The Letter/ Across the Air

 

Educationally, M had a similar journey to D. By Year 1 she too had been left behind by peers, and was painfully aware of how she struggled to keep up with them. Her only friend was an elective mute girl, and an Afghan girl who spoke little English.

She had identified with other children who had obstacles. That meant they shared common ground.

The ground of being alone.

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When triggered, and in order to get sent to the lovely pastoral manager (who was Louise Bomber trained), M would attack the other children in class. We thought that with D going to his residential school, M would blossom at home and school. But what happened is, she suddenly felt able to vent her trauma about her brothers terrifying behaviour over the preceding four years.

This is a good thing, but for our emotional healing it was as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike.

As a result, for being “naughty”most of her days were spent in the managers office, calming herself with her fiddle box , pining for her Mummy and Daddy. She used her time to write little notes saying “Mummy and Daddy I love you, I do love you” (it was always those exact words) with a constellation of kisses. It was as if by writing this, she was trying to connect with us across the air.

I can’t imagine the stress she went through. It upsets me thinking about it, and angers me that LEA’s have a one size fits all school ethos, and just like CAMHS, appear to have a “the answer is no- now what’s the question?” stock response to all initial queries and cries for help. This situation is the result of having people ignorant of adoption issues in senior positions of Education and Social Care, and Government cuts.

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By year two she was excluded. The difference this time was that the pastoral manager was very supportive and advocated for us. But with that said, it was soul destroying to watch our two young children get rejected by the Education System- a system that has no understanding of trauma and its consequences.

We are feisty and educated, but it makes me so sad to think of people like grandparents, Special Guardians and Kinship Carers who have not had the opportunity to learn about the complex issues of children who’ve gone through early trauma- and the blame and railroading they may get by “The System”.

We weren’t about to let M go through the PRU like our son. I became the “Mad Daddy”. (Playschool voice; I know a song about that, readers!)

My little girl needed a school that could meet her pastoral needs. We were way less interested in any academic results. Traumatised kids can’t learn, anyway. She may as well have attended a petrol station forecourt.

The kind of school suitable for M doesn’t exist in our LA.  She would need to travel out of county to get her needs met.  That would have entailed a long taxi ride each way daily.  That would only have made her more anxious.

After researching, we decided that her best option would be to get her into a local primary school for children on the autistic spectrum (and allied conditions). M isn’t on the autism spectrum, but this school offered “time in”, not “time out”. Fifteen minute lessons in small classes, a sensory room…a place you were never seen as naughty. A place without escalating shame as a culture.

They said no.

There is an Special Educational Needs Code of Practice to make sure children get their educational needs met.

People, demand this gets enacted-and get creative.

To head the LEA off at the pass with their “script” for M, we wrote a letter to the Head of SEN. By this time M had been out of school for many weeks, and was not getting an education. We were not going to let the LEA further traumatise our child by just offering a pathetic, bodge job “something”, to look like they had fulfilled their duty. You know the stuff. “Alternative education” fixing sewing machines, and trips to a small wood with ex army sergeants who found comfort in the New Age. With £25 a session payable to a PLC operating out of a bedroom in Slough. Jog on.

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I sent this (anonymised) letter, and I hope it encourages and inspires anybody facing a similar situation to act- because within a week or two the Head of SEN was in our living room, saying we could have the school we wanted.

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M is now very happy. She went from bottom of the class to top overnight, and her self esteem soared. She has the gentlest, most motivated teachers and TA’s I have ever met.

 

 

 

Apocalypse Now/ Hooting

 

In an earlier post I mentioned the trinity of our post adoption support. I wanted to expand a bit on this.

Professionals/school

Both our kids have a cocktail of special needs- learning disabilities, ADHD, suspected SPD, and some other things rattling around. It was soon pretty apparent that neither could manage in mainstream. D, just out of nursery- which had been touch and go in itself- found his peers leaving him behind cognitively and emotionally, and he did not have the social skills to make friends. He became so frightened and alone that he would resort to wrecking the classroom, stripping off, and hooting from under the table. I would drop him off at school, and barely half a mile home the school would call for me to collect him.

One kick off was memorable. He had freaked out in the school computer lab. I had a fractured SOS from the school receptionist, like one from the last army outpost in Day of the Dead.

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I walked into the school – as I recall eerily deserted- like a character in a zombie apocalypse film. I imagine the entire school were hiding in a games cupboard, sweating and praying.

The computer room looked as if there had been a frantic last stand between an armed dinner lady and the undead. Keyboards on the floor, monitors toppled over, school displays ripped and flapping in a strange breeze. The charge of body chemicals lingering in the air. Following the breeze down the hall, I saw a manhole cover (who throws a manhole cover?) that had been hurled through the bottom of a glass door. Cubes of safety glass were everywhere.

In the school field, three teachers had cornered D in a gazebo. He was growling.

It seemed to take forever to reach him, gently scoop him up in my arms and over my shoulder. I carried him back- without speaking- to the car. He got expelled at 5 years old.

At this point the Local Authority agreed to start assessing our sons educational needs.

He was appointed a very clued up and brave Ed Psych who said that for D to get the education he needed, we should consider a therapeutic residential school.

I was poleaxed.

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This had not been on our radar at all, and it was one of the first massive realisations in our journey. Until this point we were holding out that our children were simply traumatised, and they would level out. The realisation that they had significant learning difficulties, that massive issues were emerging, was not only sobering, but now also suggested that there may not be college and University graduations, first cars and jobs, grandchildren. So many rites of passage seemed denied.

You have to start grieving.

Thankfully events overtook us so we couldn’t (and still cant) dwell long there.

In fact we recommend that you don’t stay in that place of counting your losses.

Our family journey has to be “glass half full” every time. It’s a hard choice. We are not advocating denial, but by the same token putting into words on a daily basis the struggle and the horror grows legs on problems.

And most importantly our kids are just as delightful in other ways, and their difficulties add charming blessings into our life- things that would not have been there if they were “normal” (whatever that is) We always say, adoption was the hardest and the best thing that happened to us. As we swig on vodka.

We really did have to sort out D’s school quickly. We had to look at the future and whether we could continue with his violence and traumatised behavior. We soon found that facilities for children like D are few and far between. There are scant options.

Education put D temporarilry in a PRU after he was expelled. He spent his “education” (more accurately caretaking) with children who had a different range of needs to D.

As ever, D spent many afternoons under a table. Thankfully the head teacher had the minerals to state that D’s needs were therapeutic, and he shouldn’t be there. She added her voice to the Ed Psych and eventually he went to the residential therapeutic school (we will blog on our views on all that in depth later)

M’s education story is next.

 

About The Weather/ Nuggets

 

I did a blog years ago. It was appalling. But it had some nuggets buried in there. In May 2012 I recounted a trip we made to an adoption forum readers camp, up on top of a hill somewhere.

We used to go a lot. I think it captures a season we were in some 4 years ago, and about a year before D went to residential school.

The language is raw-I’m not in that habit or place now- but I’m not going to edit anything. I will also say that I’m way more positive and glass half full now. With that in mind, I just want to say I make a comment about “disruption” (without mentioning that word) midway through. To comfort readers, we have endured a form of it (D currently in 52 weeks a year residential school) that came after the below post was first written. We had to, we didn’t fall apart in guilt ridden angst, and I would totally support any ethical adopter who had to take that decision.

Anyway, here goes:

(We travelled there) with two arguing children.

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I always find the anticipation of the argument is worse than when it begins. One of the children does something that puts in “an advantage” to the other. It need only be something innocuous, but to a child with insecure attachments and ADHD, that thing takes them places. So, one child finds a mouldy banana, or delves into the mountains of crap we have taken and finds the Nintendo DS. And so begins a resource war similar in brutality and length to an African conflict.

As we were waiting at traffic lights, the kids were yelling and attempting to punch each other (with those angry, bite down on the tongue punch faces little kids do), and I’m trying to separate them but can’t because the density of packing in our Peugeot 107 has rendered my arms as useless as the forearms of a T Rex, so all I can do is swivel my head and shout.

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(On arrival) we quickly moved the contents of the car to the tent we had hired, a World War 2 era patrol hogan, and then went over to the firepit which by now was festooned with safari chairs and people drinking wine from mugs.

The camp brings together all the people who post in the forum under pseudonyms (with an optional “reveal your real name” sign up sheet) We spend the time swapping updates on the children and our experiences. The camp works so well, because it is the only place on earth where the kids can play without a constant chaperone, and we don’t have to fear peoples comments or reactions. My kids aren’t even the most funky – although they were once. My kids played nicely, most of the time, and it was somebody else’s child running past naked wearing a traffic cone and smeared in Maltesers.

I looked at the faces and bodies of the adoptive parents. Almost without exception, we are overweight, or with twitches. Those without physical phenomena have worse issues. Some of the men- and it is only the men- can only be heard, but not seen, like poltergeists. Heard shouting at the children in the tents (“Abigail, you’ve just woken the whole campsite!” “Peter- put it dowwwwwwwn! Put it dowwwwwwwwwwnn!”). One bloke I met on the Saturday I thought had just arrived- but he had been lurking in the tent, hiding, since lunchtime Friday. And most of the men who actually emerged from the tents, and were around, didn’t interact with their children. They sat looking out at more than the view, or reading papers. It was the women who engaged with the children.

I found it sobering, because whilst I don’t play with my children much (as in, get on the floor and move cars or dolls around) or invest fully in their waking hours like I should, and I swear I will improve on this, at least I was “there”. In fact M was a little bit under the weather and she sat with me and went into Hereford with me, and it was nice Daddy/ little girl time.

Magazine, the seminal band, sang a song called “About the Weather” which was poignant to this weekend in a number of ways. In the song there is this loaded line; “You dislike the climate but you like the place…I hope you learn to live with what you choose” and for so many of us, that is our adoption story. But for these men, they were trapped. I have felt that trapped- trapped because you want out of the adoption, you want the children to “go back”, and you want what you once had. But you are truly trapped because if the children go back, they are destroyed. You wont be able to live with yourself, at least without a massive alcohol or drug problem, and yet you don’t want to live in the present. So you have a choice to make- stay miserable, irritable and distant, leave your wife with the children, or try and change.

All options are agony and seemingly impossible. And so you sing along with another Magazine song “Look what fear has done to my body” (from “Because You’re Frightened”). Welcome, Tramadol and Citalapram. Welcome massive weight gain. Welcome forced career change. Welcome the slow erosion of sanity and changes.

Now, all of this is solvable. Partly through attendance at this very camp.

People need support. They need understanding. They need fellowship with people who know the score. Hearing their stories you see why most of us were in, or had been in, agony. We have to fight Total War with social care and all local authority bodies……..

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And this lack of help seems so pronounced in the UK. In Europe I’ve heard jaw dropping tales of how the state supports its people. One lady in Switzerland had given birth to a child with a genetic disability. She said that when she came back home from the hospital, a social worker was waiting (note- waiting, physically waiting at the house) with a sheaf of forms and said “I’m going to sort all your help today” and from that day on this family didn’t have to fight for all the operations, input and organisation that was needed for the little one.

I’m sick of hearing about how the UK social care services and education have no money. They do have money. They spend it on reactive services, buildings, and utter bollocks- as well as over paid, fat cat, visionless managerialist losers who run the service from the top. And frankly, if there is no money, pack up and piss off home. Let the army do social care or something. Don’t create some child harvesting, toxic bullshit machine that has enough money to start a process but none to finish it.

 The night in the tent was an experience. I’ve slept in survival sleeping bags on the shores of Cumbrian lakes in midwinter, so I know cold- but that night in the patrol tent redefined cold. It started out OK. I like a cool bedroom and a warm bed, I find it aids sleep. I love the elements, especially wind and rain. So at first the wind ripping through the door, and out the other door and rustling the trees was great. I dozed off with it.

But at about 3am the cold woke me. The freeze rising through the ground through the airbed was immense. I didn’t know ground cold would penetrate an airbed like that. I didn’t know there was a point, in this hemisphere, where low temperature could penetrate a thick duvet so completely I might as well have had clingfilm over me. I tossed and turned til 6am and then had to move- or die.

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I spent the rest of the day with a low internal core temperature, and no matter what did, I couldn’t warm up. I sat in the car. I drove to Hereford with the heater on. I put my daughter on my knee and tried to absorb her heat like a vampire. I was so cold my intestines felt like coiled ice pops and my teeth felt icy inside my head.

I forgot to mention, a visionary social worker sent a prospective adoptive couple to the camp to see what they could be taking on. What a great idea- so great, in fact, it should be a rite of passage. You wont understand adopters unless you hang with adopters. You could tell they hadn’t taken the plunge, because they were dressed in lovely clothes, and responded quickly to conversation. We adopters tend to marinate answers a long time in memory banks via a series of “is this too scary?” filters when we are asked about experiences.

We came home early, in the last big journey in the 107 because a kind friend has gifted us a massive 7 seater people carrier. Our talk en route home (the children had fallen asleep, thankfully) was on the encouragements and lows of the camp.

I had been encouraged because one of the women running it came up to me and said I looked happy, and I had engaged this year. The last times I had come I hadn’t, because I was so, so unhappy. We saw how our children had grown and were so proud at how well they had played (D even pulled a girlfriend, and spent the day walking around hand in hand with her, grinning). We were just sad that children, some with less issues than ours, had been given diagnoses and medication we so desperately need and as a result the parents were almost back to normal.

There is a journey ahead.

1382348_10151660009657191_1081202213_nSo. About that journey.

Things are still difficult (a whole new menu of difficulty, in fact) but we are no longer traumatised, no longer without hope. We went though a dark couple of years around 2010, and then in emerging from those we went through a “werewolf” stage where under certain conditions we morphed into howling, feral people- and the next morning we looked sane and respectable, and almost couldn’t remember where we had been.

But now we have reached a kind of strange halfway house of acceptance and adaptation versus creative hope. We are still on a steep learning curve. However we have come to realise even the skilled helpers don’t know it all, a lot of well rated institutions may not be that amazing on closer inspection, and although we often get it wrong we have what it takes. Your adoption is your adoption, and even kids with broadly similar conditions and journeys are wired different. Different events, different reactions. Sort of like human Ford Capri’s- every one unique.

 

 

 

Siblings/ Together Alone

First, we would like to thank you all for your kind and encouraging comments so far! We have been amazed at the response! Please keep reading, sharing all this, and do make some comments here on the blog so we can do this better!

Some of you might not be aware that where the text changes colour, you can click to a webpage that further explains what I’m on about.

So. We wanted at least two adopted children.

I (Simon) am an only child. It was great all my childhood, because I got all the attention, and tons of presents at Christmas and birthdays. But going into my teens onwards, I began to feel it. I had no siblings to knock off my rough edges. Brothers to toughen me, and sisters to civilize me (I did gain three amazing step siblings mid teens, when my Dad remarried, but I never lived with them so these processes were missed)

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Then in your thirties, the pressures of life stack up, and as a single child you alone cope with rites of passage I think are best designed for the bigger family. But I might just be a big girls blouse.

Had we been able to have children together we would have aimed for two natural children, to join my then 12 year old step daughter.

Often, Social Care departments want to keep sibling groups of children together –which is a great instinctive idea- but when the siblings bond and relationship are not fully assessed this can be a disaster, and cause shipwreck later. Half the time even the concept of a decent assessment is a pipe dream. Adoption Teams often work in overload, with the few staff shifting and leaving constantly, like an ice flow.

When we were matched with our children, we were told that whilst both were removed at a very young age from birth parents (M from birth) they were placed in separate placements, even though the final plan could only be adoption together.

When I first discussed this with an academic friend- who knew all about attachment- she warned us to take one child first and build a bond, and gently introduce the other at some future point. I thought she was both rude, and cold. How could our love, good boundaries, and the sheer gratitude of the children for being chosen not solve everything?

Meh.

Our children came as a package. We were told they had a bond as they used to go to a lot of contact together (before the then Freeing Order) and then their foster carer’s saw each other through the week.

In fact the early contact sessions between D and M were a semi conscious nightmare. The parents- who came from warring, dysfunctional families- used to row, and the contacts were chaotic and badly monitored. M- a newborn- used to be driven by taxi without an escort to the contact sessions, without knowing who would pick her up the other end. On one occasion two drug dealing brothers came to the contact centre and tried to steal D as a drug debt!

The foster carers were very loving. D had a single female, who also had teenagers in placement. D was able to run free and enjoyed being the main man. She didn’t really have any boundaries, though, beyond health and safety. The first time we met him he was enjoying the open fridge policy. Multiple Mr Kipling French Fancies lost their toppings, and he threw her mobile phone down the toilet, which she thought was amusing! He never stopped moving.

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M was with Italian carers who lived in a small flat. The mother had her on her hip the whole day, and the contact with D happened in her small kitchen- where D would pinball around and often hit M. The foster carers found it unworkable, and didn’t meet up much, and when they did, the contacts were stressful and short lived.

So by the time of our introductions to the children, we had this false image that we were buying into a family unit. We weren’t! We were given this strange rented house as our base for two weeks. We had lots of days out all together and we put the tensions solely down to the new and strange experience of the children meeting us. We didn’t know that the children barely knew each other, and the little they knew of each other they associated with rejection and loss and stress and danger. And on top of that they were meeting three new people who signified the end of their then world (for these little children, as far as they were concerned, were part of their foster carers families; what on earth can a 2 or 1 year old understand of adoption?)

I cringe now, thinking about how uneducated – but cocky with it- I was then. The way to have have done introductions was just as my academic friend had said. Note to self- the fact she was Professor in Child Development may have been a clue. And had introductions been done right, as I allude to below, maybe we wouldn’t have had both kids. The gift of hindsight is a wonderful thing.

By the time CAMHS got involved they told us the children should never have been placed together. That was years in, after we had fallen in love with both our children (and can I suggest to you it can take years to really fall in love with adopted children- not like, or want, or need, but treat utterly as if they were from your own loins) I’m not sure what that CAMHS wisdom was meant to achieve, although I suppose it helped us see our inability to cope wasn’t just because we were feckless. We did make a lot of mistakes, however, which we will unpack from time to time in this blog.

It feels like marketing a taboo saying this, but there is emerging evidence not all sibling groups should be together.

Here’s a resume of what having them together in our old way of doing things looked like:

D stayed in a special therapeutic school until the beginning of December 2015, coming home holidays and every third weekend.

We had seven weeks of him and M over the summer, and all we could do was separate the children, because by week three, it was basically The Shining.

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We separated them, because even when they weren’t fighting, their play had a high, tense quality to it, that predicted sudden violent disagreements happening. Games they invented themselves were never safe or sane. One game was called “the Dustman”, and involved D gathering everything he could move in the house (drawers emptied, muddy garden implements pulled in) and piling it in the centre of the room. Then breaking it. The only thing worse than the noise of chaos was the ominous silence…….

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Another classic was when the children were on the trampoline. Trampolines are therapeutic, but if our children chose to stay on too long, or entered it too “high”, they become deregulated. Then, they would start stripping off and swearing. They then added toys to the trampoline, so as they bounced, loads of Fisher Price stuff and Barbie’s would be flying in mid air, in rhythm to their rotating dance. It sort of looked like Daft Punks “Around the World” video, only more messed up.

When things went south with the children, we separated until bedtime. In later years we separated the kids before things went wrong, so as to leave on a positive note and reinforce the good parts of the relationship. Days became segmented into periods, and whilst it was rare for the whole day to be good, a la the Curates Egg, it was often “good in parts”.

There were days we barely – if at all- saw each other. It involved a lot of lonely wandering in the woods with one child, and time with other family, without each other. We might as well of been divorced! We actually debated whether to buy a second house- and one of us would live with a child each. We could meet at a Travelodge every month for conjugal rites and Scrabble. I’m deadly serious.

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There is no shelf life on that, folks. We adopted to enhance and extend our family, for the reasons anybody responsible has children, and not to become a dual residential care unit funded by escalating debt.

Even having coffees at McDonalds, to break the monotony, equalled hundreds of pounds over the year- and don’t forget petrol and the cost of running two cars- because they couldn’t be transported together due to the violence in the back seats- or in any seat configuration.

Here’s an illustration about what I’m trying to convey. In World War Two, Belgium was faced with impossible odds against invading Nazi Germany. They had a fraction of the men and equipment they needed. So, (Belgium being largely land reclaimed from the sea) they flooded all their fields, and pretty soon much of the country was under water, with the raised roads becoming clogged with refugees. They soon released this may have given them time to get some of the army evacuated to Britain to fight another day, but they had created a whole other-bigger- problem, and the situation was unworkable. They surrendered soon after.

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(World War 2 Belgian soldiers queueing for flippers)

What I’m saying is that in battling endlessly to “hang on”, make sure the battles are worth it. It is a subtle thing discerning at what point being stubborn and resilient becomes negligence and stupidity.

M was living like somebody enduring domestic abuse. Her nerves were shot, she was fearful- and we all deserved better. So did D.

All that time social care sympathised, but had not funded therapy with us a family unit, merely silo therapy. So M was getting this excellent mother and child support via a post adoption charity, but when D came back we regressed to Planet of the Apes.

The thought I want to leave you with is that there is always hope and a future. But progress may not always be linear, predictable, or able to be done in your current way of doing family, life, or things. Or desired timescales. In your adoption journey, you have a trinity of resources:

  • Family/ friends/ social capital
  • Professional help/ school
  • The “other”- stuff you could file under X files, the supernatural, feelings of destiny and fate…

More on this next time…..