Download The impact of Significant Harm Fact Sheet here.
Most children placed for adoption today have been removed from their birth families because of “significant harm”. The significant harm they have suffered causes significant harm to their subsequent development, as evidenced by neuroscientific research. Understanding and assessing the impact of significant harm will inform what support or therapeutic intervention is needed to address these developmental issues.
Alan Burnell, Registered Manager at Family Futures said:
“By taking significant harm as our starting point we are beginning to tackle the epicentre of developmental trauma, rather than forever trying to manage the aftershocks.
We need to move from seeing adoption support as helping families in crisis to seeing it as developmental repair. Let’s help children move from significant harm to significant help.”
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.”
Assessing and Treating Developmentally Traumatised Children
We are now taking bookings for our 2018 Conference: ‘Assessing and Treating Developmentally Traumatised Children’ to be held on 19 October at The Crystal, London. The conference is aimed at social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, teachers and anyone involved in helping children who are looked after or adopted. Come and hear about our new, independently reviewed research on our Neuro-Physiological Psychotherapy treatment programme and the outcomes for children who have/have not received treatment. We are delighted to have as our keynote speaker Professor Colwyn Trevarthen, one of our guiding lights. You can see the conference agenda, find out more or book your place here: https://www.familyfutures.co.uk/product/2018-conference/
Are you ready to start your adoption journey?
Watch real life stories about adopting a child with Family Futures here. Our next Information Evening for anyone thinking about adoption will be on Wednesday 18th April at Family Futures, London. Come along and find out how we can support you or find out more here.
Adverse Childhood Experiences – new research published in Children and Youth Services Review, January 2018
A study, Examining exposure to adverse childhood experiences and later outcomes of poor physical and mental health among South Carolina adults, has found that the most frequently reported ACE category among respondents reporting poor health was household dysfunction with emotional and physical abuse.
“The odds of reporting poor health increased as the combination of categories of abuse increased, with respondents who had all three categories of abuse much more likely to report poor health. Similarly, the most frequently reported ACE category with respondents reporting frequent mental distress was household dysfunction with emotional and physical abuse and among all categories of ACEs and combinations of categories of ACEs, the respondents reporting all three categories of ACEs had the highest odds of frequent mental distress.
The presence of sexual abuse in childhood increased the odds of reporting poor health and mental distress, supporting the idea that some ACEs may have stronger associations to long term health outcomes than others.”
Alan Burnell, Registered Manager at Family Futures commented on the findings of this new study: “These ACE results are clearly predicated on individuals who have had no help for the abuse and neglect they suffered in infancy. Surely this is one of the strongest indicators yet as to why children in the care system or who are adopted need guaranteed therapeutic help in order to prevent poor outcomes. Without this help we are not just failing them now, we are failing them in the future.”
Are you considering adoption?
Our next Information Evening will be at 7pm on 18 April at Family Futures, Islington, London. Come along and hear more about the adoption process, how we can support you with our unique multidisciplinary team, and have the opportunity to ask us questions.
Please email email@example.com to let us know if you are coming to our Information Evening.
Don’t miss our courses for parents coming up soon
“ Gives a new perspective and understanding of some behaviours. Easy to see how I could make some simple changes.”
The Great Behaviour Breakdown Bryan Post’s follow-up to Beyond Consequences, 13, 14 & 27 June 2018
Helping Fostered Children Transition to a New Family, 19 to 20 June 2018
Making Sense of My Child – A day on Sensory Integration, 10 July 2018
Relationships and Networks, 6 September 2018
The Impact of Trauma in Infancy on Attachment and Development, 9 & 10 October 2018
Parent education programmes can be funded by the Adoption Support Fund. You need to make an application through your local authority adoption support service for this funding.
To book a place on one of these courses, visit our Parent Education courses at Family Futures page.
If you have a query, please contact Angela on 020 7354 4161 or email us.
Are you thinking about adopting a child this year?
“Family Futures work with you to make the adoption work.”
We’re holding an Information Evening for anyone considering adoption on Wednesday 21 February, 7 till 8pm at Family Futures, London, N1 2PL.
You can hear more about what happens during the adoption process and have the opportunity to ask us questions. Please send us an email to let us know you are coming.
You can also read more information for prospective adopters here.
“Our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as being able to remake ourselves.” Mahatma Gandhi
Alan Burnell, Registered Manager, comments on the conviction of Matthew Scully-Hicks for the murder of his 18-month old adopted daughter, Elsie
A more robust multidisciplinary form of psychological profiling is needed for prospective adopters with more post placement support
It is more than tragic that a child should die when she had been removed to a ‘safe’ place. Normally adoptive parents are a very safe place to be for a young child. As an adoption community we need to look at two aspects of this case in particular: the assessment process and the post placement support to parents.
It is often assumed that infant placements are straightforward and that a traditional adoption assessment is adequate for approving prospective adoptive parents. In our experience however, all adoption placements come with challenges and complexities. As a consequence, we have at Family Futures developed a more robust multidisciplinary form of psychological profiling of prospective parents, and a more intensive parent education and post placement support service.
Sadly research shows that if things are going to go wrong, they often go wrong right from the start. We hope that whatever enquiry takes place into this tragic death, it will come up with some helpful and positive suggestions about how these issues of assessment and post placement support can be improved.