at me. I caught it. She threw a handful of grass cuttings at the head. I could read the head – she wanted me, ‘the Joanna expert’, to take charge. I could read Joanna. She needed me to. So within ten minutes, I had got her from full-on rage to sitting at a picnic bench doing Lego. The staff all went inside, and Joanna and I had a chat. I did some Lego too, sitting beside her, deliberately not making eye contact and trying to look absorbed in what I was making.

‘So, I see something’s been really difficult for you this morning. I wonder what that was.’

‘The classroom’s all different. They gave me a SPAG test and I’d already done it before and it was boring. And I had Mrs X [the usual LSA] and they said it was going to be Mrs Y [the new one]. That’s why I’m cross.’

‘Yeah, that’s not what I was expecting today either. I’m not surprised you’re cross. I understand.’

And then after a few more minutes of Lego, I walked her back to her classroom. The head and deputy head were waiting. We went to the head’s office and the head started asking her questions. ‘What happened? What can we do you help you?’ Joanna squirmed on my lap. This was too much for her.

‘It would help Joanna if we could talk in statements rather than questions at the moment, please. Questions will be too overwhelming for her.’

The others took this in. I explained what Joanna had told me outside – all the unexpected things that had upset her. They nodded. Then Joanna piped up that she needed a printed timetable, like she’d had in Year 2. (I thought she still had this. Why do they remove stuff that’s working?) They nodded. I asked Joanna if she still had her mindfulness colouring book that helps her calm down. ‘No, I finished it.’ I whipped out my phone and she chose one from Amazon on the spot. (I tried not to do my ‘look, it really is this easy’ face. The head showed me the list of half a dozen children who Joanna had injured during her meltdown. I was already picturing the lynching I was going to get at the school gate.

After a bit more discussion about what helps her, I took her back to her classroom. Her LSA was nowhere to be seen, so I stayed with Joanna in her maths lesson for 45 minutes until she reappeared. And then I walked home, calling Pete en route. Not quite the restorative day of peace and quiet I was hoping for.

Wednesday: the debrief

Pete and I dropped the girls at school. We went in to see the head and discuss Tuesday’s events without the presence of small ears. She said she was desperately concerned about her ability to (a) keep Joanna safe if she was intent on scaling walls, and (b) keeping the other children safe is Joanna was going to start attacking them when she became dysregulated (previously she has always gone for staff, not children). She asked us for ideas. We said we’d told her everything we knew already.

Thursday: the sensory assessment

Joanna’s sensory assessment at 10.00am. For which we received seven forms to complete at 7.00 am. I managed two before the OT arrived. This was fine. The OT was amazing. She took a brief rundown from us and then had Joanna crawling through a Lycra tunnel, throwing a ball at a target, and drawing a picture of herself. She picked up things that no-one had spotted before, such as hypermobile joints in her hands which would make writing harder work than average (which would explain why she finds English frustrating, as her super-creative brain is streets ahead of her ability to write for long periods of time).

Friday: the EHCP review

And then the day we’ve been anticipating for a few weeks. The EHCP review. We’d already spent upwards of six hours on the paperwork and the research. Everyone assembled: us, the headteacher, the class teacher, our social worker (well, technically it was our social worker’s manager, but we see more of her these days because we are those parents who advocate loudly), an SEN officer from the LA, and our EP’s manager (because our EP doesn’t do Fridays).

We did introductions. I put a framed photo of Joanna on the table in front of me and Pete. There was half an hour of general waffle to start with. I wanted to cut to the chase. I brought up the issue of school not coping and the head’s suggestion of alternative provision. Boom. Let’s get this going.

The head then spoke about Tuesday’s incident and her fear that Joanna was going to seriously injure herself or another child. The concern that she is really bright and still meeting her targets despite missing half the lessons, but how she could be achieving so much more with the right support. And then the issue of other schools was in play. Bring it on.

How to Find an SEBD school

It was Joanna’s former therapist who suggested a specialist boarding school. We had considered it before in a moment of ‘it’s this or disruption’, but having it suggested by a professional made it feel like it was something we were officially sanctioned to investigate. So I came home from our meeting with her and Googled ‘boarding schools for violent children’. Bingo.

Straight away I found one that sounded amazing. They had lots of looked-after and formerly-looked-after children there. They understood about early trauma and the reasons behind behaviour like Joanna’s. All the psychotherapists and OTs and facilities were available on-site, and these were an integral part of school life. And they took both day pupils and boarders on a weekly or termly basis.

When we had the meeting with our current headteacher on Monday, I gave her a printout of the school prospectus. Pete and I spelt out all the reasons why it looked like a great option for Joanna. The head agreed, but named two other state-run SEBD schools that the LA would be bound to prefer, primarily on cost grounds.

We went home and looked those up too. There was a lot of scouring of websites, learning of the SEBD jargon, reading of policies and comparing and contrasting. The LA-run schools don’t really compare. One has a behaviour policy with which children must comply. Um, hold on. Where is the mention of trauma-informed care?

The non-maintained school is closer, despite being outside of our LA. It is more specialist in terms of understanding early trauma. It takes boarders, which is a big deal for us as it would give us some respite from Joanna’s violence (though we’d still have Charlotte’s to deal with) and allow their needs to be met individually instead of as a package deal. This would also be great for Joanna, who finds transitions really hard. And one of the key selling points for us: this school take pupils from primary age right through to 18. So we’d avoid yet another transition to secondary school.

The EHCP again

We presented these arguments at the EHCP review. Alternatives were suggested. We’d done our homework and explained why the alternatives were not as good. Obviously, people mentioned the issue of The Cost. I played my trump card: a marvellous piece of research: the NASS cost comparison report. What a beauty.

This document (honestly, I could kiss it) examines the cost of non-maintained special schools against equivalent packages of support when provided by the LA. And it comes out in favour of the non-maintained schools, which offer a holistic approach, take out the stress of patching together a package of support, and are often cheaper than LA provision, especially when weekly boarding is weighed against the cost of daily transport.

And, to our immense frustration, the conversation suddenly finished when the SEN officer stood up and said his car was parked at Sainsbury’s and he had to go. What, is our daughter not worth the £1.60 it costs to park in the public car park right outside? Me and Pete were Not Pleased. Anyway, he left and the lovely EP manager told us exactly what we need to do to get the SEN board to agree to our choice of school. She’s been on very similar boards and knows the system.

#win. Take that, Mr SEN Officer. .

What next?

Mrs EP Manager has told us to visit all three schools under discussion. Great. We didn’t have time to do this before the meeting, so our analysis was all based on the websites. But lining up a few visits is no problem. Then she advised us to write a thorough comparison, based on our visits as well as our reading. It carries more weight if we write from that perspective. It’ll also help if Joanna writes something to submit, explaining why her current school isn’t meeting her needs. (This will be tricky to do without telling her we’re looking at another school, but I’m sure I can work it out.)
How To Find An SEBD School

Meanwhile school need to gather evidence from every possible source. Behaviour logs. Therapists’ reports. Social work reports. A letter from the GP, perhaps. The letters of complaint from other parents (not sure I want to see those, thanks). And then we send it all off to the SEN panel and they decide. Obviously the next panel is this coming week and we have no chance of getting everything together in time.

And the next one after that? It’s not until OCTOBER. So realistically, we’re looking at January at the earliest.

Honestly.

But we’ve started the process, at least. Our girl is worth it. And so the fight begins. But we’ve started the process, at least. Our girl is worth it. And so the fight begins.


You might also like to read 30 questions to ask SEBD schools.30 Questions To Ask SEBD Schools

 

 

 

 


BEFORE YOU GO…

    • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
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Thank God It’s Monday: adoptive parenting at the weekend

It’s another of those things that separates me from the other parents at the school gate. On the rare occasions that I find myself engaged in a conversation outside school and not ducking in early to retrieve Joanna after some misdemeanour, someone will inevitably pipe up ‘nearly the weekend’, with a sense of joyous anticipation.

I don’t share it.

‘That Friday feeling’ for me is one of dread.

Welcome to adoptive parenting at the weekend.

Thank God it's Monday: Adoptive Parenting at the Weekend

Them and us

For them, the prospect of a weekend conjures up mental images of fun, relaxed family time. A spontaneous day out, perhaps, or a kickabout with a football in the garden.

For me, being kicked about is closer to the mark.

I wonder what the weekend will bring. Not what Pinterest-worthy craft projects we can do together, but,

Coathanger‘How intense will this weekend’s meltdowns be?’

‘Will this be the weekend the patio doors get a stone thrown through them?’

‘is this going to be the day she succeeds in bashing a hole in our bedroom door with a wooden coathanger?’

‘Will the stuff she throws at me – or worse, one of the others – from across the room cause a serious injury?’

‘What are the triggers going to be this time? Dare I ask her to brush her teeth? Or tidy up after herself? Or might that be the thing that provokes a rage?’

It all depends

In our family, weekends divide between Saturdays with childcare and without, and Sundays where we make it to church and those when we don’t have that fight. (See ‘Adoption and the Church Thing‘). We usually book the childcare several months in advance. The Sundays tend to be a bit more tentatively planned, and sometimes we abandon our plans in the face of a meltdown like this one.

Two types of Saturday

On the Saturdays we have be somewhere at a certain time, a violent outburst about getting dressed/brushing teeth/etc is more likely, but the bonus of a day’s respite childcare is like an oasis for us. The girls often go to a playscheme for children with disabilities, for which they qualify because of their sensory issues. (Naturally it wasn’t post-adoption support who told us about this possibility, but other adoptive parents.)

On the Saturdays they’re not doing that, we will usually try some combination of activities usually including time outside (in dry weather) or screen time (in wet weather). These are the most reliable ways to help them stay more-or-less regulated for an hour or more. There will still be meltdowns. It’s a very unusual day that doesn’t include one. Days out rarely fall into the category of ‘family fun’ – there are the fights in the car, the bickering over activities, the transition meltdowns when something is over, and again when we arrive home… exhausting doesn’t really cover it. It’s relentless and overwhelming and horrible.

The Sunday Dread

I’ve already talked about Sundays,  which are either filled with church, or a film, or an outdoor activity, or some combination of those, interspersed with a bit of door-kicking and eardrum-splitting screaming (when Charlotte explodes) or shouting and stamping and sulking and muttering (if it’s Joanna’s turn). It’s unusual for us to have childcare on a Sunday, so Sunday is the one that has to be faced pretty much every week, with that conversation at about 8.30am:

‘Are we going to try for church today?’
‘I suppose we should…’

Which isn’t really the way I want to feel about churchgoing.

How do we change it?

Ah, there’s the question. if only there was a nice neat answer. If another professional asks me if we’ve done any parenting courses I may reel off a list of exactly how many specialist courses, workshops, seminars and books I have absorbed over the last six years. I mentally wrote this list in the shower this morning along with a snarky diatribe about exactly how much of my time is spent (a) practising; (b) researching; (c) writing about and (d) discussing therapeutic parenting techniques.

I thought about printing out some of my book reviews to have on hand for such occasions. Then I could thrust them huffily at those who ask this question without thinking that the person they are addressing sounds like she might have a brain, possibly a degree or two. Do they not therefore think she might have acquainted herself with all the possible avenues of support on offer? Or that they are the first person to suggest parenting violent children might require a bit of extra learning?

More Saturday childcare is one answer, but it’s not a very satisfactory one. I adopted because I do actually want to parent my children, not just clothe them and make their packed lunches. The childcare gives us respite, but it doesn’t solve the problem of family time being a complete rollercoaster of giggles and reading books one minute, and door-kicking and threats to kill us the next.

To be continued

We don’t want to disrupt. We want help to continue to parent them. But the crux of the matter is that if we are not allowed to restrain them, eventually someone is going to be seriously injured or killed. Pete and I cannot provide the level of care they need without being trained and supported in the use of restraint: it is not something we enjoy but it is a necessary part of parenting violent children.

And so, though the thought makes me feel as though I am failing them, we are seriously considering asking the LA to fund at least one  place at a specialist boarding school which caters for exactly the needs our girls have. Including violence, sensory issues, FASD, and the impact of early trauma. Yes, there is actually a place that can provide all this support and an education. An outstanding one, if you care about what Ofsted have to say about these things. But that is a story for another day, and doubtless a protracted battle for funding if we do pursue it.

Meanwhile, if you’ve been in this position, I’d love to hear from you. And if you have positive things to say about boarding school, please do leave a comment.


BEFORE YOU GO…

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Review | Parenting in the eye of the storm

I often feel that storm analogies are an appropriate way to describe our family life. With two violent children rampaging about we lurch from one cyclone to the next. How much more so must this be the case when you find yourself parenting adopted teenagers with all the added hormones, identity issues and social pressures that this involves?

So to find out what we are in for in another few years, and to better understand my friends who are already in this stage of parenting, I read Parenting in the Eye of the Storm: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years.

Parenting In The Eye Of The Storm: The Adoptive Parent's Guide To Navigating The Teen Years

What does it cover?

The author is both an adoptee and a therapist, which makes for a helpful combination. The book is written from the perspective of the American adoption system, i.e. mainly young people who were internationally adopted as babies. It therefore covers issues of transracial and cross-cultural adoption and the implications of those on an adopted teenager’s identity. This is outside of my personal experience but still interesting and helpful to read about.

But most of the book is not about those things, and much of it applies to the British context too. Subjects such as negotiating about behaviour and consequences, communication around life story work, helping the teenager to envision their future (including forging their sense of identity), and the issue of ‘responding’ rather than rescuing’. I found this last one especially interesting. There’s a chapter devoted to mental health for adopted teenagers which covers sucidial ideation and when to introduce a therapist. There’s also a (very short) chapter on self-care. I was pleased that this was included even if I did wish it was longer.

The Rescuing Dynamic

This topic is a key part of the first half of the book – the idea of ‘adopter as rescuer’ and how to acknowledge this and adjust it in your collective consciousness so that it becomes more about equipping and empowering teenagers to be responsible for their decisions and actions.

‘There are other ways in which the adoption narrative may reinforce the rescuing dynamic. You became an adoptive parent after your teen’s birth parents couldn’t. You picked up where they left off. That’s how the narrative goes. You were the one who didn’t abandon them and will stick by them from now on. And, although you probably didn’t rescue them in a literal sense, it is an aspect of your role. The opposite of rescuing is abandoning. You may also feel caught in this paradigm. To make decisions that may threaten your role as the good one may not feel like a worthwhile risk to take.’

‘In the rescuing dynamic, everyone ends up feeling disempowered to some degree. Adopted teens often perceive their role as the victim of someone or something. This means that the blame and responsibility is on another and that they lack a sense of agency in the matter. But you might also feel like a victim of your adopted teens’ entitlement and demands. It may feel like a lose-lose situation. If you give in, you feel like you’re enabling it, but if you say no, you’ve instigated an emotionally charged confrontation.’

To be honest, though we are trying to do in an age-appropriate way for our children already (they are 8 and 7), we feel a very long way from achieving it. It’s unclear how much leeway the author has allowed for emotional immaturity and other factors, such as FASD. Perhaps this is because I’m not in the target demographic yet.

Summary

Though (a) I’m not the parent of teenagers yet, and (b) the British adoption context is a bit different from the one on which the book was written, I found the book both interesting and helpful, and would recommend it to British readers. It is likely to be especially helpful to those who have adopted a child from a different racial and/or cultural background than their own, as this topic is repeated throughout.

The book is more about understanding and relating to your child than it is about behaviour and parenting techniques. The ‘storm’ of the title tends to be mainly in the mind of the teenager rather than in family life. It certainly doesn’t address violence, stealing, or other more ‘extreme’ behaviours as I had expected it might. Again, this may be part of the nature of American adoptive culture being different from that in the UK.

In summary, it’s well worth a read as long as you approach it without any preconceptions of it solving all known ills. If your storm is more of the outwardly violent kind, you may need something else to help batten down the hatches.

The Details

Parenting in the Eye of the Storm: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years
Katie Naftzger
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
£11.99 (Kindle £11.39)


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Home for Good, let’s talk long-term support for families

Home for Good, the Christian charity that encourages the church to get involved in adoption and fostering, has released a new, three-minute campaign video. It’s basically pretty good, but like many pro-adoption campaigns, it lacks a bit in addressing the longer term. And I think that’s a bit ironic, given the ‘for Good’ part of the organisation’s name.

Here it is.

What follows is a longer version of my comment on their Facebook post.

I love Home for Good

I’m a vocal campaigner for Home for Good. I’ve run an event with them at our previous church as an ‘adoption champion’. I love their message of inclusion and care for the vulnerable. But my lived experience and the rhetoric fail to match up. I love and support Home for Good (the sort of support that involves talking, doing stuff, and parting with cash), and I’m thankful that this video addresses this issue of the wider church family getting involved. But let’s widen the discussion. Let’s go beyond the welcome and think long-term support.

Home For Good Let's Talk Long-Term Support

I think it’s wonderful that the Kandiahs’ church has supported them and that there are other churches that do likewise. For every family having this great experience, my conversations with other Christian adopters suggest that there is at least one other family really struggling with church. I’ve shared our experience, and others left theirs in the comments of that post. This weekend Starfish and Me shared hers. The conversation continues often on Twitter (click through to see the replies to the tweet below). It is a widespread problem.

It is right to give raise awareness of the needs of vulnerable children and to advocate for them. But it is equally important to give attention and help to those who step up to care for them. It is only in supporting adoptive parents and foster carers that their caring is sustainable long-term.

Not just welcoming

It’s not just about welcoming children.

It’s about supporting the whole family for the duration of the placement(s), not just a lasagne when a child moves in.

It’s about being there for the school exclusions.

The child-on-parent violence.

The battles to get professional help for our children and young people.

The exhaustion.

The relentlessness.

I speak as a burnt-out adoptive mum of two, in contact with lots of other adopters in a similar situation. Church can be the hardest part of the week. I am an adoption champion and would love to continue to encourage others to adopt and foster, but the reality is that is incredibly hard, and often very lonely.

Adoption And Fostering Guide For ChurchesThe leaflet Home for Good have produced for churches is a great start. I recommend it wholeheartedly. But it needs to be read by the whole church. Not just by the children’s workers, the leadership team, or the pastoral care people.

But by the people who tut at the child who can’t sit still and at the parents who do things a bit differently.

The people who serve the coffee and don’t understand why the adopted child takes six biscuits.

The people who think they are great at support because they showed an interest at the start, but haven’t spoken to the family since.

And then we need to see some action. Not sure what to offer? Try starting with my 10 ways to help an adoptive family. But also ask, because we’re all individuals and I don’t claim to speak for everyone.

Let’s Talk

Please, let’s keep having this conversation – in the comments below, on social media, and in our offline discussions too. It’s not just about homes for children. Let’s support the carers too, and do it for the long haul. Or in other words, for good.


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Eye contact in adopted children: attachment, FASD, or autism?

Charlotte (age 7) is struggling with eye contact. And therefore so are we. Is it an attachment issue, FASD, or even autism? How concerned should I be? And should I be starting the fight for yet another assessment? Where do I start to find out? What information is there about eye contact in adopted children? Here’s what I found out.

Eye Contact In Adopted Children: Attachment, FASD Or Autism


Not today, thank you

It’s hard to know what Charlotte wants at any given time, as she changes her mind a lot. Sometimes she demands that we look at her, other times she screams at us not to look at her. Sometimes she wants to look at us, other times she refuses to. On extreme days, our children even scream at us for looking in the car’s rear-view mirror while driving. Not because we are looking at them, just because we’re using it to drive safely! Argh.

Possible diagnoses

I’d like to find out what this problem is about so that I can respond appropriately. Is it primarily an attachment issue? Is it part of FASD? Could it even be a sign of autism? Without a diagnosis it’s hard to know where to start. Is the advice for dealing with eye contact within each of these diagnoses the same or different? I did a bit of research to find out.

(Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional. What follows is based only on my own experience as a parent and a bit of Googling.)

Eye contact in attachment disorders

John Bowlby (Mr Attachment Theory himself) lists eye contact as one of the critical factors in healthy attachment. His view is summarised by Psychology Today:

‘If the caregiver is responsive to the child’s signals and interacts with sensitivity, a secure attachment will be formed, reinforcing the child’s own positive emotional states and teaching him or her to modulate negative states. Deprived of the mother’s gaze, the area of the brain that coordinates social communication, empathic attunement, emotional regulation, and stimulus appraisal (the establishment of value and meaning) will be faulty. Such children are likely to develop “insecure attachment” along with all sorts of subsequent losses in self-esteem and feelings of belonging.’

So for Charlotte, whose birth mum wasn’t able to provide this for her, attachment looks like a possible contender. She probably didn’t have consistent doses of eye contact in her first few months of life. As a consequence, it may just be too threatening for her now.

Side note: though we were taught as prospective adopters that attachment theory is basically gospel truth, I am increasingly hearing of respected professionals calling it into question. I’m hoping to cover that in a future post.

Eye contact in FASD

It was harder than I expected to find good information about eye contact in FASD. One helpful resource is produced by psychology students at McMasters University in Hamilton, Ontario. They have a blog, ‘Live and Learn with FASD‘. There’s also an associated YouTube channel on which they have a series of videos for young people with FASD to help them improve their eye contact. They say:

‘It has been shown that some children with FASD experience problems with maintaining eye contact, and will typically look elsewhere on someone’s face when they speak. Their amygdalas, which play a role in processing emotions in the brain, tend to be less dense than in children without FASD. … While individuals [with FASD] tend to look at the centre of a picture of a face that is not moving, when a person’s face who is talking appears they tend to look at the mouth instead. This is because when the mouth is not moving, the eyes are more of a stimulus than the mouth in general, but when the mouth is moving, the mouth is a more important stimulus for the proposed pathway along which the information is processed’.

Eye contact in autism

Eye contact is well-known as a symptom of autism. An article from the charity Autism Speaks, ‘Why is it so hard for someone with autism to make eye contact?’ explains:

‘The act of making eye contact is extremely stressful for some people affected by autism. There are many books and articles written by adults with autism who describe the terrible stress they felt when well-meaning parents and teachers tried to force them to make eye contact during conversations. In many cases, they describe being further distracted and unable to focus on the conversation because of this insistence.’

This does sort of sound like Charlotte at the times she screams ‘STOP LOOKING AT ME!’ She has a few other behaviours that I’ve seen described as autistic traits, too. She loves pretending to be a dog, she likes lining things up, and she has sensory issues, especially around food, which can lead to massive meltdowns. Tomato on her plate? Salad leaves? She’ll scream, push the plate away, and either hide under the table or leave the room, slamming the door behind her and shouting. However, there is also a lot of overlap between FASD and autism, which leads to the question…

Which is it?

This helpful printable chart summarising the overlapping behavioural characteristics in FASD and other diagnoses indicated that FASD and autism are both possibilities. (I took this to our GP and it was a really useful tool to discuss it.) As Charlotte’s behaviour ticks all the boxes for FASD, I think it highly likely that she has it. Autism, though? Though I occasionally wonder about it when she exhibits certain behaviours, I don’t think so. This chart from MOFAS (below) is helpful in explaining the differences.

Differences Between Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Autism

Source: Dan Dubovsky MSW SAMHSA, FASD Center for Excellence

FASD Autism
Occurs as often in males as in females Occurs in males 4 times as often as in females
Able to relate to others Difficult or impossible to relate to others in a meaningful way
Restricted patterns are not commonly seen Restricted patterns of behavior, interests, and activities as a core area
Verbal communication may be slow to develop but is not commonly significantly impaired Difficulty in verbal and non-verbal communication
Difficulties begin at birth Difficulties may begin after a period of normal growth
Difficulty in verbal receptive language; expressive language is more intact as the person ages Difficulty in both expressive and receptive language
Spoken language is typical Some do not develop spoken language
Spontaneously talkative Robotic, formal speech
Echolalia not common Echolalia-repeating words or phrases
Stereotyped movements not seen Stereotyped movements
Ritualistic behaviors not commonly seen Ritualistic behaviors
Repetitive body movements not seen; may have fine and gross motor coordination and/or balance problems Repetitive body movements e.g., hand flapping, and/or abnormal posture e.g., toe walking
Social and outgoing Remaining aloof; preferring to be alone
Difficulty with change and transitions Inflexibility related to routines and rituals
Can share enjoyment and laughter Lack of spontaneous sharing of enjoyment
Can express a range of emotion Restricted in emotional expression
Funny; good sense of humor Difficulty expressing humor
Microcephaly more common Macrocephaly more common
Considered a medical disorder in the ICD.  Not in the DSM-IV Considered a mental disorder in the DSM-IV

I’ve added colour to indicate where Charlotte’s behaviours fall definitively on one side – and that is mainly on the FASD side. She does have some language issues, such as becoming non-verbal at times of stress, using a made-up language and babble, and often preferring to communicate through grunts. (Some might say that sounds like a typical teenager.) But in other areas her social skills are generally OK. Yes, her level of empathy is a bit lower than I’d like. But she certainly prefers to play with others rather than alone, and she is very, very talkative. She also has a fully-functioning GSOH. Hmmm.

Conclusion

Problems with eye contact in adopted children are not desperately unusual. People have discussed the topic in a couple of threads on the Adoption UK forums, for example. It could ‘just’ be a consequence of early neglect. I’m aware that neglect in the first 18 months of a child’s life has a massive impact. (This was the age at which Charlotte was taken into care.) But my gut feeling is that it’s more than that. This is partly because I have Charlotte’s sister Joanna to compare her to.

Joanna was in the same birth family for even longer (nearly 3 years). Eye contact is occasionally an issue for her, but not to the same extent, and with Joanna it is almost always shame-related. Charlotte’s seems to be fuelled by something else: I get the sense it comes from overwhelm of some kind.

Meanwhile, we’re pressing on with trying to obtain an FASD diagnosis, and I’ll ask these questions when I’m finally face-to-face with someone who knows about this stuff. And as I find out more, I’ll update this post. If you have other sources of information on this topic, please leave them in the comments.

Further reading

I recommend these two books about FASD, both of which contain very practical advice and strategies, including a bit about eye contact.

You might also like to visit:


Have you experienced eye contact issues in your child? What are your thoughts? Please let me know in the comments.


Before you go…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
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