If I could give you one gift it would be to see yourself through my eyes and then you would see how special you really are.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Life Story

What does life story mean to you?

Life story books and journeys mean so much more to those involved in fostering and adoption. Every child that is adopted will arrive at their new family with a life story book or their social worker will be in the process of completing one. This is a book telling the child's life so far, where they were born, who their birth families are, who fostered them and then as in our case on the last page is a picture and description of the adoptive family. Child 4's book is a brightly coloured laminated A4 sized book, full of photos and basic information. It tells the history of his birth parents, other children they have, it has photos that the birth family wished to be included. It has a picture of the hospital he was born in along with his time and date of birth, giving birth weight and length. It explains where he lived when he left the hospital. More pages give an insight into his life in foster care and the two families who looked after him until his social worker found us. The middle of the book explains why he couldn't remain with his birth family and why he was placed for adoption. 

This book has sat on a shelf for two years, the older children, particularly child 3 have read it cover to cover absorbing the information and with it the sadness and loss that touches all of us involved. Child 4 hasn't really shown any interest, probably because he is too young yet, that was until his birthday when we showed him the photos of when he was a baby.

I have been meaning to follow up on his story, but didn't really know how, would each of our children want to create a book, should we have a family one, perhaps for each year. Then I was given the opportunity by CORAM to attend a Life Story Work workshop run by Joy Rees. I have to say I love adoption courses and workshops, they are packed full of useful information and maybe just as importantly other adopters who share their stories, the highs and the lows, making me at least feel normal even if just for a little while.

Joy Rees began her course explaining what should be in a life story book and what definitely shouldn't be. Understandably in this age of modern technology and social media the advice is to not include full names, dates of birth and definitely not addresses. This information would have been used much better if we had, had it before our children were placed but she also gave alternatives if our children had been with us for a while, such as road maps, That's for another day. Her idea was that the books centred on the child and his family, his adoptive family because that is who his family is. Of course the birth parents were mentioned, after all we all have birth parents and they are the roots of where we start but actually the here and now and what happens next is what is important. Our children need to know that they have a future and a happy, safe and secure one.  Here sample books are simple, brightly coloured, full of the relevant information, the child is the main character and his family, us are chapter 2 not the epilogue!

I find it fascinating how grown adults as myself sometimes just accept things as the way they are, we don't always question, because we don't look too hard at the information we are given we just assume that it's ok, trusting that the person who has completed the work firstly, knows what they are doing or secondly has been give the time and support to complete it correctly and to the best possible standard. We are sometimes too scared of being seen as difficult or too assertive, after all that maybe the way to ensure that we are never matched with a child if we question when we should. Sometimes, time and events over run us meaning that we miss things.

When I returned home I took child 4's book from the shelf and re read it, it has his birth parents, grandparents, extended family names in full, some with dates of birth. In the family tree it's has the parents home town listed and his paternal grandparents full addresses!! When you consider that child 4 was to be placed outside of the area he had been born because his parents and paternal grandparents were adamant that they would find him and bring him "home" allowing child 4 the information that would enable him to contact them so very easily (his birth mum is the first person to come up on Facebook when you search for her) I am amazed that not only the social work team did not pick up on this but that I didn't either. (I have read Bubble Wrapped Children and should have known better)  I have contacted our social worker to ask for advice, but don't have high expectations as child 4 has been with us for two years now and with the turn over of staff I don't even know if child 4's social worker is still around.
Don't misunderstand me, most social workers do their best but I know that for child 4's social worker ours was her first adoption and she had a massive work load, her attention had to have been taken by those children still at risk. child 4 was now safe with foster carers so would no longer be a priority in her mind. No one else noticed that information he could use as he grew up to find and contact his birth family was now readily available.

We his family will now rewrite his life story book, we will include all the information from his original one and keep the original one safe until he is 18. But I will follow Joy Rees ideas  making child 4 and his place within our family not his history or that of his birth family the centre of his book.
My life story books aim to reinforce the child's sense of belonging and security within the adoptive family before addressing their history and early trauma. The book brings the child back to a secure present and leaves them with a sense of a positive future.


Friday, 25 September 2015

The Eye of the Beholder

Sometimes we can just get it wrong. There is no malicious intent but our pre conceived ideas and judgments mean that we misunderstand a situation or think that we know the reason for a Behaviour without actually asking.

Earlier this week after school drop off, child 4 was scootering in the skateboard park. 9am is a good time for him to use the equipment as the majority of the local teenagers are in school. Whilst I stood watching him, occasionally with my heart in my mouth as he navigated the highest and steepest slides  a chap from our parish was out walking his dog and stopped for a chat. He commented on how brave and confident our youngest child was and it was lovely to see that he wasn't clingy anymore.

Hmm my first confusion, child 4 has never, ever been clingy - nope he tends to be completely independent. He didn't even cry when he first joined us, we had to teach him that it was ok to ask for help if he hurt himself, kissing his hurts better and cuddling him when he did tumble. Very occasionally these days he will snuggle in or hold me in a death grip if he doesn't want to do something. 

This was followed up by tales of his daughter who had taught in an inner city primary school, where the school was full of children who were difficult to manage, there was a child who would sit in soiled underwear, no matter what the staff did, children who couldn't sit down at all, children who would intentionally cause trouble and all these children apparently had terrible parents just like child 4's birth parents and he was lucky to now be with us! I was so shocked that I couldn't comment, this man had already written off child 4's parents as well as all the parents in his daughters school as uneducated, likely drug or alcohol dependent and deserving of losing their children. It may well have been that child 4's parents were indeed unable to keep him safe, it may be that their parenting fell short of good enough parenting. But he doesn't know child 4's story or the story of his parents. I have learnt over the last 3 years that preconceived  judgements are the most damaging. People have their own stories to tell and without walking in their shoes we really can have no comprehension of what has happened to them or why their stories shape how they behave. I have compassion for my youngest child's birth mother, We met his parents before he moved in with us and the knowledge I left with filled me with sorrow, a young girl full of self doubt, attachment issues herself and no support network, a girl searching for a happy ending desperate to be loved but unable to see that she is looking in the wrong places. This meeting opened my eyes to the need for compassion and support for those not good enough parents, I make a conscious effort to not judge but it's certainly not easy especially when you are aware of the damage some birth parents cause their children.. Our adoption story so far has definitely not been the traumatic story that others have had so perhaps it's easier for me to be compassionate.

I guess I should wonder what about his history, education or fears made him so quick to judge these parents (and children) so harshly, why was he so interested in the behaviours and not the causes of those behaviours.

Interestingly later that day, a friend I was with said that she has kind of forgotten that child 4 is adopted, she remembered the other day that he was and that highlighted how he just was the baby of our family. That comment was the highlight of my week.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Pro-active Parenting

The first day of school was an inset day for child 3 and 4. Well kind of as child 4 is at pre school, anyway whilst my two youngest enjoyed their last day of freedom I was in school with both my governor and adoptive parent hats on taking part in the attachment training I have been going on about for the last two years. Two county education psychologists had joined the teaching staff (including the TA's, NOT the lunchtime assistants unfortunately, but hey one mountain at a time) to talk about how the brain forms, attachment theory, and how difficult it is for children who have not made strong attachments to achieve in schools. I am sure that many parents like myself who have hoovered up as much knowledge as possible about why attachment issues occur and what we can do to help would find the training provided by council to be pretty basic but watching how the staff reacted was fascinating if not worrying.

The psychologists only had 3 hours and in that time they shared the basics about the brain using the famous comparative photo of the Romanian child brain and the healthy 3 year old brain,

 they explained attachment and the basics of attachment theory, introducing us to Heather Geddes, Mary Ainsworth, John Bowlby, Margot Sunderland and Daniel Hughes. But, It was the activities that filled me with hope and gratitude, I became aware that everyone around the room was beginning to "get it" 
We were put into small groups and were given cards explaining the hardships a child named Billie suffered, each was different, domestic abuse, neglect and so on. Each group then discussed how Billie would grow up thinking about herself, thinking about how her parents viewed her and the strategies she would use to cope and survive. Another exercise was a list of why is ........ Constantly turning around in class, always exploding during maths or spellings, in trouble in the playground or frequently telling lies and we had to match them with maybe because early loss especially of caregivers leaves children with difficulties distinguishing between fact and fantasy, danger comes from behind or he finds it hard to make mistakes or be wrong.  Every group were enthusiastic in involving themselves in each task, sharing ideas and really thinking about the children in their classes and perhaps how they could ease their days in school just by placing them at the back of the class or supporting them more in the playground. And when I said I had three hours of my hero Dan Hughes on DVD talking attachment that I was willing to LEND out if anyone wanted to watch, I was over the moon when two people asked to borrow it. 

I left not necessarily impressed with the training but with how the staff were so open to considering attachment issues and what they could do to help. It was worth every conversation, every meeting and every knock back.

Maybe child 4 is going to be ok when he gets into school. 😄