I think one of the great challenges of being an adoptive parent is learning when and how to access appropriate professional help for our children and for ourselves. Our needs are often unpredictable and can change rapidly over time, sometimes reaching crisis point very quickly and threatening the stability of the family and its permanency. The availability of support seems to vary significantly according to where you live in the UK. In 2014, I’m going to write from time to time about professional interventions and organisations which have made a difference to our family, starting with Place2Be.
J was first placed with me eight years ago on the first day of the school summer holidays, and that timing worked well for us. It provided a natural break from his existing school, and allowed us several uninterrupted weeks to start to get used to each other. As everyone who has been through this experience knows, those first weeks are thrilling, exhausting and sometimes a bit scary, with emotions running high. I’m not ashamed to admit that by the time the school term started, I was totally ready to hand over responsibility to J’s new primary school for a few hours a day at least.
Handing him over was made easier because I felt confident in my choice of school. It wasn’t the nearest… In fact it was a mile from home and there were several others which were nearer, some of which OFSTED thought were better. What made the school stand head and shoulders above the rest as far as I was concerned was the importance placed by the head and teachers on the children’s happiness and emotional well-being. Two of my nieces were already on their way through the school so I had seen first hand the impact that ethos could make.
In fact, J progressed through the school on a fairly even keel. I was quite surprised. I had frequent scheduled meetings with J’s teachers including the Deputy Head with responsibility for Looked After Children. There was some early intervention from CAMHS which we needed and which I will write about another time. That first year, he was described as a child who ‘fizzed with anxiety’ but he settled well, and loved the school. He was provided with weekly sessions to help with social skills which he enjoyed. The acute need came later when we least expected it.
Four years in, I was diagnosed with cancer and had surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy in quick succession. Not long before, J’s foster carer of four years had died of the same illness. What was happening now, combined with what I knew of J’s early experiences of multiple losses, made me worry greatly for him.
I told the school as soon as I had the diagnosis. I had a call back the same day from the Place2Be coordinator. Place2Be provides mental health support to children in schools via one-to-one counselling sessions which are tailored according to each child’s needs, which for younger children means through artwork or play. The statistics on child mental health make distressing reading:
* One in ten children aged between 5 and 16 years has a mental health problem, and many continue to have these problems into adulthood. Half of those with lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms by the age of 14.
* Among teenagers, rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 70% in the past 25 years.
The Place2Be coordinator and I agreed that J would need somewhere he could talk safely about what was happening which was outside the family. It was unspoken but we both understood that I wanted to set in place something which might conceivably be needed through much blacker times if I didn’t recover. What was said during the weekly sessions would be confidential but they could also set in place therapeutic support for me if I needed it. In addition to the weekly sessions, J could access the Place2Talk lunchtime drop in sessions which were for any child in the school to talk about anything from arguments with their best friend to domestic violence.
J made a lot of models during those sessions. I am not sure that he ever talked very much but he was provided with a release valve which was there if he needed it. He will have felt the therapeutic circle of the family working with the school, working with professionals. The fact is that he got through that year as well as we could have hoped, and I have no doubt that a Place2Be played a very important part in this.
Place2Be works in over 200 schools across the UK, and you can find a list of these schools here.
I wrote this piece for the Weekly Adoption Shout Out #WASO – a valuable tool for all those involved in adoption.