Rotherham abuse scandal: what was life like for a victim?

rotherhamOften described as the “biggest child protection scandal in UK history”, the organised child sexual exploitation in Rotherham saw around 1,400 children abused from 1997 – 2013 (according to the Jay Report). The scale of the child protection scandal has led professionals responsible for safeguarding children in other regions to recognise the extent of child abuse in their area and consider how to respond efficiently.

On the 25th July, we hosted an event at Kingston University to launch Child Sexual Exploitation after Rotherham, a book written by two whistleblowers of the case, Adele Gladman and Dr Angie Heal. Adele Gladman is an experienced safeguarding children trainer and consultant, and previously ran the research and development pilot funded by the Home Office which was referred to in both the Jay and Casey reports during the Rotherham case. Dr Angie Heal was a strategic analyst working for South Yorkshire police who has since contributed to Panorama documentaries. Both gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee for the Rotherham case in 2014 and they continue to assist with ongoing investigation and inquiries.

Also joining us on the day, we heard talks from Anne Longfield OBE, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Professor Alexis Jay OBE, author of the Independent Inquiry report into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham, and T, a survivor of Rotherham case.

Known as T to keep her identity private, this brave individual came to the seminar for this book in order to give a talk about what had happened to her. Coming from a large family, T spoke of her previously normal life before the abusive events that followed. In the recording below, you can listen to her talk about what life was like living through the abuse she encountered from such a young age, and the appalling trial that followed.

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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Three Steps to Improving the Safeguarding of Children

Ofsted’s October 2014 report on the outcomes of the first 33 inspections under their new framework showed that over two thirds of children’s services where either “inadequate” or “require improvement”. Offering a pragmatic and achievable approach to assisting services to build their capacity to meet public, political and professional expectations in his book The Common-Sense Guide to the Safeguarding of Children, author Terry McCarthy outlines his three-step approach to improving the safeguarding of children.

Social workers are expected to enable fundamental and sustained change with parents and carers who often have long-term and entrenched issues relating to their capability, behaviour and life choices. These most commonly concern alcohol and drug use, violence, criminal activity, learning disability, mental health problems and serious emotional difficulties. Often more than one of these elements needs to be addressed to ensure the safety and welfare of children. The challenge is made even more difficult by families often being unwelcoming or fearful of agencies’ involvement, leading to them being evasive or hostile.

Whilst most social workers are highly committed, these complexities, demands and expectations take their toll with many being overwhelmed, stressed and anxious. This can lead to low morale, uncertainty and poor confidence. The impact on the continuity and long term stability of services is often felt through high staff turnover, sickness and shortened careers. For those who do remain in practice the complexities can cause misjudgements, tunnel vision, lack of focus and ineffective practice with practitioners feeling unable to challenge situations or creatively engage with families. This can also lead to process driven practice which meets procedure and policy requirements, committing considerable energy and resources without necessarily leading to significant benefit to children.

McCarthy---Improving-the-Safeguarding-of-Children

The Three Step approach considers how safeguarding agencies, particularly children’s services, can work within available resources to make a real difference. This does not require a major ground shift but rather can be achieved through the accumulative effect of a series of small, easily implemented measures.

Step one: Establish a culture which enables and leads 

This culture should identify how organisational values, attitudes and behaviours are needed to model good parenting. This includes having healthy relationships, good communication, clarity of purpose, conflict resolution, constructive use of authority and creative approaches. It is argued that the “managerial” approach, which focuses on procedure, giving instruction and monitoring compliance, is limited and unlikely to adequately inspire, support and lead practitioners through the highly complex challenge of identifying and address the mistreatment to children.

Step two: Develop a stable, skilled and confident workforce

This presumes that most social workers are reasonably clear about what should be done and why this is required to safeguard children, however often struggle with how they can bring about the required outcomes. Effective practice requires practitioners to be supported to develop focus, understand the complexities and address anxiety which can overwhelm them. The practitioner skills outlined in the book are an expansion of the Performance Capability Framework and it is argued that a blend of supervision, coaching, consultation and case auditing can create a learning environment where best practice is likely to flourish.

Step three: Enable families to change.

This sets out thirteen aspects of effective work with families to ensure that risks to children and the fundamental reasons for these are clearly understood, leading to effective planning which focuses on addressing solutions and ensuring real progress within reasonable timescales. This requires honest, effective and direct relationships with families and partner agencies including clarity about how meetings and involvement with the family and professionals ensure that key aspects of the plan are progressed.

 Terry McCarthy  is a qualified social worker with over 30 years’ experience in children’s services. Read more about The Common-Sense Guide to Improving the Safeguarding of Children 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.

Top Ten Tips for the First Year of Placement

By Deborah Gray, MSW, MPA, clinical social worker specializing in attachment, grief and trauma, and author of Attaching in Adoption and Nurturing Adoptions.


Parents passionately want to succeed in raising emotionally healthy children. They also want to enjoy their little ones. When their children arrive later in infancy or childhood, most parents are well-aware that they are doing more careful parenting. They are nurturing not only to build a relationship, but to help mitigate any impact of losses or maltreatment.

What are reasonable things for parents to concentrate on during the first year home? How can parents do the best to enjoy their children? They do not want the pleasures of parenting their children dimmed by a chorus of cautions. On the other hand, they do want to make that first year a great start. Here are my TOP TEN hits for a great start to your relationship with your baby or child.

1. Spend ample time in nurturing activities.

The most significant process of the first year home is creating a trust relationship. Intentional and ample nurturing promotes this goal. Restrict your hours away from the little one. Do not leave your child for overnight trips for this first year.

Meet your little one’s needs in an especially sensitive manner. Feed on demand. Respond quickly to fussing. Allow the toddler or child to regress, bottle-feeding, rocking to sleep, lapsitting, and being carried. Let your child experience you as the safe person who is sensitively meeting her needs. Play little games that promote eye contact, like peekaboo, ponyride, and hide-and-seek. Make positive associations between yourself and food.

Rather than children becoming more dependent through this extra nurturing, they instead become trusting. Anxious people do not know who they can trust to help them. More secure individuals understand that they do not have to be perfect and that they can rely on significant others. Children who do not learn to depend on others tend to be anxious or emotionally constricted. Their “independence” is a false one, meaning that they do not trust others and can only rely on themselves. The child who has learned a healthy dependence is more secure in trying new things and venturing out. She always has a safe, home base to come back to—you!

2. Teach children to play with you.

Many little ones have missed the joys of play. Act as an amplifier, teaching toddlers and children the pleasure of play. Most children have missed the experience of having parents express joy as they played. Because of this, their reward centers were not stimulated. This restricted the association of exploration and play with pleasure. Set aside at least thirty minutes a day for play with your children. Younger children may want this in segments. Do not hesitate to use voice tones and expressions that are ones usually meant for infants and younger children.

If your child can already play, then continue to build your relationship through play. Shared enjoyment cements relationships. Make your family one that develops a pattern of having fun. Throughout life having fun as a family builds self-esteem.

While some children take off in play, others cannot stay engaged for long. Continue to stretch the more tentative child, engaging her in mutually enjoyable activities. Look for different sensory modalities that might feel safer or more interesting. For example, a boy who was afraid to play outdoors began to use sidewalk chalk with his mother, even though the grass seemed overwhelming. Gradually a ball was used on the sidewalk, and then onto the grass. Take things in steps if children are wary.

3. Talk to your child.

Parents of infants use exaggerated voice tones to emphasize important concepts. Their “amplifier system” helps children with attention to most important parts of the whole environment. After children move into the preschool age, some of this “cheerleader” amplification diminishes. Continue to use this brighter emotional tone with your child as she understands your shared world—even if she is not an infant.

Explain things to him, even though you might think that the meaning of what you are doing is obvious. Not only are you conveying information to him, you are revealing your view of the world to him. Your voice tones guide him to better understand the context. Be sure to use your fingers and gestures to point out important things to him. This helps him to both attend to and understand the meaning of the context around him. Early language not only teaches us words, but a way of understanding our world through the subjects selected for attention and their associated intonations, expressions, and gestures.

Most of us have an internal dialogue going on during the day. (Yes, we are actually talking to ourselves.) Simply make some of this internal language external. This is a typical activity for parents of infants. However, it tends to diminish as children get older. Since children have missed this early activity, parents should feel free to describe things as they would to an infant.

4. When toddlers or older children have behavior problems, use your body to stop them.

Be gentle, but be consistently and predictably competent in stopping negative behaviors. Do not use over the shoulder commands or across the room reminders. Stay within arm’s reach of the child, moving their hands, bodies, feet, to where you want them to go. Never tolerate hitting, kicking, or hurting. Some parents allow a child painful “exploration” of the parents’ faces. This is teaching that will have to be undone later. Gently move their bodies to where you want them to be. For example, if your little one is reaching for an item, move the child or the item. Use the voice for a back up. Do not remind or repeat several times. Instead, describe in a pleasant manner how precious or pretty the item appears to you—as you move your child. Teach boundaries of respect from the beginning.

Obviously, most parents will not be getting much done except parenting when their child is awake. Remind yourself that your primary job is parenting when your child is awake.

5. Get enough sleep, good food, and exercise to stay in a good mood.

Little ones who have been moved and/or neglected tend to be irritable, fussy, and hard to soothe. Parents use their own positive, well-regulated moods to help calm and engage these little ones. Your own emotional stability will help to steady your child’s moods. A depressed parent struggles to form a positive, secure attachment with her baby or child. Depression makes the parent emotionally less available. The parent who is tired, eating junk food, and inert by day’s end does not give a child a competent source of emotional regulation. Parents who find that their moods are slipping, even with good self-care, should see about counseling and/or an antidepressant. It is simply too hard to do this essential, nurturing parenting while being depressed.

Model respect for yourself by taking time for showers, good meals, and sleep.

6. Be part of an adoption support group.

The relationships between families are invaluable. The relationships can be emotional lifelines on hard days. If possible, find a mentor who is positive, and who likes you and your child. Ask her to be part of your circle of support. We all need to feel understood and authentically accepted. A mentor who can provide that sense of nurture for the parent helps the parent to be a good nurturer. The mentor relationship provides a sense of being heard and accepted, and tips and information. Parents are working harder emotionally when parenting a baby or child who has lived through uneven parenting. Parents need someone who cares for them. Sometimes this can be mutual support, and sometimes one-to-one.

7. Keep a calm, but interesting home.

Match the amount of stimulation in the home to the amount that is within the child’s ability to tolerate. Many children have been massively understimulated before they came to parents. Neglect massively understimulates children. They do not build neurology to process as much sensory stimulation. After adoption, their worlds can suddenly be overwhelming. Things are too bright, too loud, move too much, and tilt too much. Slow things down, buffering your baby or child to the extent that they can process the information coming their way. Often children who are overwhelmed by noise will begin shouting, or those overstimulated by too much movement will begin running with arms like windmills. Lay out predictable, consistent events for the day. Some children find the movement of the car to be disorienting. If your child is having difficulties, try a couple of days limiting the car, determining whether or not this makes a difference.

8. Explain to children basics of your relationships as they gain language.

For example, “A mother’s job is to love you. I will always come back home to you when I leave in the car to go shopping. You will live with me until you are as big as I am. I will not let anybody hurt you. I will never hurt you. We will always have enough food.” One mother told me of her son’s relief and better behavior when she told him that she would never allow others to hurt him. “Why didn’t I think to tell him the first year?” She questioned. “He was afraid every time we went to the mall. He has been thinking for two years that just anyone could haul off and hit him.” Another parent told me of the melting smile that her daughter gave her when she said that a mother’s job was to love her child. “I just assumed that she knew that. But she didn’t. She looked at my face much more after that.”

9. Do watch for signs of an exclusive attachment by the end of the first year.

Children should be seeking out their parents for affection and play. They should be showing off for positive attention. They should prefer being with the parent. They should show some excitement about time together. When hurt or distressed, the child should seek out the parent. In a secure attachment, the child will calm with the parent and accept soothing.

Trauma and traumatic grief are the common culprits when children are remaining wary, fearful, and controlling of their parents. Signs of trauma with younger children include regular night terrors, dissociation (child shuts off emotionally and stares away), scratching, biting, extreme moods, freezing in place, and destructiveness. Parents who see these symptoms should be finding a mental health counselor to help their child. If the child is under the age of three, the parent is given special parenting advice. Usually therapy with an experienced child therapist can begin not long after the age of three.

Do not have an artificial timeline of “fixed in a year,” for the preschooler or older child. Consider the year marker as the time it takes to really get to know your child—not to iron out any behavioral irregularities.

10. Enter your little one’s space—positively.

This often means getting low and looking up for eye contact. It means trying hard and trying patiently for a longer time. You are the one who has the responsibility of engaging your child positively. Do not use punitive techniques to try to build relationships. After all, no one wants to attach to a mean person. Instead, be strong, dependable, available, and kind. Veer away from advice that is strong, controlling, and mean in tone. Sensitive and kind parents gradually build empathy and security in their relationships with their children. That process takes time and the type of parenting that caused you to want to be a parent in the first place!

Maintain a sane schedule as you move into year two. Many parents decide that the first year is the marker until they can re-enter a “normal” schedule. Among family therapists there is national concern about the taxing schedule that Americans are considering “normal.” Resist this widespread but unhealthy pace. Continue to parent with margins of time that allow for sensitivity, with margins of emotional energy that allow for appreciation of those around you. Model a healthy, emotionally fulfilling lifestyle to your child.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

JKP attends the BASPCAN 12th National Congress in Belfast

Last month, JKP Commissioning Editor Steve Jones and I packed our bags, books and banners and headed to the beautiful main campus of Queen’s University Belfast for the British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect’s 12th National Congress.

Photo: BASPCAN 2012 was held at the beautiful Queen's University Belfast campus.

Photo: Spring in bloom at the beautiful Queen's University Belfast campus.


The weather was mercifully kind for a few snatched days and, with attendance of over 700 delegates and thanks to the BASPCAN organisers, this year’s congress was a great success.

The JKP stand was busy and we were pleased with the keen interest in our new titles, particularly those on child protection, neglect and working with families. Titles from our series of books on ‘Safeguarding Children Across Services‘ were snapped up, particularly Brigid Daniel’s book, Recognizing and Helping the Neglected Child, following her eloquent keynote. For anyone who missed us at the conference, or was not able to attend, you can view some of the titles we had on display here.

It was fantastic to see so many of our authors at the conference, including Nicky Stanley, Brigid Daniel, Anne Stafford, Julie Taylor, Cathy Humphreys, David Westlake, Danielle Turney, Stephen Pizzey, Jane Wonnacott, Emma Kelly, Dendy Platt and Angie Hart, many of whom were giving presentations relating to their books.

Steve Jones managed to meet and talk to a good number of prospective authors, but for those who wanted to make contact at the conference but missed him, Steve’s email is stephen.jones@jkp.com. You can also send him a message on Twitter @Steve_JKPBooks.

Finally, we’d like to offer our congratulations to Peter van der Linden, MSc, from the Netherlands who won our prize draw! A copy of Safeguarding Children Across Services by Carolyn Davies and Harriet Ward is on its way to you now.

We hope to see you at the next BASPCAN, and in the meantime do stay in touch. To keep up to date with information about new titles, related news and exclusive interviews and blog content, do sign up to our Social Work Newsletter.

You can also follow the latest new from JKP through our dedicated Social Work Facebook page and on Twitter.

Claudine Harris
Marketing Executive
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
May 2012

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Holiday Help for Your Anxious Child – by Deborah Gray

Here are some helpful tips for adoptive parents and foster carers to ensure that holidays are fun for everyone—especially for the anxious child.

By Deborah Gray, MSW, MPA, clinical social worker specialising in attachment, grief and trauma, and author of Attaching in Adoption and Nurturing Adoptions.


Anxious children like to know what their part is in any new event. Beforehand, make word pictures that describe the day’s events. For example, at Christmas you might create the following word picture:

“At the star lighting, your place will be on Poppi’s shoulders so that you can see! You will stay close as we walk down to ride in the horse-drawn carriage. You will hold your hot chocolate and I will hold my latte. We will walk together and smile. Then, we will take our turn on the carriage. You will ride between me and Poppi. After the ride, we will go home on the bus. You will sit between Poppi and me.”

Children need consistency. A regular schedule helps them to handle stimulation. Keep the daily schedule as similar as possible to the normal schedule.

Children also need to be participatory. Always alternate watching activities with interactive ones.

Children can be alarmed by crowds, noisy surroundings, and contact with strangers. During chaotic holiday events that involve lots of noise and crowds, check in with your child frequently, asking them if they want to continue to participate or if they are ready to go home. Taking a few moments out to calm them in the middle of the event also benefits anxious children.

Look at the calendar as a whole, blocking out times and days at home for re-regulating the family. Behaviors indicative of overstimulation are arguing, yelling, fighting, and irritability. Holiday memories of playing games at home under the Christmas tree lights are lovely ones. Not everything has to be done “on the go”.

Go to bed ½ hour earlier for a six-week period during the darkest days—parents too. It improves everyone’s mood.

If there are overnight guests and casual visitors to the home, do make sure that your child still has access to you without having to compete for your time. Let your child be part of the preparation for the guests: making place cards, washing the sinks, plumping pillows, etc.

Children often miss their birth relatives during holidays, especially if they have holiday-related memories with these relatives. Children with local birth siblings will want to visit. These visits happen best a few weeks before or after the holiday.

Family events may bring out adoption-related questions. Often children are observing that their cousins are being described as “just like so-and-so.” Talking about these issues ahead of time is a good idea. Be sure to bring this back to practicalities: What are the pros and cons of looking “just like so-and-so?” Are there other ways that families “claim” its members?

If the holiday is one for which children are given gifts, consider giving one gift per day. Let children have time to experience the gift instead of getting frantically overstimulated. Take time to play with your child.

Get physical. Children will be more relaxed if they get an hour of physical play a day. Go to the park or hit the swimming pool.

Take time to talk about, reflect on, and store positive holiday memories. Anxious children tend to “tag” anxious memories. Help them to process and hold onto holiday memories that are filled with family resonance and fun.

Advice for Parents and Carers: 

Understand your own feelings about each holiday. What really is important to you in the holiday? Is the holiday a religious one, spiritual one, traditional one, or materialistic one? Is your time being spent according to your priorities? What are you planning to do that does not fit into your priorities? Why?

Write down three things that you would most like to do with your child over the holidays. How will you get quiet, reflective time for yourself, which is necessary to keep your child regulated? Do you need to become ill to do this? Can you make another plan?

Write down three things that you will not over the holidays, or that you will do in alternating years. For example, I will bake this year, but not next. I will send cards or emails next year, but not this year. 

Think about what you need to do so that you do not over-extend yourself financially. What is “enough”? Consider this in advance so that you know when to stop giving, buying, doing, going, etc.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.