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 www.adoptcymru.com




Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Parent Consultation went well

We had Parents' Consultation at school yesterday.  Happy to say it went well.  Not just because Missy is doing well but also because her current teacher has shown to us she cares, she notices and she does something about it.  This is Missy's third year at the school now but the first time a teacher has noticed Missy likes routine and has taken time to settle down, the first time a teacher has really noticed Missy's anxiety and the first time a teacher has really taken time to help and support.  I wanted to cry (in a good way) when I heard what her teacher had to say.  Missy's year 1 teacher was also the SENCO yet barely picked up on anything that her current teacher has noticed in just 6 weeks.

When Missy is fully engaged in what she is doing because she is enjoying it so much, her anxieties disappear.  Her teacher has noticed this when she is writing and doing art.  Maths, however, is very different and a lesson in which Missy needs support.  She is so worried about getting things wrong, she thinks the teacher will be angry and she is very tentative about putting up her hand.  We're all trying to teach her that being wrong is ok, it's all part of learning and that she isn't going to told off or make anyone angry.  We don't know for sure but strongly suspect if things went wrong at birth mum's house, then Missy was blamed or made to feel stupid.

Missy sees another teacher once or twice a week who specialises in pastoral care.  She is super lovely and I wouldn't mind an hour with her myself.  Apparently Missy has done some outstanding work with her, some very honest work, and I've been invited in to see her so she can show me the work but also find out more about Missy's issues and how best she can help.

I think hearing the feedback from her teacher yesterday has helped Missy a little - she was singing "You're Happy and You Know It" very loudly this morning.


Monday, 3 November 2014

Words of advice from Missy

Missy saw a brief piece on TV this morning about National Adoption Week. She thought one of the children looked a bit sad (she often mistakes a neutral look or one of concentration as a look of sadness).  I asked Missy what kind words she might say to the little girl.

"Don't worry, you will soon have a lovely new mummy and daddy. You might be a bit nervous and sad but you will be a lot happier".

��

#nationaladoptionweek
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