Monthly Archives: September 2013

‘You just got owned.’

He gets off the school bus hands and face covered in ink, sure sign of a Bad Day.  Back home and an email from school, ‘blowing ink out of a biro’. I search for the pen amongst the crushed food at the bottom of the school bag.  Not only is there no pen, there is no pencil-case either.

I gather together a spare pencil, pen and ruler in a plastic bag.  He thanks me but the next morning it is left on the kitchen table.

This morning, Monday morning. ‘Shall we just make sure you’ve got what you need?’  In the pencil-case, now retrieved from school is a broken ruler, a broken yellow colouring pencil and a cheap felt tip pen.

‘I’ve got what I need,’ he says with a broad smile.

‘Except a pencil and a pen.’.

‘And what do you call this?’ he says holding up two inches of pencil shard, ‘and this pen is allowed’.

Then he cocks his head to one side, closes an eye, grins and says slowly, ‘you just got owned’.


‘I.  Beat.  You.’

He raises a pistol shaped hand and fires it at my head.

‘I just so owned mum,’ he laughs.  The laughing goes on and on and on but is strange and forced.

‘Is it about winning?’

‘It so is.’

Review of ‘Why Can’t My Child Behave’, by Dr Amber Elliott

At the dog end of last term I was struggling to write a letter to my daughter’s school explaining just how badly their ‘minus points’ behaviour system had played out in our family, when Dr Amber Elliot’s new book ‘Why Can’t My Child Behave?’ fell through the letter box.  At first I thought ‘great, a distraction’, by a few pages in I felt I was in very safe hands.  After reading most of it, the letter wrote itself.

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If like me you’ve fallen into the welcoming bosom of the super-parenting gurus (such a tempting and logical place for a while) and then committed atrocities in the name of good behaviour then Dr Elliot will first empathise with you for landing up there.  She then patiently explains why trauma is not something to be ‘fixed‘ or trained out.  We are invited to journey with our children into their pasts so we can understand at a deeper level why they do what they do, and what grows from this journey is empathy.  And in my own experience empathy is essential if therapeutic methods stand any chance of working.  A new kind of logic can be mastered, one that takes account of the landscape of the child and leads towards real human connection and healing.

Although I have been through the painful process of being reborn as a therapeutic parent I am not the finished article and there were many useful reminders and some lightbulb moments for me in ‘Why Can’t My Child Behave?’. I learnt to look at ‘attention-seeking’ behaviour as ‘attachment-seeking’ behaviour.  It’s much more than a rebranding exercise.    Talking about banishing a child who is craving human attachment, but who doesn’t know how to ask for it, suddenly looks like a terrible idea.  Likewise ignoring a child whose greatest fear is to be forgotten, removing things from someone who has experienced nothingness and loss, over-praising those who know for a fact they are bad and are out to prove it.  The problem is that behaviour systems can stop us from thinking.  This book gets us thinking again.

Often I find that training courses and books about therapeutic methods are heavy on the ‘why’ but flimsy on strategies that work.  This is not the case with Dr Elliott’s book which is full of strategies.  Not only that, the chapters allow easy access to the relevant information whether that’s related to lying, control issues or sibling relationships.  Dr Elliott doesn’t shirk from the difficult stuff either; sexualised behaviours and anger and aggression are covered too.

My only (very minor) comment (and quite honestly if I had not spent the past ten years sweating it out with traumatised children I would not have thought it a problem) is the title.  My daughter saw the book on my desk (my fault for leaving it out).  She was dismayed. ‘Did you buy it because of me, because I am naughty?’.  I tried to explain the irony and failed (irony doesn’t play well in our house).  But this is a tiny point and another reminder of how our children see themselves.

I would guess that most adopters and foster carers piece together the information which is so accessibly explained in Dr Elliott’s book.  We do it over years, much of it is learnt by experience and the trial and error process is played out at the cost of our children’s well-being.  I wish I’d had access to ‘Why Can’t My Child Behave?’ right from the start of our parenting journey. It is easy to read, accessible and thought-provoking and ideal for new adopters and foster carers as well as the more experienced.  I know it will become one of the texts I refer to as our journey continues.

Dr Elliott’s book is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers and is available on their website and through Amazon.


Government Announces Adoption Support Funding

This week the Department for Education announced a £19.3 million fund for therapeutic services for adopted children and their families.  The news jostled with bigger stories and didn’t exactly grab the attention of the nation, but it’s something I’ve been waiting for a long time.

I occasionally blog for the online Social Work publication Community Care and for one article on post adoption support interviewed Hugh Thornbery, Chief Executive of Adoption UK.  Some weeks later I found myself in a waiting room in the Department of Education with Hugh and Erica Pennington (AUK), sat in front of a rather large photograph of Michael Gove.

Fixing post adoption support can on the face of it seem a simple matter, but as with many simple matters, what lies within the nuts and bolts is far more complex.

Firstly, adopters have a right to an assessment of their family’s needs by their Local Authority, but no right to the support which that assessment flags up.  It’s a fudge and a cruel one if you are on the receiving end.  Local Authorities say that they don’t have the money to pay for therapeutic support, but once an adoptive family breaks down and a child ends up back in the care system the vast sums required are suddenly, albeit from a different budget, available.  These costs dwarf what it might have cost to support that child within the adoptive family.

It would seem sensible to gather the costs of adoption breakdown and prove on a financial level that providing therapeutic support services is common sense.  But of course, none such records are kept currently.  So it’s all anecdote and hearsay and not enough to build a solid case on.

And lastly, just to really complicate matters, the NHS appears to have no obligation to treat traumatised children either.  Adopted children are like the hot potato that no one wants to catch.  The inequalities that the current status quo are built upon are astonishing and make creating any meaningful system of adoption support very difficult indeed.

However, despite the lack of data, the hearsay evidence and the lack of ownership, the government has listened to the experiences of many adoptive families and is taking steps to make real change.  It is easy to be cynical and following the press release many were.

The meeting I went to was a small glimpse into the work which has gone on, but I came away heartened by the depth of understanding of trauma shown by the civil servants working on the project at the DfE (deeper and more compassionate than some professionals I have faced across a desk).  I was struck by the impact that many personal accounts of adopters had clearly had and encouraged by the pressure being applied from above to get a sensible system of post adoption support in place.  Both the civil servants and Adoption UK appeared clear-sighted, tenacious and creative in their efforts to put together a scheme of real substance and benefit to adoptive families.

In response to views canvassed from adopters the fund will not sit within the bureaucracies that many of us have long struggled with but will instead be accessed directly.  As to how the fund will work in practicality, well the devil’s in the detail as they say and we will have to wait for the pilot schemes to work through.

Over the past ten years that I’ve been an adopter I’ve seen the narrative around adoption shift significantly.  Once upon a time I felt like a lone preacher of some bizarre belief system. Now government is openly talking about trauma and therapeutic support and where they go I hope others will follow.  Of course there is still plenty of work to do, not least for kinship carers and others caring for traumatised children, but credit where it’s due: this is a sea change and a big step forward.

Click here to read my press release.