Dear Family Futures families and friends,
Well here we are moving into week eight of lockdown and following Sunday evening’s announcement the lockdown is clearly going to continue for the coming weeks.
It has been a challenging time for everyone adjusting to this new reality of being at home twenty-four seven. One of the big challenges that we have been hearing from families has been trying to home educate and feeling the pressure with lessons sent by schools to try and ensure that your child doesn’t get behind in their school work. This is, of course, even harder for parents trying to also work from home.
It is understandable that for older children who have exams coming up, some form of school work continues. However, we are of the view that it is an unnecessary pressure for parents with primary school or early secondary school aged children to be focusing on school work in the midst of the pandemic.
Many parents are feeling under pressure that if they don’t do their bit and keep the child on track with school work they are letting them down. Many of you are also worried that when your child returns to school they are going to be behind.
The task for us professionals is to help children and families find a way through this lockdown period and not exacerbate mental health difficulties and increase the stress on parents who are often trying to juggle childcare and work. Can we not find a better way through this together?
At Family Futures we think that, at a time of global crisis, the priority should not be school work, but using this time of lockdown to help children enjoy time at home with their parents.
Managing children’s anxieties about why the world outside no longer feels safe is a vital task for parents at this time, particularly for traumatised children where it is important not to compound the traumas they have already experienced.
This lockdown period is a golden opportunity to do some of the things adopted and fostered children missed out on doing when they were first placed – a chance for child and parent interaction. Those first weeks and months of placement are often far more challenging than anticipated and most children do not settle immediately but are understandably anxious about this new family. Is it really safe and forever? So at the beginning of a placement it often isn’t possible for children to really enjoy the time at home with the new family and experience that early interaction.
Children who have had traumatic childhoods haven’t had that early time at home with a parent when it is possible to play and to potter around at home doing day-to-day things together. These things are not to be underestimated as they are the building blocks by which we learn to learn – the foundations of all our learning. This sort of learning happens naturally and is enjoyable!
So we recommend learning naturally and without conflict. Put down the school books and focus on learning through the day-to-day tasks of hanging out the washing, cleaning, cooking, playing in the garden, teddy bears picnics and singing together! Play Eye Spy, hide and seek, and make dens! These tasks and games may not work for every child, but pick ones that suit your family, and enjoy teaching your child how to be happy, how to play and most importantly how to be in a relationship with you. This reduction of pressure and stress has the potential to ease the overall stress of lockdown and will help relationships blossom and ultimately help the learning when your child returns to school.
To support families at this time we’ll be running webinars in the next few weeks with ideas and guidance from our team, plus a chance to ask us your questions. (You can find out more about these here.)
With love from Jay and all the team at Family Futures
11 May 2020
Dear families, professional colleagues and friends of Family Futures,
Well we are now entering our sixth week of lockdown at Family Futures and seeing virtual working as something that will need to be in place for some time.
It has been an adjustment for all of the team but we are proud that we are still managing to provide support to our families, albeit virtually, our advice line is open and we have just had our first virtual panel! We have also just launched a series of Webinars to support parents with the first one, a Webinar with Dr Daniel Hughes, booking fast!
Lockdown has been hard for lots of the families we have been in touch with as they have been struggling to manage the stress of the pandemic and how much this situation is triggering trauma issues for their children.
For anyone who has a traumatic history feeling the world is no longer a safe place and other people can potentially be a source of fear is highly evocative. This is no longer a fear state that is just based on a traumatic history but a fear that is based on the reality of what is happening in the here and now. In this way a fear based survival response is a healthy reasonable response to the situation. For children who have had other traumatic experiences in their lives, which mean that their nervous systems are wired to stress, then the extent to which they are activated is much more extreme.
We are in a war situation and at such times calming our stress response so we can make good strategic decisions about how to survive is key.
Calming our nervous system is even more important than it would be in other war situations as it is our bodies that are under attack! We absolutely need to support our nervous system now, more than ever, so that our immune systems are in a good shape to manage the attack.
So how do we manage such immense stress and keep sane?
We need to be curious about how we are managing this stress, asking ourselves:
- How is our body managing this crisis?
- Is our heart beating faster?
- What increases our heart rate?
- What calms our heart rate?
- How is our breathing?
- Is that faster too?
- Are we breathing higher in our chests?
- What can make our breathing calm?
- Can the breathing settle lower in the belly?
- How is our skin temperature?
- Is it hotter or colder at different times of the day?
- Are some bits of our body constantly too cold or too hot?
- What feels a good body temperature?
- Do we have more aches and pains than normal?
- Do we have more somatic symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches etc?
So we just need to notice and be curious about what our body is telling us:
- What information is our body sharing with us?
- We need to think what resources us?
- How can we calm our stress response?
- What nurtures us and helps us feel good inside?
- What or who helps us manage optimally at times of stress?
As parents we need to look after ourselves first, and our own body and nervous system responses, so that we are able to attend to our children’s nervous systems too. We need to find our own ‘oxygen mask’ and put this on so that we can in turn help our children put on their ‘oxygen mask’ too.
We are living in extraordinary times and what is happening in the world was unthinkable to most of us only a few months ago. We keep the hope that this time will pass and life will return to something more akin to ‘normal’ in the future. But for now we should be kind to ourselves and have compassion for ourselves as we are managing as best we can.
With love from Jay and all the team at Family Futures
27 April 2020
Jay Vaughan is the CEO and Registered Manager at Family Futures CIC. Jay is a Certified Theraplay therapist and supervisor as well as a Theraplay trainer. She is also a state registered Dramatherapist, Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapist and Somatic Experience Practitioner.
If you have a question for us at Family Futures about how we can support you at this time of heightened stress and anxiety, please email us or call our advice line: 020 7354 4161.
Jay Vaughan, Registered Manager of Family Futures, reflects on how we can best support traumatised children and their families
I have now been Registered Manager of Family Futures for 5 months, and what a 5 months it has been! I have moved desk, which might not seem a big deal to some, but change is hard and the desk move process and adjusting to the hotter temperature in my new desk area has taken time (and fewer jumpers) and symbolises the increased ‘heat’ of the new role.
It has been a roller coaster of a ride! The last five months have seen the Regions, in London in particular, getting up and running but struggling with the sheer number of referrals for post adoption support. The new Children’s Minister has said adoption is a priority and there was some back lash against this from those representing special guardians and foster children.
Families are finding they need so much more than the Adoption Support Fund (ASF) capped rate of funding to address the harm caused by abuse and prolonged trauma to their child. I felt astonished by the silence about this as I know our advice line and service has been full of families desperate for support and struggling to even get hold of a social worker in the current reorganisation into regions.
The ASF has been given at least another year, which is good news, and yet the system around it has not been improved or rethought, in spite of the knowledge that so many adoptive families are struggling to access the support they need. The Adoption Barometer by Adoption UK in 2019, reported 70% of established adoptive families struggle to get the help and support their child needs. Sadly, it seems that many families are worse off now than before, as getting an assessment for an ASF application can be so hard in the current climate.
And yet curiously nothing was said that questioned how we, as a society, can talk about increasing the number of adoptions when the adoption support is not in place for families who come forward.
In the midst of all of this I have been interviewed for Radio 4’s File on 4 programme about sibling placements, and I was also interviewed for Newsnight about adoption support although press about the Royals ended up taking the slot! So it seems to me, being Registered Manager of Family Futures, for now at least, has been about speaking up for the children and families who so desperately need a voice when they are living with the challenges of supporting a traumatised child.
Meanwhile VAA’s are struggling around the country and the message from CVAA (the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies) is that they need to ensure that they have good business management and need to diversify in order to survive in this climate of cut backs. Family Futures is definitely feeling the pinch, but I am confident that we are well on the case with good business and financial management to ensure our survival. We have plans in place for diversification, with Family Futures about to register as an Independent Fostering Agency, and we are developing our training services to include online training.
I am of the view that Family Futures is small and pioneering but we have a role to play in evidencing good practice.
As one of the founding members of Family Futures I have been here from the very first day back in April 1998. Helping traumatised children and their families heal is at the heart of what we do and my background as a Dramatherapist, Theraplay Trainer/Supervisor, Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapist and Somatic Experience Practitioner keeps me mindful of the journey we are all on to support the healing process for children who have suffered significant harm in their early years.
I feel proud to be the Registered Manager of such a dedicated team of people at Family Futures, all working hard to ensure that the children and families having assessment and treatment, or children being matched and placed with parents through our i-Adopt service, are still getting an excellent service. I feel proud of the training team and those working hard to develop our services and launch We-foster!
We will continue to strive to ensure we provide a service of excellence validated by research and to speak out on behalf of children and families. The challenge is on for me in my new role, but five months in, I feel there are important things I can contribute to try and ensure that we find a better way of supporting traumatised children in their foster, special guardianship, kinship care or adoptive families.
Alex Soteriades, Teacher and Trainee Art Therapist, reflects on how art therapy can help developmentally traumatised children
Children are naturally creative, as are adults and sometimes it’s easier to explore a feeling by ‘making’ rather than by ‘talking’. Art therapy is a vessel for dialogue. Its nonverbal and non-threatening approach allows children to tackle difficult and sometimes traumatic issues they are experiencing.
When a child makes art, the therapist along with the child can attempt to interpret and make sense of it; this is sometimes called the triangular relationship. This approach is useful in organising, describing and integrating emotions and memories but also allowing the child to sit with and tolerate the unknown.
Adopted children can do to the artwork what they can’t do to people and this is so profound and empowering for many children that come to Family Futures.
In this way, art can be loved or unloved, survived or destroyed, but ultimately, it can preserve imprints of one self and provide an opportunity to express metaphor. In fact, one of the benefits of art therapy is the ability to embolden and enrich storytelling and narratives through the use of metaphor.
When a child experiences something tragic and terrifying this gets buried in their unconscious. Storytelling and art making through use of materials such as paints, pencils and clay can help bring these suppressed emotions to the surface and in some cases, help to reconnect with the body when it has been cut off from feelings.
With the support and guidance of the therapist, these narratives serve as a way to gently and safely release disturbing or terrorizing experiences and offer children a sense of choice and control in order to begin the healing process.
Julia Press, Senior Social Work practitioner, reflects on Adoption Assessments at Family Futures
Joining the i-Adopt team at Family Futures really enlightened me as to how assessments of prospective adopters can, and should be done. That is, effectively, therapeutically and meaningfully, while always holding the ‘developmentally traumatised child’ in mind – the child who will, if all goes well, be placed for adoption with the families who are being assessed.
While following the standardised two stage assessment process, Family Futures ventures away from the traditional style of assessing, which may typically involve a social worker travelling to the home of a prospective adopter and asking questions which enable the professional to get to know them and assess their ability to adopt.
An assessment at Family Futures is approached quite differently – it is an education programme, for both the prospective adopter/s and the professional team – a two-way process where each party is learning, and equal to the other.
Stage one of the assessment entails completing a Taster Day at Family Futures which helps the team and applicants to understand their attachment histories and styles. This includes their ability to confide and the active use of their family and friends network. Prospective Adopters also gain insight into the therapeutic tools used with families who are engaging in post-adoption therapeutic support at Family Futures. These tools are experiential and incorporate creative arts and drama techniques. For example, we utilise paint, clay, sand and movement to explore a variety of issues which help prospective adopters to emotionally engage with the material.
Those who struggle to relay information verbally also have the opportunity to convey information in an alternative format. The tools are powerful in terms of their ability to unlock what’s beneath the surface (the unconscious) and they allow the Assessor to observe the capacity of prospective adopters to engage with difficult material, their openness to a variety of therapeutic approaches and their capacity to be creative and playful – crucial information for us when we are considering placing complex needs children within these families.
Using the approach and tools described above, Stage two of the assessment process builds on Prospective Adopters’ understanding of themselves; their histories, relationships, strengths, vulnerabilities, stress responses and triggers. This stage also addresses each applicant’s journey to adoption, paying meaningful attention to experiences of loss and possible unresolved feelings associated with infertility or miscarriages. Crucially one module of learning is devoted to the experiences of children who are removed from birth families and the impact of this, with particular focus on Adverse Childhood Experiences and Significant Harm.
In my experience an in-depth understanding of trauma, plus a commitment to apply, and the ability to deliver, therapeutic parenting, aids the success of a placement.
Crucially, an assessment and education program at Family Futures also involves a multidisciplinary team, including a Social Worker, Therapist, Occupational Therapist and Education specialist, who are there to guide and support, offering varied experience and insights from diverse perspectives. Family Futures also pledges to continually nurture a family’s support network, to strengthen the placement by assisting their understanding of the reality of adoption today and what it entails. Our team also identify what support people can offer the family to avoid isolation often felt by adopters post placement.
While I fully endorse the Family Futures approach to assessing prospective adopters and think that this acts as a strong foundation to healthy family life, I am sure this is not enough for children who have suffered trauma and abuse. Matching children for adoption is not the happy ending of a nightmare. Wounds do not disappear. They may reopen, become infected and hurt. They need thoughtful and ongoing aftercare, to help the healing process. Scars are a reminder that we need to care for families’ long term needs. Families require ongoing therapeutic support to ensure that they can continue to heal, grow together and thrive – this is something that urgently needs to be secured for adoptive families now and in the future.
Tips from our team of Ocupational Therapists/ Sensory Integration Practitioners at Family Futures
Have a look at our Sensory Summer Activities guide here with tips for parents and carers on keeping structure going through the summer, sun screen recommendations plus activity ideas for at home, the pool, the beach and outdoor play.
Therapist, Adam Goren, reflects on how to best meet the needs of families in stress or distress
Coming to Family Futures from a small local authority post adoption support team felt like moving to the gold standard service. Years back I saw a BBC documentary called ‘A Home for Maisie’ and admired the work of the therapists with the featured adopted girl and her family. And I remember thinking that in another life I might work in a place like that.
It was only a few weeks into my job at Family Futures that I realised that this was the same place! What attracted me was a completely different model of working from that of classical child psychotherapy.
Working with traumatised children I realised that talking therapy wasn’t in and of itself enough. Children had sensory and physical difficulties and suffered from huge anxiety.
I was looking for something else to help my work to be more effective. Family Futures offered a much broader more inclusive range of tools for helping children and families. When I arrived I was somewhat awed with a bit of survivor guilt. There are not the same resource pressures as in the local authority and the emphasis is definitely on quality long term support. I also felt really tested to think outside the box of my professional training, even though this was what I was searching for. I had to get used to different creative ways of working and to working alongside staff from a wide range of professional backgrounds in sessions.
I was struck by how much time was carved out for planning and calibrating the support to suit each family’s specific needs. We are always asking how can we improve what we are offering and what more can we do? But I think that what I was most struck by was how totally passionately committed Family Futures is to helping families. Kindness and commitment maybe somewhat under-rated qualities, but they strike me as some of the most powerful tools we have in helping families in stress or distress.
Alan Burnell, Registered Manager, and co-founder of Family Futures, shares his reflections here on how the work of Family Futures has developed over the past 20 years
Though we’re celebrating 20 years since the birth of Family Futures the idea was actually conceived 30 years ago. At that time, in the 1980s, adoptive parents who had adopted older children, sibling groups or children with complex needs were receiving no post adoption support of any significance or to any effect.
In that sense our service was conceived from anger and despair with the intention of providing hope and change.
As practitioners working in the early days of post adoption support, we were challenged to find clinical interventions and theoretical models that would help us and adoptive parents make sense of the struggles they were having with their (what we would now understand as) traumatised children.
At its inception, Family Futures used attachment theory as developed by John Bowlby, which was our first step towards understanding why adopted children were so challenging. It was our getting to know Dr Dan Hughes and his work that enabled us to translate attachment theory into clinical practice. This relationship with Dan Hughes has been seminal. Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP) is a training course we have offered since that time and integrated it into our work.
In early 2000, our Educational Psychologist, Richard Lansdown, based on his clinical experience of Great Ormond Street Hospital, realised that the children he was assessing at Family Futures had Executive Functioning difficulties. Their problem-solving and cognitive processing had been impaired by early neglect and abuse.
After five years of Family Futures’ work with families, and having looked at so many horrible histories of the children we were working with, we realised that this population of children not only had attachment difficulties but were highly traumatised by neglect and abuse in early infancy.
It was then that the work of Bruce Perry and Bessel van der Kolk provided a neurological basis for our understanding regarding the impact of trauma on child development. The final piece of the jigsaw was at this time our emerging awareness of Jean Ayres and Sensory Integration. It became apparent to us that neglect and abuse in infancy had a developmental impact upon how children are able to regulate their sensory information both internally and externally.
In 2006, we published our first paper which outlined our neurosequential approach to treatment in which we integrated therapeutic interventions that were sensory, attachment and cognitively focussed, and we linked them to the triune brain.
We have subsequently called our model of therapeutic intervention Neuro-Physiological Psychotherapy. For children who have experienced ‘significant harm’ there are developmental consequences that impact their sensory motor development, their affect and attachment, and their cognitive processing abilities.
In order to respond appropriately to this complex picture, Family Futures has had to develop over the last twenty years, an integrated, multidisciplinary team of professionals all dedicated to and with an expert understanding of the neurological, biological and psychological needs of adopted children.
Though we are child-centred, we are parent-friendly and family-focused. These are key aspects of our ethos. We have worked hard to combine clinical excellence with compassion; empathy with expertise. As the proverb says,
“It’s better to light a candle than to curse the dark.”
Alan Burnell, Family Futures’ Registered Manager, comments on research into Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) highlighted in the new film ‘Resilience’
The post with the greatest reach on our social networking sites recently was the Guardian article we shared on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). We are delighted that these research studies which began in 1995 and more recently reported in the Welsh Adverse Childhood Experiences Study are showing a link between Adverse Childhood Experiences and later life physical and mental health problems and shortened life expectancy, which we are aiming to redress through early intervention and therapeutic services.
Family Futures has completed a neurofeedback pilot with five children, which involved using computer games to reprogramme brainwaves.
Research shows that neurofeedback reduces the symptoms of conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. There is now growing evidence that it also works with children who have developmental trauma. It is currently being researched by Bessel van der Kolk in Boston with developmentally traumatised children.