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support network for parent of adoptee going through tough time

(15 Posts)
Bronte Sat 11-Jun-11 18:50:11

My sister who lives near paris is experiencing horrendous problems with her 13 year old son, adopted as a 5 year old from madagascar.
He exhibits all the usual rebellious teenager symptoms but with added ferocity. He attends school intermittently, would stay awake for most of the night playing computer games, or go off on his bike in the middle of the night. He has broken doors and windows when his parents have tried to oppose him and once tried to physiically hurt his dad.
He has an older 'brother', 18 years, also from madagascar, who gave them no problem. He was adopted as a 3 year old.
They have had some contact with a psychiatrist and a social worker but there seems to be no regular counselling which would help them find a way of coping. Stephane, ( the adoptee) refuses to go to meet any official with them anyway.
Does anyone have any ideas or contacts my sister can make?

Kewcumber Sat 11-Jun-11 20:36:39

I know a couple of French adopters, I'll see if either of them have any contacts

Bronte Sat 11-Jun-11 20:42:52

Thank you. They just feel they have no where to turn and soon any help they have received will soon shut down for the french 2 months summer holiday. The problem has been going on for well beyond a year now and they're just getting more and more worn down. He seems fine with his friends and thier families but takes all his anger out on my sister and her husband.

NanaNina Sat 11-Jun-11 23:57:52

As I'm sure you know, that all adopted children will have had some very damaging pre-placement experiences and often the manifestations of this can often lie dormant until adolesence kicks in and then they rise to the surface. This is of course dependent upon the individual child and his experiences of abuse/neglect etc. You say the child was adopted at 5 years. Don't know anything about the social policies in Madagascar but in the UK he would have been fostered before moving to an adoptive placment. However this child's formative years (the most important years of his life) have at the very least been disrupted. I assume your sister knows all about the child's background.

I am sorry that none of this is helping you to find a way to help your sister. I don't know what is available in France - the boy is angry and often young people cannot process that anger, and so takes it out on their parents. Does the boy feel in competition with the older better behaved young man I wonder. I have seen this situation in adopted adolescents again and again as I have spent 30 years of my working life in children's services, specialising in fostering and adoption.

Sadly there are no quick fixes for this kind of problem and it is likely to get worse. You say they have had "contact" with a psychiatrist and a social worker. I can't imagine that the psychiatrist would diagnose this boy with any mental health problems. In the area in which I worked, we had a brilliant clinical psychologist who used to help adoptors with these kinds o issues. The boy is probably suffering from attachment disorder (meaning that he learned very early on from his birth parents that adults were not to be trusted) and this can affect the child to a greater or lesser extent throughout the lifespan. The other thing is that there is often a big gap between the chronological age and emotional age of the attachment disordered child, and often parents need to help the child to regress.

Your sister and her husband clearly need help - can they afford to pay to see a clinical psychologist or for the boy to have play therapy (he is too young and would lack the insight neede for counselling) - play therapy in the UK is non directional but allows many children to play out their anger in a safe place, and the play therapist can feed back to the parents.

Sorry to nit pick but I don't think you should name the boy on MN as this should be confidential.

Hope there can be some resolution to this problem, but your sister and her husband have to think of themselves too. I have seen adoptors in this position suffer mental health problems, marriages broken up etc and if they do have to give up, then they often suffer tremendous guilt. I just hope they can find the help they urgently need.

Bronte Sun 12-Jun-11 11:15:10

Thank you so much Nana nina. All you say has echoed certain things said by my sister but you have also opened up other avenues they can explore. He was in an orphanage from birth and knows nothing about his blood background at all. At least his older 'brother' has some record of his real parentage and knows what part of madagascar they were from. In the orphanage he had a close attachment to a lady whom i suppose he regarded as his surrogate mum.
Just recently my sister managed to contact her by phone so he could speak to her.
Thank you so much again. I will pass on your advice.

NanaNina Sun 12-Jun-11 14:15:09

Glad I could be of some help Bronte - I feel so much for adoptors in this position (and there are many of them believe me) I hate to say this but I think the fact that this child was in an orphanage for the first 5 years of his life is just about the worse thing for a child in his formative years. Have no idea what orphanages are like in Madagascar, but even the name sends shivers down my back. Orphanages are a thing of the past in the UK aren't they and in all other European countries I think. This child will probably have been fed and watered, but will undoubtedly have been seriously neglected. I do not mean to imply that this was done with any intention by the workers, but orphanages are institutions and it is hard to think of a worse place for a child to spend the first 5 years of his life.

You mention a close attachment with one of the workers. To be emotionally healthy a child has to have a secure attachment to a parent or caregiver (meaning that the adult is responsive to the child's needs in all respects, and is able to meet those needs and so the child develops a sense of being nurtured and loved) and this of course is what happens in the vast majority of cases with birth children. The mother is attuned to the child's needs and is physically and emotionally available to the child.

It may well be that one of the workers was closer to the little boy than others, but I would doubt that any kind of secure attachment pattern emerged. I say this because it isn't possible in an institution for anyone to have individual care. Babies and children under 3 need one to one care ideally and I can't imagine how many children were being "cared" for by 1 worker.

Would it be possible for your sister to find out as much information as she can from the orphanage (assume it is still there) and compile a life story book for the boy, even though it may only contain photographs of the orphanage (assume it is still there) - any scrap of information about his birth parents would be good - maybe photos of this particular worker you mention and then moving on to the journey to bring him home etc. and his life in France. It just may help him feel less rootless. Any chance of a trip back to Madagascar (ashamed to say I don't even know where it is)

Sorry nothing really constructive here I know, but I think this child does have an attachment disorder and needs help as do the whole family. Here in the UK there is Family Futures, who do very very well with attachment disordere children. Don't know if you saw a documentary lately called "A Home for Maisie" - a 12 year old girl (or thereabouts) who had been through about 10 foster carers. Through the work of Fam ily Futures she was finally adopted by the couple who had already adopted several children. Mind it is very expensive and they got the LA to pay. I have always thought that the medical and social services were far better than those here.

I think your sister needs to be looking for someone/organisation who are experienced in helping attachment disordered children and their families. Are they able to afford this sort of thing I wonder.

Bronte Sun 12-Jun-11 17:01:22

Madagasgar is a massive island on the east coast of Africa.
I obviously don't have the first hand experience of the orphanage that my sister had but from what I gather he was as well cared for as possible, physically and emotionally.
Sorry..can you enlarge on the reference to 'social services were far better than those here.' Which social services are you referring to?
Yes, I'm sure at some point they will return to Madagascar and have discussed this with him.
Thank you for the family futures link.

NanaNina Sun 12-Jun-11 19:38:40

I am sure the orphanage did as well as they possibly could - I wasn't in any sense criticising the workers, rather the system that keeps children in an institution for 5 years. I think I meant I thought that medical services were far superior in France than in the UK. When looking at European countries I just notice that France and Spain appear high up on things like preventative medicine, lower death rates for cancer, maternity services etc. UK is almost bottom of the league. I think Latvia and Poland are higher up than us. Sorry don't know about social services, but assumed that as France is a large country with a smaller population than this crowded isle, social policies would be superior to ours, though don't have any proof.

Kewcumber Mon 13-Jun-11 10:21:57

DS was in an "orphanage" and I have come to the conclusion that on avergae a decent institution leaves children with far fewer issues than poor individual care and that at the very least "benign neglect" with a degree of care and consistency is a great deal better than multiple changes of carers or very poor carers.

Having said that DS was only institutionalised for 11 months and he is pretty resilient so I don't know that he wouldn't have hadnled another situation fairly well. However I see children coming out of decent homes (at a younger age than your sisters child) with fewer problems than those fostered.

But another thing which may also have happened is that he may well have aged out of his orginal "baby" home and been moved to a childrens home. In kazakhstan that ususally happens at 4. So even if he had bonded with carers and the orginal home was good, he may have had to deal with separation and loss more than once.

It's also true that a childs inherent personality really impacts on the way they handle things wih children adopted as young as 3 weeks old suffering from attachment problems and separation anxiety and children adopted much older can have fewer issues just because of their personality.

France does significantly more intercountry adoptions than us (something like 5000 a year compared with our 200 or so) so should have a much better support network.

I'll let you know when I hear back from my friend.

Bronte Mon 13-Jun-11 11:33:06

Thank you for your feedback Kc. it's interesting that both your perception and Nana's perception of France is so positive.
However my sister has found things incredibly slow moving. There doesn't seem to be any 'joined up help'... it's all been a bit random and haphazard .

Kewcumber Mon 13-Jun-11 11:38:09

Ah - I didn't say it was perfect just more common in France! Adoption seems to be slow and disjpinted whereever you are - not sure why but tis the nature of the beast I think. Someitmes its knowing who can provide teh help.

They need to keep pushing or ook online for french support groups for paretns as they are the most useful source of information in my experience.

Bronte Mon 13-Jun-11 13:40:52

Very true...I do think we're way ahead of them in terms of online support. French internet is notoriously archaic.

Kewcumber Sat 18-Jun-11 11:20:55

Message from friend-

"Tell them to call me and I can help ! I am sorting out a child psychiatrist for DD and have contacted some of my doctor friends here who have been really helpful. I wld love to talk to them and see if I cld help."

I'll pm you her phone number

beemail Sat 18-Jun-11 20:19:24

nana Nina - Orphanages vary tremendously but we visited many in India and although far from the kind of care given in a good family situation much of the care we saw was impressive. Our girls were cared for mostly by one carer who stayed in the baby and toddlers room with them around the clock. They took very little holiday as such because this too was their home. Their odd days off were usually used to visit family in the vicinity and then they'd be back in the evening. The children were well fed, massaged and they and their clothes and bedding kept very clean if a little tatty. However change for them can occur and although done gradually as they grew they moved to another room with different staff although still visited by previous carers.
Their expereince of life as compared with a child in a family was however very different in terms of being inside most of the time and with a very strict routine hardly ever broken.
I know some people in France who adopted from S America - easy time until adolescence with both who then became very oppositional and hard to manage. I know they did get help and over time things improved enormously for them. Just letting you know this because if they can find anyone who can
help at this time then the future may be a great deal brighter than they now imagine.
Our own 2 children also adopted from an orphanage have gained much from going back to visit - it has had a very calming "rooting" effect on them. They were able to meet their carers and see where they used to live. In the absence of any other info about origins I am grateful that they are fortunate to have this.
Good luck to your sister

NanaNina Sat 18-Jun-11 23:38:36

Beemail - it's good to hear of your positive experiences of orphanages in India and the good care given to the children. One of the problems (as you say) is that at a certain age the children are moved to another section with different staff, though at least had some connection with the previous carers. This though is a big disruption to their development isn't it in terms of attachment, especially children in the first 3 years of life. Having said this, this is what happens in the UK in day nurseries, children are moved on according to age (which I think is harmful for children under 3) - my own gr/chdr are in a day nursery full time but that is the decision of their parents who both work full time, so there is little I can do. I am not in a position to care for the children myself.

You talk of the strict routine, which is of course the cornerstone of all institutions, be they children, older people, people with LDs etc etc. Everyone gets a drink at the same time, food at the same time, (nappies changed at the same time) if they are babies. Also being kept inside most of the time cannot be a good thing. At least in the day nursery my gr/chrn attend there is a very well equipped outdoor play area, with high quality play material, slides, climbing frames, swings etc etc. Pedal cars and prams etc.

I too know of many situations where there were relatively few problems until adolescence and then problems which have lain dormant emerge, causing great distress to the young people and their families.

I agree the OP's sister's boy needs help, quite urgently, and hope she can access it this - Kewcumber's post sounds helpful in this respect.

So glad your girls were able to visit and meet the carers and see where they used to live - I know how helpful this is, as often I have taken adopted children back to show them in the UK where they were born and where they lived with their birth parents and this gives them some idea at least of their origins.

Thanks for your interesting post, which I'm sure OP found helpful.

Maybe I have too pessimistic a notion of orphanages, and like anything else in life there is great variance between them.

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