This is a guest post from a friend in the adoption community who needs to remain anonymous, but wants to share their experience of meeting their children’s birth siblings in the hope of helping others.

meeting-siblings

We have been a family brought together by adoption for over 10 years. There are a few of us in the family, however, it always struck me that given we read our children’s CPRs and all the other information we receive, if we are lucky enough to receive it all, there are extended family who naturally become our family.

My children’s siblings are always a part of my life, they are family too.

Over the weekend we were lucky enough, after three years of trying, to meet the now adult siblings of our children. A surprise message out of the blue three years ago instigated this meeting. It has taken us all this length of time to be able to feel able to do it. Our children were not involved. You may think that cruel, but right now they are not ready for it, and they may never be.

We met in a train station coffee shop – we felt that it needed to be somewhere that we could all feel as comfortable as possible – as we all knew that the anxiety for us all would be immense.

I hugged sister – I was not sure how it would go, but she hugged me back. I got emotional but kept it together.

We bought coffees and we began to chat. There were no awkward moments. It flowed.

Our first lesson

We knew all about them. They knew nothing about us – NOTHING. They lived for the first few years not knowing what had happened to their siblings. No one had told them they had been placed for adoption. Youngest was removed from a holiday he was on – and that was the last she saw of him.

Our second lesson

Appreciation that they had been adopted. Despite the first few years of their not knowing, they have learnt enough about our children to know that they have been well looked after, and cared for, attempting to repair the damage that they have all experienced. They acknowledged that the trauma will have been more intense for our children as they had differing placements and the worst experience of our care system you can imagine.

Our third lesson

If only we knew then what we knew now… Yes, contact is a scary thing, and it would have needed careful planning, facilitating and reviewing. But had I known that these siblings sat not knowing, not knowing where they were, who they were with, were we monsters, were we cruel, did we love them – that could have been easily remedied.

Their first lesson

They now know that their siblings have been loved and cared for. To see the relief on their faces was worth every single minute of over ten years.

Their second lesson

They discovered that their siblings have very similar issues with attachment, trust, anger to them.

Their third lesson

Never assume adoption is always a bad thing. Family and friends had been rather critical of adoption, as you would expect, and that was the siblings impression as a result. They see the difference it has made.

*

I did cry. I felt so patronising and insulting to these two brave souls in front of me, who had been through just as much in their childhood as my children – and I was the one crying. To be told that they are grateful that their siblings have such fantastic parents blew me away. I sniffed, sister held my hand, and I gave myself a good talking to – this was not about me.

We spent three hours together, and we have so much in common. We’ll meet them again, and that was a mutual decision by us all. We feel they are more a part of our family now than ever.

Their decision to share what their message will be when they do all eventually meet was upsetting, and I leave you with some of it:

‘If you are expecting to meet our parents and for them to be the parents you hope for, then don’t – you will be very very disappointed.’

Thank you for reading.


Further thoughts?

Have you met any members of your adopted child(ren)’s birth family? How did it go? Has anything changed for you or your children as a result? What advice would you have for others considering direct contact? Maybe you’re weighing up the pros and cons for your family at the moment. I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts too. Please leave them in the comments so others can benefit.

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If you’re part of the UK adoption community, you can hardly have failed to notice that this week (16–22 October) is National Adoption Week. The powers that be have decided that an appropriate hashtag with which to publicise the week is #SupportAdoption. They’re encouraging people to use it and to join a Thunderclap (a type of Twitter campaign) to get it trending. I’m unclear about exactly what this hashtag achieves other than that it might cause people to say ‘Oh, Adoption, that’s nice’.

So I propose that adoptive parents respond with a hashtag of our own: #ProvideAdoptionSupport. An actual call to action that asks them to show they mean it.

Here’s why.

provide-adoption-support

More than PR

It’s easy to say that you support adoption, but it’s vital to provide adoption support. ‘#SupportAdoption’ is very easy to put on a bumper sticker or a pen to lure in unsuspecting prospective adopters, but proper thoughtful adoption support is what makes a real difference to adoptive families once you’ve signed on the dotted line and all the social workers have stopped their statutory visits. Done properly, it’s a real lifeline, especially when you’ve got real problems such as child-on-parent violence which can lead to the adoption breaking down.

Recruit new adopters with honesty about the challenges, not with cute photos and false promises. Click To Tweet

What does it mean to #ProvideAdoptionSupport?

It’s about more than family-finding using cute pictures of children all over TV shows and in the papers. Finding families is just the start.

It’s about remembering the whole family and making sure that the parents are equipped, resourced and supported and given the mental healthcare they need when they have secondary (or primary) trauma as a direct result of caring for their child.

It’s about respecting the people who are on the front line – parents. Adoption support is not just about children’s therapies, it’s about families. It’s not about being told, as we once were by a PASW, that ‘We don’t support parents – this is Children’s Services.’

It’s about seeing all the different types of impact that adoption can have a family, including the financial implications when you have to give up work due to the demands of parenting; the high risk of family breakdown; the inability to have ‘normal’ holidays and to recharge; the damage to your home caused during a child’s frequent violent rages…

So, agencies, please don’t throw around phrases like #SupportAdoption without really thinking through the implications of what you’re saying.

It’s not only about supporting the concept of children being placed in loving families – who wouldn’t be in favour of that? Finding safe places for children to grow up is about long-term support and making sure that the child and the family around them can all thrive as a unit.

A national issue

It's disingenuous for agencies to say they '#SupportAdoption' while it's so difficult to access help. Click To Tweet

It’s disingenuous for adoption agencies to say they ‘#SupportAdoption’ while making it so difficult for families to access the help they need. My own local authority loves a hashtag and a promotional pen but even they would not dispute that our experience of their post-adoption support has been appalling. They have apologised for the worst of it but we are still only clinging on to some semblance of ‘normal’ family life. It’s not sustainable and they know it, yet they still drag their feet in resourcing us properly to care for the children. And it’s not just us – this is a national problem, as the recent media discussions about CPV have highlighted.

What I’d like to see next year

So by all means recruit new adoptive parents and have a week to focus people’s attention on adoption. Of course we still need more adoptive parents. But recruit them with honesty about the challenges, not with cute photos and false promises.

How adopters can help bring change

adoption-support-thunderclap

I think in general, adopters are far better at this social media business than the majority of adoption agencies. We bring authenticity, lived experience, and genuine compassion for each other into the picture. So let’s use our collective voice to raise awareness, help prospective adopters know what the reality is like, and encourage agencies to up their game when it comes to support.

There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Join our own Thunderclap – this means your account will join others in sending an automated Tweet like this on Thursday lunchtime. Details are here: thndr.me/qxbuKe.

  • Share this post, using the #ProvideAdoptionSupport hashtag. (Sharing links are below.) Maybe tag an adoption agency or two… Or the Prime Minister (@Number10Gov).
  • Tweet your own experience of needing your agency to #ProvideAdoptionSupport.

Let’s get the word out that adoption requires support, not just recruitment.

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It’s World Mental Health Day. I’m reblogging this post – first published in May for Mental Health Awareness Week – because I still feel exactly the same way. Let’s take action and let adoption and mental health organisations know that there is a need for specialist services to address the specific mental health challenges adoptive parents face.

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. To help those in a position to help understand what I mean, 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.

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Last week was a good week for media coverage of CPV. It helps when you can, as shorthand, say ‘Please listen to last night’s File on 4‘ when you want someone to understand a bit of what it’s like to live with the verbal and physical torrent that pours out of our children.

I appreciate that people in positions of power are starting to listen. I’m grateful for media coverage that reduces the stigma of CPV. I understand that things are starting to change on the macro scale, in offices and meeting rooms somewhere. But it is so hard not to be impatient for the day when I will be able to see and feel the impact on a personal level.

cpv-behind-the-headlines

On BBC Breakfast, Adoption UK CEO Sue Armstrong-Brown repeated the statistic that about a third of adoptive families are doing OK, about a third have some problems that can be resolved with help, and about a third have severe problems.

In the last year I think we have moved from the second group into the third.

Mainly because the help is just taking too long to materialise. The behaviours are becoming well-worn pathways, and we are becoming well-worn-out parents. I have now started describing our situation as ‘blocked care’ – that is, we are so permanently mentally and emotionally exhausted from dealing with the verbal and physical abuse that our children direct at us and each other that it is becoming difficult to do anything much beyond ensuring they are clean, meals are provided (I want to say ‘they are well fed’ but that is another battleground), they have the opportunity to get enough sleep, and they are at school when they should be.

Yes, I still love them. I don’t want to stop being their mum. But this doesn’t feel like parenting. It’s like some kind of state-run endurance test. And I’m not even sure what passing the test looks like. There are glimmers of what might pass for normal family relationships – a hug at the school gates, a few pages read from a school book, a day out at the weekend (though usually we ‘divide and conquer’ because the children cope better one-to-one). But I still feel  the ‘parenting isn’t supposed to be like this’ feelings more often than I’d like.

The email

Recently, after a horrible few days of CPV, I emailed post-adoption support. Again. Specifically, I contacted a manager who has been involved with our family for almost a year and knows me and Pete fairly well. Here’s what I wrote.

The girls’ meltdowns are particularly frequent and intense at the moment and I have mentally drafted an email asking to disrupt about half a dozen times in the last fortnight. I think it is appropriate that you know how close we are to saying we can’t do this any more.

As I write this Charlotte is having another meltdown and trying to hurt Pete because she wants to go in the car rather than walk to school; last night Joanna did her best to kick, bite and scratch all three of us and screamed about wanting to be dead rather than live with us. This is happening daily. When we try to help them they shout abuse at us and try to injure us and break the house. They are so argumentative and aggressive with each other we are having to separate them as much as possible at home. We cannot continue to live like this. If Joanna doesn’t get the residential school place we’re asking for, I don’t see how we can continue.

The response

The manager tried to phone me. I don’t like talking on the phone at the best of times, and certainly wasn’t up to coping with discussing it all. I emailed and explained that. She said that was fine, she’d email. Another few days passed. I had a very brief email back, saying she’d made some phone calls to CAMHS and had a chat with her manager about the respite foster care they’ve been promising for 9 months, when we finally had an apology for the way they’d handled our request for safe holding training. Oh, and by the way, the SEN team’s EHCP meeting to discuss Joanna’s school provision has happened without us, school, or the EP knowing.

Phone calls and chats-with-managers are all very well but make no tangible difference until they result in action. The six-hour sessions of respite on some Saturdays at our local SEND activity club are welcome. They really are. But they barely give us time to fill in the next round of paperwork and have a coffee before the children need picking up again. We need overnights. We need several days in a row to decompress, feel the stress lift, and feel that we have properly come up for air before diving back in.

The meeting

A couple of days after this exchange of emails we had a TAC meeting at school. We gathered in a classroom – me and Pete, the class teacher, the TAs, the head, the SENDCo, the EP and this manager from post-adoption support. The fact that the SEN team’s meeting had taken place was news to everyone else there too. he PAS manager said ‘Obvioulsly they’d prefer to look at day schools first…’

I couldn’t let that go unchallenged. All the way through this process we have said that Joanna needs a residential placement because (a) transitions are part of the problem, (b) we are not coping with both the children at home antagonising and attacking each other, and (c) it would really help her to have a consistent, wrap-around approach. We expect the post-adoption support service to support us and to advocate for us with the SEN department. They won’t, of course, because then they will be asked to pay for the residential stuff that qualifies as ‘social care’.

She started trying to pin the blame on SEN, or on the placing LA. I wasn’t having that. Support for our family has been her responsibility for more than a year now, and after messing that up by stripping out everything  the placing LA had arranged, we are now back to where we were a year ago.

Here goes…

I didn’t lose my temper. Not quite. (I am usually the epitome of calm and professional in these meetings.) But I certainly raised my voice.

‘You are the head of post-adoption support! We’ve told you by email, and now I’ll say it again, in front of all these people…’

I was close to tears now.

‘…that we’re not coping, and that if she doesn’t get this residential placement she is likely to end up back in care. There are only two of us, sometimes only one of us [because Pete travels a lot with work]. We have abuse screamed at us on a daily basis. We’re dealing with self-harm, suicide threats, death threats, and violence. They’ve run away. We’ve had the police round. We need you to make this school place happen.’

I could barely look up, but I could feel the eyebrows of all the school staff rising in unison.

Funnily enough, the manager had to leave for another meeting about then.

I took a deep breath. Pete squeezed my hand in solidarity.

What next?

The school staff asked what they could do to help. They’re kind and well-meaning but there isn’t much. A few more members of staff are getting Team Teach training so they can cope with Joanna at breakfast club and after-school club as well as in the classroom. They’re transitioning slowly from one TA to another with a background in mental health care, who we think is better suited to managing Joanna’s needs. They’re doing all they can.

But the difference, as ever, is that the school staff are responding because they see the need first-hand. They have to cope with (some of) the meltdowns. (Charlotte saves all hers for us.) This manager has never met our children, nor have the people in offices making these budget-driven decisions. They haven’t dealt with the rage, or the sobbing aftermath. They haven’t had to pick themselves up after a school run during which they have been physically and verbally abused and get on with a day’s work. Again.

The media

This for me is what was missing from the media coverage last week. The abuse was mentioned more than it has been before, but I want to hear as much from families as we do from the office-dwellers. I want it all on display – the bruises, the holes in the walls, the broken windows. All of it. I want people to appreciate the full impact on adoptive parents’ mental and physical health. I don’t want to be held up as a saint and told I’m wonderful, I want to be properly supported to be the front line of support to my children, and I want them to get all the therapy they need without having to wait years to receive it.

I’m tired. I cry about this a lot. I used to be an articulate campaigner but I am worn out. I’ve banged on all the doors and they’re staying shut. How much longer will it take?

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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At the end of August I participated in a self-care camp run by The Open Nest and The Adoption Social. There’s a piece about it in the latest issue of Adoption Today, which is hitting doormats this weekend. Here’s the longer version of the article I wrote.

self-care-camp

The Open Nest and The Adoption Social are both legendary in adoption circles as safe spaces for adoptive families to be themselves – free of expectations of ‘normality’ – and to receive support. I was excited to be invited to lead a self-care workshop as part of a two-day self-care camp in August, co-hosted by both organisations at La Rosa Campsite – a place I’d been hearing wonderful things about for years.

Safe spaces

The Open Nest’s Amanda Boorman explains: ‘The Open Nest has been providing safe therapeutic spaces for adoptive, foster and kinship families for four years. This year the charity decided to run a self-care camp just for parents and carers. We know that taking time out in natural and peaceful environments is often good for those who love and care for children who have faced major challenges and disruption in their lives. Regulating and caring for ourselves helps us to care for and regulate others. The Open Nest believes in supporting wherever possible those who are doing intensive care.’

Set just outside Goathland in the stunning North Yorkshire Moors, The La Rosa Campsite Extraordinaire is just isolated enough to feel that you have properly got away from it all. Its shared with plenty of wildlife – I loved showering in a barn with a swallows nest over my head, while the adult swallows swooped in and out to feed four chicks! The caravans themselves are quirkily decorated on themes such as Elvis, Mary, seaside and jungle – all designed to raise a smile. Throughout the two days, The Open Nest’s Amanda and Claudia provided amazing homemade food. There were also goody bags including candles and prosecco from Inner World Work. (Thank you!)

What we did

Camp started with putting the world to rights around the campfire on the first evening. Next morning, my workshop about self-care encouraged participants to identify their specific self-care needs and collaborate together to find creative ways of meeting the needs within the constraints of their own situations. In the afternoon Sarah from The Adoption Social led a very chilled-out, beginner-friendly yoga class, a pleasing amount of which involved lying down. This was followed by relaxing massages provided by Ingrid and Claudia in front of the fire in a tepee. Blissful.

The camp was uncomplicated. We all just gathered, talked and listened, over cups of tea and glasses of prosecco. Or did our own thing – that was fine too.

How it helped

I asked some of the participants what they had found most helpful about the self-care camp.

‘One of the things that’s been really supportive is sharing each other’s stories. Sometimes that’s quite a painful thing to do, but it’s also really comforting. When you’re having a difficult time with children who are really challenging and you’re quite isolated because of that, then to be with a group of people who are experiencing the same thing helps to normalise it, and you know that you won’t be judged.’

‘[I’ve found it helpful to have] the space to explore the whole scope of what self-care means. It unusual to have this space to relax and talk and take care, so it’s quite special. I’ve never experienced anything like this before.’

‘The location, the really generous hosts and hospitality, and that sense of space – there’s no pressure in this space, you’re quite welcome to retreat or join in.’

‘I can’t help but be calm here, because I have no [mobile phone] signal!’

‘Something I found helpful from the workshop was that sometimes I feel guilty [about prioritising self-care] but if it helps to say you’re doing it for someone else then we are doing it for the children. …I know I’ll be able to cope better with the pressures [at home] because I’ve taken time out and come away.’

self-care camp: What next?

Will there be more self-care retreats in future? Yes, almost certainly. There is a recognised need and The Open Nest is committed to meeting it wherever it can. I’d love to see more of these events in other parts of the country, too – making them as accessible as possible for the parents and carers who need them. If you’d like to see one in your area, leave a comment below

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