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.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Sibling contact

When child 4 arrived the only birth family contact we were to have was a twice yearly letterbox contact with his birth parents. We know that child 4 has half siblings but his social worker did not feel that it would be in his best interests to arrange any contact.  An avoidance of contact with siblings is not unusual especially if some siblings still have contact with a birth parents as they are fostered or looked after by an extended family member (special guardianship). After all children are children, they do not understand that adoption often means confidentiality about new family addresses or contacts.

We were surprised when the letterbox department contacted us to ask how we felt about letterbox contact with a sibling. They had received a request from the special guardian for one of child 4's siblings for contact. We didn't need much time to decide, after all, all our decisions regarding all our children have always been in their best interests. We feel that for both of these children to have some contact can only be a benefit, they have something in common and they will at some point be able to share their commonalities, as a family we cannot understand how it feels to be removed from your parents, to be taken in by another family to grow up unsure of your roots ~ why do you like certain activities? Why do you struggle with your anger? Why are you different? A sibling has the potential to help with these issues, a shared experience can be massively supportive especially in adolescence.

The contact we have agreed to is letterbox, twice yearly. We will be fully in control so if the children start to "colour outside the lines" we can step in. The last thing young teenagers need is emotional stress, so anything more than letterbox until they are at least 18 is not necessarily the best thing.

Of course there are pros and cons to this decision, but we have already taken a huge step in adopting, and by doing that we have bought into the whole package, this means that sometimes we have to follow gut instinct and our hearts.

Monday, 23 June 2014


"My mummy's forgotten me" wept a distraught child 4 on Friday lunchtime when some mums arrived at the nursery to collect their children. "I've lost my child 2" he weeps at bedtime on Sunday evening because child 2 has gone out for his confirmation class. "I'm scared" he whispers as he crawls into my lap, trying to get inside of me. My heart of course cracks a little and my eyes fill with tears, I will never forget my baby anymore than we could lose child 2. What are the thoughts that fill my baby boys head, if I knew I could whisper them away with words of love and comfort but. I don't so I hope for the best and tell him I love him! I'd never forget him, I will keep him safe and he is here forever.

Sometimes he is so full of rage, it takes my breath away. When he is tired, hot and grumpy he just can't cope with the word no. He obviously needs to be curtailed occasionally, after all to always give in and say yes will be of no benefit to him. He really can't eat all 6 ice lollies in the box, in the freezer for breakfast or the whole pack of Jaffa cakes. We have to pick child 3 up from school so feeding the chickens at 3.05pm is out of the question and as he has no road sense at all he has to hold my hand, wear his reins or be in the buggy when we are crossing the road. All these events can cause a tantrum of "defcon 5 "proportions. Before you say it, yes all toddlers suffer the "terrible twos or threes" and having already survived three lots I am so very aware however this IS different. Our child 4 has had to deal with so much loss in his short lifetime. He was taken away from his birth mum at 8 weeks old, a social worker would have removed him, no doubt in environment full of sorrow, perhaps crying, shouting and screaming bundled him into a car and handed him over to a foster carer who had a couple of children of her own. Did he realise that this was to be his home for 18 months, of course not, no one could explain the situation to him. Then every time the foster family went on holiday he would have been handed to a respite foster carer for a week, a fortnight, a long weekend. What would his thoughts have been "where's my "mummy" ?" "Is she coming back?" "Have I been forgotten?"  Then life in the foster family became untenable and he was moved to an emergency foster placement! All this in two short years, the only two years he has known.

The only experience my child 4 has had of family life, is one involving being moved, don't misunderstand me the foster carers who have touched his life have loved him and taken care of him but they have all handed him to someone else. Why would he believe that I can offer him anymore. All he has ever known is "being forgotten" "being lost" or "being scared"

I know it's hard to read, when we really try to understand how life has been for this toddler it hurts the heart doesn't it. We live this every day, it's not rubbed in our faces daily but those comments are a cry for reassurance, those rages are not about saying NO they are about, I don't understand and I'm scared.  It is only experience that will teach child 4 that he is now one of us, we have to provide him with constant experiences of love, safety, security and fun. We must share the terrors and the fears just as much as the good things. Something I heard a lot on my last course was
                                            "If it's shareable it's bearable" 

Friday, 20 June 2014


I read an article recently about reconciliation, (the restoration of friendly relations
 or the action of making one view or belief compatible with another.) I hadn't really understood that to reconcile does not necessarily mean apologising, sometimes we just have to agree to differ and find a way to move forward. I guess that for the catholic me, reconciliation walks hand in hand with confession and penance as that is what I learnt as a child when preparing for the sacrament of reconciliation. Now when I think of the whole process, I consider the what I may have done, why I have done it and what effect it may have had. Often the what's and why have perfectly valid reasons and are actually justified or needed but the effects can be far reaching and upsetting for someone else.

This is frequently what happens with children in care. I heard a story recently about a foster child who for their own safety was not allowed a mobile phone. This was fine until a teacher who was asking the children to investigate mobile phones and social media asked her class to bring their phones in to their next lesson. This child knew that he could not have a mobile phone and because it would not have occurred for him to explain this to his foster carer, after all his birth family were never interested in the whys just the outcomes, he wasn't aware that he could have that discussion.  He arrived at school no doubt terrified about the lesson because he did not have a phone, he spotted his form tutors mobile on her desk and as he left the class he swiped the phone, went to his next class and produced the phone with great relief, he had achieved what his teacher had asked. After the lesson he went to return the phone to his form tutors desk but he was caught and then accused of stealing.  Fortunately, his foster carer realised exactly what had happened and when the school were made aware he wasn't punished for stealing rather he was helped to find ways of being able to talk to the foster carer and teachers in these types of circumstances.

If we look at the what's and whys in this case they are all perfectly valid, he was just borrowing the phone to use for another lesson. His history meant that he didn't know that he had to ask for permission to borrow the phone or that asking his foster carer with an explanation for why he needed the phone would have probably meant that he could have borrowed one for the lesson.

For carers and parents of these children, remaining curious is so important, as the adults we have to try and find the right questions so that we can really find out what is needed. We need to always be aware that the effects may not have been the intent. Obviously, if the child in question had just stolen the phone then his consequences would have been completely different, our role is to teach these children that they are loved and valued regardless we are here to show them appropriate ways to behave and show them the consequences when they don't.

  1.  action of making one view or belief compatible with ano

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Tummy ache

Sometimes life is busy and so you miss the little signs that one of the children is struggling. After a few days of child 3 complaining of tummy ache, I was reminded by one of my friends that shortly after child 4 arrived, I spent an afternoon in the local A&E department with child 3 who was being investigated for an appendicitis. The fantastic nursing staff recognised fairly quickly that the symptoms although real and painful for child 3 were not due to a physical reason but an emotional one.

Many of us cope with major changes throughout our lives and just keep muddling through but sometimes when we don't recognise our worries they manifest themselves as stomach aches, headaches or exhaustion. For a child it must be so hard to understand that your pain is to do with your emotional state rather than "just" being ill.

How can we step in and help? Taking a leaf out of the conscious parenting I've been studying, I spent sometime with my youngest daughter, I talked about how I would be annoyed by a younger brother taking my mummy's time, how I would be cross by mummy and daddy having to spend so much time with the baby's bedtime routine because he is struggling at the moment. This opened the floodgates, our baby girl was feeling lonely, cross and left out. All I needed to do was spend some time just with her, giving her 30 mins at bedtime, to drink warm milk and have a story - a little regression so that she felt like our baby again. This has also made me set sometime aside to spend some one to one time with the older two too. Maleficent with child 1 and the next movie of choice with child 2. Our children don't need much, they just need to feel loved and wanted so every now and then I need to remember my "love bombing" instructions and happy family life once again reigns.


Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Acts of random kindness

Thought for the day today was a thought provoking reflection of homelessness. The offering given by Vicky Beeching was triggered by the pictures of the spikes outside a block of private flats in Southwark, which are believed to have been installed to discourage the homeless from sleeping there.

Recent research shows that homelessness has increased over the past three years by 75% and when you consider that 30% of those who are homeless come from the care system, hopefully you will be as shocked as I and the many others who showed their disgust on social media. Once upon a time many of those homeless people would have been like those children used in the adverts to highlight the issues that the NSPCC and Barnardos deal with on a daily basis. Those pictures touch our hearts, encouraging us to donate money to help take care of children like those in the advert, but what happens to the children who can't be helped. They grow up into teenagers, young adults, then adulthood, we so very easily forget the children they once were and only see what they now portray, if we notice them at all.

Often all people need is an act of random kindness to help them find a new path to follow. You may not see the outcome of your action but that could be the saving moment in someone's life. A post adoption support worker I recently met could give you examples of children that on the face of it failed to achieve whilst with a foster carer, yet in later life that same child would say that they turned their life around because of that one foster carer. They just weren't ready at the time.

I have always tried to be kind to those I meet, but, just like anyone I have  my prejudices and steer clear of some people.  I believe that a moments kindness is often all someone needs. A cake on their birthday, a hug when they are sad or just a few minutes to stop and say hi.

Dr Robert Simon did a study of people who attempted to commit suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge and found that many of them would not have jumped if someone had smiled at them that day. A random act of kindness does save lives.

Not that, that is what I necessarily mean, a moment of kindness costs us nothing yet can give so much. A hot drink for the homeless man on the street, a smile and a hello to the lady selling the Big Issue.  A quick visit to the old lady who has been poorly, helping out a mum in the playground by watching her children so she can have a couple of hours peace, or babysitting so she and her husband can celebrate their wedding anniversary.

I guess what I am saying is don't let the angry person, the sad person, the homeless person, the isolated person become invisible, include them in your day they will appreciate it. And don't do it for what you may get back in return. Someone once said to me "I wish I had cultivated the playground like you had, then maybe I would have people I could call on" yes really that is what they said "cultivated!!!"  Me I was just being friendly, I wasn't trying to acquire or score points, I have always done the best I can and for the reason that I could no catches, no expectations it's just the way I was brought up.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Play, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy

The following represents a list of general principles that are characteristic of Dan Hughes'treatment and parenting model.

 Touch, eye contact, soft voices need to be used to communicate safety, acceptance, curiosity, play and empathy. We must let our children to become used to us. Our speaker told us a story of how a toddler would just scream if he didn't want to do something and he would scream until his foster carer moved away. It was decided that this could not continue, so the carer purchased some earplugs and when her toddler started to scream she sat as close as she could without him entering a complete melt down, as he calmed she would move a little closer until eventually she was sitting next to him and he fell asleep, completely exhausted in her arms. They continued this for days but it eventually worked. He realised that he was safe and could accept being held.

Play, laugh have fun. No matter what happens play as much as you can. Play and laughter is a global way to teach safety. Think about how we teach our toddlers. Whilst playing building bricks your little one picks up a brick and throws it. We tell them not to do it and carry on  playing.  This is consequence followed by an immediate repair. The toddler may be upset to be admonished but we will coo "it's ok, don't throw the bricks, let's build a big tower" this is what all children in care need regardless of their age. If your adopted/foster child kicks off don't ban the football treat with Dad later. On the way back from the football excursion dad has the perfect opportunity to talk about what happened and help your child say sorry.

Ensure our children succeed. If they can't make it around the supermarket without a tantrum in the biscuit aisle, try internet shopping for a while. Then agree to go shopping together but just try one aisle, if everything is going ok try another. At the first sign of trouble pay and leave. Be sure to say well done for managing however many aisles. Communicate the whole time. Build on your successes. Our children have got to learn how to behave, they need to grow up being able to live in the real world.

Remember these children behave the way they do because they don't feel safe, they are full of rage that they don't understand and can't control. Accept that these are symptoms of their history and help them to understand that too. That way they can learn to deal with how they feel and the behaviours will improve and stop. For example if a child can't cope with saying goodbye, because it reminds them of past pain, grief and loss. Pre-empt it. "I know it's really hard to say goodbye and leave but I will help you with it. Shall I say goodbye for you?" 

Often adopted children don't think that they need to be parented, after all adults have always let them down before. Use sentences like "I wonder why" be curious. "Ah I understand you don't like it when I, because" be empathetic.

Be positive, find something to be positive about, especially the little steps because they lead to giant leaps. "Well done for not lashing out at your brother, I am really glad that you didn't hit him" If we are calm, our children learn calm. Even if we lose our tempers and get angry, that's fine so long as we return to calm relatively quickly. If our children see that anger is acceptable in some situations but it never spirals out of control they can learn to be the same

Talk about your child's history, they need to make sense of it. They need to understand the reality of their history to make sense of how they feel. This will lead to positive acceptance and a desire to move forward rather then an excuse for inappropriate behaviour. "I have ADHD or I am a problem child so that's why I do what I do." Is not acceptable. "You struggle because of your ADHD so we will need to help more with ways of being able to deal with situations that you find difficult."

Our children ARE doing the best they can, it's our role to help them move forward. It is their history that is the problem not them

Traumatised children will try to control their environment because that is the way to survive these behaviours decrease as they feel safe.  To feel safe they need patience, love, empathy and acceptance. Not anger, frustration or withdrawal of affection. Try not to shout or be drawn into a power struggle you will not win. Our adopted children have already been rejected enough, so the naughty step or being sent to their room isn't going to help either. 

Consequences need to match the behaviour. If a child kicks the dog banning the TV or rugby practice isn't going to work. Helping to bath the dog, walk the dog and feed the dog is a much better way to teach respect for animals.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Parenting the reality part one

Whilst doing my conscious parenting course we have been looking at traumatised children and what their trauma can look like. Did you know that adrenalin and cortisol is passed through the placenta, so if a pregnant woman is subjected to domestic violence her unborn baby CAN feel her fear and at the later stages of pregnancy the baby will hear raised voices and potentially be injured if the mother is attacked.  Imagine a childhood where no one really talks to you, where none of your basic needs are taken care of. You are rarely picked up or coo'd over, your nappy is not changed, you are not fed on a regular basis. You live in a chaotic household, full of angry noise, smoke and strangers. We can't really because it is so far away from the childhood we or our children experience.
As a child you love your parents, that's an in built survival factor and if they cannot parent you, you recognise that something is not right but can't verbalise or understand it. When that parent tells you to "shut up, go away, you are rubbish, useless, pathetic, ugly" you believe it, that is all you have ever known. So when you are taken away from this you will feel the loss and quite probably blame yourself for it. "If I had been good" none of this would happen. These children are not how we view children, how can they be. They don't understand or have any comprehension as to what loving families are like because they have never experienced a relationship with an adult where they have been loved unconditionally. They truly believe that if something goes wrong that they could "die"  can you imagine life like that. No I expect not, but just try to put yourself there in their shoes, it will change your view on children in care forever. And just keep as a thought, those children grow up into adults, adults that fill our youth offender buildings and prisons, young adults that sleep out on the streets and young single mothers looking for someone to love them unconditionally. Scary, distressing, terrible!!!!

How can we help, well that's where foster care and adoption come in. Adoption is our choice we chose child 4 and brought him into our family network. With the support from courses like conscious parenting and the therapeutic parenting we can help child 4 to feel safe, loved and nurtured. I tell him daily that he is here forever, he is safe and that we love him. Today for the first time he really showed reciprocation and understanding. " my mummy,  I am your baby, I luf you"  if we as a family can help him overcome that fear of being moved on, make him feel completely safe and secure then he can explore his surroundings, learn in pre school and then school. He can look forward not stay static or reliving his past and the fears he may have. Everyone has a part to play, there will be children who have been adopted, who are being fostered or who are being abused in very school, playground and every community. They need our help support and unconditional love. We have to change how we interact with them. You honestly cannot spoil a child who has come out of the care system. So if child 4 wakes in the night and wants to sleep with us he can,if he wishes to keep a bottle he can, if he wants a cuddle I give him a cuddle. This doesn't mean that I don't say no or that I allow him sweets when ever he wants of course not. But if he asks for any physical or emotional contact he gets it, when he wants it. He needs and deserves the very best that we have to give.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The possible reality of adoption

We have to accept that all children who have been taken into care will have been traumatised, how this trauma manifests itself will depend on the child, some will be more resilient than others and make a good or amazing recovery, others may never recover.

As a parent of an adopted child, accepting that this trauma exists is the first step, we tend to view physical abuses as easier to deal with because I think we can see them, name them and if we are brave enough talk about them, it's the silent neglect that is much more insidious and so much harder for us to be able to understand.  If I look at my family, friends and community we are all people who have been raised by parents that love us and want the best for us, that parenting may not necessarily been the best parenting but it would have been good enough and that in turn means that we have not been raised to raise traumatised children we have been raised to raise children like the children we were.

At birth, a newborn does not yet have strong connections to another human, they will recognise their mother by her smell and her voice but will not have emotionally attached themselves to her. An American study showed that colicky babies fed sugar water during the first four weeks of life tended to settle down however after that initial four week period the sugar water had no effect unless there was also eye contact with their mother. Another study shared by Steven Biddulph in his book "How to Raise Happy Children" tells the story of orphaned babies in Europe following the Second World War, the study by a Swiss doctor comparedchildren left with rural families, who were living in overcrowded, noisy homes were much more likely to survive than those who were looked after in the then modern and clinical hospitals. Why? Because babies need human contact, they needed to be talked too, carried around on someone's hip just given lots of human contact. Babies require constant attention from another human being to survive and for that to teach the brain how develop healthily it has to be positive contact.

The brain is an amazing part of the human body, recent studies have found that it is the pre frontal cortex that is the part that is affected by parenting and if this not "good" parenting the resulting effects can if left unchecked be destructive for that child. At the moment we only understand about 13% of the brain and 80% of that has only been understood over the last 20 years!! Historically we have based our child rearing around behaviour, what it is that a child does, with children in care we need to rethink, it is not the behaviour that is so important but why the child behaves in a particular way and then because we are the adults we have to be the ones that change our behaviour to help these children change theirs.

With my older children I would have like most people used cause, effect and consequence to teach them the right way to behave. This will not work with many traumatised children. They have never learnt to trust adults, they don't know what it is like to be safe and cared for by an adult and they will blame themselves for what ever abuse they suffered. Consequences are unlikely to have any effect on these damaged children, because the worst has already happened. Their loss is likely to be devastating. If you have lost a parent or suffered a trauma you will still have the time before that loss or trauma to help you recover, you will have a memory of what life was before the trauma happened. Children in care don't have this memory all they may have known is loneliness, fear and pain. How do we help children overcome this without them understanding what life should be like?


Sunday, 1 June 2014

What is perception?

Perception is everything I realised today.  On our way home from mass child 2 said that child 4 had been really really good today. I looked at him in complete amazement and was astonished that he actually meant it.

From my perspective I had thought he had been a nightmare. My story was lifting and seat belting child 4 into his car seat whilst he fought me, then the walk from the car park to the church, where he refuses to hold my hand but I have to keep him close because he obviously has no road sense. Once we get into church, there is no possible chance that child 4 will sit quietly for an hour and of course I would not expect him too but I tend to spend the whole hour up and down and in and out chasing my "errant" child, attempting yet failing to encourage him to sit with a sticker or colouring activity. I have always assumed that because I am running around after him and dealing with his tantrums everyone else looks on judging my parenting and wondering how this little boy will grow up.

In fact, I realised today that I am the only one judging my parenting asking if I am enough, do I give enough and will that be enough for him to grow into the man he has the potential to be.

Foolish lady that I am. I may not be enough but I give everything I have and that will be enough. Child 4 is an active, ok very active two year old but there is not a malicious bone in his body. I should perhaps forget or accept that I have to run around after this little gorgeous bundle of energy, the way he learns is by experience which means that of course I have to keep him safe - he has to hold my hand when we walk along the road, I have to lift him off the book shelves when I catch him trying to scale them and I have to ensure that he stays safely strapped into his car seat. All this and more can be exhausting for me but perhaps instead of worrying, I should take more heed of those who are not so exhausted. My good friend KBS who laughs when I tell her the latest child 4 endeavour and tells me that he is just like a male version of child 3, when my parents smile at his latest adventure but remind me of how he loves a cuddle. The old dears in church who always tell me what a grand job I am doing and wasn't he good and he is quieting down and is learning how to behave when at mass.  They honestly seem to love him being there even if he behaves like an active two year old behaves. My family and friends say that he is so very settled and that he is growing up into a lovely little boy, we as a family are doing an amazing job with him, he has only been with us 9 months, that is not even a third of his life!

I need to take a step back and instead of looking at the bits that I am currently struggling with, I should really look at what has changed. I am his mummy, "my mummy" he shouts especially if one of his older siblings is having a cuddle with me and then he flies over worming his way in between us. The older ones think that it's hysterical so will purposely cuddle me saying very loudly "my mummy" and watch for his reaction. He does sometimes do what I tell him the first time now, he sits for 3 books at bedtime and pushes for again if it means a few more minutes sitting up with us all. He eats more fruit and a much more varied diet than just cheese. His speech is fantastic and he loves making things, bubble mixture and playdough are favourites. He comes to find me to kiss his hurts better and he asks me to sing his bedtime cuddle song. He can sit at the table for his meals and says please, thank you and sorry. And even when he pushes the boundaries he knows that he is loved, safe and secure. Well based on that we are doing a pretty good job and hopefully my conscious parenting course tomorrow will support all that we are already achieving.