What is it like from a birth parent’s perspective to have your children living in foster care?

Foster care birth parentsIn this extract from Welcome to Fostering, Annie describes what it is like from a birth parent’s perspective to have your children living with foster carers, and provides some useful advice for foster carers on how to manage a good relationship with birth parents. She is the writer of her own blog, Surviving Safeguarding, which tells the story of her ongoing journey to win her children back into her custody. She believes that ‘Fostering is truly a wonderful thing’.

Click here to download the extract

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When did it all go wrong between social work and the media?

To mark JKP’s 30th anniversary year, Martin Barrow discusses the relationship between social work and the media, and the negative impact it has on society’s views of social workers. Martin (@martinbarrow) is a foster carer and writer for The Huffington Post having previously worked as editor for The Times back in 2008. He writes about social work, mental health and child welfare. He is also an editor of the upcoming title Welcome to Fostering, publishing in May. 

When did it all go wrong between social workers and the media? You can do worse than to look back to 1987, exactly 30 years ago, to the Cleveland child abuse scandal. This was a profoundly disturbing case in which dozens of children were removed from their families on the basis of diagnoses given by two paediatricians. In the face of a public outcry the doctors were challenged and, eventually, many of the children were allowed to return home. By then, an entire community was traumatised and social workers, as well as paediatricians, had become demonised.

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What is attachment and attachment disorder?

Attachment disorderClinical psychologist Colby Pearce provides a concise and easy to understand introduction to what ‘attachment’ means, how to recognise attachment disorders and how to help children who have an attachment disorder. This extract is taken from his new book A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder, Second Edition which offers a comprehensive set of tried-and-tested practical strategies that can be used in the home, school and consulting room with children affected by an attachment disorder. Colby is also the author of A Short Introduction to Promoting Resilience in Children.

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Attachment, schools and vulnerable children: An interview with Nicola Marshall.

Nicola Marshall is a certified coach, adoptive parent of three, and author of the newly published The Teacher’s Introduction to Attachment. We spoke to her about why she wanted to write a book on attachment for teachers, what she’s learned since starting her own training company for teachers and other school staff, and she shares her number one tip for educators working with vulnerable children. 

1) How did you become interested in attachment?

My husband and I adopted three children 6 years ago now and I became interested in attachment as a result of trying to understand the impact my children’s early years experience has had on them. Throughout the adoption journey Attachment was mentioned and it fascinated me to know that so much of what we do in our adult lives is a result of our early experiences. I’ve always believed this actually, as someone who has always been interested in people and how they tick, to know that how we build relationships comes from much of our early experiences made sense.

Since looking into attachment I can see how important all our relationships are and it’s a constant journey of discovery.

2) Why did you decide to write a book on attachment for teachers?Marshall_Teachers-Introd_978-1-84905-550-5_colourjpg-print

There are many books available on Attachment and I’ve read quite a few of them. They are brilliant in lots of ways but I also have found that they can be quite heavy and time intensive. If you are really interested in the subject, as I am, then there are brilliant books to further your understanding such as Bruce Perry or Dan Hughes books.

However whilst doing training for schools and other people working with children I have found that there’s a reluctance to read some of the more academic books on the subject. As a parent and a down to earth person myself I felt there was a gap in the market for a book that was accessible to all teaching staff, whether they are time pressured or just not that interested in the subject. This book is an easy to read, practical and very accessible and my desire is that anyone and everyone working with children of any description would read this and find it helpful.

 3) You run training programmes to help educate teachers and other school staff about attachment – what have you learned whilst doing this?

I have loved training educators over the last three years in this subject. The people who attend the courses are so dedicated and committed to the children they serve that it has been an inspiration to me. I have seen that many are under immense pressure to get children to learn who are just not ready to learn. The pressures on resources, funding and time are creating a system that seems to be a hindrance to vulnerable children out there who need patience, time and nurture given to them in order that they can learn.

Through the workshops and onsite training I’ve run and the hundreds of educators I’ve spoken to I can see that this is a vocation – you have to have a calling to be an educator as what you want to do and what you’re allowed to do many times don’t match up. I wish our educational system was more flexible as I know it’s not for want of trying on the front-line staffs side – they understand that we need a different approach with some children, that we need to be their parent, carer, therapist and social worker sometimes as the adults they meet at school may be all they have.

4) Can you think of a case study or example of having school staff educated in attachment, which has led to direct benefits for a child or group of children?

I can think of many schools and particularly children who have benefited from more of an awareness of Attachment. A few spring to mind. One child who is from a very small, rural school – his teacher came on my workshop a few years ago, the training impacted her and it helped her to understand his behaviours. However it didn’t seem enough. So this year I was asked to go and observe the child in school and to give some recommendations on what practical strategies they could use to help him. After two days we sat down with the parent of this child and discussed what had been observed. It was great to see that for that parent it was so important to know that someone could see the anxieties and fears her child was desperately trying to hide. We talked about practical ways to build relationships with him and to help him feel safe. As a result I am sure he will flourish in that very nurturing and caring school.

More locally to me, a High School have taken on the challenge of really trying to understand a complex child in year 8 who has an ambivalent attachment. Many of the schools sanctions do not work for this child and in fact send her on a spiral of negative behaviours as a result. With training and talking with the parents the school are using different strategies to try and help her feel safe and to take control of her regulation, so that she can settle to learn. The result of this for the child is that she can start to learn in school instead of just surviving but also the staff members are happier as they don’t have to keep enforcing sanctions that do not work. Finally, this child is not distracting the other children in the class, so they can learn too.

5) What would be your number one tip for teachers or other staff working with vulnerable children?

Look beneath the behaviours to the root. All behaviour communicates something. For children who have experienced early trauma their behaviours very often are how they express themselves. They are not ‘naughty’ children trying to manipulate. They are frightened, anxious children who will use any means at their disposal to feel safe and get their needs met. When you can see that and truly appreciate that then you can begin to meet their needs and the behaviour will change in time.

 You can find out more about Nicola’s book here.  You can also find out more about her training company, BraveHeart Education, and the work they do training educators in attachment and its implications for the classroom, here 

Why helping traumatised children find the right words is so important.

Jane Evans, trauma parenting specialist and author of How Are You Feeling Today Baby Bear? writes about the importance of helping children who have experienced domestic abuse or other trauma to identify and talk about their feelings.

Early years children affected by domestic violence need help to find the words for their big feelings sooner rather than later.

Being able to recognise how we feel at any given moment is essential to our well-being, decision making and the way we relate to others and behave every day. Being able to understand and put into words our own feelings and those of others is also essential for our mental health and safety, never more so than when we are children. If a child can’t recognise the signs in their body of fear, anxiety, frustration, excitement and joy then they will struggle to tell the difference between them and this can make them vulnerable.

All illustrations by Laurence Jackson

All illustrations by Laurence Jackson

When it comes to children who have lived through domestic violence, or other trauma, matching words to their feelings and their bodily state, as early as possible, is even more vital. Post domestic violence, children need to be able to make some sense of the things they have seen, heard, felt, smelt, and even tasted. Without support to learn to do this, their emotional memories will remain unprocessed within them which will affect all aspects of their onward journey, especially their physical and mental health.

For any child being able to understand the emotions they have means they can feel less overwhelmed by them. Anyone who has seen a pre or early verbal child get frustrated because they can’t make you understand they wanted the purple cup and not the green one you have given them, will know what I mean! They may become distressed but not have the words to describe their inner state and how much the purple cup means to them and this can escalate in to an emotional overload of frustration, or they will learn to give up and switch off from trying to communicate their distress, which is never a good thing.

For those living and working with children who have, or may have, lived with domestic violence, How are you feeling today Baby Bear?, has been created to begin this vital work of enabling the children to find a voice. It can also be used sensitively in situations where an assessment of a child’s view of how they felt at home needs to be known and considered to for their future or immediate well-being and safety, such as a safeguarding or court based assessment.

Gentle suggestion and exploration done patiently and sensitively can begin the process of filling a child’s ‘feelings machine’.  Imagine a Las Vegas style slot machine as being the child, adults keep pulling the handle down to get a ‘pay out’ of feelings. “Tell me how you feel about hitting your brother/being in trouble at school/being in time out again?” “How do you think I feel about hearing you hurt someone again/didn’t do as you were asked again/finding your torn up book?” The handle is pulled repeatedly but as no one has put any dollars in the machine there are none to pay out. However, each time we explore and name a feeling with even a tiny baby, “oh I think you might be sad/worried/cross/excited”, we put a dollar in the slot machine then eventually there can be a ‘pay out!’

In homes where adults are involved in domestic violence, one carrying it out and the other trying to avoid it and protect themselves and their children from it, there is no time to have every day feelings based conversations. Once the family is safely out of it the feelings work needs to begin gently and in small ways as soon as is possible. Young children’s brains are developing and wiring up very rapidly based on what they experience and are exposed too. Connecting words to the signals their body is giving them is vital to enabling them to sort through and regulate feelings which are too big for them to live with in a healthy way.How Are You Feeling Today baby Bear? cover

How are you feeling today Baby Bear? is designed to be a tool to begin this important work with young children to enable their early year’s mental and emotional development to give them a better emotionally informed foundation for life. It is a gentle book which gives permission, insight and those all-important words to children who need to begin to process their memories of feeling frightened and confused so they can get on with being children.

You can find out more about Jane’s work, upcoming events and read more of her blog posts on her website: http://www.parentingposttrauma.co.uk/

 

You can also follow her on twitter: @janeparenting

The Inspiration behind ‘How Are You Feeling Today Baby Bear?’

Trauma Parenting Specialist and author of  How Are You Feeling Today Baby Bear? Jane Evans explains the inspiration behind the book.

Why I wrote How Are You Feeling Today Baby Bear?

From the time I was a little girl I have loved children’s books and, for the past 22 years since becoming a parent, step-parent and grandparent I have totally loved children! My professional life has been an extension of this love for them.

My work has regularly brought me into the lives of families living through the most difficult of times. For many this has been domestic abuse and violence, mental illness, addiction, homelessness, poverty and child abuse. It has always been a privilege to sit alongside them and to learn from them. My life has been full of ups and downs, my battles with mental illness and beyond domestic abuse and through it all, in one way or another; it has always been children who have been the light at the end of the various dark tunnels.

How Are You Feeling Today baby Bear? cover

For many, many years I have had a burning desire to write a book for children which would be of real use to them. In my work with children I have used story books to give them chances to explore, in a gentle way, how they might feel about complex issues they have no words for.  When I worked as a Parenting Worker with families affected by domestic abuse and violence, their parents and carers kept asking me for a suitable book to share with their youngest children who had seen and heard  arguing, fighting and other abuse.

Sadly, I have repeatedly been struck by how much the children I have worked with have struggled to find the words to describe their feelings. For most of them it has been like learning another language and has been a slow process of trying to make up for a vital missing part of their developmental journey. Similarly their parents have often shown and told me how they too have found this difficult both for themselves and with their children.

Never was this more evident than when I was working alongside families’ post domestic violence and abuse, especially those with very young children. “Is there a book I can read with them?”, parents and carers would ask me; I struggled to find the right one which would give a child opportunities to learn about the words for their feelings without being scared, or without being ‘told’ how they  might feel.

All illustrations by Laurence Jackson

All illustrations by Laurence Jackson

Finally the time came to put the words and images I had created in my mind, from thinking about how a very young child feels during and in the aftermath of domestic violence, down on paper! Baby Bear was ‘born’ with two Big Bears who are having a difficult relationship, which often erupts into arguing and fighting, all of which is heard and felt by Baby Bear.

My hope is that How are you feeling today Baby Bear? will help families and young children post domestic violence and abuse to put feelings into words, rather than feeling their only option  is to express these difficult emotions via their behaviour.  Happier, healthier children with a closer connection to caring adults will offer them the onward journey they so deserve.

You can find out more about Jane’s work, upcoming events and read more of her blog posts on her website: http://www.parentingposttrauma.co.uk/

You can also follow her on twitter: @janeparenting

Inside Kinship Care

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Inside Kinship Care

David Pitcher, editor and contributor of the new JKP book Inside Kinship Care shares how he hopes this book will help and support families dealing with the difficulties that can arise with kinship care arrangements and widen the debate on this often overlooked process.

‘With kinship care, everyone gains. Or they can do.

I have in front of me a letter written by a mum with whom I have been working, whose daughter Jenny [not her real name] has just been placed with her nan after a long court process:

“Mum, you know how much I appreciate your commitment, and the effort you have put into getting Jenny to come into your care. I don’t want you to feel like you are taking Jenny away from me. I know you will give her all the love and attention she needs, as you are a fantastic mum to me, and I know you will be a great mum to Jenny. She is very lucky to have a nan like you. I am sorry for all this mess and I hope one day to make you proud…”

In Jenny’s case, a crisis that might have led to the break-up of a family had in fact brought it closer. As Jenny grows up, she will learn about the way that family, and her family’s love for her, is very wide.

It is heartening to see how, over the last fifteen years, kinship care has been recognised and is gaining fuller recognition as part of government policy. When I did my first study of it in Plymouth in 1999, it was not nearly so well understood as it is now.

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by David Pitcher

The truth is however, that kinship care can also be difficult and complicated. As a Children’s Guardian, I see this every day. As family relationships are realigned, tensions can increase and old difficulties can re-emerge.

I remember waking up in the early hours of the morning and writing a proposal for this book. I had just attended a conference at which the positive aspects of kinship care had been [quite rightly] emphasised. Politicians and policy makers had been present, and this emphasis was needed. However, I know that unless a more rounded picture could be developed, it would not be fair to families who experience difficulties with kinship care. The rhetoric would ultimately not ring true, either for family members or for professionals working with real cases.

The aim of this book is to deepen the discussion about kinship care by addressing many of the issues which arise in the real world, but which – although we see them every day in practice – are curiously absent from the literature.

I hope that each chapter will be a launch pad for further discussion, debate [including disagreement!!] and research, and for developing our understanding of families.’

Inside Kinship Care is now available to order from the JKP website.

What is it like to be a Life Story Work Consultant? From JKP authors Katie Wrench and Lesley Naylor.

Katie Wrench and Lesley Naylor, authors of the new Life Story Work with Children Who are Fostered or Adopted, give their fascinating insight into a day in the life of a life story work consultant.

Life Story Work with Children Who are Fostered or Adopted cover

Life Story Work with Children Who are Fostered or Adopted

A Day in the Life…

Katie: 8.30 Arrive at work and try to catch up with emails. Reply to a birth mother who has reluctantly agreed to meet to support me with information gathering for her son’s life story. Need to book a room for a couple of hours, anticipating that she will need to express her feelings about the legal proceedings and the role of Social Care in her family life before I will be able to explore more positive stories about the child and their family life. Mindful of what a big decision it has been for her to meet with me, but also a little apprehensive about how I’ll manage strong feelings in the room.

Katie: 10.00 Session with an eight year old looked after boy and his foster carer. We are three sessions into a therapeutic life story intervention. I decide to assess the child’s emotional literacy. He is a big football fan – plays and has a season ticket to watch his local team – so I use footballing magazines to encourage him to create some Mood Boards. Together the three of us trawl through the magazines looking for images of footballers that express a range of basic human emotions – happiness, sadness, anger. I encourage the child to identify the feelings and he uses me and his carer as able assistants to cut the images out ready to stick onto his boards. I am surprised by how well he manages with this task. He is not a very articulate child and it would be easy to assume because of his history that he would struggle to identify non verbal communications, including recognising facial expressions in others. We create boards that will be a great tool later in the sessions when it will be important to support him to express feelings about events he has experienced in his birth family. This is also a good opportunity to get to know more about what is important to him in the here and now. The foster carer is invaluable here in reinforcing his strengths and sharing successes he has experienced in placement. I come out of the session feeling energised and privileged to have been able to share and celebrate his achievements.

Lesley: 11.30 Life story clinic appointment. This is a chance for social workers to discuss a piece of life story work they are doing with a young person, whether it’s for a baby about to be adopted or with an 18 year old who has spent his whole childhood in care.

The social worker comes in full of enthusiasm and questions, which is always a good start. She’s working with a 14 year old boy who has had many short term placements and a very muddled up idea of why he came into care at the age of four. He desperately wants to know more. We start by trying to unpick the tasks in this piece of work; thinking about the whole thing can be rather daunting, especially when it’s only one of so many other jobs of the social worker. We think about where the information for the story can come from and who should be approached. I encourage the social worker to look not only at the official Social Care story to be found in the files but to find out who else knew this boy and what alternative stories could they tell? Family members, nursery and school staff, previous foster carers may all help to bring this boy’s story to life for him. Funny stories; moving stories; things we will never find in the files-and so important.

Then we move on to the time spent with the child and what to actually ‘do’. I want the social worker to consider activities to help the child to feel safe so that he is supported to both tell and hear his story. We plan some activities in the ‘here and now’ such as likes/dislikes, what this boy is good at, what his safe place would be like. We move on to thinking about giving the child a space to reflect on his own memories of his past. This is so important in order to know where to take the work and to assess how able the child is to access his thoughts and feelings about what happened to him. I suggest the activity of sculpting to help the boy express his views on past and current relationships. Having a bag of objects for him to use as symbols of the people who are or have been important in his life creates a 3D genogram which can tell us a lot about how he views his world.

I think this is enough for now and the social worker goes away hopefully feeling more confident and armed with some practical ideas. I felt the session went well but I always wonder whether I touched on all the points I needed to or gave too much information and overwhelmed the social worker. It always feels good to be able to share my experience and knowledge with new workers and one of the advantages of the clinic is that she can always come back as the work progresses.

Katie: 1.00 Meeting with the Steering Group looking at how IT services can support Leeds social workers in the life story process. A new IT service has been commissioned and we are looking at what system requirements we can request that will provide some structure around the process. I am keen to emphasise the need to avoid a manualised approach that ignores the importance of the relationship between the child and worker/carer in the life story process and to highlight the need to personalise the life story for every child. That said, I’m relieved that some thought is being given at a senior level to how as a local authority we can ensure that all looked after children have timely access to high quality life story work – both in terms of process and end product. This new system will save a lot of time for workers by locating all information relevant to life story work including photographs and video as well as text together.

Katie & Lesley: 3.00  Meeting to discuss the training to be delivered in the summer to social workers and social work assistants who are engaging children and young people in life story work. We review the evaluations from the last training to look at areas where we can improve on the material we deliver. A priority for social workers is accessing support in sharing difficult information with children and we think about how we might create a resource that will provide some guidance and structure around common concerns such as domestic abuse, drug and alcohol misuse and parental mental health issues. As always it is important to stress that any information sharing needs to take into account the child’s chronological age, cognitive and emotional abilities and developmental stage.

We both feel very passionately about training delivery and really enjoy engaging with social workers around a subject we feel should have a much higher profile for all looked after children.

At the end of the day we reflect together on our growing understanding of the relevance of life story work in supporting children’s recovery from experiences of trauma and abuse. We are realising that we are increasingly using a therapeutic life story approach as the first intervention before considering our more traditional therapeutic training as art and play therapists.

You can find out more about Katie and Lesley’s book and order your copy here.

Adoption and Fostering recommended books for Parents

If you’re an adoptive/foster parent or prospective parent, we’ve put together this booklet of new and bestselling titles you might find interesting. Feel free to browse, share and email the booklet with anyone you think might be interested.

 

If you’d like to print off a copy of the booklet, simply click here to download and print.

Working with or supporting young people who self-harm

In this article Professor Carol Fitzpatrick gives her top tips for adults working with and supporting young people who self-harm whether you’re a parent, teacher, youth worker or psychologist. Recognising self-harm amongst young people and how to approach this topic with sensitivity can be difficult. Carol Fitzpatrick’s new book  A Short Introduction to Understanding and Supporting Children and Young People Who Self-Harm guides the reader through what self-harm is, how to recognise it, and how best to respond.


Self-harm and suicidal behaviours are increasingly common in young people, but are often hidden problems. Most young people who self-harm say it gives them some relief from unbearably painful emotions or numbness. Most say they are not suicidal, but a small number are truly suicidal, and it is known that young people who repeatedly self-harm are at increased risk of dying by suicide.

Adult support can be very helpful to a young person who is troubled, and it is often underestimated. Such adult support might be provided by a relative, a youth worker, a teacher, a coach – any adult who has an interest in the young person. Actively listening if the young person does want to talk is very helpful. Sometimes contact with and interest shown by someone who is less emotionally involved is much more acceptable.

An adult who ‘keeps an eye out’ for the young person, who checks in with them regularly, who may have a shared interest, and who does not expect deep conversations about how they are feeling, may provide invaluable support, often without knowing they are doing so. This is particularly so for young men, who find it notoriously difficult to talk about their feelings.

Keeping communication going can be a struggle, but self-harm can be seen as a form of communication that all is not well for the young person. Calmly stating what you have noticed helps to let the young person know you are aware that things are not easy for them. Don’t expect the young person to open up and talk about their feelings, but simply registering your concern without being too intrusive can be supportive.

Remaining calm is helpful, but is easier said than done. For teachers, who are often aware that a student is self-harming, knowing the school’s policy and being able to discuss the situation with colleagues can provide invaluable support.

Formal help, such as counselling or attendance at a mental health service will be needed for young people whose difficulties are seriously interfering with their health or their ability to get on with life, or where there is a significant risk of suicide. It can be very difficult to get young people to attend such services, but parents can do a lot to encourage attendance.

Mentioning your concerns based on what you have observed, rather on what you think the young person may be feeling, seems to work better. Be prepared for an angry denial that there are any problems, and try not to take personally hurtful responses such as ‘you’re the one with the problem- if it wasn’t for you I’d be fine’. A helpful response to that type of remark is to agree that they might be right, and that is one of the reasons why you will be jointly seeking help. Try not to get drawn into a lengthy argument, and be prepared to keep any appointment you have made – even if you have to attend without the young person in the first instance.

Looking after your own health and well-being is important if you are a parent or carer of someone who is self-harming. This may be far from your mind, but by doing so you provide a good role model for the young person, as well as keeping your own spirits up. Exercise, healthy eating and relaxing, all help with this. The most up-to-date research shows that most young people who have self-harmed in adolescence are no longer self-harming by the time they reach young adulthood. This is encouraging, and offers hope to those who care for and about these troubled young people.