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I read this today 'How adopting an angelic five-year-old blew our family apart', it's in the daily mail but I felt it was interesting to ask what could have been done differently and by whom?

(111 Posts)
Italiangreyhound Wed 01-Jan-14 22:18:38

I read this today 'How adopting an angelic five-year-old blew our family apart', it's in the daily mail but I felt it was interesting to ask what could have been done differently and by whom?


Sorry if this article is upsetting for anyone, it is not posted for that reason. Just looking for comments and ideas on how things could be done differently, and hopefully are done differently in some places.

fostermonkey Wed 01-Jan-14 22:49:32

Wow. I feel for the parents and Alex. As to what could be done differently - that's a hard one. It difficult to tell just how damaged a child can be, sometimes only time can tell. In an ideal world therapy/theraplay would be thrown at these children whether they seemed to need it or not.
Attachment issues can be the norm with children who have had a chaotic upbringing, so you would think that this is something that would be worked on very quickly when fostered and continued post adoption.

I suppose it begs he question 'is the damage reversible?'
Some children just aren't right for adoption. Maybe long term fostering with intensive therapy would have been better for Alex. It would take the pressure off all involved to have a 'normal' mum/daughter/family relationship.

Maybe there should be an age cut off for adoption? - Also, long term fostering shouldn't be seen as a worse alternative - but I think SS seem to think that adoption is best. Also some offer more post adoption support than others.

It's also a shame that SS turned on the parents and blamed them for the failing. People like to seek blame - when sometimes nothing could have been done.

Italiangreyhound Wed 01-Jan-14 23:00:39

I wonder if adoption is seen as the best option because it is cheaper for social services? Sorry if that sounds bad.

Lilka Wed 01-Jan-14 23:07:09

I read the whole book soon after publication, so I'm basing all this off that, rather than the article.

Preparation - She didn't really go into much about the approval process, but it was pretty clear that the preparation was not great. That reflects my experience. I was approved in 1995, and no social worker ever uttered the word 'attachment' to me. We did discuss difficulties because of past abuse, but not in the way it would be discussed today (I think!). I had some previous experience with children who had been neglected/abused so I wasn't actually going in completely blind, but I suspect that every other hopeful adopter on my course who didn't have any experience WAS going in blind.

And course it's easy to say 'well you should have gone out and researched' but there was no internet and there were about 2 books in the MASSIVE library in the city. Resources just weren't easily accessible where I lived. There's SO much more out there now. So many more books, so much on the web etc. And of course if no one ever really spells out that love and hugs alone won't cure the hurts abused children have suffered, how do you know that you need to research?

How do you ever find out that these children might need to be parented differently, let alone

Were they told everything? Melanie never went into great detail and of course she couldn't for Alex's anonymity, but I doubt it. I certainly wasn't told everything I should have been told about DD1 and IME if you ask adopters 'did social services hide things from you or not give you enough information about your child?' the proportion of parents saying 'yes, they hid things' will increase the longer ago they adopted. I've heard horrible stories and sad stories about hidden information and the majority of them are from adoptions from the 90's to mid '00's, although that's not to say that it doesn't happen now, because in some cases it does.

Sad reflection of practice in the early-mid 90's IMHO and sad relfection of the lack of knowledge back then. And yes, I know there were clued up professionals them - I think I remember NanaNina saying once that she was involved in education about attachment in the 90's, and I was honestly shocked.

And that's an entire essay just on the subject of preparation hmm I'll make another post in a bit, I need to go up and see DD2 now. I can talk about so much more!!!!! Like post adoption "support"!! And I also think that their parenting style wasn't well suited to a child with attachment and control issues. The cutlery is a great case in point. Lack of knowledge and support, child with emotional issues, they felt more and more out of their depth and unsupported, and eventually I think it was an emotional ending - Alex never did anything extremely dangerous or violent that I can recall, she didn't need to leave for everyone's safety. The parents burned out and felt emotionally unable to carry on.

Lilka Wed 01-Jan-14 23:11:05

I wonder if adoption is seen as the best option because it is cheaper for social services? Sorry if that sounds bad

However it sounds, IMHO there's truth in it!

I don't believe in an age cut off at all, and I've seen and read of adoptions being very successful even where the adoptee came home as a teenager. That said, adopting a traumatised older child is not easy and not like adopting a baby and good preparation is crucial!

namechangesforthehardstuff Wed 01-Jan-14 23:21:22

I know this is just an extract but the parent sounds MASSIVELY controlling. She wore her clothes inside out? How could that possibly be worth a mention? Those details make the parenting sound really quite poor tbh. Maybe that's harsh...

Italiangreyhound Wed 01-Jan-14 23:29:54

I have every sympathy for the child and the family, how terrible for all of them.

I felt very sorry the 'voice' in her head was not taken seriously. I think if an adult said that they would be taken more seriously.

The phrase 'I'd always dreamt of rescuing "unwanted" children.' makes me wince a bit but if I am honest I would love to feel I could rescue a child! The reality for me is that we are adopting because we want another child! I think wanting a child/another child is/should be the main/only reason for adopting. But that is just in my humble opinion. Although it is clear from this article that the adoptive mum could not have any more children so I am sure she did want another child and so maybe just like me she also dreamed of making a difference to child's life.

For me it is weird that the desire to 'help' a child kind of comes and goes in the sense that at different times in the process my need to have another child takes precidence and my need to have a child who will not be too challenging also takes precidence over any desire to help a child. There are just so many emotions mixed up in the process!

In the article I found the pouring water from the bath bit made me wonder why it was such an issue to be in the article, out of possisbly many other incidents that could have been taken from the book?

I think there were things that were dangerous, not sure what a spud gun is but if it fires a nail that is dangerous? And the bathroom incident later with another child when she was in foster care sounded very dangerous.

Thanks for all your insight * fostermonkey* and Lilka.

Italiangreyhound Wed 01-Jan-14 23:32:20

names the bath thing was what made me feel concerned because kids do do all kinds of weird things but of course I have no idea how bad it all was.

Ledkr Wed 01-Jan-14 23:40:17

Gosh that's truly heartbreaking isn't it.
I work on post adoption support but have never come across anything as extreme thankfully.
I do however see people who are desperate and in crisis and am massively limited as to what I can do.
I do life story work but an not a therapist so I spend a lot if my time badgering my managers to fund specialist therapy.
We are still learning the true effects of early trauma on these poor chikdren.

Lilka Thu 02-Jan-14 00:23:21

Right I'm back <go to sleep DD please go to sleep>

Of course the toy gun and the nail was not safe, but it's nothing compared to a child who say, is punching you daily or grabbing a knife and going at you with it. The incident in foster care was obviously after her leaving their home and was very serious

I have a lot of sympathy for the mum being frustrated by those constant small things. Big things sound scary, but I've found that sometimes it's little things which can get to you more than the big things.

Also, I seem to remember that Alex was a child who rarely lost control. The mum was shocked when she once actually screamed and raged, and this was quite a while after homecoming. Some children rage and tantrum frequently, but others...don't. I mean, we're talking about a 5 year old here who nearly NEVER tantrums about anything, and has a lot of control over her outward behaviour, whatever she is feeling on the inside. On top of that, some of her behaviour I would describe as passive-aggressive. Put it together and it says quite a bit about her and it does indicate emotional issues which are more than mild.

I'm honestly very glad that both my daughters tend to be tantrummers and ragers and show their anger, rather than keeping it locked away and being passive aggressive

That's not to say they never do it. I remember DD1, a few months after coming home, started to spill her drinks. On the sofa's and objects that stained of course. She insisted sweetly that it was an accident. And did it nearly every day. She would go, eg. 'oops Lilka I'm sorry, I spilled my ribena, look, what should I do?'. And she was smirking at me. When I complained to my mum and a friend they BOTH said 'ah, she's almost certainly just clumsy, don't be angry with her', 'she's apologising and everything, it's just an accident', 'I'm sure she isn't smirking, and if she is it's a nervous smirk because she's scared you'll be angry with her'. One day she did it at my mum's house. 'Granny X, I spilled my orange juice on your sofa, I'm so so sorry'. Granny told her how clumsy she was at her age. When granny turned her back, DD turned to me and smirked with raised brows while swilling her drink in her glass and making tipping motions


I didn't say anything to granny, because I knew full well that it would be me written off as silly, fussy, reading things into it that don't exist, being unfair to poor DD, and as someone who just doesn't understand how kids can be - understandably of course, I'm only a new adopter of course, it's not like I can be expected to get how kids are, given me time, I'll 'get it'.

A while back, now adult DD says 'oh Lilka, I used to do things that wound you up because it made me feel good, I remember when I x and y and deliberately poured my drinks everywhere on purpose and pretended it was an accident. Do you remember?'

Do I heck hmm

Anyway, the point is, I suspect several of the thing Alex was doing were exactly the same kind of thing - she knew it wound her mum up if she did x, so she did it repeatedly. And maybe it seems odd to be wound up over something small, but you can get bogged down in the little things really easily, especially when you don't have a clue why it's happening

soundevenfruity Thu 02-Jan-14 01:14:44

I am really surprised that there is such inconsistent support for adopting families as attachment disorders destroy the very fabric of human personality. I once heard a woman speak who seemed completely overwhelmed by consequences of extensive abuse (physical and sexual) her adoptive daughters suffered in their biological family. Information about which was completely hidden from her by social services.

Lilka Thu 02-Jan-14 01:26:13

Should say obviously, I never saw her do it, I only got to see the smirking and fake inncoent expression and spilled drink.

Then there was the very frequent 'accidental' breaking of plates and mugs

"Lilka! Granny! Help"
"I've dropped a plate and it smashed, I'm soooory"
(no actual fright or remorse in her voice). Smiles at me in THAT way
Granny: Oh never mind it's only a plate. Step away from the broken bits lovey, I'll clean it up
Me: Actually Ma, I'd like DD to clean it up herself, I'll go over it afterwards and make sure it's all up. Also DD, you need to give your pocket money to granny to pay for the plate
Granny: Oh no, no! I'll do it

And later to me: Don't make her give up her pocket money, it was only an accident
No Ma, it wasn't, honestly, it wasn't...
Don't be silly Lilka, you're too hard on her, kids drop things and break them all the time
Ma, hear me out..
No! Look lovey, you're too hard on that girl, it's not fair, she...


This is what happens when your child does something and you're the only one who knows full well it's deliberate button pushing rather than an accident or forgetfullness or messiness of whatever. Everyone thinks you're being silly or worse, you're being mean and have no understanding of kids

I prefer to give parents the benefit of the doubt. We all have instincts and we know our kids better than anyone. So if a parent said to me 'I know it's deliberate, I'm sure it is, I'm sure he/she's doing it on purpose to annoy me' I'd believe them

Sadly, finding a way to not react and try not to care is a good way of dealing with it, but that's difficult if it's pushing your buttons

Pouring water onto my bathroom floor deliberately would be mildly irritating to me, but some parents would find it more annoying than i would so I understand why it really bothered Melanie

HappySunflower Thu 02-Jan-14 01:32:34

Attachment disorder, and the issues around it, are still so minimised and misunderstood by so many.
I gained a lot of experience about it throughout my assessment but still underestimated the impact it would have on our lives.
Sadly, Alex is one of so many people being let down by the system.

Lilka Thu 02-Jan-14 02:01:11

Yes, attachment disorder is very misunderstood, attachment issues generally are

The post adoption 'support' they received was dire and generally post adoption support is lacking

It's all about money sad they wouldn't help Melanie and Robert because it was costly and time consuming and some professionals didn't believe there were issues anyway. Even when some form of support might be offered, it might be inappropriate because the cheaper less specialised services are offered first even when the child has very significant issues and its extremely unlikely to be enough. The reluctance to use services like say family futures for instance is so great it's impossible to access in some areas. Always the thinking is in the short term rather than the long term again because of the money

HappySunflower Thu 02-Jan-14 02:42:30

You're right, it is all about money. It really is such a short sighted view.
The work that Family Futures do is so effective, but unless there is a commitment to funding their work in the longer term, positive change is unlikely to be achieved let alone sustained.

There are still so many people who 'don't believe in' attachment issues.
It makes it very difficult to get the help and support that we need for ourselves as parents, let alone for our children.

Buster51 Thu 02-Jan-14 09:15:00

Morning all, I happened to stumble across this article on google when trying to find out some aspects of DSs behavior! As a number of you have mentioned I feel pre-adoption there may not be enough support/preparation. In all honestly my DH and I were only really prepped on questions such as 'what would you do if DS smashed a window?' - 'obvious' behavior problems...We have literally had to learn 'on the job' from scratch, and let me tell you 9 weeks in I feel I am strugglying through each day!

I have spoken with you all on previous threads since DS was placed with us, and this has helped a lot. But sadly certain things mentioned about Alex does ring home in my ear!

Lika - you mention DD used to deliberately do things she knew would cause a reaction, DS is doing this all of the time and up until just recently my family all thought I was crazy!! I mentioned on my previous post it was the over clinginess to DH, looking at me for a reaction, we ignored that behavior but unfortunately it is getting worse and he is starting to vocoalise things to get a reaction. This is things like 'i love daddy not mummy' and mummy you're not even funny daddy is the best' even asked my friends daughter to kick the back of my chair (whispering). I realise they sound like little things, but as you mentioned Lika it is his face! he looks at me as though he really really wants to hurt me (and frankly he is).

As a resort yesterday I spoke with his previous FC for advice (although SW does not want me doing that). Which did help a lot as she advised unfortunately he has had a 'manipulative' trait while he was placed there (again I wished we had been told everything about him to prepare ourselves, which we werent). She also explained that the outward remarks to 'put me down' should be addressed, so we are following each of them through with a consequence now - so lets see how that goes??

I realise I havent put much in relation to the article here, but Lika and others how did you move on from this? I am stugglying each day as shamefully so I am now scared of his reactions as I do find them so hurtful! I need to grow a thicker skin but it is very hard...I feel he is quite a passive aggressive child, and manipulative, even when he is being 'nice' it is very animated, full on and not the real boy I have had glimpses of over the last 9 weeks.

Any help appreciated! - I must add this has only risen since DH came home, when he is working away DS cannot get enough of me?

Buster51 Thu 02-Jan-14 09:17:58

Again I must agree although the big things are terrible in that article, the constant little things do get on top of you as I feel that is what is waring me down. Our DS also never, ever loses control, to others this seems that he is a very good and well behaved boy, which of course that is how it seems. But for a 4 year old to be 'that good' I feel he is holding a lot back and starting to express it very passively towards me.

I just want to know how to move onward from this sad

TheCurseOfFenric Thu 02-Jan-14 09:49:01

First of all, I have no experience of adoption, or the adoption process.

I clicked on the link, and read the story with increasing disbelief.

Yes, Alex eventually did show some very unsafe behaviours, and did some horrendous things. BUt only after she left her adoptive home.

I do understand about the little behaviours, and the never-ending relentlessness of them - my own daughter (10) does this to me all the time. She has learning difficulties, and extreme controlling and manipulative behaviours.

I realise that what is in the extract is not the full story, but to lose it completely over the bath-water stuf, or the 'extreme' shadowing ever move for 10 minutes (hmm) is just unbelievable.

I do understand about no support (I get precious little myself), and about everyone around you 'seeing' the perfect child who is just trying their best. But I am struggling to see how the behaviours described could 'blow a family apart', tbh. It is so very hard, and I am no saint, but I am the adult in the situation, and dd is just a child - she may be a (at times) intensely controlling child who displays deeply irritatng behaviour, but she is the one faced with a world she doesn't understand, doing all she can to feel as safe as she can.

TheCurseOfFenric Thu 02-Jan-14 09:51:19

Oh, and I wanted to say, also - without doubt the most frustrating thing is lack of support. This is not exclusive to the adoption scenario. We have been passed from pillar to post over the years with dd, and have only managed to find decent help when we paid privately for it. Expensive, but worth every penny. And I will remain forever grateful that we could afford it.

Italiangreyhound Thu 02-Jan-14 11:22:03

* TheCurseOfFenric* I'm so sorry to hear of your situation. I think there is just not enough money and support offered to families experiencing problems, and those problems often do not go away and only grow. A fear friend of mine has a biological son with lots of mental health issues and she has had to battle to get anywhere with support.

I guess in the adoption scenario there is that element of choice. They wee a family of three (like our family) and chose to adopt a child. I think to adopt a child and then have to effectively 'send them back' and for your marriage to break up because of the stress of the situation could be described as blowing your family apart. The family did not just go back to how it was, a happy little three, the daughter was still part of the family but living apart, the husband was living apart and there was a lot of pain.

I can't judge the family for what they did, I have no idea how I would react. I am just so sad for them.

Buster I did think about it before posting this because I knew some things had changed in the system and I felt the article may no longer be relevant. I am so sorry to hear you are going through these things but glad if the article and the answers from Lilka and others will help you to work through this. As I said on the other thread about the image of a fountain, the behaviour is the splashes of water, the upward jet the feelings below the behaviour and then the base of the fountain is the needs below that which is fuelling the feelings and behaviour. Can you get some expert help to sort out these problems or to help you to work through them? I felt very angry on your behalf when you said ' I spoke with his previous FC for advice (although SW does not want me doing that).' Why does the social worker not like that? It seems crazy to me that you should not have ready access to the person who has cared for your DS most recently! Or am I being naive?

Thanks Lilka for all your wise words. I was not making any judgement on the child's dangerous behaviour, I know the bath and other child incident came after she left the home but the nail and potato gun thing chilled me. It is just so hard to know if things had been done differently how differently they would have turned out. I hate the fact that the voice in her head is not taken seriously.

MillyMollyMama Thu 02-Jan-14 12:45:01

Hello Everyone. I have not adopted, but my previous job in Education, brought me into contact with parents who had. Lots of the issues described here were not uncommon. However I would like to comment on a couple of issues that really leap out of the article, for me, anyway!

First of all the description of the child as "angelic". This is setting up the parents to expect behaviour to match the child. They knew the child had learning difficulties but seemed to expect rational behaviour. This should have been investigated far more thoroughly. They did not appear to know what this could really mean as it is often behaviour related too. The parents seemed to have a 'Rose tinted glasses' approach to adopting, especially as they were motivated to 'rescue' a child. As the birth mother was a drug addict, the child was maybe born addicted too? This seems to have been glossed over. The expectations of the parents seems too high and the Dad wanted his life back. I sometimes wonder if some people see adopting a child as a bit like taking in a rescue dog. I know that sounds harsh, but they did give this child up. Would they have done that if she had been their own? I doubt it.

I agree the preparation was poor, the after adoption service was poor but I just wonder if the professionals involved suspected the match was not right as the parents seemed to have problems with the sort of behaviour associated with adopting a difficult, and extremely, damaged children. Did they really just want a perfect child? Given the background, this was extremely unlikely. It appears reality was not given much consideration by anyone and the child ended up as a tragic pawn.

Lilka Thu 02-Jan-14 13:47:04

I do think there was a big mismatch in their expectations and in the reality, and that caused a huge amount of problems. And that can come up a lot in adoption - I've talked to many adoptive parents post adoption who never expected it to turn out like it did (being involved in support groups and meeting other parents using the same services I was means I found a good group of people with similar issues to us). Lack of preparation really doesn't help with that, although of course sometimes a parent might ignore the stuff about attachment and think 'oh that won't happen to us'. People adjust differently to their new reality, and sometimes parents seriously struggle to adjust to their family reality being so different to what they envisaged

Through my own experience, I can't blame them for not expecting RAD though, and the issues caused by her emotional difficulties and struggling with it. They just couldn't adjust to parenting a child with these issues and then got no support which was I think the catalyst for the disruption. If she had stayed with them, eventually she would have done something like the bath incident whilst with them, and then might have had to enter residential care anyway for everyone's safety

BettyBotter Thu 02-Jan-14 14:39:25

I heard the author of this book (I think - same story, anyway) talking on the radio a year or two ago and her interview struck me deeply. I think the DM article doesn't really do justice to the extent to which Alex's behaviour was very damaging to their son (both physical and emotional) and the efforts the parents made to try and improve things before they had to accept they couldn't cope.

I think the problem with the article (and the book?) is that the author is trying to put into words the almost indescribable here - the effects of RAD on Alex. The behaviours which the RAD caused all sound innocuous (pouring water on the floor) but the actual problem for the whole family was Alex's damaged ability to form a secure attachment with them and that's in the end why things went so wrong. I remember the mum telling a story of how day after day she patiently showed Alex how to lay the table. Each day Alex would be unable to remember how to do it due apparently to her learning disability. One day the mum peeped through the door and watched Alex carefully laying the table correctly and then going round again and deliberately upending each knife and fork so the table was messed up. For whatever reason, Alex hadn't actually wanted to gain approval or the satisfaction of achieving a task that her parents had assumed she would. That's a tough one for parents to deal with. I guess this sort of thing, like pouring bath water on the floor day after day, would have been much more 'copeable with' for the parents if Alex had been able to build an attachment with them and perhaps then they would have been more able to empathise with Alex and tolerate the difficult stuff.

Would some intensive therapy have helped Alex develop better bonds with her family? Who knows, but it certainly sounds like some support and understandanding would have helped her family cope better with Alex. What a sad story sad

Lilka Thu 02-Jan-14 14:52:34

I remember reading about the cutlery thing. DD1 would do things like that.

I completely agree with you Betty

Love and attachment are reciprocal to a big extent. If there's nothing going one way, you will never build up a relationship between you. You might love your child fiercely and unconditionally, but you can feel the difference when they don't love you back. DD1 didn't form an attachment to me for a long time, and when she did and we really built up a relationship it felt so so different, even though I didn't love her any more than before. It did make things much easier than before in some ways

Wish I had heard that interview

ghostinthecanvas Thu 02-Jan-14 15:20:15

I lived with SRAD (diagnosed) for 4 years. I had read this article a long time ago. However, nothing prepares you for the reality of day to day living. We had support. Lots of it. Everyone wanted this child to settle and succeed in family life. Support at home, full time support in school. I cannot imagine dealing with this 20 years ago when there was no information. I read, studied, learned more about myself and my attitude/expectations/behaviours than I thought possible. My family took 2 years to realise about deliberate behaviours. The description 'angelic' is about the way the child is perceived by others. I used to sleep during the day. I wasn't' allowed' to sleep at night for a long time. Eventually I got ear plugs. In the morning he asked did I sleep well. So sweet. I said " why yes, thank you. I slept very well" His reply? " I decided to let you sleep last night" To this day I cannot figure out how he knew about the plugs. But he did. I have never been so tired. Bone weary, mentally drained. But we loved this child. We only let him go when school broke down and he talked about stabbing me. sad The damage done to babies through neglect is horrendous. One problem about giving prospective parents all the possibilities is...will they walk away? Not that you can understand how it is to live with RAD. You have to do it. I am still living with RAD. Not to the same extreme but very challenging just the same. Somehow harder as this child has got 'angelic' down to a tee and I am thankful for the previous experiences my family went through with me, they know what I mean when I say " no, that wasn't an accident, you know how to do x, y and z..." A united front is a wonderful thing.

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