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You owe it to yourself, and your child, to ask for help – an adoptive Dad writes

Published: February 25, 2016

Like most adopters, I thought we’d be the ones who would overcome any problems with the sword of love and the shield of consistency. Whatever our child’s past, we’d make it all better just by being such great parents. Of course it didn’t turn out that way. Love was often met with anger, boundaries and discipline provoked panic and, at times, massive meltdowns. After six months of having our parenting thrown back in our face, we were exhausted and out of ideas. We needed help.

Our assessing agency offered a wide range of post-adoption support, and we reluctantly accepted it. After all those months of regular social worker visits, reviews and so on, we wanted to get on with being a family, undisturbed by outside agencies – but now we were back to assessments and endless talking about personal stuff. It was the last thing we wanted, but in retrospect it was a major turning point. We were put on a course of twenty Attachment Focused Therapy sessions, hoping that this would provide the magic formulas to manage our son’s emotional and behavioural problems. In fact, the focus was on us, not on him. He was acting exactly as expected; it was our handling of his emotions that needed adjusting.

Basically this meant unlearning almost everything we’d learned in preparation training, from parenting books and from our own friends and family. Everyone stresses the necessity of firm boundaries (‘Children need them! They love them!’ is the mantra) and consequences that must be followed through. We tried this, but in nearly every case it was a disaster. Our new therapist suggested removing all boundaries except those absolutely necessary for personal safety, and creating an environment of freedom and acceptance where no behaviour was ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’, and certainly not punished. This immediately freed us from the terrible, escalating game of tit for tat that was driving us all crazy: if you don’t eat your breakfast you can’t watch TV, if you throw that toy at me again I will take it away, if you don’t brush your teeth you can’t eat sweets. Our son’s need for control was so great that he’d suffer almost any consequence rather than do as he was told. What he desperately needed was to feel that he was in control, and that he could act out without being punished. His rage and grief had to be expressed and accepted, not boundaried.

After a while this started to bear fruit; our son began to trust us, and to feel safe and relaxed rather than constantly vigilant and frightened. Mealtimes, bathtimes and bedtimes began to settle into something a bit more like normal. But progress was slow: he was still expressing a lot of anger, especially when something nice happened to him. Presents, trips and treats were often repaid with insults, tears and rage – and this was triggering anger in us. I always used to think of myself as a pretty laid-back person without much of a temper: boy, was I wrong. I started matching my son’s anger with anger of my own, and when that red mist descends, it’s hard to turn back.

Again, there was no easy solution, no mantra I could chant to prevent myself from losing my temper. My husband and I both had to think about things that our son’s behaviour was triggering in us – painful issues in our own lives that we thought were resolved and under control. It’s hard to admit that you’re still dealing with grief or bullying or whatever, and harder still to dredge these things up while you’re in the white heat of adoptive parenting. But again, it worked. Now I can control myself – eighty per cent of the time, at least. My husband and I know each other a lot better, and are more patient. We’re not saints or robots; we still get upset. But things are under control, and our son is flourishing – even able to accept the discipline of school.

I’d say to anyone considering adoption, or in early placement, to consider post-adoption support as a vital part of your new lives. Don’t look at it as an admission of failure. Adoption is hard even at the best of times; you can’t do it on your own. Don’t bottle it up. You owe it to yourself, and your child, to access the help that’s on offer.



7 Responses to “You owe it to yourself, and your child, to ask for help – an adoptive Dad writes”

  1. Paulette Black says:

    Such good advice! I wish we had sought help early-on, but 35 years ago, that wasn’t the conventional wisdom. It was – “Take him home and love him!” Well, now he sits in jail, never having gained a handle on impulse or anger, sick of advice from us, and struggling with substance abuse and a host of escalating charges. My heart is broken. I wholeheartedly support your message of getting help early and often.

    • Paul Keeley says:

      We have been asking for help for the last 11 years and all we ever get is they have no money or do this or do that, now moved to Hampshire and still the same.
      My view is never final an adoption with a child until you get all the help you need, delay as long as you can because the moment you do they are not interested.

  2. Daisy says:

    How true. As a long standing adoptive Mum, we reluctantly agreed to family therapy when our six month old son was placed as a brother to our three year old. Family therapy! we thought when our social worker suggested it. No we could cope with a toddler and a baby (except we weren’t coping). The crunch came when the three year old threw the baby down the stairs (thankfully no one got hurt) and he told the baby, “She’s my Mummy not yours”. My mother-in-law, who was visiting, and was a Princess Christian Nurse, said she could not have coped with that behaviour in a child and told us to take up the offer of free professional help. We phoned the social worker and got help. The boys are now 28 and 25. They have a younger brother of 19, who was born to us. We are a very happy family, but adoption is not the same as giving birth to your child. It’s not better or worse nor second best. It’s just different. There is an extra dimension. The adopted child can be very hurt, even when placed as a baby, and sometimes you need extra help. Take it and your family will thank you one day. I wish all you parents who are struggling the very best of luck. Just hang in there. Daisy

  3. Riannon Rowe says:

    We would love to accept some help but we are in the interesting situation of having moved local authorities after the adoption of our 9 year old who, four years into an initially trouble free adoption, is now showing significant behavioural issues connected to her disorganised attachment. As a primary school head teacher I am used to dealing with the relevant professionals and very confident about contacting the right people, but I keep being told that it is the opposite authority’s duty to initiate the referral to the post-adoption funding and in the meantime our daughter is left in limbo with escalating temper tantrums and self harming behaviours (she has currently taken to digging holes in her forehead, not washing, insisting on sleeping in urine soaked sheets, urinating into her bedroom waste bin…) Surely this is not what was intended when the fund was set up?

    • Hi Riannon

      Sorry to hear that you’ve been To clarify the legal position for you, during the first three years of the adoption placement the child’s support needs are the duty of the local authority who placed the child and thereafter it is the responsibility of the local authority in which the child lives.

      The local authority has a legal duty to provide you with an assessment of post adoption support; and they would then make the application to the ASF on your behalf.

      The Statutory Guidance on Adoption 2013 Chapter 9 s.9.18-23 that sets the above ruling can be found here.

      If you need any more information or chat things through, please give our information line a call on 0300 222 0022 and our advisers will be happy to help.



  4. stuart says:

    We adopted a 3 year old girl who has been with foster carers for most of her short life. Her sister was taken away from her in February after the Council’s failure to secure adoption for both children together and we adopted her in April.
    She had a lot of anger and I understand fully everything you have said about the feeling of helplessness, rejection and anger.
    We contacted our Social Workers a number of times for help and found that there was probably only one or two in the whole of the Department who knew what they were talking about.
    One Tuesday we were desperate for immediate help and were told we could talk to someone on the phone the following Friday. Our social worker said she could come out to see us, but she didn’t have a clue about how to deal with our daughter, previous advice from her being almost laughable.
    In the end we gave up with the Social Workers as we felt, to be honest, they were not giving us any support we needed when we needed it.
    After weeks of trying however, we came up with a couple of tools we developed ourselves and these helped save our sanity – well mostly.
    The first one when she had angry and screaming fits, throwing toys about and shaking with rage, we found the only thing we could do was take her into the corner of the room, tell her we were here for her when she was calm, and sit down in front of her blocking her exit with our back towards her. The location we selected meant she couldn’t get past us without going over us.
    I know the social workers will probably frown on that, but I found that as she could see we were there and we were sat waiting for her to calm down she did so quicker and quicker with every time. We went from initially 3½ hour screaming sessions down to a couple of minutes within the space of a couple of weeks. I think it was the same process that helped her, knowing when she was in the state there was a procedure that was followed and the routine helped.
    We tried the cuddling and holding but the restrictive nature of that just sent her deeper into anger, twisting and turning and trying to get free.
    We kept turning round every couple of minutes or so asking her if she was ready for a cuddle and when she said yes we held her and told her over and over how much we loved her and that no one was taking her away, and that she was staying with her new family for ever.
    Another tool we found was always to let her have a choice in anything we did, but we always made the choice hers and said “it is up to you, you decide what you want to do.” For example if she wouldn’t put her shoes on, we would say “Okay you can put your boots on or your shoes, its up to you, you decide what you want to do.”
    We found this worked as she got the power of making the decision herself of what “she” wanted to do, but ended up doing what “we” wanted her to do.
    It has been over 2 years now and she has finally calmed down and we no longer have the hours of angry screaming we had before.
    Again we were completely un-prepared for the anger that our daughter had and the way she would stand quivering with rage screaming at the top of her voice, tears in her eyes. It would take the slightest provocation, for example asking her to carry her bag after swimming on one occasion. It was heart-breaking to see as we felt completely helpless.
    I wish we had been better prepared and knew about the anger before hand. They say the child might be angry and gloss over it quickly in the training, but we were not prepared for the level of rage.
    These 2 simple tools have helped us so much. I hope these work for you if you are having the same problems.
    I am glad to say that she is now a happy and adorable child and brings us a lot of pleasure, but it has taken over 2 years of really hard work to get there, probably the worst in my life. If you haven’t adopted yet, please prepare yourself!

  5. Sarah J says:

    Thanks to all above for posting your stories, they have helped me this evening. I have a very angry, stubborn 8yr old, whose behaviour at times is that of a tantrum throwing toddler, but with the addition of the verbal attitude of a teenager, and physical strength which means I can’t pick her up or try to cuddle her if she doesn’t want it. Finding it hard to deal with her, she can have episodes for up to 3hrs, kicking, screaming, following me around. She tries to break things, and has broken her own and other family members property. After 2yrs of requesting help, we’ve seen two different play therapists, an educational psychology team, and I feel that this has covered only the surface issues. The social workers appear to have their hands tied to the limited services readily available.
    I too wish we’d known more about anger, attachment, and destructive behaviour before we had children placed. I wish we’d been told about the early signs to look out for which may be triggers for deeper rooted issues. I feel that our social workers were keen to process us, and wash their hands. Better training, information sources, and a consistent approach on support and funding is required!

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