Imagine. You've adopted a child or children, and with them a bundle of difficult behaviours that they used as survival strategies in their first home, where they were neglected and/or abused. These behaviours could include violence, lying, stealing, and worse. Just joining your fabulous, loving family doesn't magically make the child's unhelpful coping mechanisms go away: they can be hardwired into young brains and it can be a difficult process to unlearn.
So where do adoptive parents turn for help?
In theory, of course, you turn to your local authority, who have a team of psychologists, therapists and children's mental health practitioners on hand to help. You just pick up the phone to your post-adoption support service, they identify the most appropriate service, and appointments are made for the very near future, so you can start helping your child to feel safe and behave accordingly.
(You hope that this will mean that soon you will be able to complete the school run without being kicked in the head and shouted at on a daily basis.)
Oh, and they are lavish with their support for parents in the difficult task of caring for children who've experienced huge trauma.
Adoptive parents across the land will read that last paragraph and laugh out loud. Because in reality, funding is so tight and social workers have such huge amounts of work that it is often a battle to be heard when you try to advocate for your child and to get them the support they need.
If you have adopted a child from outside your own local authority, then you have double the fun, as for the first three years the child is with you, it's their original local authority (the 'placing authority') who have to agree to fund any support you receive.
Cue lots of waiting for different authorities to talk to each other and to any external service providers. Cue lots of phone calls to people who will return your calls when they get round to it. Cue climbing the walls while you wait.
Like many adoptive parents, my calendar is peppered with meetings about my children: the educational psychologist, the headteacher, the SENCO, a workshop on understanding and managing particular aspects of my children's behaviour which are caused by their previous experiences. Some of these appointments have taken months to arrange.
I am thankful that each of the meetings is happening at all, and don't take them for granted. But in every case it has been a question of my finding out for myself what services and funding might be available for our family and pursuing them myself.
This takes a lot of time and energy (both in short supply) and as someone outside the system I am not best placed to access all this information I need. I strongly believe every adoptive family should have a designated social worker to do this for them: someone who will advocate for you when the children's mental health worker you've phoned in a crisis tells you that a chewy sweet or a card game will calm down a child who you fear is about to break several windows. (Riiight.)
Why are many local authorities so bad at post-adoption support?
1. They are underfunded. As a consequence, they focus on family-finding, which seems more urgent and has a financial benefit (keeping children in foster care or other accommodation is expensive). I agree that it is important and urgent work, but supporting adoptive families is vital too, if adopted children are going to receive the best possible care.
2. The staff are overstretched (due to the under funding) and have been subject to so many changes of approach that there is organisational chaos and a lack of joined-up thinking. There are not clear lines of communication. Adopters are often left to work things out for themselves rather than having an allocated post-adoption support person to help them access services.
While my own local authority chugs slowly towards setting up its own post-adoption support meetings for adoptive parents, many of us have taken matters into our own hands because we need to talk right now.
I meet with what feels like an underground movement of adoptive mums, who gather in the pub once a month to swap advice about what has worked for them and what funding is available where.
My own support comes from a combination of these meetings and a wonderful group of adoptive parents on social media who understand the bundle of issues that adopted children bring with them and how they impact family life.
For day-to-day peer support, there's nothing like Twitter and the blogs of other adoptive parents, many of whom link up through The Adoption Social's 'weekly adoption shout-out' (see @AdoptionSocial and #WASO).
This is a way for many of us to keep in touch with one another in more depth than a tweet, and more freedom than face-to-face meetings allow, because our Twitter accounts and blogs are usually anonymous.
Being able to access both 'official' and 'unofficial' post-adoption support is vital for adoptive families. No local authority or voluntary agency is able to provide the constant daily support of a peer community in the way 'organic' groups have grown on Twitter and through blogs. Equally, it's not appropriate for parents to rely solely on peer support because access to specialist therapies is too difficult or not well signposted.
Thanks to some passionate advocates, things are slowly changing, and the Government is starting to listen. But in the meantime, many of us are struggling with the challenging behaviour of children who've experienced trauma, while also trying to navigate the maze of support services and the rest of our lives – work, family, and some semblance of a social life!
It's a stressful business, and I'm grateful I can tweet and be heard instantly by those who understand, rather than just waiting for someone to return my call...
Are you an adoptive parent? Have you found support and advice on social media?
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