“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.
New research finds that for permanence in adoption “the level, accessibility and quality of the therapeutic and professional resources available” is key
Adopting children with high therapeutic needs: staying committed over the long haul
New research by Kate Bardsley published in ‘Adoption & Fostering 2017, Vol. 41(2)’ looks at the factors affecting adoptive parents’ commitment to children with significant behaviour and emotional needs. The study focuses on adopters of children pre-identified as having high therapeutic needs and looks specifically at the factors that affect adopters’ ongoing commitment.
“Contrary to initial hypotheses, levels of adopter commitment did not correlate with the severity of need or challenging behaviours in their adopted children per se.
Instead, it was found to be associated with their feelings of ‘hope’ about the future, feelings that were closely linked to the level, accessibility and quality of the therapeutic and professional resources available.”
The key to permanence is hope. The key to hope is guaranteed therapeutic support for adopted children throughout childhood.
Read this BBC news article about one adoptive family’s experience of trying to get the right support for their son to cope with school
‘He hid in a cupboard – we just couldn’t get him to school’
“It’s not about getting him nine GCSEs; it’s about trying to help him survive.” Getting an assessment, diagnosis and the right support for children who have been abused and neglected in their early years is crucial. You can read more about getting a referral to Family Futures for assessment here.
Alan Burnell, Registered Manager, calls for a therapeutic approach to education for adopted children in mainstream schools
The Department of Education should consider funding therapeutic interventions in schools for adopted children as part of the ASF review
An article published in TES this week: Virtual school heads ‘lack resources to properly support children adopted from care’ highlights the need for more resources in schools for adopted children. Virtual school heads and designated teachers are currently responsible for the educational achievements of looked-after children. The Children and Social Work Act 2017 has expanded their role with the requirement that Virtual heads and designated teachers provide information and advice to children who have left care in order to be adopted, as well as to their new families.
It is honest of the Virtual heads to say publicly that they have not got the resources or expertise to provide an adequate service and do justice to this change in the law. Extending the role of Virtual heads was never going to be a solution to meeting the educational needs of adopted children.
Schools need help from Adoption Agencies to create a therapeutic approach to education for adopted children in mainstream schools. However, education was excluded from the Adoption Support Fund as it was not seen as Therapy. The Department of Education should consider funding therapeutic interventions in schools for adopted children as part of their review of the Adoption Support Fund. Looked after and adopted children are always going to be a small minority in any given school therefore it is unrealistic for help for this group to come out of mainstream provision.
Family Futures’ response to adoption support questions raised by BBC File on 4 and Adoption UK’s survey
It is vital that limited resources have maximum impact
Last week’s File on 4 programme and media stories highlighted some of the difficulties that many adoptive families are facing with violence from children to parents. This is a fact we’ve been aware of at Family Futures for many years. It doesn’t affect all families who adopt but a significant number.
We have developed a comprehensive programme of therapeutic support that deals with the underlying developmental consequences of neglect and abuse in infancy. Our multidisciplinary approach is shown in our latest research to bring about improvements in the child’s behaviour regulation, emotional difficulties, and parent and child relationships.
We agree wholeheartedly with Professor Jonathan Green, who said on the BBC’s File on 4 programme that such complex problems faced by many adopted children are beyond the scope of lone practitioners.
We applaud the introduction of the Adoption Support Fund and see the last two years as an introductory phase. The government are aware that they need to make changes to the way the grant is administered and are seeking advice from Adoption agencies and from adoptive parent organisations as to how best to do this.
It is vital that limited resources have maximum impact. For the next stage of the Adoption Support Fund, Family Futures would be in favour of a graduated approach to releasing funds which would reflect the degree of difficulties that families were experiencing and also reflect the changing developmental needs of children throughout their childhood.
Alan Burnell, our Registered Manager discussing support for families and the Adoption Support Fund on ‘File on 4’
Alan Burnell said families need more long-term therapeutic support for children with complex needs.
“If parents aren’t properly prepared and supported through the adoption process and given therapeutic help, they will often end up in despair themselves and become traumatised because they don’t understand why their child is behaving like they are.”
Alan explains the Adoption Support Fund in the programme and he comments on the £5,000 cap introduced last year: “£5,000 can be enough for some families who need some parenting support or some limited therapeutic help, but for children with complex needs who have those needs into the future, it isn’t enough.”
“The danger is that one mistakes palliative care for curative care. There’s a lot of symptom relief but we really should be looking at long term solutions and the trajectory of the child throughout their childhood, not just a short term fix.”
You can find out more about Family Futures’ approach to adoption support and our assessment and treatment services here
Information for prospective adopters
To find out more about adopting with Family Futures you can:
- Read more on our Why Adopt page and read our FAQs
- Watch Toby’s story
- Watch our real life stories
- Download the presentation from our recent Information evening
- Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and subscribe to our Youtube channel.
- Read our recent research update: Evaluation of Family Futures’ therapeutic approach reveals positive findings.
For any queries or if you would like to find out more, please email email@example.com or call us on 020 7354 4161 between 10.30am-12.30pm Monday to Friday.
Book launch and seminar
We heard an inspiring range of speakers at the launch seminar for ‘Creative Therapies for Complex Trauma’ held on 16 September at Family Futures. Art, music, dance, play and drama therapies as well as the parents and carers themselves all have a major contribution to make to the healing process.
Speaking at the event were:
Anthea Hendry: Art Psychotherapist,
Franca Brenninkmeyer: Head of Family Services PAC-UK,
Alan Burnell: Co-Director of Family Futures,
Joy Hasler: Director of Catchpoint,
Marion Allen: Education Consultant at Family Futures;
and as ‘voices of experience’: a Headteacher and adoptive parents.
“Was great to hear such enthusiasm and hope :-)”
“Sand trays so powerful. I remember what a game changer it was for me and my kids”
A further seminar to celebrate the launch of this book is taking place in Leeds on 12 October, 5.30-8.30pm at Shine, Harehills Road, LS8 5HS. To book your place please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Family Futures’ Response to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme coverage of ‘Callous Unemotional Traits’ 14 September 2017
Family Futures were disappointed that the case of an adopted boy was used to highlight the piece on ‘callous, unemotional’ traits on the Today programme this morning. In our experience this type of presentation in adopted and looked after children is often as a result of in utero and early infancy trauma that shapes the child’s developing brain and nervous system. This leads to highly defensive and hard wired neuro physiological and psychological responses. The majority of children placed for adoption today have come from abusive and traumatic backgrounds and this has shaped their experience of the world and their behaviour.
Traditional therapeutic interventions are not effective with this population of children. Specialist, holistic approaches based on biopsychosocial formulations are better suited to encourage the child to feel safe in the world and to develop their capacity to openly engage in reciprocal relationships with others. This bringing together of information about the interaction of biological factors, psychological factors and social factors is the approach needed for these children.
That Max’s early life experience was not considered runs a real risk of our society’s most vulnerable adopted and looked after children being pathologised and seen as inherently flawed, when in fact we need to acknowledge and address their developmental trauma early on if we cannot prevent it happening in the first instance. This means the government ensuring appropriate therapeutic interventions are available to such children and families. As in the case of Max, Family Futures often see children who other therapists have said that they cannot help, but with the right approach, significant changes can be made.