Sunday, 30 August 2015

Special Guardianship Orders

Special Guardianship Orders are a subject that have become closer to my heart in recent months. This is due to now having two friends who have taken a Grandparent role one step further and become Special Guardians of their grandchildren. I was privileged to be a referee for one of these friends during her assessment but it also raised concerns for me about the support she would receive from the Local Authority. Knowing the circumstances that led to a child protection order for the child and my concerns for her long term needs I highlighted these thoughts both with my friend and with her assessing Social Worker.  I was reassured, to a point, that the Social Worker was making recommendations for long term support post SGO but the cynic in me remains sceptical as to the delivery of the promises made as any statutory duty for post SGO support seems to be vague.

The role of Special Guardian can be very complex. The SG is generally a family member and may be responsible for facilitating face to face contact with the child's birth parent and managing the complexity of emotions that this might raise. If they are SG for their grandchild they probably also have the added concerns for the welfare of their own adult child and the potential emotional conundrum if their child needs accommodation in an emergency. This is known as the "capacity to protect". They will be the advocate for the child within possible family tensions. These are not issues an adopter generally faces because we (mostly) do not have face to face contact with birth parents . Originally the role of SG was created with older children in mind where there was an established relationship between the Guardian and the child but increasingly SGOs are being made for the under 2s and babies and also with relatives who do not have a previous relationship with the child. 

Hugh Thornbury, Chief Executive of Adoption UK, shared a report this week detailing a deep-dive investigation into SGOs within five different Local Authorities (LAs). I read the 38 page report with interest.

What I read did little to reassure me of a clear understanding of the role of the Special Guardian. The question I was initially interested in was has there been an increase in the number of SGOs granted since the judgements made by the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal in 2013.  What I learned was much more than the statistics for the rise in SGOs from 5% in 2010 to 11% in 2014 for children leaving the care system. I also learned that there has been a 54% decrease in the number of adoptions between 1 September 2013 and 30 June 2014 due, in part, to these Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judgements that have left the perception that higher thresholds are required when seeking adoption for children. I am left querying whether LAs are now applying for more SGOs rather than test the courts with adoption cases and worrying about all the children left in the care system without adoption plans because Social Workers are too scared of the court rulings to push for adoption orders.

The report highlights how much of a postcode lottery SGOs are in the UK with different procedures and expectations of each Local Authority and Family Courts. This is placing a huge pressure on cash strapped LAs to expertly assess SGO applicants often within very short timescales. Some LAs assess applicants initially as a Foster Carers where others adopt a far shorter assessment. It becomes clear from reading the report how much at the mercy of different courts the SWs are with no universal guidelines being followed regarding the granting of orders. The same can be noted for the preparation of applicants and for post SGO support. Issues of high importance if you consider that many children are coming through the care system on Child Protection Orders before moving to the home of their Special Guardian. Family Group Conferences are being used in some LAs to identify possible Guardians as early as possible but it was noted that often family members will not present themselves as applicants for fear of creating family tensions until it is clear that the only route forward for the child is removal from their birth parents. This can lead to very shortened timescales for the assessment of Special Guardians to keep within the time framework set out by the courts.

Worryingly the breakdown figures for SGOs, whilst relatively low, are significantly higher than for adoption (5.7% over 5 years compared to 0.72% for adoption over the same period) raising the question of whether this is due to pressures within the family and/or lack of support with specialist parenting issues. Some might also argue that an SGO is a cheaper option than keeping a child in long term foster care and the already patchy assessment criteria might mean inappropriate orders are granted. The report notes that adopters are far more likely to seek post adoption support from the LA and partner services than a Special Guardian. Is this because adopters are better prepared to accept that help may be necessary and there is less stigma attached for us?  Another concern is that over time courts are also seeing more SGOs challenged by birth parents. The Order is considered permanent but some Orders have now been successfully challenged which I'm sure will lead to anxiety amongst SWs when seeking these sorts of Orders.

So what does this mean for my friend? Worryingly the following statement confirmed my worse fears regarding ongoing support:

"It's appalling - there is no formal requirement for us to provide additional support ...[Government] need to build into regulations the same expectations of publicbodies as they do with adoption and looked after children - first choice school,access to CAMHS, access to a pot of money they can pull down for specific helpfor their children......"

After laughing to myself that anyone in the adoption field thinks they can access CAMHS easily, my hope after reading this report is that there will be a formalisation of the procedure for applying for SGOs. SWs surely need a framework within which to work that is universal within the courts, setting out clear criteria to be met for applicants? The issue of using SGOs in place of adoption needs to be addressed. It remains my opinion that children should only be placed for adoption if there are no suitable options within the family but we also need to remain vigilant to the fact that children coming through the courts from the care system are often traumatised and need specialist parenting. Is "good enough" parenting really good enough particularly if there is insufficient mandatory support post Order for Special Guardians. The question of what is in the child's long term security and best interests much remain at the forefront of everyone's minds. With that in mind it is blindingly obvious that children on a SGO should receive the same benefits as children in foster care or who have been adopted with first choice access to schools and access to the Adoption Social Fund and other support. 

I remain ever hopeful but increasingly more realistic about these hopes ever becoming reality.  The recent demise of BAAF and the court rulings that are impacting on adoption numbers (leading to far more approved adopters than children freed for adoption) feels like a huge step in the wrong direction after what seemed a promising start with the current government, There are many thousands of children in the care system with uncertain futures.  What of them I ask?

For further information here is a link to the Adoption Leadership Board's current adoption statistics which show a significant decline in the number of children with placement orders in 2015 yet also shows that adopters are being approved quicker and the children who are placed are spending less time in the care system.  It doesn't take a genius to see there is a problem with these statistics.  

There are so many people willing to adopt children who need a home but fear and uncertainty about the implications of court rulings preventing those children being matched with willing parents.  Maybe those judges should spend a week or two in the care system and see what they think after that?  Maybe they should experience the loss of all the opportunities that they have been privileged to experience to reach their positions and see how they feel about not achieving as well in education and spending a life not reaching their potential.  Maybe that would help them see the implications.  No, it's not ideal for a child to be removed from their birth family but if there is no-one within the family who is suitable to parent the child or become a Special Guardian don't those children deserve some compensation for their losses in life?  If the opportunity for a permanent family is denied them due to some beaurocracy then shame on a system that allows that!

In case you missed it above here is another link to the report that this blog post is commenting on:

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Swifty and Pip! A Love Made To Last?

Every day Pip watches this with great excitement, over and over again. Every morning he hands me his "blue paddy" and says "State Gace Mummy, Red State Gace" and he sits, face enraptured, as the opening bars of the music commence.

It's important to put the right video on. He's moved on from the video from The X-Factor because this one is far more exciting. Is it the colours? Is it her hot pants? Who knows!

Every time is like he's watching it for the first time. First there is Taylor behind the red curtain in giant shadow form. The excitement mounts as the curtain falls away as she stands, at the top of the stairs, singing with minimal timed movements, holding Pip and the crowd in her thrall. Every single time he grabs my hand and shouts in awe for me to watch when Taylor walks down the steps "Move Mummy, move" and then screams with massive excitement as she jumps down the final few steps. "Jump Mummy, Jump!"

He then flicks his head from side to side along with her. All whilst singing along. He knows all the words (in 2 year old speak of course). He's a man obsessed. I'm sad to say I've removed Swifty from the car (as much as I too love her) because I'm afraid I'll fall into an hypnotic state and crash the car......

Is this a love to last a lifetime? Is it Puppy Love? Is this the start of a fascination with hot pants?

I await to see with interest..........

Saturday, 1 August 2015


Yesterday morning Katie breezed into our bedroom with a smile on her face.  She retrieved her Ipad and took herself back off to bed.  When TCM and I popped in to say a proper "good morning" she sat up in bed and gave us both a huge hug with an enormous smile on her face.  It was wonderful.

After all the anger and angst in our house for the past months I was taken aback.  For the rest of the daytime Katie was mostly a joy to be around.  She didn't keep on too much and was fairly amenable and there was only a minor and resolvable tantrum over buying my nephew a birthday present. In the afternoon she, me and Pip snuggled up on the sofa together with sweets and watched The Nut Job, giggling as Pip fell asleep and slowly slid down my side into my lap.  I could feel the stirrings of all the wonderful emotions that many parents can take for granted when their children are emotionally easy to be around. The love flowed.

There was a minor blip when Katie was outside the front of the house supposedly doing cartwheels and she went over to our neighbour's house despite me telling her not to so she had to come back inside.  Even that tantrum was short-lived and restrained.  In fact it was Pip that had the huge, sustained meltdown during the day which took me by surprise because Pip generally blows through his tantrums fairly speedily.

All was well until bedtime when I watched Katie slowly wind herself back up again.  She was hyper and silly at bathtime.  Loud and brash and doing everything she could to wind Pip up as well.  I felt so frustrated by bedtime that I decided to sit with Pip as he settled and asked TCM to stay with Katie for stories.  As Pip snuggled down to listen to Scout the musical dog we heard the ructions start from the next bedroom.  Katie accused TCM of cheating at the memory game they were playing with her cards on the floor (he didn't).  TCM said he could see she was spoiling for an argument.  Off she flew into a total rage.  I tried to intervene, followed by Pip on my heels and read the riot act.  That calmed things a little and TCM was able to get Katie settled again and into bed and after half an hour Pip finally fell asleep top.  I had a little goodnight cuddle with Katie and she went to bed fairly nicely.

When I went to check on her before bedtime I was struck again at how she puts all her toys around her, like her protective guard.  It made me feel very sad at how vulnerable she must feel and I could feel the tears pricking at how much this little girl is hiding inside.

This morning Katie came in to get her Ipad and skulked back out again.  I got up and went in to see her and she barely acknowledged me.  I tried to cuddle her but received a cold shoulder so I told her how much I had enjoyed yesterday and that my two favourite memories were of her joyous cuddle in the morning and our beautiful snuggle on the sofa watching the film. She thawed a little and gave me a big cuddle but I could feel my emotional reticence flood back in, protecting myself, knowing that the shoe was going to fall again today and wondering when it would be.

We have a birthday party today for my nephew.  Because he is 11 Katie will have one of her best friends here all day and will take her to the party for company.  I hope it all goes well.

This morning and the constrast to yesterday really highlighted how much we are treading on emotional eggshells in our house currently.  I crave the relaxed emotions of yesterday and I suspect Katie does too but she puts that wall up for reasons unknown (obviously we can guess) and I find it hard to know how to smash the wall down.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

A Message from the Universe?

I've tried several times to write this post. I don't really ever know where to start. It's hard to explain because I mostly don't really understand it all myself. I think the emotions are why it's hard to write. The problem with the emotions is that I think they are locked inside either in a state of shock or acceptance. Well that's my current hypothesis.  This is a post with a story but also a realisation so bear with me.

The past 12 months has really been something else. I daren't wonder aloud if the universe is just trying to see how much we can handle because there may be yet more in store. I've got to stop shaking my head in disbelief because people might start assuming I've developed a tick. I find myself just standing still and closing my eyes, right hand raised in mid air, in an attempt to brush some of the stress away. I said to TCM tonight that if we can weather this we can get through anything. I thought the universe was finished with us after the miscarriages but it seems another shakeup is required. 

It all started 6 weeks after we moved from our home to start the build and refurbishment. We were excited about the period ahead, of reinventing our beloved home; of creating more space and having my business at home. It was stressful because Katie didn't cope well with the move and her behaviour was challenging. We knew we'd be home within the year though so felt optimistic. 

Then Pops died. 

As if that wasn't upsetting enough, he died without a will and without provision for my Mother-in-Law who has Alzheimer's Disease. 

We were plunged into chaos. 

I went over every day to coordinate nursing care, Pip in tow. We had a funeral to arrange (well I did as TCM was in total shock). No-one in the family came to help us so we were left to fend for ourselves. We couldn't access any of my MIL's money because she doesn't have mental capacity so paid for the funeral out of our building fund. We learned about applying to the Court of Protection and found a solicitor to help. We stressed a lot about the care of my MIL and worried about her state of mind. We had Social Workers and nurses and care agencies, the coroner and a funeral directors to manage.

And we also had a house to build.

My phone rang constantly. The builder rang with daily decisions to be made. The funeral director needed decisions. The Social Worker needed decisions. My MIL took to her bed and refused to leave or wash. I wanted to do the same.

Winter came.

After three months I was even more exhausted than I was before all this started. TCM had shut down emotionally and was struggling to manage the demands of his enormous job on top of everything else. We were in crisis.  We had talks about the way forward for my MIL whose Alzheimer's had further deteriorated. We worried about whether my daily interventions were sustainable because she was living 10 miles away. After she locked herself out of the house in her nightdress in the middle of the night in winter it became clear she wasn't safe at home and a residential home was found.

The build continued.

I started to hate the ring of the phone. 

I started to really hate the house we are living in. Claustrophobia was kicking in. The winter months were dragging on and the house felt like a prison.  I spent the days feeling guilty that I wasn't doing enough for my MIL and I wasn't mentally engaged enough with the build. 

Katie's behaviour continued to deteriorate. The stress continued to build. I continued to feel disconnected with it all. 

I just wanted to walk away from it all if I'm honest. 

To keep ourselves motivated we bought an amazing kitchen in the January deals. It was on a buy now and pay in a year's time deal. It seemed like a great idea. We felt the stirrings of excitement amongst all the stress and distress.

We continued to fire fight my MILs estate whilst applying to the Court of Protection. 

The spring arrived.

We realised the build was getting behind schedule and we wouldn't be home in April but continued to plough on. The building pot of money diminished due to rising building costs and the sheer scale of the build. We needed more money so went back to our mortgage adviser to apply for more. 

The answer floored us.

"We can't give you any more because of the finance you have for the kitchen." 

We explained that part of the reason for extra money was to pay off the finance but after three weeks of debating the bank decided they couldn't give us the money until our credit file was clear of the finance for the kitchen. 

It was suddenly getting scary. What do we do?

After much searching for alternative options we decided to cancel the kitchen finance on the agreement we would buy the kitchen for cash when our money came through. That should have been easy except that the store didn't know how to implement its own policies. The store thought Head Office should cancel the finance and Head Office said the store should cancel the finance.  To cut a month long story short I eventually implemented a complaint with both the store and the finance company. The matter was finally resolved but it took another week of checking our credit file daily for our credit file to be cleared. 


We went back to the bank to borrow the money we needed. It was in the nick of time as the building pot was almost dry.

After another week of waiting the bank said they could only loan us a smaller amount. We were confused. We had asked to extend our mortgage term and it took another week for the mortgage adviser to realise that they can't extend a flexible mortgage without a new application. Probably another two months wait but we can have the smaller amount in the interim. 

The pot runs dry. If we use credit cards to fund the build we won't get the money from the bank. Catch 22.

The story is almost up to date.

Last week the washing machine and the oven the broke down on the same day. We had to wait for a new oven and a part for the washing machine so I went to my MIL's house to do the washing every day.  The first day there I discovered the local council had given my late FIL a parking ticket, despite me emailing them in May. A hurried letter of appeal was sent. Two days later a notice was left on the car threatening to remove the car for demolition. I phoned to appeal and explained the story.  There's no way I could have made up this story but of course the council want proof.  We will need to send them a solicitors letter because we still don't have approval from the Court of Protection to manage my MILs affairs. I could literally pull my hair out.

We're still waiting for the loan to come through.  The building pot has run dry.  

We now have no money. I can't remember the last time I've not had any money. It's all a lesson from the universe I'm sure. The stress of it all is terrifying. TCM looks pained. We just want to get home but there's no chance of that now for quite some time. 
I see links, messages from the Universe. If the washing machine hadn't broken (and also my sister using her washing machine on the day she had said I could use hers) then I wouldn't have been at my MILs at the point when the council put the notices on the car. I'm sure there is a very good reason (other than running out of money) why we're not supposed to be home just yet. It means Katie can move schools without the disruption of a house move. It probably gives us time to sort out the fright that is my MILs house. It needs to be cleared and sold and we've now received a letter from the court confirming an order has been made to appoint us as Deputies for my MIL. We await the full order before we can start to sort out the financial mess that is my MILs estate. My landlady very sadly died a few weeks ago and her poor husband is trying to sort all their affairs out. I wonder if the universe is giving him some breathing and grieving space. Staying here in the house will help him at a very difficult time (although obviously it would help if the oven hadn't broken down and the hot water failing this week as well!).  The message from the car and the washing machine is that there is a bigger picture and a path that needs to be trodden for some, as yet, unknown reason.  There are some interesting lessons I am learning about taking our lifestyle for granted.  These school holidays will be lived on an incredibly tight budget.  This will open up opportunities to visit places in our locality that we've overlooked previously.

On a more concerning note, I can't conceive of how much there is to do if I'm honest. I don't know how we are going to sort it all out. I hate living here. I want to be home where this would all be easier to manage because I'd have room to think. We all would have room to relax. We'd save a lot of mone because we wouldn't be funding two houses. The frustrating part is that we're on the home stretch with the house. The extension is built but there's a lot to do (including the kitchen) and first fix electrics and heating. There is about two months work for it to be liveable. It will look amazing when it;s finished.  I'm worried about the builder whom we have now employed for over a year.  I want to make sure everything is right for him.  We have learned a lot of lessons about building and this situation has taught us that we should have thought through the order of the build more thoroughly and insisted on that.  Instead we have floated along, in a daze and in shock from all the other stresses in our lives accepting the timetable of our builder.  He's a good man and has helped and supported us enormously but we've forgotten who's in charge.  

We feel like a Grand Designs cliche.

To top it all off I have two blocked ears with water after my lovely relaxing floatation tank this week (a late birthday present from May). At least we have an oven and a washing machine and hot water again though.

I'm very dry eyed at the moment.

When I say I don't know how I feel, I really mean it. I can't work out if I'm just emotionally shut down as a protection or depressed. I feel positively like my resilience is high (mostly). I wish I knew when it would all be sorted out. I wish I could have a good cry but I just can't. I feel like I've lost me somewhere in all this. I'm fed up with feeling guilty every time I see my MIL and know I've not seen her as much as I'd like. The build terrifies me. I don't want to go to the house as I feel I can't connect with it currently. I've got to find some creativity and impulse to organise the school holidays on an unexpected shoestring.

We will get there. This blog post isn't a complaint really. More of an explanation to myself of why I feel like I don't know where my life has gone. This is my life but I feel like I've stepped into someone else's life. Sliding Doors!  I was hoping that by writing it I'd understand myself and my feelings more but I'm too distracted by my popping ears to be able to focus really. 

I'll turn the iPad off and attempt to get some sleep before Pip wakes up again. Of course these past few days he's decided to start waking up again in the night.

See I'm shaking my head again......

Tick Tick

Can I just finish with a request for the universe.  If you're reading this, can you give me a heads up about the reason for all this please?  I'd be grateful if you could light a neon light that points to the answer.  Hopefully it might help keep the resilience levels up........

Saturday, 25 July 2015

All About Pip!

Poor Leo!
I rather feel that sometimes my little man hides in Katie's limelight when it comes to blogging. There has been such an intensity to Katie's behaviour and significant effort put into finding solutions and managing behaviour that I feel Pip's rather uncomplicated manner isn't as newsworthy. So today I'm writing all about Pip.

Pip is now 2 years and 9 months old. He's full of energy and fun and mischief and opinions about what he wants (otherwise known as tantrums). He has a smile that could get him off the hook for anything. He's still at an age when it mostly doesn't occur to him that he can lie and often tells me he's done something naughty with a huge grin on his face. He's 2 and he's good at it!

His weight is a non issue these days. He's a normal sized busy toddler who loves running everywhere and climbing everything. He's quite a unit in his stature and we're currently taking bets on whether he will be a rugby player or a basketball player. He'll be tall, that we do know. He has size 9 feet already. I kid you not, they're like flippers!  Seeing him now makes me feel sad at all the pressure we experienced about slimming him down. My instinct all along was that he would slim down once he was walking and I've been proven right. 

Pip is a busy boy. He runs everywhere! He doesn't stay still for long and is incredibly strong. He's quite self sufficient and easily able to self amuse. He'll take himself off into the garden looking for "lugs" and bring presents of various slimey critters for me to inspect (including a dead worm about 5 minutes ago). He is a stereotypical boy who is into cars and Lego and fiddling with wheels. He loves "diggies" and tractors and trains and any large vehicles we can spy. He loves going on the "choo choo train". With a stick in hand he'll spend hours pottering down in the playhouse transporting stones from the gravel onto the floor. I swear he'll have a shed when he's older and I feel obliged to help him learn carpentry or mechanics etc in preparation. I'll write an apology to his future wife at the same time.

I'm running!
Still running!
 I call Pip my Ronseal baby. He's currently straightforward, uncomplicated and he does what it says on the tin!  That's not to say he's not bright and switched on though. He knows all his colours and can count to 10 and beyond with a little help past number 13. He recognises the letters of his name and knows how old he is although he'd prefer to be the number 3! He is interested in everything. He makes my head swim with his 100mph discovery of his world. He can spot a bug from a mile away. He's developing imaginative play now which is wonderful to watch.  His speech isn't all there yet and he's still delayed but he's improving daily. He's having home-made speech therapy with me currently. We are working hard at getting his mouth opening and enunciating more clearly and he's good natured enough to play along. He will have a complete review around his 3rd birthday with the Health Visitor and the current plan will be to put in a referral to proper speech therapy just to make sure all is well and ensure there aren't any problems with his hearing etc. He wants to communicate although I think he will pick and choose who he speaks with. His speech and some of his development is about 7 months behind where it should be but that is how old he was when he came to us and I think there's a link. Because he's so tall people often think he's about a year older than he is so often expect speech and behaviour and abilities far beyond his capabilities. I generally just steer the conversation with the people towards his height rather than his development. Pip is incredibly sociable and his speech doesn't effect him playing with other children. He loves to find new partners in crime and new friends to scream with! Toddlers are hilarious because they communicate by giggling and screaming.
Guess what I'm doing?
Yep you guessed it - I'm running!
 Speaking of screaming, this is something he excels at. Screaming for pleasure or when disgruntled. People can generally hear when we're about. He voices his displeasure at 100 decibels. He also likes to kick and hit out if he's cross with me. "Me kick Mummy" he'll say. "Errrr no you won't matey!" It's fair to say there's an element of copying big sister's less sociable antics. Bedtime is more challenging again as Pip has decided he doesn't want to go to sleep either again (just when you get one of them sussed the other one jumps in for a turn!). Personally I think he gets over excited and anxious at bedtime because that's when Katie kicks off although he shows no specific anxiety other than to say "Katie naughty again Mama?" We're back to sitting with him as he goes through the process of accepting it's bedtime and settling himself down to sleep. The first part of that can take up to an hour sometimes so we take it in turns to sit with him whilst the other tends to Katie.

Pip is well attached. I think his attachment is far more straightforward than Katie's. He is attached to both myself and TCM whereas Katie attached primarily to me for a long time and still favours me (unless Daddy is buying her something). Pip will prefer to come to me for hugs if he is hurt though. His attachment responses are all normal. He thoroughly enjoys going to his Childminder (currently 2 days per week but this will change when he starts pre-school to one day a week to maintain his continuity whilst settling into pre-school). He has some little friends there whom he loves seeing but Blue Bear . He displays a normal attachment response to being left and being picked up. He's generally a bit disgruntled about me leaving although takes his shoes off and runs off to play and he's delighted to see me when I collect him. He usually says "Me miss Mummy" when I pick him up ��.
Oooh I'm very still and serious because I'm on the Choo Choo Train!
I'm toying with the idea of starting potty training. We've done a lot of preparatory work with book reading and he will wee in the potty very happily. I'm not sure he's quite ready and we have so much going on with Katie and the house build that I'm not sure how much energy I have to put into it yet. I'd like him dry before starting pre-school but I don't think he'd be ready to coordinate his poo's just yet so I suspect pre-school would be grateful if he's still in his pull-ups. We've had to switch to pull-ups because he can now undress and take his nappies off - usually behind the garden shed! He's a bit of a naturist I think! He loves being nuuuuuuuuuuuuuudy!

With a highly controlling 7 year old and a 2 year old who'd like to be the same I do feel that life can be overtaken by endless arguments about control. I try to give autonomy where I can as I feel like a dictator otherwise. I think Pip will be more stable in his emotional age than Katie, although time will tell. He's always felt a little less volatile than Katie although this is currently masked by the Terrible Two's. I can see him slowly coming through the Two's and calming down although am still taken aback when without warning he throws his head back and opens his mouth widely to wail and scream and throw himself on the floor.
Ready, Steady......Jump!
Overall Pip is a loving, cuddly and sensitive little boy. We have a lot of fun together. He loves cooking with me although it's like cooking with a hyperactive monkey around and I need eyes in the back of my head to watch where those spaghetti hands are. I do find him cooking with me stressful sometimes but I generally encourage his interest in cooking. He loves standing on the stool to stir the food and taste it as we cook. His look of delight is contagious as he tastes what we are cooking. He tastes the food and says "oooh yes Mama, mmmmmm, nice!"  He remembers everywhere we've been and brings me pictures on his iPad to ask me to go back there, especially the train and also his memories of the Christmas lights.  I think I'll be glad when Christmas comes around just so he can see the lights again.  He's been asking all year.  His other favourite is the "bang bangs" on Firework Night.  He loves watching fireworks on the IPad alongside endlessly watching Taylor Swift sing "State of Grace".  His other passion is water.  He turns on the taps endlessly and flushes the toilet every time he sees it.  Puddles and water parks bring the biggest smiles.
Down on the farm - what could be better then a river?
Pip's other favourite place is Paultons Park where we have a season ticket (I always get one for me when they are under a metre tall and have free entrance). He's not fussed about the rides but likes to walk along by the stream and smell the flowers and explore the tunnels. We go on the odd ride at Peppa Pig World but mostly he likes the little train and having a picnic lunch watching the Penguins. He's a boy with a great capacity for joy and he can find amusement in the smallest things. I hope this continues. I feel a sense of pressure to ensure I appreciate his toddler years much more than I did Katie. I took a lot for granted with Katie because it was so easy with her at that point and I was unprepared for the change in her behaviour since starting school. With Pip I'm breathing in all of these happy times just in case things change with him as well.

I do worry that the challenges we are currently having with Katie will impact too heavily on Pip. We try and shield him from seeing too much but that's not always easy. He seems to have an inner resilience though and accepts the way things are more readily than his sister. Having said that his current favourite word us "Why?". Everything is "why, why, why, why, why?. I joke you can tell Pip is a second child because when Katie went through the why stage I answered all her questions diligently. I'm not sure that helped her really so this time around there's a lot more assessment of whether he really wants to know the answer and a bit more "Because Mummy said so" going on.

I can't believe that in a few weeks Pip will start his education journey at Pre-School.  He's following in Katie's footsteps and going to the same pre-school.  They are very accommodating and relaxed and the environment suited Katie well.  I think it will be the same for Pip as well.  I'm a bit worried that his speech delay will impact on him a bit. I know what he says but other people don't.  He's such a gregarious chap though that I think that will carry him through very well.

As a final note I thought I'd share Pip's current favourite song.....  over to you Swifty!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Feelings about Contact

The word "contact" suggests a two way event. When you contact someone the inference is that there is communication. The giving and receiving of information and conversation. It occurs mto me that there are lots of words here that begin with the prefix "con" but it sure that's just a coincidence. 

Five years into our first adoption I'm just starting to question a lot about the adoption process. I'm definitely starting to question what we've been told about contact and how difficult the lack of it being a two way event actually is.

In adoption terms contact can mean letterbox contact or direct contact. In our family we have both. We have letterbox contact with the children's Birth Mother (BM) and Paternal Grandmother (PGM) and direct contact with their joint sibling and his family and also with both sets of Foster Carers (FC). It's a lot of contact to coordinate and for me it's a constant pressure to balance everything and everyone. So far in five years of writing we've received no communication from BM but we receive letters from BGM who writes for herself and her son who is Katie's Birth Father. We have no letterbox contact arrangements as yet for Pip, which considering they share a BM is strange, to say the least. I have raised the lack of contact arrangements for Pip with our Social Worker (SW) but nothing has ever materialised, for reasons as yet unknown. 

I'll be honest, contact raises a lot of different emotions in me. I am delighted that BGM writes to us and gives us a lot of information about their daily lives but equally frustrated that her letters stop at any time her life is more complicated and she is unable to cope with it. I agonise over what to include in my contact letters. Do I create a positive picture or do I present a more truthful picture? I feel guilty that her letters are filed away for a time when Katie is old enough to handle the contents.  I'm frustrated for Katie and Pip that BM has never written although understanding of why she might find it difficult. I feel anxious about the trust that we've given to the Birth Father of the children's sibling to not divulge our whereabouts. I worry that we dutifully maintain letterbox contact because we've been told it's in our children's interests whilst I question the benefits of pulling the plaster off an emotional wound twice a year. As a result I have not given Katie any details of the letters I send and receive.  I feel happy to see the relationship between the three siblings and know we've made that possible although worry about Katie's recent indifference and desire to not go along to see him and wonder whether I should push her or let her take a step back. Hearing her telling her friends at school about her brother who lives with another family recently was interesting and positive that she felt able to speak openly but I quickly became aware that she felt ill equipped to deal with the questions from her friends that followed and this is something I will be approaching with her over the school holidays. It also made me wonder how she would handle the information that she has a paternal sister. 

More recently I really am concerned about the impact of being adopted on my children and query whether being so open about it is beneficial. I always wanted my children to know that they were adopted and that we were positive about that. We have lots of friends with adopted children so it's quite the norm in our house to be adopted. I wanted them to feel that it wasn't a secret they should feel ashamed of and that we were proud of them. More and more I am realising that this approach is a balancing act that can easily tip over to being a reminder of being different from their school friends or feel like a bit of overkill. Katie particularly is currently very angry and unsettled, a feeling exacerbated by the end of school term and a transition to a new school and hopefully back to our old home. I am noticing a pattern of tantrums when we leave a place or event where she is feeling happy and have realised that this is triggering feelings of loss in her from when she moved to us. There is a big part of me that doesn't really want to add more pressure onto her plate about this period of her life by revisiting it, whilst the counsellor in me wonders if experiencing those emotions during periods of transition will help her resilience to them with time and support. She's only 7 though. How much is she expected to handle and isn't it my job as her mum to out the brakes on if it's all getting a bit too intense? Add into the mix contact with her brother and I can see why she's not keen to see him currently. Although she knows she and Pip share the same BM with their middle sibling I know she identifies differently with Pip than she does their other brother.  Fortunately or unfortunately, depending how you view it, their brother's family live literally around the corner from us. We bump into them often at our local Costa so Katie can't really control the contact there. She could be confronted by a situation she's not in the mood for at any time. We're now so embedded into the lives of their brother and his family that this situation will be forced to rumble. Pip loves seeing his big brother although is currently too young to understand who he is. Sometimes I just take Pip along to see him and blame Katie's absence on a birthday party but I'm acutely aware that this contact is also for the benefit of their brother as well. The wellbeing of another individual rests in my decisions. It's a minefield that I do not feel the adoption preparation course or subsequent training has really prepared us for. 

A lot of thoughts and emotions within the subject of contact and I realise that I'm not sure we are always given the best advice for our children. The advice adopters are given is the current thinking on an issue and contact can also be very important for the birth families but I'm not always so sure it is in our children's best interests to have their identity constantly challenged, especially for children who were adopted very young. I'm not saying say nothing, I'm just starting to wonder whether sometimes less might actually be more until the child is old enough to emotionally hold the fact that they sit in two worlds or ask to be involved. It's a hard enough concept for an adult to handle, let alone a child. What do you think?

Sunday, 12 July 2015

An Unwelcome Adventure!

Imagine being on the worst holiday you've ever had. Contrary to the beautiful picture, the ingredients in the hotel food were a daily voyage of discovery with pictures of animals being the only clue as to the contents. Mosquitos swarmed with the abandon of tiny sharks, coating you in swarms and stabbing any accessible flesh requiring twice daily crop dusting via plane which created clouds of toxic chemicals that rained down upon you in the hotel grounds. Being on the beach meant being eaten alive leading to infected bites that took weeks to heal. The DJ based by the pool played "Who let the dogs out?" on a loop which begged the question "was he casting aspersions about the hotel guests"?

Imagine taking a long awaited trip to the capital city with the dream of 1950's American cars and
beautiful architecture only to be harassed and chased by a persistent Mariachi duo playing "Guantanamera" on repeat. Imagine getting sunburned on the beach whilst illegally (and stupidly) having your hair braided by the lovely local ladies and hiding from the local police for the duration of the hair braiding session. Imagine the highlights of your holiday being the origami swans made out of towels by the hotel cleaning staff and daily games of Backgammon with my husband. Drowning my sorrows with newly discovered Mojito cocktails was another notable high point.

Imagine dreaming daily of going home and then being told your seat on the plane home wasn't available unless you travelled across the whole country at the last minute via taxi and a 1950's shining silver Russian prop plane with decor that resembled an early James Bond film and cursory glance for a white, furry, cat and a need to pray on take-off due to the shuddering and the noise. Imagine discovering on boarding the plane after your high speed journey that your seat had been available the whole time and your adventure unrequired. 

Yet amongst the disastrous holiday which paled into insignificance a few weeks later after the Twin Towers horror was also a memory of beautiful scenery and some lovely people, both local and fellow travellers. 

Memories of Cuba in the Year 2001!

This post has been written in conjunction with Ocean Finance for their Holiday Heaven or Hell competition