Thursday 3 July 2014

PAC - Enhancing Adoptive Parenting Programme

The past 10 weeks have seen a very positive change in our house.  We were very lucky to be part of a trial by PAC (Post Adoption Permanency Advice & Counselling) in which they took us through their Enhancing Adoptive Parenting training via Skpe.

PAC provides high quality support for all those affected by adoption, be they adopters, carers, adoptees, birth parents or professionals.

The training itself took place one evening a week for 90 minutes via Skype. Our trainer was Virginia, a very experienced child care worker of 40 years. The beauty of participating via Skype for us was that we didn't have to travel, we didn't have to find childcare, we didn't have to tidy the house up first, we got Missy to bed, had a quick tea and then settled at our dining room table with the iPad in front of us.  No travel time was wasted by our trainer either (which saves money for PAC). 

A week before the course started, I had a long conversation with Virginia about our situation, giving her some background to Missy, explaining our difficulties and Missy's anxieties and what we wanted to get from the course.  The main things we wanted were strategies to turn negative behaviour around, to not be walking on eggshells, to support and understand Missy better and to bring some calm to our house.

We had some reading after each session but not reams and reams, just a summary of what we had talked about. To ensure we put our learning into practice, we also had homework to do.

Week 1 was an introduction to the programme, particularly useful for Daddy as he hadn't been party to the earlier call and was just told that we were doing it! We talked about behaviours, what adoption means and how that can lead a child to reinvent themselves. We had to consider how we responded to Missy's behaviour and the impact that response had on her, plus we had to think about the factors that are important to understanding her behaviour.  It made us think. A lot.

Week 2  looked at the different types of attachment and the consequences of poor attachment. Our homework was to monitor Missy's behaviour and relate it to attachment.  Was she in survival mode? How did we react, did we take it personally?  (Yes, too much sometimes).

In week 3 Virginia helped us understand how we can use positive attention to change behaviour.  Missy thrives on attention at home, be in positive or negative.  What aspects of Missy's behaviour did we give attention too? Our homework showed we gave too much attention to negative behaviour.  We also considered our thoughts, feelings and behaviours and the impact this had on Missy.

At week 4 we started to look at strategies and practical ways to help us and Missy.  'Special play' is something you may have heard of through theraplay.  It's essentially child-led play, 15 minutes a day, joining in with Missy but not teaching or leading, just noticing, commentating and praising.  This type of play felt quite odd at first but it certainly had a positive effect.  It seems to top up Missy such that she is then able to focus on something else by herself and remain calm and regulated.  Missy doesn't always like to play (or indeed know how to in some instances) so we used the technique when doing things like baking or going on a walk.

Week 5 is all about verbal praise and reward, praising for appropriate behaviour and each time we see more of the behaviour we want eg asking nicely, putting toys away.  No sticker charts in this house though!  We learnt about a child's response to praise and reward and considered their behaviour in terms of their background. We don't tend to reward Missy with material things, that's not to say we don't buy her stuff, but a reward here might be a hug, a tickle or a big kiss.

By the end of week 5 we were beginning to see some positive changes.  Virginia was helping us consider why Missy acts out the way she does. Based on her experience working with children, she offered possibilities around the meaning of certain emotions and behaviours.  Did this experience (or lack of) in the past now show itself in her current behaviour?  Our understanding of how Missy's past may be affecting her now has massively increased.

The subject of week 6 was clear commands and boundaries.  I think it's fairly well known that children need boundaries but in practice it's not always that easy to put these in place, particularly when a child has a deep need for control and is used to behaving in a certain way.   We also found we needed to change our language. Not "Can you put your toys away" - that's a question, not a command. Instead say "Put your toys away".  Daddy and I have both checked each other with the way we've issued commands.  We also found we were giving too many commands, something that most parents do and even more so with children with higher needs.

Week 7 talked about ignoring!  This refers to ignoring their inappropriate responses eg whining, moaning, continuing to praise good behaviour. It's important though not to ignore the message behind the negative behaviour. I've found this technique really helps me stay calm.

For each week's homework, we also need to continue with the strategies we learnt in earlier weeks.  At first we forgot to do this as there is so much to put into practice, but like anything, the more you do something, the easier and better it gets.

In week 8 we looked at effective discipline, limit setting and how to use consequences.  A brilliant strategy that is very effective for us is using the 'if/then' rule eg if you don't clean your teeth then there will be no sweets.

Week 9 was about problem solving, helping children take responsibility and empowering them to resolve their own situations.  Missy often reverts to toddler-status when faced with a problem at home and so this is a big area on which we need to work but we've noticed some good responses.  School have also noticed that she is thinking about certain situations first before acting.

Finally, in week 10 we reviewed the previous 9 weeks and also looked additionally at an issue specific to Missy which is her anxiety around food.  We talked at length as to why there is this anxiety and what might have been the cause because we can't know for sure.  Virginia has given us some strategies and we are putting these into practice.

In conclusion, the 10 weeks have been brilliant!  The positive changes are very noticeable, one big one being the relationship between Missy and Daddy which is fantastic.  Daddy and I both feel much calmer and are no longer walking on eggshells. Missy responds to us much better and seems a lot less anxious about certain things.  It's certainly work in progress but what it means is that when it's all going pants up, Daddy and I have the strategies to help Missy work through her anger and frustration whilst we keep as calm as possible.  The things we've learnt don't always work and that's why it's great to have a toolbox of strategies.

I'm so glad it's been trialled over Skype because I'm not sure we could have committed to 10 weeks if we had to travel somewhere. This is an even greater factor for adopters who don't live within easy reach of London but who desperately need the support. Equally for our trainer, travel delays would have impacted on all of us.  I hope PAC can continue to offer the Skype programme.

I am beyond grateful for PAC choosing to work with us on this programme and I highly recommend this course to any adopters.

Here's a link to a PAC information leaflet about the training.

If you think this programme might be for you then give PAC a call and speak to your LA/adoption agency about possible funding.


  1. Interesting read. I was in touch with PAC just last week as I think they would be perfect for my son J and me right now... But my borough Brent aren't signed up for anything more than the basics so without their funding it's not going to happen :( CAMHS here we come....

    1. That's such a shame. It's so frustrating reading about the vastly differently levels of support and funding available between LAs. Hope CAMHS can help.

  2. Fascinating read, good to know the support continues and clearly works for you both and Missy. All the very best for the future x

  3. Thanks for sharing, very insightful. Great to know there are resources out there to help x


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