CPV: Behind the headlines

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…

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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.


BEFORE YOU GO…

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  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
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10 mental health challenges for adoptive parents

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

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

10 Mental Health Challenges For Adoptive Parents

10 mental health challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaaarrrggggghhhh.

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

5 possible solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


BEFORE YOU GO…

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  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
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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).


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

SONY DSC

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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A typical day in the Meadows household

calendar

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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The back-to-school letter to teachers

Dear Teacher

At the start of every school year, (or if we’re very organised, the end of the previous one) we write a letter to the girls’ new teachers, filling them in on their background and giving them information on things that the girls are likely to find helpful and unhelpful. This ensures they have at least had the opportunity to gather information, talk to us, and prepare. Here’s one of this year’s.

Dear Miss X

We thought it would be helpful to provide you with some additional background information about Joanna. She is bright, funny and fabulous, but also has some challenges.

As you know, Joanna is adopted. She was taken into care in 2011, aged [X], having experienced neglect and domestic violence. Life in her birth family was quite chaotic with lots of moves and family members appearing and disappearing. She and Charlotte had just one foster placement, which lasted 18 months, before they moved to live with us in 2013.

The girls have a half-brother, Tom, who is in a different long-term foster care placement. They have only letterbox contact with him – i.e. we exchange letters/ drawings/photos via social services. This is next due to happen in October, and the reminder that they no longer see each other is upsetting for Joanna. Her behaviour can be a bit more turbulent for about a week afterwards – we’ll use the home/school book to make sure you know when it’s happening.

Because of the risk of being traced by her birth family, it is also very important that Joanna’s photo doesn’t appear online, and that other parents are reminded not to put pictures or video on social media whenever they are likely to be filming or photographing the class at assemblies, concerts, plays, sports day, and when class photos are sent home. (This is often overlooked and causes us to panic!)

Though Joanna has generally settled extremely well, she often finds transitions (i.e. moving between activities, people, and places) especially difficult. Changes from the routine such as mufti days and lessons at [the nearby secondary school] can make her anxious. Other topics likely to be upsetting for Joanna which might crop up at school include:

  • family trees
  • family resemblances
  • babies
  • siblings
  • [town] (where she lived previously)
  • evacuees/refugees having to leave dangerous situations
  • war/violence

When she is struggling with big emotions she lets adults know by stamping, shouting and occasionally being violent. Miss Y and Mrs Z will have told you their strategies for helping Joanna with these times of anxiety. Do feel free to talk them through with us too if that would be helpful.

Because of the uncertainty she lived with at an early age, Joanna shows some signs of hypervigilance, i.e. always needing to know what is happening, who is where within the room, etc., in order to feel settled and able to concentrate. She finds loud noises frightening because she associates them with arguments and violence in her birth family. She will find it helpful to sit near an adult whenever possible, and to be in a position where she can see a lot of the room, so she can monitor what is happening and isn’t distracted by turning round to check that she’s safe whenever there is a noise.

Other things that are helpful to Joanna include:

  • knowing the timetable for the day and avoiding surprises
  • warnings when an activity is about to end (‘five minutes left…’, ‘one minute left…’)
  • talking about resilience and ‘the power of yet’ when she is struggling with work
  • lots of positive reinforcement (verbal and stickers) when she does things well/has a good day

We have found it helpful to have a brief face-to-face handover with one of the classroom staff at about 8.35/8.40 each morning so we can all be up-to-date. If there’s anything else we can do, or if you have any questions, please let us know. Joanna’s therapist is in school every week and will also be keen to talk to you and offer any help she can. If you have any time to read about attachment that would be amazing. Louise Bombèr’s books are particularly teacher-friendly and practical, and school has copies of them.

With thanks

Hannah and Pete Meadows

I hope this is helpful to those writing these letters for the first time. I’ve made it available for download here so you can use it as a starting point for writing a letter about your own child(ren).

If you’ve written this sort of letter before, what else did you include? Please let me know in the comments.

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Ten things to pack when taking adopted children on holiday

We’re off on holiday this weekend and the packing is underway. It’ll be our fifth holiday with the girls and I have a mental list of things we need to take to keep things as calm as possible.

1. Pictures of home
Though they’re prepared for seeing the holiday cottages we stay in and have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the area’s amenities well in advance of our arrival, the girls still tend to have pangs of homesickness (I think this is generally a good thing  in terms of feeling rooted in our home). So on the morning of departure, we go around the house saying goodbye and taking photos of them in all the rooms on my phone. Then I can whip out my phone when required, and show them it’s still there.

2. Postcards to colour
Any old postcards will do, but the colour-in ones provide an extra keep-them-occupied activity. These can then be sent to friends, family, and teachers. Teachers are especially important to Joanna and Charlotte because of  the between-classes limboland that the summer holidays represent. If we send postcards there’s a chance it will remind the teachers to reciprocate, making the transition in September a bit easier. I like these ones and these ones.

Postcards to colour

3. Social story books
Being away can sometimes stir up transition anxiety relating to school, so we take the girls’ social story books with us in case we need to talk about how their day will be the same and how it will be different next term. The school produces these books for us each June (with a bit of a nudge from us) and they are helpful. (If you’re not familiar with this idea, it’s a photo-based book that talks them through the day: ‘I go in through this door, I hang my coat here, I say hello to Miss X, I sit here, etc’. More about writing social stories here.)

4. Favourite toys
Mainly a teddy of their choice and a few portable games we play as a family at home – Uno, Dobble and Qwirkle. These help to provide a bit of normality.

5. Kindles
I’ve already written about my love of the Kindle. In our family, they are a sanity-saver in the early mornings when the children are Very Awake at an hour when we wish to remain comatose. Providing access to their Kindles at 6am might help them manage not to start swinging from the curtains or mooning passers by from their bedroom window (yes these things have happened on holiday before). Worth a try.

6. A new DVD
Yes, more screen time. This year, we’re introducing them to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and I am possibly a bit overexcited about that. Joanna is desperate to see it, having read the book at school. I have also bought her the book of Chamber of Secrets. I think that’s the rest of the holiday sorted.

7. Lego
It’s a bit of a holiday tradition for us to have new Lego on holiday. Last year we had a campervan holiday and made a Lego campervan to match. I also made these Lego boxes based on an idea I saw on Pinterest, and will be doing that again this week.


8. Bubbles
Great for regulating breathing and therefore for calming down – we tend to use bubbles several times a week at home, so they will definitely be coming with us on holiday, where there are often plenty of ‘opportunities to calm down’ (spelt t-a-n-t-r-u-m-s).

9. Medical kit
While a first-aid kit is probably a good plan, I pack a medical kit that is probably at least 50 percent placebo: plasters for putting on scratches that are imperceptible to the naked eye (cartoon ones for bonus points); E45 cream (our go-to placebo); hayfever medication (actually necessary some of the time, when it is given at bedtime to make full use of any drowsy-making side effects); and Calpol (ditto).Enchanted unicorn plasters

10. Sensory stuff
Because the new environment is endlessly fascinating/potentially overstimulating from a sensory perspective, with all kids of new textures in soft furnishings, different sounds,  different smells, etc, I try to anticipate this by being on high alert the second I step in to the place. Knick-knacks are moved out of harm’s way, windows are locked, things that are supposed to be fiddled with are put in their room(s) to try to divert them: fidget toys, chewy toys, a body sock…

Other ideas I’ve heard but not tried

  • Pillowcases from home – for familiar smells to help them sleep
  • Portable blackout blind – to help with early rising
  • House rules – a reminder of consistency
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Thankful Thursday

Welcome to another Thankful Thursday, this time on a Friday, because I forgot.

'Be Thankful' by Cindi Albright/RustiqueArt

‘Be Thankful’ by Cindi Albright/RustiqueArt

This week, I have enjoyed…

Reading
Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller (loved it).
I’ve just started Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans (I follow her blog and really enjoyed her previous books).

Writing
Case studies for my book.

Eating
Healthily. Back on the Weight Watchers plan after what we’ll call an Easter blip (to the tune of 8.5lbs). Ahem.

Watching
W1A. We’ve been waiting such a long time for the second series and it didn’t disappoint.

Listening to
Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast, which this week included a discussion of the benefits of treats.

…and I’m also thankful for
Term time!
Sunshine!
Non-iron school summer dresses!

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