Friday, 19 December 2014

A Message From Santa

A couple of years ago I heard about Portable North Pole, whereby you can get a video message from Santa sent by email addressed to your child. The message can be personalised using your child's name and you have the option to include various phrases that mean something to your child eg Santa will say "I know you've been asked to work hard at school/practice on your bike/be nice to your sibling" and such like. You can also add a phrase so Santa shows he knows what was on your child's list. During the video Santa will also, via his elves, check if your child is on the naughty or nice list (I certainly hope parents put nice!).

Much as I wanted to, I didn't feel able to do it the last two years.  I wasn't sure what Missy would make of a Santa on a video knowing real stuff about her. He shows a huge book that says in it is everything he needs to know about her. I wasn't sure if it would be a trigger. I wasn't sure if her self esteem was up to it. Christmas can be a strong trigger for many adopted/looked after children and so I resisted the urge to do this. Our first two Christmasses with Missy have been fairly low key but we're learning what she can cope with, what she will love, enjoy and what won't overwhelm her.  

This Christmas I felt the time was right and it would be a fun thing to so.  I wasn't wrong. Missy loved it! Her face was a picture, if only I could share it with you. She genuinely believed it was a message from the real Santa (she realises some people dress up as him but still believes in the real deal).

The video really is lovely, great quality and does give you a sense that it really does come from the North Pole. The elves are there working hard and helping Santa too and the reindeers are gearing up for the big night. Of course, you don't just have to do it for a child - you could send it to your partner if you want and the adult option is quite a giggle.  There's also a video you can do on Christmas Eve so I'm looking forward to doing that one.

If you want to take a look at it, you can always set one up and watch it before deciding if your child should see it. I understand why it might not be right for many of our children but for Missy it worked and it will definitely become a tradition in this house.  The Classic video is 3 minutes long, or you can upgrade for a small cost to a video which is a little longer with some extra options.

If you'd like to have a look, go to To receive a 20% discount off digital products (not including in-app) then put in this code BLG20BKP.  

Friday, 12 December 2014

Feeling Christmassy but with a dose of anxiety thrown in

I am feeling a teeny bit Christmassy.  I think it's the Christmas Gingerbread Latte from M&S.   I'm certainly enjoying the run up to Christmas more this year than the past two years though it's been a stressful couple of weeks. Well, I say enjoying but that's probably a bit over the top.

I've been practising saying 'No'.  I do like lending a hand, especially where charity is concerned but at the moment charity needs to begin at home.  I remember Sally Donovan once writing "Step away from the PTA!".  I didn't take any notice I'm afraid, more because I felt doing something would help me feel useful, give me a sense of purpose.  It just made me feel stressed.

We had the school Christmas Fayre recently and my job was to coordinate getting raffle prizes.  I did pretty well but in the end had to pass it over to someone else as the stress was making me very anxious - I nearly burst into tears in Homebase!  I helped on the day and that was ok. Now the Christmas Fayre is over, I feel a bit better. Missy on the other the other hand was absolutely fine.  She's been rather overwhelmed the last two years but this year had a great time, even when she had to stay by my side whilst I had a manic 5 minutes on the cake stall until the person who was meant to be serving turned up.  She was very very tired in the evening but coped so much better this year.  In fact her stress levels have been a little lower recently - I wonder if its the homeopathic remedies she is taking?  She was brilliant in her school play and spoke up loud and clear.  She's been very understanding at home whilst the lounge and dining room has been in a right mess whilst we've been decorating.  The School Christmas panto brought up some anxieties - she's scared of the mean characters in it, obviously, but we've had some chats about it and I think she'll be ok, she'll be sitting next to her teacher who 'gets it'. 

Recently whilst we were painting, she spent some time, off her own back, deciding which toys she didn't want any more and wants to give them to charity so that "other children in need can have some toys".  Bless, she is really quite caring.  She then discussed what she'd like to do when she grows up.  She said she would be busy going to Africa to help children out there but, "oh my gosh" she just wouldn't have time to do her other jobs (being a vet, running a cafe and a nurse!).

My anxiety levels are pretty high at the moment. The slightest thing sends my heart raising and that sick feeling in my stomach to appear. I had to stop still in M&S yesterday and take some deep breaths. I'm not really sure why (secondary trauma has been mentioned to me a couple of times) because on the whole Missy's behaviour and emotions have been ok, school is good. Perhaps it's worrying about money (thanks HMRC for messing up!), perhaps it's a bad case of SAD this year, perhaps it's a mix of things. I'm looking at getting a SAD lamp again - it really helped the first time I had one and then I felt much better, started running (so was outside a lot dosing up on sunlight) and sold the lamp. But at the moment I can't run so I'm not outside much.  I've just joined the local gym (a lovely birthday prezzy for me) and am looking forward to a few hours a week down there.

Right, time for a cuppa, a mince pie and the next chapter in Sally Donovan's new book, then after school it's time to get a Christmas tree (got to be real, can't bring myself to get a plastic one).

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Preparation is key

I've just re-read some of my blog posts from our first few months with Missy. It wasn't a good time. What really strikes me is just how little prepared we were to deal with her trauma and how little we really understood about attachment.

As a prospective adopter we had a two day training, we had regular visits from our SW during home study and we had some brief reading to do.  We were given a file of photocopied articles  and a particular book by Margot Sunderland was recommended. But that was it.  It wasn't insisted by anyone that we read a whole load of books and I don't think we even got a reading list. We didn't meet any adopters other than a chap who came to talk on our 2 day course.  No wonder we were so naive in the early days.  What I've learnt about attachment, trauma and being an adoptive parent has been since Missy came home and has come from reading other adopters blogs, meeting up with other adopters,  chatting and getting advice on Twitter and FB, and reading loads including Dan Hughes, Louise Bomber, Holly van Gulden, Bryan Post and Sally Donovan. We also had some excellent training from PAC earlier this year.

I don't know what the stage 1 and 2 training consists of now (it wasn't known as stage 1 and 2 when we did it).  I only hope prospective adopters do have a greater understanding of attachment and trauma than we did before their children come home. Via Twitter I gather that some prospective adopters have a three line whip as far as their reading list is concerned, whilst others do not. Some are talking about attachment and regulation, others are not. One friend is attending a training on PACE which I think is brill.  Once again, processes seem to vary hugely among LAs or even SWs. Of course, things can look very different in practice from how it's described in a book, but one hopes at least adopters will be more prepared than we were.

If we'd understood more back in the early days I don't think we'd have started Missy at school until after Christmas, we would have done a lot more nurturing and done more to help regulate Missy (and me).  Hopefully we would have had a better insight to her behaviour. I cringe when I read about going to her Christmas school play, just five weeks after placement.

In other news, I am being very prepared for Christmas for once.  I've nearly finished the present buying and written most of the cards! I think I deserve a Baileys later.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Adoption UK Conference 2014

Last Saturday saw our first attendance at the Adoption UK Conference where Dr Bruce Perry was talking. Bruce Perry is an expert in child trauma and how this affects the brain and childhood development.

Having previously studied anatomy & physiology, I'm fascinated by how the body works especially the brain. I've also studied stress management in the past so had a brief idea how it affected the brain, but to see how trauma affects the child's brain is at a complete different level.

Throughout his time speaking, there were nods from parents who saw their child in his words.  If the lightbulb moments from us and everyone else in the room could have come to life, we could have kept the hotel lit for the rest of the day.

Here are some of the main points I took away from the conference:-

1.   The lower parts of the brain, responsible for breathing, heart rate etc, is actually where information is processed first.  But this 'dumber' part of the brain can't tell time.  It doesn't realise that the threat happened 20 years ago.  Tell that to others who think, oh, it was years ago they won't remember!

2.  Present experiences are filtered through past experience stored in the brain. The past experiences have formed a template.

3.  The child's template for their initial chaotic experience of parents/carers  might be "they don't look after me therefore I must look after myself" - hence why Daddy and I get shouted at when we offer assistance.   These templates can be altered positively over time but it will take long term, regular, predictable, consistent work.

4.  A child who has experienced trauma has a higher stress baseline.  Because their brains and bodies are subject to inconsistent, variable, unpredictable stress they become so sensitised and can get to the point where a small stress event, that previously might have resulted in a moderate reaction, might this time result in an extreme reaction. Hence why saying Good Morning often results in a growl, a scowl and an immediate stomp away from me.  Or why putting butter on toast resulted in a complete meltdown.

5.  Regulation or self-soothing.  If the child cannot self-soothe then it is the parents role to be the External Stress Responder.  But we can't regulate a child if we are not regulated ourselves.  In fact Dr Perry said if you take just one thing away from the conference it's that the most important thing is to take care of yourself, and not just once a week at the gym, every day we need to take care.  Regulate before you connect before you correct.

6.  Speaking to a child negatively results in their deregulation.

7.  To help regulate a child, stand back, speak calmly, be present, be parallel. Disengage if necessary.   The car is a great place for kids to feel regulated.  The rhythm of the engine and being parallel (or behind).  Let them control how they engage with you, let them control the timing and pacing of visiting a stressful experience.  Missy's words from the back seat make more sense now.

8.  Functioning of the brain is state dependent.  So perhaps last week in the classroom they can do maths. But this week, the child is not in the right state of mind, not in the higher thinking parts of the brain because for example, they feel a threat from someone walking into the classroom.  This week then, they can't do the work because they are operating from a state of fear from the lower parts of the brain and acting in a reactive manner.

9.  Dissociation.  We all know the 'fight or flight' response.  But a baby or toddler can't run away or put up a fight.  Think baby crying because it's hungry or needs nappy changing.  No one comes, or when they do they shout or hit, so brain says this isn't working and they shut down, they dissociate. It's an adaptive mechanism. Physiologically, the heart rate goes down, painkillers are sent out; basically the child is getting ready to be hurt.

10.  A child who dissociates internalises their feelings.  They might look like they are coping but inside they are in turmoil.  Sadly because they look like they are coping they often bypass mental health services.

11.  A child can also be a mix of hyper aroused/dissociative and could be labelled bipolar leading to a prescription of drugs which will not work.

12.  Labels such as ADHD, RAD etc may be unhelpful.  The child is probably actually 'delayed' due to earlier experiences of impoverished environment.  Also, if your child can regulate some of the time then a diagnosis of RAD is probably wrong.

There is so much more he spoke about and I highly recommend checking out Bruce Perry's Seven Slides Series on the Child Trauma Academy You Tube Channel.

So what can we do to help regulate?  I was comforted to hear that some of the things we have done are on the right lines.  Touch - so playing hairdressers is good.  Use rhythm  - music (listening to and making) dance around the living room, play pat-a-cake, go for a walk, trampoline.  Meditation (Missy and I both like using meditation). Decompression time for the child - it's OK for them to watch TV after school or play on a the DS.  It's their chance to zone out, be dissociative for a while after being hyper-aroused at school.  It's a good regulatory activity so don't use no TV as a consequence.  Sit next to them, in parallel, at the dining room table as it's less threatening.

Lots of take in, lots to reflect upon and put into practice or revisit.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Words from the back seat

Missy talks A LOT, particularly when we're in the car.  Mostly it's asking me questions, pointing out things, remembering quite random things we've done singing A LOT, but every now and then she'll come out with something more serious, more poignant.  I wonder if it's because she has a captive audience but doesn't have to make eye contact?

A few days ago, on the way home from the shops, she was talking about this, that and the other, making up words to songs when she said suddenly:  "I don't hate old Susan*, well I do hate her for not looking after me but I sort of hate her half but also I do love her half too.  I love you more though because you look after me and keep me safe.  Is that ok?"

Well, I wasn't exactly prepared for such deep thinking as I drove up to the large roundabout, a large lorry getting a little to close for comfort, trying to keep us both safe.

"Of course it's ok".  I said.  Doh! That's not what I meant.

I didn't know what I meant really.  Of course it's ok that she loves me. Is it ok that she has these feelings towards her birth mum? These are her feelings and it's not for me to say how she should feel but I certainly don't want her to hate anyone, not least her birth mum.  She probably doesn't really understand the true meanings of hate and love yet anyway.  I formulated a few guiding words in my head, but by then Missy was several subjects ahead and her favourite single came on the radio to which she was singing along happily.  Well, I say singing - she doesn't always get the words right which can be quite amusing.  Anyway, by then the moment had gone. I was too slow. I mentally kicked myself.  As I was driving I couldn't really kick myself properly.

Back home when we were drawing together I casually reminded her of some artwork we'd done at Theraplay about emotions. She wasn't interested.  She was far more interested in the work in hand, but, interestingly, not telling me how to do my own piece as she would have done a year ago.

Do your children talk to you from the back seat?   Do they catch you unawares?  Do you revisit the subject later or wait for them to bring it up again?

*birth mum but obviously name has been changed.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Could you be a foster carer?

Whilst National Adoption Week seems, in the media at least, to be mostly about attracting new adopters, we mustn't forget those who are integral part of the adoption process and that's foster carers.  They do a wonderful job looking after children who are unable to live with their birth family, providing them with a safe haven and stability that they may never have known. Many of these children will go on to be adopted.

So, could you be a foster carer?   Below is an infographic I'm sharing on behalf of TACT which explains what it takes to be a great foster carer.

If you feel you have what it takes to be a foster carer and would like to find out more then please contact TACT on freephone 0808 250 9177 or register your interest via their website.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

New National Adoption Service in Wales

As part of National Adoption Week, I am delighted to have been asked to help highlight the new National Adoption Service for Wales that was launched today.

Speaking with many adopters either in person or via social media, it's obvious that agencies and local authorities all do things differently, very differently in some cases.  Actually, this even happens within my own local authority. Consistency is very lacking.  So I'm really interested to read about this new National Adoption Service in Wales which sees all Welsh local authorities (except Anglesey) and five adoption agencies working collaboratively to deliver this new service. The Welsh local authorities are being grouped together into five regions and these five regions will be working with BAAF, Adoption UK, After Adoption, Barnardo's Cymru and St David's Children's Society.

The regions will bring their resources, access to education and health together with the unique expertise and understanding of adoption from the five agencies.  Sounds promising.  Sounds like there will be much improved consistency.

There are currently 139 children on the Wales Adoption Register waiting to be matched.  Out of 58 adopters referred to the Register, only 22 are potentially available for these children as many are already being matched and no adopters are in a position to take a sibling group of over two children.

Hopefully the new National Adoption Service will successfully bring together the expertise required to improve the adoption process in Wales so that more children are matched, the right matches are made and the correct and timely support is given to adopters.  Now that I am post adoption order, I'm always interested to hear what support is available to adopters.  The National Adoption Service in Wales is promising to create a service that meets the "life long needs" for all those affected by adoption.  And it is life long, not just up to the Adoption Order being granted.

This does sound very promising for adoption in Wales and I wish them every success.

If you are in Wales and want more information about the National Adoption Service please visit

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