One piece of advice from adoption preparation training really stuck with us: how important it would be to be open to getting help and advice from others. The approval process certainly forced us to be very open with various social workers about very personal matters and then, of course, during matching and the initial stages of placement we had to welcome through our door a series of further social workers and attend regular reviews with our local primary school. Initially this was quite uncomfortable, particularly for my husband who is very much from an upbringing of ‘men do not discuss matters’, but we got used to it and quickly recognised that we needed to accept the ‘intrusion’ and work as a team for the best interests of our daughters.
However, if asked then, I think we would have been surprised that over seven years post placement our girls would still be receiving support from a number of professionals and that we would have been so proactive in seeking out such support. Our girls joined our family at ages 4 and 6 and have no physical or learning difficulties such that they need a statement of special educational needs. Despite this, as is being increasingly recognised, early childhood trauma and the legacy of past neglect runs deep and long for our children and other adoptees… it is a journey only just starting with the adoption order.
Over the years we have been lucky enough to have found/had recommended a number of talented professionals experienced in helping adopted children and I have spent as much time as possible reading books and attending seminars on relevant subjects. We have learnt so much! Intervention started quite early on (about a year after placement) with life story work and play therapy, first for our eldest and then youngest. My husband participated in these sessions, some of which were filmed and then reviewed with him by the play-therapist. He found that exposure hard but extremely helpful in seeing more objectively as an ‘observer’ what our daughters needed and what worked best in terms of parenting interactions. Attachment grew as a result and vitally we learnt a language to normalise talking about the past. We strongly believe that openly and regularly talking about birth family and reasons for adoption are essential in addressing feelings of divided loyalties and guilt which weigh heavily on so many adopted children, including ours.
We then accessed Occupational Therapy – first through the local authority traditional approach which did assist with some needs of our youngest daughter in coordination, pen holding etc, but we subsequently found through our social worker another paediatric OT, who has worked with both girls over the years in several areas such as motor skills, sensory issues, executive functioning, and emotional regulation. Despite a move abroad, she continues to provide regular Facetime sessions for our eldest daughter and has stepped in to work with us through some really challenging recent times, now we have hit (hard) challenging early teenage years. I have certainly had some teary video calls with her when the stresses have become overwhelming and she has always provided incredibly wise counsel and set me on my way again with new resolve and hope. She has also suggested some invaluable resources (see 1 and 2 on the reading list below). Our daughters feel very close to her, and she really feels like part of our family.
It became apparent about a year ago that our eldest daughter needed some further intervention as her mental state became very fragile, exacerbated by lockdown. With the help of our OT and social worker, we identified a clinical psychologist with experience of working with children with adverse childhood experiences. Whilst our daughter has found ‘talking therapy’ very difficult and I have had to attend all the sessions with her, the intervention has certainly assisted her to recognise areas she finds emotionally challenging and identify some strategies to help address them. However, she seemed to have become ‘stuck’ in terms of being able to use those strategies and preventing emotional escalation, so we have put talking therapy on hold to try Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (as recommended by our lovely OT) in view of the recent success of the therapy in addressing childhood trauma. After a lot of searching by my husband (EMDR is in heavy demand at present and many therapists only work with adults) we have found a suitable therapist and have had a few sessions. It is quite an unusual process which works on the basis of rapid eye movement replicating the processing functions of the brain during sleep in order to reconnect to thoughts, emotions and body sensations associated with the trauma conducted in a safe and measured way. We sat in for the first session and it was fascinating. The brain is an amazing thing! Our daughter has really engaged with this (she loves that she does not have to discuss her difficult emotions and is happy to attend the sessions alone) and the early signs are that it may improve things for her. Already we have noticed her behaviour (often turning her unbearable sadness into intense anger directed at us) has been calmer and she connects more in discussions about what she is experiencing.
Our social workers (particularly our current one who is extremely impressive) have been invaluable in helping to arrange this support, much of which we have been able to access through the Adoption Support Fund. It was difficult for us and social workers to navigate the ASF at first, but I would urge perseverance as it is an extremely useful way of finding and funding vital support and hopefully it will continue to be available to adopters.
I have not yet mentioned adoption groups and charities such as We are Family and PAC, which have also provided valuable resources primarily through seminars (recent ones on teenagers and social media have been particularly timely). Friends and family have also ‘been there’ for us often at the end of a phone, although it is hard for them to really appreciate the challenges and underlying causes without experiencing them first-hand and on a daily basis. Other adopters we know ‘get it’ and can provide dark humoured camaraderie in the face of the storm! Finally I should not forget some excellent teaching staff as well who have gone the extra mile to keep communicating with us and finding ways to provide much needed support.
It is no understatement to say I don’t think we could have got through the last few years without “our village”. The journey continues and we expect plenty more villagers will join us before our girls become (hopefully) independent young women with bright futures ahead of them.
Of course, children’s mental health and therapeutic support are currently precious resources being stretched like never before and we are so lucky living in London with a much greater availability of expertise nearby than others we know who live in rural areas. It is clear to me that all adopted children would benefit from many of the interventions we have used as standard ‘post-adoption’ measures to avoid families reaching crises before help is found. If you are able to access support, I would recommend you embrace it and continue to build your village.
- The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting – Strategies and Solutions by Sarah Nash
- Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline. The 7 Basic Skills for Turning Conflict into Cooperation by Becky A Bailey
- The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children will be Glad that you Did) by Philippa Perry