Create your easy-peasy summer holiday schedule

That long expanse of summer holiday fills some with joy and others with horror. For those of us with children who thrive on routine, the summer can be a difficult time. They find it hard to adjust to the differences and anticipate September transitions to new classes and new schools.

Enter the summer holiday schedule.

creatre-your-easy-peasy-summer-holiday-schedule

Using the summer holiday schedule

This is an easy-to-edit Word file that I update every year. It’s not complicated, just the dates from the end of one term to the beginning of the next, with an activity or two marked on for each day. a the moment that tends to be about as much detail as they want, though we also have a Twinkl visual timetable on hand for days when they need a bit more clarity about a simple day at home (‘But what are we doing after lunch?’).

I use them in the Christmas and Easter holidays too, because Joanna and Charlotte thrive on knowing what to expect. If I could add a meal plan for the entire holiday that would make them happier still.

Here’s ours for this summer (click for larger version).

How I fill the summer holiday schedule

This is Joanna’s first year at a residential summer camp (I’m not sure which of us is most excited about this prospect) so that was scheduled first (purple). Charlotte will be spending a few days with my parents so we can have some time off (pink). Then the SEN activity club the girls love – I booked as many slots as i could for that (yellow). Then because I’m talking part in the self-carecamp in Yorkshire at the end of the holidays, we’re turning that into a family holiday by hiring a cottage nearby, which fills out the last week (green). We’ve just renewed our national Trust membership and are determined to recoup the cost, so I scoured the magazine for local child-friendly activities (brown).

Being outdoors is great for Joanna and Charlotte, so, weather permitting, there are also a smattering of days where it simply says ‘park’ and ‘garden fort’. (Note: this is an excellent garden fort kit that keeps them occupied for ages, especially when combined with an old shower curtain for the roof. Highly recommended.)

The rest is filled in with things like a ‘jobs and rewards day’. This is code for ‘get them to tidy their rooms, do the hoovering and clean the bathroom, which is pleasingly endorsed by their OT, in return for a small supply of Freddos, new crayons and those awful magazines with plastic tat attached’. There’s also a pyjama day. This basically means ‘you can watch DVDs while I do all the laundry from the holiday and if you stay in your PJs it means you’re not creating any more for me to wash’.

Your own summer holiday schedule

Of course your family’s schedule will look different from ours. You may not have childcare. You may have exotic holidays. Maybe yours involves a lot more time at the beach, the swimming pool, or the ice cream shop. (We can but hope, hey?) But scheduling your holiday in advance takes a huge amount of stress out of the whole business. It gives children a sense of certainty about what to expect, and it helps parents not to flounder in the face of weeks of nothingness.

To make your own, I’ve produced a blank template. You’re welcome to download and edit it to suit your family’s needs. Some people do a text-only one like mine, others like to add clipart or their own drawings. Whatever works for you.

blank-summer-holiday-schedule

Download yours here:  HLM Blank summer holiday schedule 2017 (MS Word)

More tips

If your children struggle with the back-to-school transition, you might like to try a couple of things we do. First, schedule a school visit to the new classroom for the end of the holidays, to go and say hello and refamiliarise them with where everything is. We arrange this with the headteacher in July (so it’s not yet on our schedule above). Second, plan something fun for the first weekend of term, and include that too, so that it doesn’t look like the fun stops when school starts up again.

I’d love to hear how you get on with this summer schedule – or summer holiday planning in general! Leave me a comment or let’s talk on social media.


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Headspin: an update

How do other adoptive parents juggle all the stuff that we are expected to cope with? How does anyone cope with all the advocacy and admin and energy required for parenting two or more children with additional needs of any kind? This week I am really feeling the resulting headspin. My brain has way too many tabs open – too much stuff pending. Too many forms, and emails, and meetings, and phone calls.

headspin

As we hurtle towards half term (how did that happen? It was only Easter ten minutes ago), here’s what’s going on with us.

SEBD school visit

As I’ve mentioned previously, Joanna’s needs are not being met in her mainstream primary school, and she needs an alternative placement. Following the EHCP review, we visited our first SEBD school. I asked most of my questions. The school was good – lots of evidence of good strategies in place for helping the children with self-regulation, lots of breakout spaces for children to use to calm down, staff whose job it is to track children around the premises and help them to return to where they are supposed to be, that sort of thing. The OT facilities were particularly impressive. We liked the headteacher. But I had an uneasy feeling, and I haven’t quite put my finger on the reason.

The boarding dilemma

Part of it is about boarding. We’ve said we’d like to consider weekly boarding. I’m still torn about the boarding side of things – we need the respite, it means fewer transitions and long car journeys for Joanna, but she is still only eight years old, and I don’t want her to think of it as a rejection. When the person showing us round the school said ‘And here’s where we teach them to do their own laundry’ I had to take some deep breaths as I thought about what is in effect someone else parenting my child during the week and her learning all those little steps towards independence from someone else. Once we’d left the school I may have had a bit of a cry about that. Trying to put my feelings aside and focus on what is in Joanna’s best interests is a bit harder than I thought. Turns out I feel pretty horrible about asking for respite when it means my little girl living somewhere else. I need to get over not being able to meet all her needs myself, however much I’d like to. That’s hard. I don’t understand my own thoughts and feelings about it all. How can I be jealous of someone else getting to do that stuff with her and for her and yet at the same time be asking for respite because I am finding it so hard myself?

So. We still have at least two more schools to visit, but I haven’t booked them yet. There’s so much processing to do; so much else going on; so much psyching myself up for it all needs to happen.

Risk assessment

A few weeks back, as well as scaling a 7-foot wall and escaping from school, there was an incident where (a) Joanna ran away from home, (b) we tackled her to the ground in the park after 40 minutes of not-quite-chasing her; (c) a couple saw us grab her, heard her scream and assumed we were abducting her; (d) said couple called the police; (e) I pre-emptively emailed  school and PAS; and (e) the police came round to talk (supportively) about it all. PAS subsequently came out to do a risk assessment to help move things along in terms of the support they can offer. The idea is that by illustrating the constant need for us to be risk-assessing all the possible moves the girls might make, the CPV, the risk of various types of self-harm and putting themselves in dangerous situations… they can justify providing us with respite and putting pressure on the SEN team to speed up the school placement business.

Occupational Therapy

Meanwhile the OT has started working with Charlotte. (A full year after the OT assessment was done, but let’s leave that rant for another day.) Today she is in school talking to the teachers about both girls. She’s also doing an observation of Joanna as part of her assessment. Said assessment will form part of the paperwork for the EHCP review, which should support our case to get appropriate help for her. Obviously the funding isn’t yet in place for the OT to work with Joanna as well, but apparently PAS are working on it.

CAMHS

Joanna is still on the waiting list – that’s 8 months since her assessment. Charlotte is on the waiting list to get an appointment to be assessed. Not even a date for the initial consultation yet. Don’t hold your breath.

Alternative psychotherapy

Joanna’s previous therapist (whose funding didn’t get renewed in the LA handover debacle) has recommended that Joanna have EMDR therapy which sounds a bit strange at first but seems to get great results. An ASF application for funding went in two months ago. PAS are supposed to be chasing it and/or funding it themselves. Again, no news.

FASD assessment

We continue to pursue an FASD assessment for Charlotte. The paediatrician has bounced it back to the GP with a permissions form for us to complete. Sounds straightforward, but they expect us to sign to say that we’ll accept the panel’s verdict about what happens next, which could mean Charlotte actually seeing the paediatrician, but could be them sending us on a parenting course. That is one of the options they can prescribe and if we sign the form, we’re saying that’s acceptable, which it isn’t. Obviously. I’m very much up for any course that is FASD-specific, but not as an alternative to actually seeing a medical professional who can make a diagnosis. So we haven’t signed, and the school nurse is having a conversation with the GP about it all. Again, no news for a week or so. I’m expecting a call any day.

The book

After a ridiculously long hiatus which we’ll put down to ‘dealing with life’, I’m resuming work on my self-care book. (Hurrah.) This week I’ve completed a first draft of the first chapter and have sent it to some agents I’m meeting next month. (If I say that quickly it doesn’t sound as scary.) More details will follow, and there will almost certainly be more requests for people to be case studies for various aspects of self-care in the weeks/months to come. Watch this space.

Self-care

I between all this, I have my now annual self-care week – a solo trip to soak up some restorative mountain views, sleep, practise my excruciatingly poor German language skills, shut down a few of those headspin-inducing tabs for a whole, and generally be Hannah, not just mum. That’s coming up in a couple of weeks, or to be precise (not that I’m counting…)

I. Cannot. Wait.

Peace! Sachertorte! Mountains! Strudel! Maybe the occasional yodel… I am so thankful for the airmiles that Pete clocks up with work.

So in the next 24 hours I’ll be sticking my Teach Yourself German cassettes on again (‘Ist der Garten schön? Ja, der Garten ist schön…’) and battening down the hatches for half term. I hope yours is a (relatively) peaceful one.

PS I’m sorry if you’re sick of seeing this on Twitter. But I’d be so grateful if you could spare a minute to vote for me in the #BiBs awards if you like what I have to say about the importance of self-care for adoptive parents. Thanks.


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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.
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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! 🙂
    • 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 more excellent resources from around the web.
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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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Hello, goodbye (part two)

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(If you missed it, or want a refresher, read part one.)

Note: there are lots of sets of initials in this post, so there’s a glossary at the end if you need it.

Hello again, Joanna’s therapist
You may recall that as part of the long saga that was our still-not-fully-resolved battle with PAS in the autumn of 2016, PAS fell out with Joanna’s therapist (who was a fantastic advocate for our family in the face of their unpleasantness). They refused to apply to the ASF for continued funding of her CBT, which the placing LA had put in place a year earlier. The lovely therapist continued to see her for free for a couple of months, but that eventually wound up and Joanna has been without therapy for two months, not to mention distraught at another goodbye, having built up a good relationship. We expressed our extreme dissatisfaction with this outcome and they are finally in talks with the therapist to see if they can come to some agreement. And so we wait and see.

 Goodbye, counsellor
This week I had my eighth and probably final session with the counsellor I’ve been seeing since the start of the year. As I’ve said before, it wasn’t really going anywhere, but she has helped me clarify some of the things I’d been thinking about, namely that

(a) I love my work and it is OK to prioritise that as part of my self-care and life outside of parenthood; and

(b) PAS are likely to continue being a bit rubbish and it is going to be better for my sanity to stop trying to get them to do their jobs better and get on with finding and funding support privately, regardless of my strongly-held belief that this is unjust and wrong.

PAS offered to pay for my counselling sessions at a meeting in mid-January, but obviously haven’t, and the poor woman needed paying, so naturally I paid her. PAS are now moaning about how they don’t reimburse parents and they need to pay her directly, etc. Whatever.

Hello again, GP
Our GP is great. I went to see her again about the FASD assessment for Charlotte which was previously rejected by the paediatrician who clearly didn’t understand the difference between FAS and FASD. Argh.

This time I went armed with letters of support from school and PAS saying this is what needs to happen. She is going to apply again, and has asked me to supply any other evidence I can lay my hands on, such as an annotated version of the FASD behavioural symptoms chart, details from Charlotte’s CPR which point to the likelihood of birth mum’s drinking during pregnancy, etc.

I also told the GP about the increased CPV from Charlotte and showed her the door video. She got it. Really got it, in a way that PAS just haven’t. I asked about what help was available for us locally. She asked what support we had in place. I talked about Twitter and my friends whose children have autism. She asked what official support we have. I said none. She was appalled. She’s investigating what support there is for parents experiencing CPV. I’m looking into getting to an FASD Trust meeting (as usual with such things, my nearest is an hour away).

We finished the appointment with a discussion of our options if we were to pay for therapy of various kinds, what with the waiting lists being horrendous and PAS being somewhere on the scale between hopeless and abusive. She has recommended a local team of psychologists, including trauma specialists, who sound amazing. Their website claims they’ll get back to you the same day with an appointment for an initial consultation within a couple of days. Just like that. I still feel like it is a betrayal of my left-wing soul and I can’t easily reconcile it all, but nor can I do nothing when my children are suffering, Pete and I are dealing with the consequences, and all that stands in the way is some cash. (Don’t ask how much. I have no idea yet but the GP said ‘It’s not cheap’. The bank of Mum and Dad is on standby – sometimes being an only child of generous parents is Very Useful.)

Hello, new OT
Having been on the cards since the assessment was done in May, Charlotte is about to start seeing an OT regularly. It’s another one of the things that got shelved due to the handover between LAs when our three years post-AO was up and they decided they needed to do another assessment of our support needs, we told them what our needs were, they ignored that, faffed about telling us off, etc. Anyway, six months later, the funding is in and it’s happening. Joanna’s being assessed too. The word is that this OT is really good, so we’re hopeful that she’ll help us understand some of the sensory-seeking stuff and how to help the girls get what they need in the right way (ie not chewing blu-tack and toilet paper, for starters).

And so we wait a bit, push a bit, pursue things for ourselves a bit, and see how it all plays out. But after a pretty horrible six months, there are glimmers of hope.

Glossary
AO – adoption order
ASF – adoption support fund
CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy
CPV – child-on-parent violence
FAS – foetal alcohol syndrome
FASD – foetal alcohol spectrum disorder
LA – local authority
OT – occupational therapist
PAS – post-adoption support


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Today at school: a saga of shouting, shambolic communication and a sneaky toffee. So there.

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7.45 Dropped the girls at school for breakfast club. Joanna’s class teacher wasn’t in yet so I left a message asking her to call me about something that had upset Joanna yesterday. Another teacher (the one they are sent to when their own teacher’s tellings-off are deemed insufficient) had come into her classroom and shouted and it had frightened her. Every child whose name was on the board for bad behaviour SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES AND WOULD SEE HER AT BREAKTIME TOMORROW.

Joanna had come home feeling physically sick, and at 5.00 we finally discovered what had happened. She had been so upset and scared by the shouting that she had wanted to punch the shouty teacher in the face. But she hadn’t punched her. (This is progress. I pointed that out.) So. I waited until registration time for a call from her class teacher, who is usually very good and seems to ‘get it’. Nothing.

9.30 Joanna’s class helper called me. Joanna was struggling, couldn’t calm down and was being disruptive. She was anticipating being shouted at again. Told them I’d anticipated this and that’s why I’d asked to speak to her teacher. The message hadn’t been passed on. And ha ha ha, all the children are scared of Miss X, ha ha ha. Er, no. Not good enough. No child should be frightened at school, but especially not one as emotionally vulnerable as Joanna.

12.15 The SENCO phoned. Joanna is un-calm-downable and I must come and get her. Well, I’m working. I tried to have this conversation at 8am. Joanna is frightened and being punished for showing it. I will come and see her because it sounds like she needs me to but I am very disappointed about the way this has been handled. *assertive voice*

12.30 Got to school. Joanna had calmed down and was back in the class. I said they could either formally exclude her, which might help our case with CAMHS but wouldn’t help her learning, or keep her in school, in which case I’d still like to see her and make sure she was OK.

I saw her. Snuck her a toffee from my bag when the staff left the room in flagrant disregard for their policy on such things, because it helps her. Told her she was doing really well not to have hurt anyone. Promised her no one was going to shout at her or hurt her. Generally listened and reassured her for ten minutes. Then she went back to class. I spoke to the staff and said I’d come and see Miss Shouty with Joanna after school.

1.00 Came home. Photocopied six pages of a book I know the school owns (because I told them to buy it) to remind them what is going on for Joanna when she is being disruptive, and that she doesn’t need punishing, she needs help. And actually, she is doing amazingly well at not being violent, and at articulating her thoughts and feelings to me.

Haven’t got much work done today. Quite fancy a little sleep but have to go back to school in an hour.

*sigh*

Evening update

I went to collect the girls as usual after school. Turned out Miss Shouty wasn’t available to see us after all, so I’m not sure whether that will be rescheduled for tomorrow or not. It hasn’t really been properly resolved, and we have half term next week, so that feels decidedly unsatisfactory. I did speak to the class teacher, who told Joanna she just needed to focus. I didn’t want an argument in front of Joanna, so I handed over the photocopies I’d taken with me, all labelled for various members of staff, and didn’t pursue it. Yet. It will be coming up again at the next meeting though. Oh yes. You don’t trigger her and then punish her for reacting while telling her to ‘just focus’. That’s cruel.

I took the girls to the park so they could run about and let off some steam, then we came home and Charlotte had a strop because she wanted to go on her Kindle and I said it was dinner time. She threw a toy at a light and the lampshade broke. That’ll make a fun story when our new social worker comes round tomorrow. Still, I was in full therapeutic mode and asked if she wanted to come and have a sit down and a cuddle. She calmed down beautifully. If only it was always so easy.

After dinner the girls were both in massive regression mode, both wanting to be treated like babies and be rocked on my lap. So that made for a logistical challenge. We did that, I gave them an age-appropriate explanation of the function of the amygdala – ‘the emergency bit of the brain’. I told Joanna hers was too sensitive because her there was too much danger in her birth parents’ house so she’d learnt to keep the emergency bit switched on but now we needed to help it learn to switch off more because she is safe. (I think she understood it at least as well as some of her teachers. I look forward to reports of her explaining it to them.)

Therapeutic wonderparenting wound down and they went to bed two minutes before Pete walked in the door. Typical! He’s now gone back out for fish and chips (hurrah) and I am skiving my exercise class, which is emotional self-care if not physical. Needs must, eh? This blog has been verified by Rise: R0d53078ddb83f210db0b1272d1febeb7

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Hello, goodbye

It’s been a week of beginnings and endings.

Tuesday: Hello, new therapist 

On Tuesday, after a few false starts, I finally had a first session with a therapist. I’d had about four sessions with a PAC counsellor a couple of years ago and found it immensely frustrating – it was a 45 minute drive away, and the counsellor wanted to give me parenting tips rather than talk about my own stress levels. This was not what I wanted or needed, so I packed it in. This time, I picked someone from the national directory within walking distance from my house, who had experience in attachment issues, counselling carers, and domestic violence. I thought between those she could probably handle me talking about me, the children, and CPV.

She did start off by trying to give me advice on managing the girls’ anger by making a calming-down box of things to engage them. I stopped her. ‘We’ve tried that,’ I said. ‘She’s not really interested and we’re likely to have the contents thrown at us. Could we please focus on talking about me?’

At this point I think she started to get the measure of the severity we’re talking about. When I told her about the situation with post-adoption support, she sat back in her chair with her eyebrows hovering somewhere above her head and told me she was shocked. I told her we were far from the only ones having this experience.

To give her credit, she did manage to focus on things that would be helpful to me, rather than parenting techniques. She gave me some ideas to try – including compartmentalising my time and just not doing stuff that is child-related on certain evenings. This sounds fine in theory, but some evenings I get emails (eg from Joanna’s therapist) that ask for a reply by the next morning. Am I supposed to refuse and be awkward about it? Anyway, I’m doing my best with that. Pete and I had an evening out and everything. 

So, she is listening, and she is keeping me accountable for my self-care, which is exactly what I wanted, so it was a helpful first session.  I’m hoping we’ll keep things practical and tangible and encouraging.

Wednesday: Hello, heads of PAS

If you’ve read my previous post outlining the horror story that was the transition to our current LA and the safeguarding referral that followed our request for safe holding training, you’ll understand why the idea of meeting the powers that be at PAS filled me with horror. That experience last autumn was completely awful and left me being physically sick, not sleeping, and in tears at the mere thought of the woman who had spoken to me so unpleasantly on the phone. Those feelings hadn’t gone away, so when we were told by the headteacher (who had written a complaint to them on our behalf) that they wanted to meet us and apologise, we were skeptical. And I was more than a bit nervous.

So. We were pleasantly surprised when they started the meeting by apologising for ten minutes before we could get a word in edgeways. They actually seemed to mean it! We had been braced for a token ‘sorry you feel that way’ but no, they seemed to have taken on board what we’d said. When it came to discussing That Phonecall (the one where we were told quite aggressively that we were being referred to safeguarding), I cried – I’d known I would – as I told her to her face the impact that call had had on me. She said she’d learnt from the experience and our feedback and wished she’d come to see us instead. (Well, yes.)

Anyway. All that dealt with, we moved on, back to the list of issues and support requests we had gives to our PASW in September, when we first met. I read it all out and we worked through it, one member of the family at a time. At no point did we get an explicit no to any of the requests, though we are not naïve enough to expect them to suddenly put everything in place overnight. It does sound as though they are actually going to discuss it though, rather than refusing immediately. They’ve said they’ll get back to us next week with their proposals. This should address our requests for OT work for both girls, continued CBT for Joanna, some respite for us, and some viable alternative to safe holding/restraint. They’re also going to chase Joanna’s CAMHS referral which they seem to think should mean she’ll be seen by them by March, and pursue the FASD referral I’m trying to get through our GP. I’m not holding my breath but I am more optimistic than I have been since the handover in the summer.

Thursday: Goodbye, Joanna’s therapist 

The funding for Joanna’s therapist was stopped last term as part of the shocking way the handover was handled. They just refused to put in another ASF application until they’d done another assessment of need, and then the assessment didn’t happen for four months. School paid for one block of sessions, because they could see the benefit,but that wasn’t sustainable so the therapist continued for free. Then the LA took exception to that and so she decided for the sake of our ongoing need to have a relationship with them that she would step back and stop seeing Joanna.

Joanna, of course, was devastated. She was concerned about her ability to cope without the weekly input that helps her process things. But she was also furious when we explained why it was happening and that we had complained for several months that they were putting their policies and procedures ahead of her needs. We assured her we were still working on it and writing emails and having meetings. She is considering writing one of her own. I would love that.

What next?

And so we wait for PAS to reveal their plan of action this week. We’re caught in that limbo-land of wanting to be positive and optimistically assume they’ll address all the requests we made and they nodded at, while still feeling more than a little cynical, weary, and wary about it all. We’ll see.

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What adoption means to my children

Our daughters Joanna and Charlotte were adopted at 4 and 3 respectively. They’re now 8 and 6. Although my feelings about National Adoption Week are decidedly mixed (short version: I wish they put as much energy and cash into post-adoption support as they do into recruiting adoptive parents), in honour of the occasion I thought I’d ask our two what adoption means to them and what they’d say to prospective adopters. Here are their thoughts on the subject.

Me: What do you think about adoption?

Charlotte: Adoption is a good thing because if you have songs on your phone then you can dance to them. And you get lovely cuddles. And you get to make stuff and your lovely mummy and daddy help you make things. They can also help you read especially when you’re grumpy and they can help you calm down. They walk to school with you even when you don’t want them to.

Joanna: Adoption is good because you get a nice new mummy and daddy that look after you properly and you get to have fun with them and they help you learn lots of new things. And they give you proper cuddles because your old birth mum and dad didn’t give you proper hugs but this mum and dad give you nice hugs. It’s good having a new mum and dad because they love you properly and don’t hurt you. Your mummy and daddy can always help you stop arguing and fighting and solve problems with you.

Me: And what would you say to someone who was thinking about maybe adopting children?

Joanna: When you have adopted children they can sometimes be jabbery so please be warned! You can adopt a child if you want to because you can give them nice food even though you have lots of meetings. But they will like being with you and you will be a happy family. (That is a compound sentence.) And also you can help them with their homework and have a nice family cuddle and a nice family chat and watch films together.


So there you have it. (If you’re new to my blog and considering adoption, you might also like to check out some of my previous posts about the reality, including a typical day in the life, our experience of child-to-parent violence, and our relationship with our post-adoption support service.) It’s not always dancing and cuddles and happy families, and Joanna is not wrong about the number of meetings. But if I’d known all this, would I still have done it? Absolutely.

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A typical day in the Meadows household

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It’s now three years since we got our adoption order, and our post-adoption support is about to transfer from the placing authority to our local authority. We’ll be asking for another formal assessment of our family’s support needs and so I’m putting together some documents to show what support we want and why we need it. This ‘day in the life’ is one of those.

6.00ish The girls wake up. Our rule is that they play quietly in their rooms, but sometimes Charlotte will sensory seek elsewhere, eg decorate the bathroom with a tube of toothpaste, put suncream on the walls, or go downstairs (which is out of bounds at that time). As soon as I am the tiniest bit awake, my ears are on high alert for any sounds that might indicate Things They Should Not Be Doing.

7.30 The girls come to our room and we all go downstairs for breakfast. Often Charlotte will have a tantrum about something – one of us looking at her, someone sitting where she wants to sit, etc – and she can take a very long time to finish her (small) breakfast (often one slice of toast). This is about control – she doesn’t want us to take it away but she doesn’t want to eat it either. If there’s any arguing over a seat to be done, Joanna is likely to join in too.

8.00 The girls get dressed. Sometimes this is done quickly, other times they procrastinate and get grumpy when we ask how they’re getting on. There are often meltdowns when we tell them to stop playing and to get dressed, to brush their teeth, that they will need a jumper, that it’s time to put their shoes on.

8.25 We leave the house (often with a bit of transition-related stropping) and walk to school. Usually at least one of the children will be grumpy en route, because of the transition, because they have poked each other, because we’ve said no to something, because they’d rather go in the car, because they want the other parent to take them, etc. Sometimes this will involve violence – to each other or to us, especially to Pete.

8.40 We arrive at school five minutes before everyone else comes in and sometimes manage a proper handover with the staff. Sometimes Joanna’s one-to-one assistant isn’t there or is doing something else.

8.55 The parent doing the school run gets home, exhausted, and then starts a day’s work.

During the day Hannah checks Charlotte’s room for contraband: things she has found or ‘borrowed’ from elsewhere in the house, at school, or in the street. These have included stones, feathers, Joanna’s toys, toys from school, used plasters of indeterminate origin, medication she found on the train(!) and hundreds of tissues and pieces of toilet paper, often chewed into little wads and put under the bed, or torn into confetti and left around the room.

During the day on Thursdays Hannah spends two hours at school attending Joanna’s therapy session.

During the day school may phone and ask Hannah to go in and help Joanna calm down, or to collect Joanna after she has been angry, violent and/or upset.

During the day Hannah returns calls/emails about the girls when she is supposed to be working.

During the day Pete often has to take time off work to attend meetings about the girls.

3.15 One of us collects the girls from school. Often there will be a strop immediately, especially if we accidentally ask them how their day has been. Often there will be another strop on the way home if we don’t take their preferred route or play with their friends on the way (obviously they will both have different preferences that cannot both be met).

3.40 We get home. The instant the front door closes marks the entry into the Peak Strop Zone (from now until bedtime). The other parent sometimes accidentally triggers another strop by looking at Charlotte/asking a question about their day/saying something that has already been discussed on the way home ‘and I AM NOT SAYING IT AGAIN!’ The girls play bicker together/go on their tablets/watch TV. There will be at least one argument at some point, and one or both will end up stamping up the stairs and slamming their bedroom door, then shouting about how they hate everyone. This transition from school to home is the time when they are most likely to be violent. (This is what that violence is like.)

5.00 Dinnertime. This will rarely please both children, who don’t approve of the menu/don’t want to stop what they’re doing/hate salad. Charlotte may have a massive tantrum, especially if there are tomatoes or anything green on her plate. Something will be spilt/dropped on the floor/hidden in her clothes because she doesn’t want to eat it and will put it in the bin/toilet later.

5.40 We all play a game together, as suggested by Joanna’s therapist. If Joanna doesn’t win, she has a huge meltdown, stamps up the stairs, slams her door and shouts/screams about how everyone hates her. We patiently go through all the therapeutic techniques with her (that we have established with her therapist), or she shouts at us that she is NOT DOING THEM.

6.00 Bedtime. The girls procrastinate about getting changed, brushing teeth, etc. If we ask how they’re getting on, or why they’re not in their pyjamas twenty minutes after we asked them, or what they’re doing naked in the other one’s bedroom (etc), there’ll be another meltdown. A meltdown at this point in the day can last up to 90 minutes.

When the girls are asleep

  • Pete works, if he needs to make up time lost to meetings and/or meltdowns during the day.
  • Hannah works, if meetings/calls from school have caused a delay during the day.
  • We discuss emails that need answering and whatever forms we are currently completing (there’s usually at least one on the go).
  • We read and comment in Joanna’s home–school communications book.
  • We check Charlotte’s school bags for contraband.
  • We analyse the events of the day and consider what to do.
  • We have no social life.

10.00–11.00 We go to sleep. Often Hannah will be awake at 3.00/4.00/5.00 worrying about the latest incident with the girls and what to do next.

And repeat.

Do you relate to this? If it sounds familiar I’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch through the comments or on Twitter or Facebook. If you missed my recent post on our experience of child-to-parent violence (CPV) you can read it here.

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