Children’s services aren’t placing enough emphasis on life work in helping adopted and fostered children

life workJoy Rees discusses the importance of life work in helping children to understand their personal stories and experiences, but says that too many children’s services lack enough time to carry out this vital work.  Her article has been adapted from her new book, Life Work with Children Who are Fostered or Adopted, which emphasises that life work is best achieved using a collaborative approach.

As a social work practitioner, manager and trainer, I have worked directly and indirectly with children in care throughout my career.  Most of these children were living with, or about to move to, permanent substitute families.  Many were placed years prior to my involvement, and it was with the benefit of hindsight that I began to reflect on the purpose of life work and the effect that this had on the children I met. Continue reading

Christmas can be a tough time for children who have experienced trauma. How can we help them to enjoy the festive period?

child trauma christmas

Betsy de Thierry, author of The Simple Guide to Sensitive Boys and The Simple Guide to Child Trauma, explains how Christmas isn’t necessarily a happy time for all children, especially those who have experienced trauma.

Television adverts and social media are full of happy families at this time of year. Tables are laden with delicious food, presents can be found under trees and all around everyone is smiling. Beneath this image, however, there are many children who, for various emotional reasons and past traumatic experiences, can find the contrived festive spirit overwhelming.

For those who care for a child who fits this description, I thought I’d highlight a few challenges and potential triggers to be aware of during Christmas.

  1. Adult expectations that all emotions will be positive

As parents and carers we do love it when our photos make us look like a happy family.  We enjoy dressing up our kids in Christmas jumpers and taking photos that make us look way more perfect, peaceful, harmonious and happy than perhaps the reality is.

Children who have experienced trauma can pick up on a parent’s anxiety for everything to go ‘perfectly’. They are often hyper-vigilant which means that they notice the small detail of your facial expressions, others emotions, smells, sights and sounds – such as a raised eyebrow – because their subconscious has been trained to notice such things in order to survive unpredictable frightening scenarios. Whilst it has been a survival strategy to pre warn them about anything frightening about to happen, it also means that they can see clearly in your eyes the look of hope, fear and uncertainty as you speak about the plans for Christmas celebrations. They want to please you so they may try and be all that you want them to be- but the cost to them can be high. If they feel that your need for perfection and a ‘happy Christmas’ is important for their ‘survival’ then they may deny their own struggles to focus on your needs, which could lead to a volcanic eruption of negative emotions at some point as they will be struggling to hold all their strong emotions internally for too long.

As a tip, it can be helpful to laugh together at the media’s image of Christmas and talk about how many feelings all the adults and children can have at Christmas. It’s always helpful to tell stories of when you were a child and received a weird or unexpected present and how you navigated the expectations and feelings you felt. Laughter at expectations is important and can dilute the pressure that can be felt.

2.  Overwhelming feelings of happiness, loss, sadness, excitement all at the same time

For almost every child, Christmas is a time of experiencing lots of different emotions. Most children will feel excited and hopeful and then on the day of presents will feel happy alongside short, sharp moments of awkwardness, disappointment and sadness that a few presents were not received or weren’t quite right.

For children who are struggling from trauma, these emotions will be significantly stronger but can also be coupled with a strong feeling of loss. Loss seems to be a strong emotion at Christmas; in an environment where things ‘should be perfect’, the loss of a family member, their birth family, a life experience, or a loss of innocence can be felt powerfully, although sometimes on an implicit subconscious level. The strong feelings of loss, which can be felt as sadness and anger, can be overwhelming in the context of ‘happy people’. Somehow the contrast can feel explosive. To add to the cocktail of strong emotions is the most potent of all feelings, which is guilt and shame.

Guilt and shame is often carried at the core of traumatised children as they feel the weight of self-blame for what they have experienced, despite the obvious fact for us that they never caused or deserved anything that happened to them. Shame is the sense that they are bad, dirty, worthless people at the core of who they are. Christmas can feel so overwhelming that their shame levels can rise because they feel that they will probably be ‘the one to ruin everything’ and make everyone unhappy. This can create anxiety or terror, which can lead to some children emotionally exploding before Christmas events have even begun.

3. Relatives commenting on how they look, small talk and expected hugs

Children who have been through trauma can sometimes feel confused about adult requests (‘oh give your granny a hug’) and ‘small talk ‘conversations (what a lovely, happy chap you are!”). When there are unfamiliar relatives who hold expectations such as hugs, it can feel like being traumatised. Trauma can be defined as experiencing powerlessness and terror at the same time. A child could feel powerless (inability to say no) and terror (strong fear) when adults ask them to hug, tickle them or tease them. We need to be able to explain to children that they can say ‘no thank you’ and be confident in ‘being shy’ because that is a normal response to such demands. It’s also helpful if we can chat to relatives and other adults who may visit and explain that, for safeguarding reasons, we are teaching our children that they can take the lead on their own body and say ‘no’ when they want to.  We can also explain that sometimes children may not engage in small talk because they are learning how to be authentic in their conversations and so may not say ‘the right thing’.  It can also be important to point out that children certainly don’t like being teased or commented on because they are children with real emotions and sensitivities.

4. Needing to pretend they like the presents they are given

This is fairly obvious but can be a huge pressure for children to navigate. They see the look of hope on the present giver and don’t want to disappoint whilst also feeling a sense of disappointment themselves. Let’s be kind to children who are honest and have emotions that are authentic and enable them to process negative feelings in a way that ends well and gives them a life time of skill.

5. A strange fat man (Father Christmas) is coming into my bedroom while I am sleeping

As an adult I would not be keen to think that an old man is coming to my bedroom at night while I am sleeping. It doesn’t make me feel safe. I have no idea why we think children would be ok with this! If your child doesn’t sleep around the Christmas season, it could be due to fear about this experience. They may feel too much shame to tell you as others seem so excited about it, but actually the feelings of anxiety can rise leading up to this ‘special night’. For those who have been sexually abused, by a man at night coming into their bedroom, it would seem obvious that they may not be feeling that relaxed. Popping the fantasy bubble about Father Christmas can be the kindest thing you can do to some children!

If you would like to read more articles like Betsy’s and hear the latest news and offers on our Adoption, Fostering and Social Care books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Our bodies’ hidden strengths – Resilience and love

This blog was written by Hidden Strength’s Children’s Series co-author C.C. Alicia Hu. The books are available November 21, 2017 for therapeutic use with children ages 4-10 who have experienced trauma or a frightening situation. Read more about each title and pre-order below:

How Little Coyote Found His Secret Strength

Bomji and Spotty’s Frightening Adventure

How Sprinkle the Pig Escaped the River of Tears

by C.C. Alicia Hu

Before we can say “no,” our legs kick and set boundaries.

Before we can say “more,” our hands pull and grab for what we need.

Reclaiming our bodies’ hidden strengths empowers all of us.

Nevertheless, in our modern society, we are often disconnected from our bodies. We turn our body-mind into a machine, like a “car” or a “computer,” so we can control or manage our self for performance enhancement. Maybe we “perform” well, yet, we pay a price.

In the field of psychiatry and psychotherapy, for a long time, we labeled many of the body’s innate defense strategies as “symptoms” or “problems” – our capacity to disconnect and dull the pain, a symptom of “dissociation.” Our ability to quiver and shake to discharge the muscle intensity is a sign of weakness or anxiety.

Bring our bodies’ hidden strengths to enhance our resilience

In the Hidden Strengths Therapeutic Storybooks, three intertwined stories and four major animal characters show how our bodies’ possess the hidden strengths to protect our self. In addition, three adult-like characters demonstrate how to provide companionship that won’t overwhelm the major animal characters’ vulnerable nervous system that resulted from traumatic stress.

In each book, after the therapeutic story, there are two sections designed to provide structural prompts for adults to engage in dialogue and exploration with the child. This “expressive phase” is the key to facilitating the child in communicating their own feelings and creating their own stories. What makes our books unique is that we include embodied play activities to help the child process the stories on the basic sensory-motor level.

Using the metaphorical animal characters for teens and adults

These stories are not only therapeutic tools for children ages 4 to 10. These stories can also be used as metaphors to communicate with teens and adults.

Last week, I was presenting part of the story, “Bomji and Spotty’s Frightening Adventure” at a local grassroots, peer-support recovery center. Adult audiences in recovery from mental illness and substance abuse intuitively got the idea that, inside, we are Bomji the Rabbit, who tend to freeze, as well as Spotty the Cat, who tends to fight.

One participant shared that “sit on ready” is an important coping skill in African American culture. The capacity to be vigilant without moving helped her to survive her childhood.

The metaphorical animal characters made it easy for teens and adults to develop compassion toward their inner child. As children, we oftentimes act without thinking like Spotty the Cat. We are still and invisible to avoid danger like Bomji the Rabbit. We cry like Sprinkle the Pig and we overwhelm our caregivers. We submit like Wimpy the Coyote in order to fly under the radar.

Love: self-compassion toward our hidden strengths

From children to teens to adults, one key element in recovery is to cultivate self-compassion. In the Hidden Strengths Therapeutic Storybooks, we hope to help all readers embrace their bodies’ hidden strengths as a way to enhance self-compassion.

Once, I shared a draft of Bomji the Rabbit and Spotty the Cat with a Vietnam veteran who still suffered from the shame of freezing and wanting to run away in a major battle. In reality, he successfully executed his duty; however, he had a hard time forgiving the “weak” part of him. Understanding that motionless defense (e.g., freeze and collapse) is just as natural and valuable as active defense (e.g., fight and flight) brought him a tremendous sense of relief.

Another time, I shared the same story with a teen girl who engaged in self-cutting as a way to cope with inner turbulence. She was able to identify how she also froze when her external environment became too overwhelming and out of control. She was then able to find her own metaphor for her own fearful, vulnerable part without engaging in blaming.

Helping the reader to accept all the different parts of themselves is what we want these books to achieve, through revelation of the development of self-compassion. Before we can accept our angry fighting part as well as our frozen fearful part, it is helpful if we start seeing these natural capacities as our bodies’ hidden strengths. The act of self-compassion includes recognizing the diverse, creative survival strategies in our bodies. Yes, we are fundamentally resilient, even when we are young and small. Our bodies have always possessed these hidden strengths!

For more information, author events, and to follow the Hidden Strengths Series, check out the authors’ Facebook:





Join our Adoption and Fostering mailing list for a free catalogue

adoption fosteringSign up to our mailing list to receive a free copy of our new Adoption and Fostering catalogue for parents, carers, professionals and children.

Our adoption and fostering resources offer valuable guidance on important issues including attachment and trauma parenting, foster and residential care, life story work, education and schools, creative therapies, transracial adoption, parenting teens, special educational needs and more.  We also have a great set of therapeutic children’s books to help them manage big feelings.

To request a free print copy of the JKP complete catalogue of books on Adoption and Fostering, sign up to our mailing list below. Be sure to click any additional areas of interest so we can notify you by email about exciting new titles you might like.

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Chaplains are worthwhile because….

Karen Murphy has worked in hospice chaplaincy for twenty years and has represented chaplaincy at national and international level. She is President of the Association of Hospice and Palliative Care Chaplains (AHPCC). Here, she argues the case for hospice chaplains. 

The Association of Hospice and Palliative Chaplains held our annual conference in May and considered the following statement: ‘chaplains are worth having because….’ As a group of skilled, trained and experienced chaplains, we had no problem in accounting for our role and purpose in a palliative care setting. There is a view, however, that in these secular days, the role of the chaplain is no longer valid or necessary. The daily conversations that chaplains share with patients and families soon render this argument redundant.

A patient shared with me recently that she had never had a religious faith, although she often thought it would be of value. Her long held view was ‘when you are gone, you are gone’. Now, facing her mortality having being diagnosed with terminal cancer, her thinking has shifted and for the first time, she is considering her life against an absence of faith. Our conversations are not concerned with my attempts to convert her to my way of thinking or persuade her to find a faith or belief, but to support her in this deeply challenging time. I can enable her to think through her questions and listen. At this point the value of chaplaincy becomes clearer as we offer spiritual listening, which is very different to counselling or social work listening. Chaplains have the capacity to instigate and support conversations that get to the root of someone’s spiritual distress and need. We are not afraid to ask the difficult questions about life’s meaning and purpose, and in my experience, patients seek out those with a belief in order to make sense of the spiritual disturbance and trauma experienced. A patient’s relative expressed this very clearly in a recent conversation, saying: ‘My mother, in her last weeks of life, wasn’t concerned with whether or not the chemotherapy had been successful, or what drugs she would need to be pain free. She trusted the doctors for this. What she valued was the time of the chaplain to help her think about life’s meaning and how to live and die well’.

There is a view that chaplaincy services are a waste of time and resources in a stretched and under –funded health service. The rationale for this view suggests that if patients identify spiritual need, they are likely to have religious faith, therefore will have the support of a local faith community. This view ignores the fact that patients faced with a terminal prognosis, while describing themselves as non-religious, will experience spiritual distress which is unfamiliar and frightening. Chaplains are an essential tool of our health care services which provide distinctive and relevant care for patients who are asking the big questions of life which have never been asked before. The positive impact of chaplaincy based on evidence and research is already emerging, with projects demonstrating the need for fewer GP appointments, reduced medication and a greater sense of well-being to live in the face of impending death. This body of research is growing and will offer to those cynical of chaplaincy, a quantitative and qualitative foundation for the chaplain’s continuing contribution to palliative care services.

For more information on Chaplaincy in Hospice and Palliative Care and to buy a copy of the book, follow this link

Why not follow us on Facebook @JKPReligion or on Twitter @JKPBooks for more content from our authors.  

Simon McCarthy-Jones talks to Human Givens

McCarthySimon McCarthy-Jones, author of Can’t You Hear Them?, talks to Human Givens about what is known – and what has been ignored – in explaining the experience of hearing voices. 

The experience of ‘hearing voices’, once associated with lofty prophetic communications, has fallen low. Today, the experience is typically portrayed as an unambiguous harbinger of madness caused by a broken brain, an unbalanced mind, biology gone wild. Yet an alternative account, forged predominantly by people who hear voices themselves, argues that hearing voices is an understandable response to traumatic life-events. There is an urgent need to overcome the tensions between these two ways of understanding ‘voice hearing’.

Read the interview here


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How to make an effective special guardianship assessment

special guardianship

With the number of Special Guardianship Orders (SGO) on the sharp rise, the need for thorough analytical assessments has never been greater when deciding whether to place a child with a potential special guardian. Here Joanne Alper and colleagues draw on experts in the field to provide information and guidance in the promotion of improved analysis when undertaking these complex assessments.

Click here to read the extract

Joanne is the author of Assessing Adoptive Parents, Foster Carers and Kinship Carers, Second Edition. Now fully updated and expanded to cover the assessment of kinship carers and special guardians, the book enables professionals to establish a meaningful understanding of parenting capacity and what it takes to support a child with a history of trauma, loss or hurt.

If you would like to read more articles like Joanne’s and hear the latest news and offers on our Adoption and Fostering books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Counsellors working with young people often find it can feel like messy, complex work. What helps when counsellors are stuck?

counsellorNick Luxmoore, author of Practical Supervision for Counsellors who Work with Young People, explores the positive impact that good supervision sessions can have on counsellors who are struggling to break down barriers with young people in their care.

It’s Nikki’s first day as a counsellor and she’s about to see four young people. “Help!” she says, panicking. “What am I supposed to do?” Elsewhere, the girl Stephanie’s been seeing for counselling has ripped up a box of tissues and stormed out of the room, Marvin’s complaining that his counselling waiting list is getting longer and longer, and all the young people at Maggie’s school appear to be cutting themselves or feeling suicidal….

However experienced or inexperienced they may be, all professional counsellors are obliged to have regular meetings with a supervisor: someone with whom they can untangle the “stuckness” that develops in their thinking and relationships. Most are only too glad of the facility and most counsellors are able to choose their supervisor, someone who may or may not already have experience of working with young people. Continue reading

Emotions of Suicide Loss

Reaching out to fellow Aspies, Lisa Morgan proffers her insight and advice to ensure that others on the autism spectrum don’t have to face suicide loss alone. Her book, Living Through Suicide Loss with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD): An Insider Guide for Individuals, Family, Friends, and Professional Responders is an honest look at the immediate aftermath of suicide loss, how emergency responders can help, and the long-term implications of living with suicide loss for individuals on the autism spectrum.

“A suicide loss can elicit such intense emotions that a person with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) can be quickly overwhelmed and flooded with out of control feelings.  The complicated grief, possible trauma, and relationship difficulties are some of the reasons for the emotional flooding a person with AS might experience.  I have experienced emotional flooding many times since my husband completed suicide in 2015.  I am going to share with you the coping skills that worked for me as I continue to understand and gain control over my troublesome emotions.”

  • Complicated Grief

“Complicated grief is grief that is coupled with anger, rejection, and feelings of guilt to name a few. Anger is the lion of my emotions. It’s wild, ferocious, and can maul my heart before I even know what is happening. I have learned to let it out slowly in small, manageable bits.  There are different ways this can be done. The easy way is to recognize when you are feeling angry and go with it while still maintaining control. Hit a pillow, punch the couch, or the mattress on the bed until you are spent and have no energy left. Go for a brisk walk or a run. For me, the coping skill is to do something physical. I have found emotions caused by rejection and feelings of guilt can be reasoned away somewhat by logic. Accepting that the decision to complete suicide was not up to you, but was responsibility of the person who died by suicide is the first logical step. I worked at accepting my husband’s decision and releasing myself from feeling any rejection and guilt.  There were uncomfortable emotions I had to sort out, but the comfortable logic of reason helped very much. It doesn’t happen overnight. Healing from complicated grief is a process that will take time. It’s an investment in a future of hope, happiness, and health.”

  • Possible Trauma

“There is possible trauma involved in losing a loved one to suicide. There are people who witness the suicide, find their loved one after the suicide, or who reach their loved one in time to try to save them, only to have their loved one still not make it. The trauma added to the complicated grief can bring out confusing emotions and flood an adult with AS. When I experience emotional flooding I shut down. My senses are extremely hyper-sensitive. I can’t control my anxiety which leads to lots of crying, and all I want to do is to withdraw inside of myself. When my emotions flood, I try to reach out to someone who can ground me and help me to regain control. It’s usually very helpful to have someone repeat truths until I can feel that my emotions are calming down. If I can’t find someone to reach out to, I can stay emotionally flooded for a long time. Instead, I try to draw, write, listen to music, take walks, and use the coping skills I know have worked before until I feel better. It can be difficult to actually start using the coping skills, but with determination it can be done.   One thing that I have learned with all the emotional flooding I’ve experienced is it will dissipate eventually. The more coping skills I use, the faster I have felt better.”

  • Relationship Difficulties

“I have yet to completely understand how some relationships disintegrate for the survivor of suicide loss at a time when those relationships are needed more than ever before. It’s a painful absence for sure. I had friends tell me they would stay with me no matter what I was going through and then- leave soon after the worst experience of my life. As an adult with AS, trust is extremely important, yet dreadfully hard to do because of my early school years where I learned to not trust anyone. The reason I can still trust after some relationships died with my husband, is because I still have some friends that were true to their word and stayed with me the whole time even until now. The emotions of losing the relationships I did—were painful, confusing, and left a big hole of emptiness in me.  The pain that comes with relational loss is deep. I thought those friends would be my friends for life. Acceptance is the key to coping with lost relationships. Remembering that the friends who left decided to go and there’s nothing I could do about it. Is it difficult to accept? Yes! Is it impossible to accept? No.”

“Nothing that has happened since the loss of my husband to suicide has been easy. Knowing that the aftermath of suicide loss is terribly hard has helped me to take up the challenge to succeed, to thrive, and to move forward. I’m worth it, you’re worth it, and we all matter.”

To learn more about Lisa Morgan’s book or to purchase a copy, click here.

Living Through Suicide Loss is a valuable addition to suicide grief literature. Morgan’s account of the challenges she faced, following her husband’s death, will resonate deeply with all suicide loss survivors.  The special challenges she documented as someone with Asperger’s syndrome, will sensitize and empower all involved in such tragedies.”

—Ronnie Susan Walker MS, LCPC, Founder: Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors

“The excellent and much-needed book deals with the specific issues—emotional and practical—faced by people on the autism spectrum when a loved one completes suicide. Written from a personal, lived experience perspective, this sensitive and valuable book validates the experience of readers and helps them to manage what is essentially unmanageable.

—Jeanette Purks, autism self-advocate and author of
The Guide to Good Mental Health on the Autism Spectrum


No matter how young the child, honesty is the best way…

That is according to Nathalie Slosse, author of Big Tree is Sick, who tells the story of how the book came to be, as well as laying out her case for complete honesty as the best way to engage with children when helping them to understand serious illness.

In surveys on what values ​​we consider important, honesty is always highly rated, usually even as the most important quality. However, when it comes to honestly confiding something serious to our children, we often want to spare them the grief that the harsh truth can bring. It is a dilemma I struggled with when I was treated for breast cancer, and it’s why I want to provide a resource to others in the same situation today.

Sometimes people ask me “Did breast cancer change your way of life?” I wish I could reply that this was not the case; it’s true that prior to my diagnosis I followed my heart when it came to important life choices. But if I’m honest, I must admit that without the painful episode in 2007, I would not be doing what I do now. The battle I had with breast cancer as a mum of a two year old boy helped me discover that I can help people find happiness in difficult circumstances. In 2010 I founded the association Talismanneke to further explore that path.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Continue reading