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getting help with a 'adoptive child' issues?

(17 Posts)
zazas Fri 24-Jun-11 22:39:27

Hi, I am hoping that someone here can help with advice regarding my close friend and her adoptive daughter. My friend in not part of mumsnet and is happy for me to see if I can get any advice for her. Sorry for the length smile

Background is that they adoptive the child at 21 months exactly two years ago - their first and only child. It has been 'successful' and they have bonded beautifully as a family. It has been wonderful watching and being part of enabling that child to grow and develop. We are extremely close friends and I have been with her every step of the way, from being a referee to her sounding board and shoulder to cry on. Although I am not an adoptive parent, I have three children and two step children under 13 (my youngest is the same age as her child) and so I have been able to help as a parent as well as a friend.

A bit of background - the child was placed in foster care at 4 weeks from a Mother who had one child in care and has since had another placed (she herself came from a foster care situation). The baby suffered neglect from the start including being left alone in a car over night. The child was then placed with one foster family until she was adopted but during that time she spent periods of up to two weeks with other foster families on respite care.

While it is difficult to really know how the foster family parented the child (even though my friend obviously spent time with), the child did come with severely decayed teeth and significant old injuries (cuts and burn scars). My friend believed that the child was allowed free roam with the much older children and was most likely put into situations where she was probably not accurately supervised.

So that is the generalised background and the child has pretty much exhibited what my friend expected in terms of her early experiences in her behaviour and attachment issues.

So my (our) question is - how do the parents help the child now outside of the love and support they have shown her to date?

The main issues that are manifesting now are two specific things:

One the child is overly friendly and affectionate to adults, regardless whether she knows them or not. They understand her need to create bonds with adults but how do they 'teach', show her what is appropriate and will it ever be 'reset' so that instinctively she knows what is appropriate?

Secondly she will push herself physically where she is in real danger of hurting herself or another person. For example she will jump from great heights onto someone, often without warning, wrestle other children very forcefully to the ground and have little regard to her safety - be in water, roads, heights, play equipment.

I just feel that my friend needs to concentrate on being the Mother and doing all the things that helps provide a safe and secure home and that the child needs outside and professional help to deal with the other issues?

Does this sound right? I certainly know with my own children, when they have struggled with various issues at school be it emotional or educational, I have been offered professional support.

Does such a thing exist for adoptive children? My friend has not had an easy relationship with Social Services and while she has gone to a few talks through Adoption UK, feels that they concentrate too much on the negative outcomes and she tends to want to look through life with rose tinted glasses! She is also concerned if she asks for help, they will see it as they are not coping and they hope to adopt another child later this year.

Over to you - any advice would be appreciated as we all so want to help this child while she is still little in the best way that we can.

Thanks

mumsiepie Fri 24-Jun-11 23:29:40

Surely they wouldn't feel she is not coping just because she asks for help/advice? Seems they would be very unreasonable to do that.

The signs of too familiar behaviour and not seeing danger are both signs of attachment problems which is hardly surprising with the bonding disruptions she had in the early months/years. It is really good for her she has a good bond now with her parents.

I am not sure if there is help readily available for this apart from once the child goes to school there would be opportunities for her to see the educational psychologist.

Maybe the health visitor could help and advice. really your friend could do with asking now before she begins the adoption process again.

Good luck to her. x

Maryz Fri 24-Jun-11 23:45:05

I do think that she should ask for help - but as an adoptive parent myself I can understand her reluctance to do so hmm. I think we adoptive parents expect too much of ourselves sometimes.

There will be other people who will come along with better advice than mine, but I do think it sounds as though she has some degree of attachment issues. Looking at life through rose-tinted glasses will not help the child. If simply loving a child would solve all that child's problems, all our children would be happy, but they are not necessarily so.

If I was talking to your friend and she had posted the above, I wouldn't hesitate to suggest that she tried for some post-adoption help both for her and for her daughter, either via the agency who placed the child, or through local services (I'm not in the UK so don't know who to suggest). However, I am reluctant to tell you to tell her that, iyswim. Looking at an adopted child from the outside, especially if you are an experienced parent, can give you a false idea of the relationship. When a child is adopted, it is important to treat them very differently at first from a child of a similar age who has had a happy, stress-free life. So clinginess to parents and/or inappropriate attachment to other adults, being "in-your-face" with other children, various "odd" behaviours may be perfectly normal for these children. Given time, they will "normalise" their behaviour, and really all their adoptive parents need is unconditional and uncritical support.

Generally looking at it from the outside advice can be at best inappropriate, and at worst damaging (because it causes the parents to question and doubt themselves, when often they are managing well).

So to answer your question - if she feels she needs help, then support her to get it. If she feels things are fine, and she just needs time, leave her to it and don't make any suggestions. If she feels she needs help and doesn't know where to go, there are a number of specialist groups who deal with this, and I'm sure more knowledgeable people will be along in a bit to give you specifics.

Also bear in mind that the child will start school soon and if the mother isn't ready for help yet, any specific problems will be picked up in school.

flossymuldoon Sat 25-Jun-11 11:24:08

Maryz is right that I think we are guilty of expecting too much of ourselves so i do understand her reluctance to ask for help but, I have found that it is seen by SS as favourable when you get any help you need, and through the approval process it was seen as been exremely positive that i once had counselling to deal with some issues i had - as that showed that i would most likely ask for help if i needed it. I would be suprised if they thought her getting help was a negative thing as surely that shows that she will do whatever she can to help her child and therefore do the same with a second child?

We have just been referred for the Adoption UK buddy scheme. The aim is to buddy you up with someone who has experienced similar issues and has come out that other side. We were referred though our social worker as i think the agency has to pay for it but maybe that would help her in the first instance?

lettinggo Sat 25-Jun-11 12:27:21

I'd like to second what flossymuldoon just said. When we were going through the assessment process, I was anxious about the face that I'd been through a year of counselling because I was finding it hard to come to terms with not having another biological child. I was worried they would see it as a negative, the fact that I struggled with that issue. The opposite was the case. The SW saw it very positively because she said it meant that when and if our adoptive child had an issue, we would be more likely to be the kind of people who would seek professional help. Which means that that is what they think is the right thing to do in that situation.

I don't know what I'd advise your friend to do but I wouldn't be afraid to seek help for fear of what SS might think. My only concern would be that they would think if their child is having attachment issues, it might be better to work with her on those issues before adopting another child who will come with another set of issues, iykwim.

zazas Sat 25-Jun-11 13:53:09

Thanks for your replies. Just in reply to 'maryz' - please be reassured that it is my friend who has voiced her concern about the issues and asked me if I could 'see' them too (which I could but had been biding my time until my friend felt she wanted to discuss them). I am very aware that her child and my child have completely different starts to life and I all along have insisted that she should not compare the two children. Obviously there are the similar 'toddler' issues that we have discussed and compared smile I am also full of praise for her as a mother as I feel that she has done an incredible job, I just share her concerns that not all the issues she can cope with on her own. I agree whole-heartedly with you that I just need to support her and never make her feel 'judged'.

I will encourage her to seek help/support and that she shouldn't look at it as if she can't cope but that she wants the best for her child. I am assuming that for SS they are issues they have dealt with many times before and have systems in place to help parents!!!

hifi Sat 25-Jun-11 13:57:09

the correct terminology escapes me,something like inappropriate attachment,but dont quote me.
dd1 had it,would go and sit on random strangers knees,walk off with other people,sit in other mothers lap etc. it really stressed me out. spoke to ss and it is common in adopted children. they advised me to gently remove dd, so if in sand pit and sat on a dads knee i would go up and say come on baby hifi lets go over there, then would say,"im your mummy,come and sit on my lap". this went on for a few weeks and then she was ok. ss also issued a letter of explanation that i could hand out to friends and relatives, it outlined the condition and why i would be removing dd from their grasps.

zazas Sat 25-Jun-11 14:33:54

hifi - that was what the child was like at the beginning and my friend too was really stressed out by it. It has certainly 'improved' since these early days but two years later she still shows (to quote you smile ) inappropriate attachment quite regularly. Maybe it will taper off as she becomes older but my friend is concerned that she lacks the ability to completely understand what is appropriate and what is not and apart from verbal reminding her, she wants to know if there are other ways to teach her this?

flossymuldoon Sun 26-Jun-11 10:54:57

In our adoption prep training they suggested that if this behaviour was exhibited that you display photos of the people that it is ok for them to hug/kiss and discourage them from hugging/kissing anyone who was not on that list. She would need to regularly go through the list of people to reinforce it but maybe that would help? Also, if the adults are known adults maybe they could have a word with them to remind them that if the child gets overly affectionate with them that they should gently suggest that they hug/kiss/sit on the lap of Mummy or Daddy instead?

Our boy is 21 months old and is a very affectionate child. His foster carers had a large and affectionate family so showing it was the norm for them all. At the moment I am stepping in if he gets overly affectionate with people but at this point i have no idea whether it's linked to attachment or whether that's just the way he is. I will be closely monitoring it though.

misspollysdolly Sun 26-Jun-11 14:29:17

Cannot write a long response now, but will check back in later. However, I would agree with Maryz, that she does seem to be exhibiting some signs of attachment disorder and therefore the earlier they can get involved with a specialist therapeutic setting the better - and by this I mean adoption/attachment therapists who can support them all as a family for as long as they need that support. Whereabouts are your friends based, zazas? We live in Bristol and are currently being supported by a very good specialist therapy charity. I also know of a very similar organisation in Yorkshire. Will be back later...! MPD

zazas Sun 26-Jun-11 23:41:18

misspolyydolly - thank you. I think that is the sort of support that my friend is hoping to find. It has been two years now and these 'issues' are not really dissipating with just age and obviously the love and bonding that she has with her parents. My friend, really feels that to do her best for her child she needs to start now rather than later. We are in Cumbria smile I look forward to your help - thanks.

Thanks for your comment flossymuldoon - I think your advice is good, it is hard for other people to not response to an affectionate young child isn't it and it is a fine line between what is just a child who is naturally like that and one that has trouble knowing who they should be showing affection to...

Lilka Mon 27-Jun-11 07:45:32

This girl definitely seems to have an 'insecure attachment' (as opposed to a 'secure' one, which your children for instance probably have). At home, your friends best bet in my opinion, is to be using therapeutic parenting techniques instead of supernanny type standard parenting methods, e.g. time ins, never time outs. There are a few books which go into some detail about what behaviors are common, and some tips on dealing with them, for instance 'The Connected Child', and for attachment issues 'Building the bonds of attachment' I thought were both very good

But really, attachment issues need further support outside the family, so if there is a way to get that, push for it. The problem is people don't really understand these problems in toddlers, so they only tend to get help with obviously serious issues. You might find it difficult to access any useful support when she's this young (3?). However, I would try hard to get it, since it won't go away when she goes to school, and it might make friendships difficult

Lastly, you asked if her behavior would 'reset' at some point. Attachment issues can be worked with, but its very unusual to actually change someone's attachment style. The good news is about 30-40% of the population have an insecure attachment, and for many it doesn't have any big effect on their life. Only a few have more serious issues. You can overcome many issues, but I wouldn't expect any 'reset' - the damage is done, it can't be erased. you just have to work with it. Kids can make fantastic improvements, but I honestly think it would be very rare to find an adoptive child in this country with a secure attachment

walesblackbird Mon 27-Jun-11 09:55:39

I think your friend and her daughter need to ask for help now, rather than wait tbh. When my daughter was placed she had a tendency to be over familiar with certain strangers - she had a certain 'type' which we were able to identify and work on. She was just 12 months old at placement. It's not right or appropriate that she approaches strangers and her mum needs to be very firm and direct her back - if necessary causing offence to said strangers! There are lots of activities she can do with her daughter to work on her attachment issues - and this is something that Theraplay can help with. It's something we're currently doing with our adopted son.

I would approach it from two angles : one she needs to contact her Post Adoption Social Worker and formally request an Assessment of Needs. If the child is less than 3 years post AO then she will need to speak to the placing authority. If more than 3 years then it will be her local social services dept.

She could also ask her GP for a referral to Camhs - Camhs appear to work differently in different areas so it may be that they can help your friend and her daughter.

It looks to me as if she could also be hypervigilant - basically this means that she needs to know everything going on around her as in this way she feels she will be keeping herself safe. When it comes to education this can cause huge problems with concentration and her ability to learn and to socialise.

She sounds as if she had a very tough start to life with different placements - and it does sound as if, consequently, she now struggles to form appropriate attachments.

Not all sws are dragons - our LA has been fantastic in getting us the support that we need to help our son. I know we have been very lucky but it can really get worse before it gets better and without the appropriate help and support these problems aren't going to go away.

In the meantime I would suggest that your friend googles Theraplay to get some ideas of games that can help to strengthen their attachments.

NeverendingStoryteller Tue 28-Jun-11 10:29:28

The good news is that it gets better as they get older, assuming that your friend is consistent with the way she deals with this. I have two adopted children whose behaviour was almost identical to your friend's child. We spent what felt like an age dealing with this - we were constantly asking our kids to climb down off other people (especially strangers), sometimes physically removing them, always followed by a briefing as to why they were being removed. We also did lots of work with charts and photos, talking about the circles of people around us. We created a 'map' showing who was in the inner circle, and who could have hugs and lap time without asking us - family and close friends who the children should already be comfortable with. Then, we started drawing other circles and associating people with other circles - and establishing the rules about how to deal with people in the outer circles. You can do this (with pictures) even with very young children. When the children 'broke' the rules, we would remove them from whomever they had climbed on, remided them about the 'map' and the 'rules', and we took them onto our own laps for a cuddle.

As for launching themselves - this took a bit longer and still sometimes rears itself as a problem now. It sounds harsh, but whenever the kids did this, we would place them away from us, and we would get them to 'ask' for a hug - we explained that hugs can sometimes hurt (what if we had a hot drink or a knife!) and that asking meant that we could have a safe cuddle that felt nice for everyone. The kids, after about 6 months, started to ask before launching, and we give lots of positive attention when they do this properly. We also try to anticipate when they are looking for a hug, and we offer as often as possible. Also, we have a secret system for showing that we're giving each other a 'virtual' hug, for those times when, for safety or social reasons, we can't do the hugging thing. (We squeeze our fists together quickly, and smile at each other, to substitute for a hug). They love the whole 'secret language' thing.

The dangerous behaviour is also familiar to us - and again, with time and patience, this will start to recede. Whenever our kids did this, we would remove them from their game or activity, and we would sit them next to us - it feels like a consequence to the child, but it actually gives them what they are looking for - the feeling of safety and security with an appropriate person. It also builds trust because you explain to the child that their behaviour is dangerous, and as you are their mummy, it is your job to try to stop them being in danger, and they need to sit with you for a little while, while they think about their behaviour. It's a time out, but in a good way. With our older child, we would talk about 'what is your brain telling you' - and we saw good progress where he could start to identifiy situations where he was putting himself in danger (or others) and where he started having that dilemma between behaving sensibly, and behaving dangerously. We built on that, rewarding him when he made good choices - as a result we've seen a massive improvement in the number of good, safe choices.

Also we've encouraged our children to engage in activites that help them to discover their own bodies, and learn how to take calculated risks - our youngest does gymnastics, for example, which is brilliant because he is starting to learn how to control his body.

As for asking for help, sometimes a session with a psychologist can be super-helpful - our LA had the names of an amazing service, and they even paid for us to go and speak with them. It was so helpful to go through our strategies for dealing with these concerns, and it was lovely to hear that this behaviour isn't unusual in adopted children. Sometimes, just talking helps.

Wish your friend the very best of luck - you are welcome to PM me if you want to ask any other questions. Sorry this response is so long, but your friend's situation resonated with me!

zazas Tue 28-Jun-11 22:35:59

Thank you so much - fantastic and thoughtful responses. I so appreciate you taking the time. I will print them out for my friend - it will do so much to reassure her about her child and her parenting.

As a couple they have been reluctant to ask for help - believing that 'love' will conquer all but have slowly realised that maybe it was more than they had the expertise to deal with.

I have to run but will read in detail tomorrow.

walesblackbird Wed 29-Jun-11 09:54:13

Oh if only that were the case! A lot of us (me included naively) went into adoption thinking that love would conquer all. Some sws and professionals even now still think that! At one school meeting regarding my son the Chair of Governers actually said "oh but he's alright now because he's been adopted" ... as if every traumatic event that came before would be negated. It's not like that. Even when a traumatic event occurred before the child was preverbal the body keeps score. The child may not be able to recall specific events (although my son could recall things that happened when he was tiny) their bodies keep score of those events.

Even a stressful pregnancy can take its toll on the unborn child as it raises the baby's cortisol levels (stress levels) and when a child's stress levels are already heightened it can take just the smallest little trigger to set off an almighty tantrum.

There are a few books that I always recommend : Margot Sunderland's What Every Parent Should Know explains the brain development bit really well and Holly van Gulden's Real Parents, Real Children explains really well what happens when a child is removed at particular ages/stages of development.

Both worth reading I think.

Maryz Wed 29-Jun-11 10:12:49

We all thought that love would conquer all sad. And you know, love does really help and is the most important thing we can give our children. But there are children for whom love isn't enough, and it is a sign of strength not weakness as parents to look for help smile.

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