Eighteen months ago, I wrote an account of the handover of post-adoption support from our daughters’ placing LA to our own LA, three years after the adoption order was granted. I discussed the lack of understanding that we had experienced when we asked for safe holding training in the face of frequent child to parent violence. (You can read that post here.)
In that post I related some really unpleasant and upsetting phone calls with various social workers and the way in which we were reported to safeguarding, having videoed an incident where Joanna (then 8) had run away from the house and was hitting us with sticks and shouting at us until Pete scooped her up in a cuddle, calmed her down, and put her on his shoulders and took her home for a hot chocolate.
This was apparently an unacceptable thing to film and the act of filming it ‘probably escalated her behaviour’ – this from people who had never met any of us at that point. We were just trying to produce evidence of our need for help, because no one was listening. As our case was passed up the chain of management, the tone of the calls changed from ‘I understand it must be difficult…’ to ‘What you are doing [holding our children to keep everyone safe] breaks our rules and you are not allowed to do it.’
I didn’t mention the video directly in that blog post because I was too scared of post-adoption support. The whole experience – especially the phone calls – was horrible and made me physically ill. We lived in fear of safeguarding proceedings for weeks until we finally found out that the case had been closed without anyone telling us.
I think it’s time for an update.
I’m glad to say that post-adoption support have changed their attitude to us. They apologised for the way the handover and the conversation about safe holding were handled. Last month, we finally got the safe holding training we have been asking for all this time. They pay for respite for us. They’ve offered respite foster care. They know that we prefer emails to phone calls. In short, broadly speaking, they get it.
That doesn’t necessarily mean things are changing very quickly. Yes, the issue of safe holding has been resolved, which is no small deal. But we are still facing violence and damage to property several times a week, and verbal abuse including threats of violence pretty much daily. Weekends are still usually an ordeal to be survived. (You can read my previous posts about that here and here.)We are still facing violence and damage to property several times a week, and verbal abuse including threats of violence pretty much daily. Click To Tweet
What’s stayed the same?
We still lock ourselves in our bedroom to get away from the violence. It doesn’t stop the screaming and eventually they are probably going to break the door, but for now having that physical barrier to give us a bit of breathing space is helpful.
Therapy isn’t making any difference. I know that it will take a long time. I understand why it needs to go slowly. But that doesn’t help us on a day-to-day basis. It doesn’t stop the children throwing chairs at me or taking photo frames off the walls and threatening to throw them down the stairs.
The girls are still in the same school despite us and school saying quite clearly at Joanna’s EHCP review in April 2017 that she needed to be somewhere more specialist that could meet her needs and cope with her violence.
Unfortunately, if predictably, the children have become stronger and more aggressive.
Since Easter, the violence and verbal aggression have been particularly intense. Some of that was due to being out of the term-time routines, but now they’ve been back at school for a few weeks something is still not right. There are only so many rounds of being told they hate you, being punched in the face and having them make all kinds of threats that one person can absorb in a weekend. As I’ve said ad infinitum, we (by which I mean not just our family but all those in similar circumstances) need practical, in-person, hands-on help from people who are trained in children’s mental health, de-escalation of these situations, and support for those of us at the coal face.There are only so many rounds of being told they hate you, being punched in the face and having them make all kinds of threats that one person can absorb in a weekend. Click To Tweet
What about self-care?
As it is, Pete and I are feeling wrung-out pretty much all the time. I’m taking antidepressants in order to cope with the stress, which doesn’t really solve the problem, just masks the effects a bit. Pete’s preferred antidepressant is train travel, and it’s fair to say that we both eat when stressed, too. (Thank you, Ben and Jerry.)
Our fabulous OT has started meeting with me for self-care mindfulness sessions so that I can focus on my own stress and self-regulation in order to then help the girls. Obviously they can pick up on my stress levels and that’s not especially helpful, so I have been making a conscious effort to step back and look after myself: sleeping more, staying hydrated, getting that long-overdue haircut, saying no to more meetings. I’m trying. But let’s be honest – I’m still pretty stressed.
What will the next 18 months bring?
A new (SEMH) school for Joanna has been on the cards for a year now, and we and her current (mainstream primary) school are getting impatient about the need for the SEN department and social care to sit down together, read the documents that specify that she needs a school that can offer some boarding provision as well as the educational side of things, and agree who will pay for what and when we can actually make it happen. Her current school keep threatening permanent exclusion every time Joanna is violent at school. That just adds to our stress, as there’s nothing we can do to make the powers that be move any faster.
It’s looking increasingly clear to us that Charlotte (currently in year 3) won’t cope with a mainstream secondary school, and the EHCP process is (finally) underway for her. So in a year or so we’re going to need to make some decisions about autism specialist schools and see what we need to look at for her. Already this week school have said after a single violent outburst from her (she’s made it to the end of year 3 before being violent at school!) that they might need to start looking at an alternative school for her. They actually said they were shocked. We have no idea why – we’ve told them it was likely since before she started school. They just didn’t listen.
Children in Need
But back to post-adoption support. For the purposes of getting social care to complete the right paperwork (a Children and Families Assessment) to get the residential side of a school placement agreed and funded, we have had to consent to Joanna being labelled a ‘child in need’. Maybe Charlotte is one now too – we have no idea. That gives you some idea about the clarity of communication thus far.
What no one explained was that this meant the girls would be allocated a new social worker from outside PAS, who would want to visit every three weeks and have meetings with us to talk about plans and all manner of other unneccessary paraphernalia.
We are meetinged out. We really can’t cope with any more. We only said yes as a box-ticking exercise to get the right signature on the right pieces of paper to get the right school for Joanna. We don’t want yet another social worker coming into our home and dysregulating the children.
We have said as much in the politest, firmest way we know how, in person and in writing. But I have no idea whether we’ll win this one or whether we’re about to start another round of bureaucratic ‘computer says no’ interactions.
Short version: aaaarrrggggh.
So in summary, having won one battle, we have started another. It currently feels less adversarial than the first one, but who knows whether that will remain the case – we may yet have to take SEN to a tribunal, and we may or may not have the backing of social services when we do that (I think we can all agree it’s unlikely). I’ll be speaking to our GP tomorrow to see if I can get my antidepressant dose up to horse-tranquilising levels of potency in order to keep going and not give up and hide under the duvet (as if that was ever an option).
If you’ve been here, I welcome your wisdom on the subject! Has anyone successfully told a tier 4 SW team to back off and just do the bit that you asked for? I’d love to hear others’ experiences.