We are now 12 weeks into the adoption placement, and recently had our second adoption review (the first one is usually around 4 weeks in and then the second one is at about 10-12 weeks, and the third is 6 months after that if needed).
Overall the placement is going really well, S seems to be happy and fairly settled, we’ve had a few little niggles but nothing much worth mentioning. I’m very conscious that S is still in survival mode, so she is generally very well-behaved and compliant, trying to keep her head down and stay unnnoticed in a bid to avoid being sent back into care. I am still waiting to see what she is like when she throws all her dollies out of the pram, but it hasn’t happened yet. We’ve had a few minor sulks and strops but nothing to write home about.
The girls are both very happy as sisters and have bonded and attached really well. Life as a family of three is going great, and while I’m still not back at work yet we have definitely found our rhythm and it all seems to be working (famous last words I know!).
S and I have had some good chats about the adoption order and legal process and the need for her last name to change when she becomes part of our family officially and legally. it will be a fairly tough transition for her given her age but hopefully she will adapt fairly quickly. (I spent a long time chatting to her social worker about options like double-barrelling our surnames but unfortunately there are some safeguarding issues so that won’t be possible).
The adoption review itself went really well, and I was reflecting on it this week. An adoption review involves my social worker, S’s social worker and an Independent Review Officer (IRO), as well as the child’s school if relevant. It’s a formal process that is documented and filed and is an important step in the legal process of adoption. They look at all aspects of the adoption placement and progress of the child and adopter to assess if things are going well or not, and to decide whether or not to approve the application for an adoption order (you cannot apply for the Adoption Order without IRO approval).
Which is what I was reflecting on this week.
Most new parents are winging it and figuring everything out for the first time as they go along. No-one really knows how to be a parent until you are one, and it’s 90% guesswork. You try different things until you figure out what works for you and your kid. You make plenty of mistakes along the way and get lots of things wrong. Most parents would be horrified to be monitored and observed closely and quantifiably judged on their parenting as they are busy trying it all out and getting things wrong as often as they get it right. Add in a traumatised child with complex behaviours and needs that you have no idea how to manage on top of all the parenting stuff and it’s fairly daunting.
It’s quite a tough and challenging thing to have regular visits, observations, and formal reviews based almost exclusively on whether or not you are a “good enough” parent for the child you have been given. That’s enough to put most people off adoption.
And yet there is an upside to it that most people won’t have thought of.
This adoption review went really well, and without blowing my own trumpet too much, I got glowing reviews from all the parties present. S’s social worker said that I was doing a fantastic job, and being placed with me was the best thing that could have happened to S. My social worker commented that I was so child-focused and so aware of S’s needs that it was sometimes hard to get me to focus on my own needs. My support worker who was also there said that I am clearly an incredibly nurturing person by nature, and he wishes he could take what I have and bottle it to give to other adopters. I was blushing by the end of the review, as they all said how wonderful I am and how well I am managing.
And here’s the thing about being monitored and observed as you bumble your way through parenting – most parents are guessing, having a go, never quite sure if they’re doing the right thing or not, but in my case to have such overwhelming validation from multiple third parties that I’m doing everything right is a powerful thing! I left the adoption review feeling buoyed and totally validated and it feels pretty damn good!
Of course that feeling only lasted 24 hours as literally the next day I ended up losing my temper and shouting at S (our first proper fight) and made her cry and felt awful about it all. But we both said sorry and made up and it’s all fine again now (I still feel guilty about it but I’m only human so I’m definitely going to get things wrong and lose my temper sometimes).
Anyhow, we now have formal approval to put in the application for the adoption order, which is great news, and I am in the process of securing various different types of support to make sure everything is put in place before the Adoption Order comes through. I know many adopters who have found that they are supported in the early stages of placement, but after the Adoption Order is granted have struggled to access post-adoption support and funding for their child.
I have been lucky that so far I’ve had a LOT of support offered to me since S was placed with me. As she is an older child, with a number of previous moves and significant trauma she is considered “hard to place” and so Social Services have thrown a lot of support and funding at us to help us along. Aside from funding my extended adoption leave, and my Social Worker who’s job it is to look after my wellbeing, they have also linked me with a support worker who knows my daughter and is familiar with her case to help support me and offer advice. I have also been referred to the Attachment Team for an assessment. The attach team have a specific role and have a specialist team of child psychologists and psychiatrists who deal with trauma in children.
I recently had my first assessment session with the attach team, however they have shaken one of my biggest assumptions about trauma in children.
Given S’s complex history and trauma, I have been very certain that she needs to be able to access proper counselling and therapy as she gets older and I want to ensure that there is funding in place for that. She currently has play therapy funded by her pupil premium but at some point she will need to graduate onto more serious talking therapy. I want her to have the tools and skills to process her trauma properly rather than to bury it down and have it bubble up one day when she least expects it. One of the questionnaires I had to fill in as part of the assessment had a “PTSD in Children” checklist and I was surprised how many of those boxes I ticked on her behalf. Although it’s also true that trauma, PTSD, and attachment disorders often look very similar and are hard to unpick from each other.
To me, it is clear that a child who has been through the kind of things S has experienced throughout her formative years will need proper counselling or psychotherapy of some sort when she gets a bit older to help her process and come to terms with what she has experienced.
However, during my assessment with the attach team’s psychologist it became clear that none of the support on offer is for S. It is all for me.
I was offered various training courses on attachment and managing behaviour in traumatised children, although I have already done a number of courses pre-placement and am feeling a bit trained-out at the moment. I was also offered options such as group therapy and one-on-one therapy sessions with the attachment psychologist.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer in therapy and counselling, it has helped me several times in the past and that is exactly what I feel S needs to help her. But I don’t feel that I need therapy myself at this point. So I was rather confused by all the offers of support. The reason I feel she needs therapy in the first place is so that a professional can help guide her and give her the tools and skills she needs to process things properly – and I certainly don’t have the skills to do that with her.
However, the attachment specialist pointed out that most traumatised children are very closed-off. They put up walls to protect themselves and don’t like to show any vulnerability to anyone. S does this in a number of ways, like constantly proving how strong she is physically, and challenging adults to arm-wrestling contests, and refusing to admit she is hurt or ill until after she has dealt with it herself (she will often tell me the day after that she had a headache all day or wasn’t feeling well but struggles to be vulnerable enough to tell me at the time it is happening and let me help by giving her Calpol etc).
Because of this tendency, the therapist explained, very few traumatised chidlren will get much benefit from professional counselling, as they are unlikely to let their walls down enough to talk about deeply traumatic memories or experiences with a total stranger they don’t trust in an hourly session once a week. Most of these children have had bad experiences with adults who have let them down or could not be trusted so the idea that they would entrust these strangers with their deepest fears and secrets is ludicrous.
And that is why the support on offer is for ME and not S.
I am the front line, I am the one she is slowly attaching to and learning to trust. If she is going to open up to anyone about any of this, it’s likely to be me. So I need the support and tools to deal with it and help her. (If she opens up about it at all, she may never feel able to do that). It’s also because when adoption placements fall apart and things go badly, it’s because the parent can’t cope, not the child. So the therapy is to support the parent and ensure they are getting the help they need in order to help the child.
That’s not to say that when she is an adult she wouldn’t still benefit from therapy, but right now the counsellor is ME and I have absolutely no clue how to support her in processing trauma on that scale.
So I’m mulling what to do next.
On the one hand, I want to accept all offers of support that I’m given, as I know many adopters struggle to access support and I am having it chucked at me in spades right now. It seems silly to turn down offers of help. On the other hand, I’ve got a lot on, I’m a single mum with two kids and who will be going back to work soon. I don’t particularly want to be in therapy right now as I don’t feel I need it for myself and I am not totally sure it will be all that helpful at this point in time. So we’ll see how it goes…
In the meantime though I am preparing the paperwork and forms and fees to submit to the court, and soon, with any luck, she’ll be my baby forever….