Download The impact of Significant Harm Fact Sheet, Family Futures, © June 2018.
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 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/