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Worried they're not coping

(28 Posts)
LittleLionMansMummy Tue 07-Nov-17 21:13:05

Hi, I'm really not sure what to do about this. I considered posting on another area but think I'd get a more informed response/ advice here.

Dsis and bil adopted two older children three years ago. They're now 9 and almost 11. They're in mainstream school and don't have statements of SEN but both are considered young for their age due to early neglect and struggle with focussing in class. They settled well and quickly.

Over the past year or so their eldest child has been in trouble at school, partly at least due to having an inept teacher with little or no experience of dealing with children who have been in care. However this deterioration in behaviour (lying, getting up and walking around the classroom, verbal aggression etc) has coincided with problems in dsis's marriage (bil has been drinking heavily, even by his standards, isn't very patient with their needs and has a very different parenting style to dsis). The kids have noticed their dad's drinking and tbh he's also quite controlling.

Anyway, dsis is doing her utmost and trying very hard to hold everything together, has made a few threats to leave him and raise them by herself etc but obviously loves him and wants it to work. She's really struggling to bond with her eldest, which is a shame as he's a really wonderful boy, and this makes her feel worse. Bil has no patience with him and no clue how to deal with him (and won't admit he is abusing alcohol).

It came to a head at the weekend when bil hit the eldest one around the face/ head for touching something he'd been asked not to. Dh saw this happen and so did our 7yo ds. Both were very shocked by it and told me what had happened. Bil admitted to dsis, in front of us, later that night what he'd done and was regretful. Dsis didn't say much but you could tell she wasn't happy about it. Bil said basically that it's not like him to hit out like that but he gets so frustrated at his eldest's inability to listen and do as he's told. I said that what he'd done wasn't going to have improved the situation and made it clear I didn't approve.

The thing is, I don't know what to do about this. I don't think dsis will do anything and will continue to minimise and enable bil's behaviour. At the heart of all this is a little boy who has lost his spirit and in danger of going off the rails completely. He's deeply unhappy, you can see it in his eyes, and desperate to please his dad who compares him unfavourably to his brother all the time.

Is this something I should be reporting and how the hell do cope with the fallout if I do? It'll rip my family apart and potentially put two vulnerable boys back into care. Is there any way I can contact SS but emphasise that I think they need more support?

thomassmuggit Tue 07-Nov-17 21:36:23

Oh, gosh, that's hard.

As much as possible, I would try and get them to approach SS. Could you bring up 'I was reading in the paper about the Adoption Support Fund, it sounds like the kids could get some help through that, what do you think?' ASF would require SWs back in their lives to do an assessment for support, but in a much more 'supportive' way than a 'safeguarding' type referral would.

Could you point them in the direction of Sarah Naish, and her compassion fatigue work, and the National Association of Therapeutic Parents? Could you volunteer to have the kids while they went on one of their weekend training/recovery weekends?

So, no, it doesn't sound like their coping. It's going to be hard to find a path that doesn't add to the stress, and add to the trauma for those kids. Guiding the parents to help so they can hopefully access it without getting blamed, could be the best way.

workinwashincleanin Wed 08-Nov-17 08:02:56

It is really great that you care about this, and that you have realised that the fallout could be dreadful for the dc. I don't think there is any easy answer, but with careful thought and planning you may be able to alleviate the fallout.

Could you find out what is available for adoption families and options for families in trouble generally, ie talk to various adoption organisations yourself to get more information and insight from experienced people, and run the above by them the ideas from this thread, and then sit down with your dsis.

Can you say to your dsis that now your family has witnessed the hitting, you feel you need to get involved because of it, and ask her what she intends to do to change things, and talk through some of her options? Hopefully she will realise that you do not want to cause problems but to help her work out how to make things better for everyone in the family.

In terms of ideas of what will help, in some areas of the country there are intervention programmes for adoptions coming close to disruption, where parents work with therapists. I think it is called "restorative practice" so you could google that (or someone may come along with more info). If the parents are open minded it can be very successful, I believe.

You could also look into a clinical psychologist who would work with the whole family and advise on concrete changes in the set up and how things are managed and about the dc's needs. From what I know this is less to do with therapy and more to do with specific changes to the home set up and how things are handled, and advice about dc's needs.

Can you in any event form a relationship and if possible a bond with the children yourself, in order to bolster their emotional lives, eg spend time with them on their own as a fairly regular arrangement, hopefully with dsis blessing, and let them know you are there to talk to? Obviously in way which protects your dc from being negatively affected. Also think of other ways the dc could be given support outside the home as well as in the home?

By doing the above you are helping and any intervention at all is giving your adopted dnephew the message that he is of worth, and his needs are important, even if not currently being always met, which is good for him and his self esteem.

If it draws a blank because your dsis won't engage or backtracks then please get more advice in RL about what to do next.

It must have been very upsetting for your dc flowers

workinwashincleanin Wed 08-Nov-17 08:08:25

In my second paragraph I meant "run the ideas from this thread by them"

LittleLionMansMummy Wed 08-Nov-17 08:23:37

Their case files have been passed over now to a different local authority which doesn't have a good record I'm afraid. I had an honest discussion and said that their eldest has withdrawn into himself and isn't the boy he was 3 years ago, full of zest. I was careful not to apportion blame, but did encourage her to seek help for him (perhaps a child psychologist). My hope would be that he'd open up about how he's feeling at home. Dsis was reluctant to get the social worker involved again because it takes so long to get help. I suggested in that case going through the GP and getting a mental health referral - anything to prevent him getting further withdrawn. I think she's also scared of involving SS because a couple of things have happened at school which have probably been filed. On one occasion one of the boys told his teacher that the reason he was tired was because his dad was playing music loudly when drunk the previous evening. The other boy said his side hurt due to an accident that happened during a play fight with his dad (also when he'd been drinking). Fwiw judging by my nephew's reaction to getting hit around the head, my dh said he was fairly sure it was the first time it had happened. Bil's reaction suggested the same. The other trouble is that because we've drummed it into ds that it's wrong to hit anybody he's struggling to get over what he saw and is saying things like 'uncle x is a bad man'. I think he's now scared of him and could just as easily say this to another member of my family. I've tried explaining that they're under a lot of pressure and that sometimes good people do bad things, and need help, but essentially I don't believe there's any excuse for hitting a child in this manner.

LittleLionMansMummy Wed 08-Nov-17 08:33:58

Thanks workin for the really helpful suggestions.

Dsis is totally receptive to me spending time alone with my nephew, especially after she heard the way he speaks and listens to me. Sadly I think the stumbling block will be bil. I've told her I'll happily try to find some time to spend with him (albeit I do work ft and have an 11mo baby as well as ds) but she needs to explain that to bil. He got angry when he found out my nephew had opened up to my dh about how much he hates school - said that as his dad it should be him he speaks too. Which is back to the control issue.

I think it's a great idea to do some research on what is available locally. I had thought of calling someone anonymously for a chat too, but not sure where to start.

LittleLionMansMummy Wed 08-Nov-17 08:35:53

Also I think you're right about me having a honest discussion about having witnessed it and feeling unable not to step in somehow. This is actually something my dh has suggested.

Jellycatspyjamas Wed 08-Nov-17 10:35:07

To be honest, all the help in the world won't make a difference if your nephew is in a situation where he is treated with aggression and violence - which I know are strong words but the situation you describe is both. Withdrawing in to himself is a natural response to his home situation and it's that which needs to change. Are your sister and her DH open to getting support for their parenting and really looking at the impact of home on their child? If not, all the support and therapy will just teach your nephew how to cope with an adverse home environment.

It doesn't need to be blaming or shaming in any way but the home situation needs to change. Worth bearing in mind that hitting a child around the head is illegal in parts of the uk for bery good reason, it's no small thing and a sign that his dad isn't coping with parenting just now.

LittleLionMansMummy Wed 08-Nov-17 13:52:18

I completely agree with you Jellycat. Dh and I don't approve of smacking for this very reason - still way too much of a grey area in much of the UK, so ban it altogether and there can be no 'misunderstanding' the law. Bil lost control. He knows it and dsis knows it.

Dsis knows the home environment isn't conducive to raising secure and happy children. She's been very open about that. They've been attending a parenting course as they've been required to do it before getting an official assessment for their other child (who is actually flourishing now, he's a very resilient and confident character as opposed to his brother). Dsis totally gets it and tries hard to put the strategies into place. Unfortunately bil forgets easily what they've learned and reverts to type quickly afterwards, often undermining dsis's efforts. I'm not sure he's capable of changing tbh (due in part to his own upbringing) but I don't think dsis will reach the same conclusion any time soon.

An example is that bil knows that due to neglect my nephew missed out on being a young child because he was always having to look after his little brother. As a consequence he now acts much younger than his age because he's living out the younger childhood that he should have been able to enjoy in his early years. They've been warned this and told to just go with it for the time being, baby him if he needs it etc. Bil finds this immensely frustrating and has no patience with him, keeps reminding him of his age and that he needs to grow up. He expects boys to be Alpha male types (often tells boys that they 'scream like a girl' or are a 'wuss' etc)- one of them is like this naturally but the older one prefers music, art, reading, isn't particularly sporty or outgoing etc. So I guess the poor boy is all too aware that he doesn't live up to his dad's expectations. The more I write the more i realise how bad it all sounds. It makes me so sad. My nephew deserves so much more.

I think I'm going to contact dsis to discuss all of this. I don't know how to make the penny drop that she needs to act and act now. sad

Battleax Wed 08-Nov-17 19:36:34

Hitting a child around the head is serious. You think he's done it before and there's a background of alcohol abuse.

You know you need to report this. Or support your DSis to get away. It has to be one of the two. That's the advice you'd get in a non-adoptive scenario and it's even more important for former LACs. Even if he seeks help, the process is long and success rates are low. Your DN doesn't have the time or resilience to spare.

LittleLionMansMummy Wed 08-Nov-17 20:30:56

I don't think he's done it before Battleax, I think the injury reported to school was a genuine accident - albeit brought on by alcohol. Nephew was genuinely shocked when he got hit around the head, I'm pretty certain it hasn't happened before.

That said, I know you're right about the rest. sad

Battleax Wed 08-Nov-17 20:31:56

It's a horrible situation for you tonne in.

thomassmuggit Wed 08-Nov-17 20:59:16

These children have already suffered a lot of loss.

Alcoholism is a big problem, and it needs to be addressed if he's drinking too much. And accidentally injuring your children when drunk means you're drinking too much.

Make it clear to your dsis that she needs to reach out for help. It will have to be via SS, often CAMHS won't touch adoption issues, because the funding for that comes via SS, and it means you get experienced practitioners. You don't want someone assessing the family/kids who knows nothing about LAC/adopted kids.

LittleLionMansMummy Thu 09-Nov-17 10:19:57

Ok so I've emailed as it's incredibly difficult to get time alone with dsis.

I've sent her some details of local support and reiterated that I'd be very happy to spend some time with my nephew. I've encouraged her to go down an official route to get proper support.

I've clarified that ds, as well as dh, saw bil hit dnephew and that I can't guarantee he won't tell anyone else and we certainly won't be asking him to keep it secret. I've said that having witnessed it we feel that we have to get involved and offer our support. I've reiterated that I can see how hard she's trying to do everything she can for her dc and she and they deserve to be happy. I'm here for her and asked her to call me when she can.

I really think that's all I can do for now, but depending on her reaction and if things don't improve then I may be forced down a more official route, which I'd obviously rather avoid if I can help her see things more clearly. She's those children's best hope.

Thanks everyone for your help and advice. I hope my intervention will help.

workinwashincleanin Thu 09-Nov-17 13:25:31

Why is it difficult to get time alone with your dsis, and what did you mean by "local support"?

LittleLionMansMummy Thu 09-Nov-17 16:52:14

Difficult because we both work ft and have the dc. When I see her there are always other people around (my parents, other sister, our dc) so having a proper conversation is almost impossible. She doesn't like stopping in at ours on weekday evenings because she wants to get home, collect the dc and basically intervene before bil begins drinking. He only works 2 days a week so has too much time on his hands and she's conscious of that.

By local support I mean intervention schemes and adoption services in their local authority area. As their case files have only just been handed over they've had no contact as yet with their new LA area so don't know what's available locally to support them.

workinwashincleanin Thu 09-Nov-17 21:06:47

If bil works only 2 days does he then have responsibility for before and after school care of the dc on his days off?
Is he in control of the drinking or has it gone beyond that?
Has he sought medical help in relation to the drinking?
Does dsis not feel able to tell him to turn off music if he is drunk? Is dsis afraid of him?
Does dsis put needs of dh in front of dc?
If dsis asked bil to leave, would she cope? Does she have a support network? Would your other sister and mother help?
Or does dsis fear that splitting from bil would end up being worse for the dc, that the dc would be taken, or that bil would fight for custody or joint custody and she would then not be able to protect them?

I had assumed that you and dsis would get advice from someone suitable in real life and discuss the dynamics and you and your sister would then get tailored advice. But I appreciate that the situation is very hard for you, and I assumed wrongly.

However, if you are simply offering help and stating that the situation needs to change, what makes you think dsis will do anything differently?

From what you write it sounds like what is happening at home is not ok at all for the dc, and they need help, not in the form of therapy but in the form of complete changes to the home set up.

While this is going on the dc are likely to be internalising the narrative that this is all they deserve.

If bil is drinking and behaving as you describe it does not sound as though he should be left alone with the dc at all.

LittleLionMansMummy Fri 10-Nov-17 08:31:51

The dc go to after school club and dsis collects them from there. This adds to costs (and pressure on her) of course but she can't trust bil otherwise.

It transpired when I spoke with her at the weekend that he can't have money because he spends it on alcohol. She has a really good, responsible job and has tried denying him access to funds. All that does is build the resentment.

We have long talked of his problems with alcohol and he eventually sought help a few months back, instigated by dh and I. On that occasion she made him leave the house for a couple of nights and was beginning to talk about leaving. He agreed to attend an alcohol counselling service, did three sessions and then claimed they told him he shouldn't waste his money as he doesn't have a problem. Dsis believes either he wasn't truthful with them about the extent of his drinking or they said no such thing and he hasn't been truthful with her. The problem is that he makes all the right noises at the time, she believes him when he says it'll change and then it drifts back again. She goes 'quiet' so we think things have improved until something happens again that acts as a catalyst for her opening up again because we notice something.

There is no doubt in my mind that she'd not only cope but flourish on her own, since in reality bil contributes very little financially or practically (e.g. it's dsis who does their homework with them etc). When we discussed it again at the weekend she said the same again "I know I'm capable of doing this on my own". I agreed.

No, she's not scared of him. She's a kind and compassionate woman and doesn't like conflict of any kind. She will stand her ground but when she sees she's getting nowhere will take herself off somewhere rather than persist. She sees the good in him and desperately wants him, minus the drink problems. I should think that she told him to turn the music down and he flat refused. He can be verbally nasty when he's like that, but not physically, and she's not scared of him.

I know that changes are needed at home first band foremost. I've told her in the past that she's a mum now, including all the difficult decisions that come with that in order to put the dc first. She knows that and has the strength in her. I just don't know how to get her to actually take the plunge and instigate those changes.

I have some personal experience of alcohol abuse growing up, so does she. I recognise easily the people who have the strength and resilience to change and I see the people who just don't have it in them, for whatever reason. Consequently I take a really hard line on it. She just wants to save people in crisis, which is admirable but misplaced when your own kids are at risk.

Sorry, that was really long!

mrsreynolds Fri 10-Nov-17 08:50:21

You and your sister are complicit in the abuse of 2 vulnerable children by an alcoholic.
I'm amazed that school have already flagged up those incidents with SS.

lotsofdogshere Fri 10-Nov-17 08:54:08

What a relief to read that you and your sister has you as a support. I'm with you in taking a hard line on problem drinkers. Work and personal experience pushed me away from the belief I could rescue people by being 'good' and supportive. Your bil is a classic problem drinker, many go to a few sessions of AA or similar, then decide they aren't alcoholic, so don't need to go again.
It sounds as though the adoption was via a local authority rather than specialist adoption agency. I sympathise with your sister's reluctance to contact the l.a. because of delays in the adoption team providing support and also because it's likely to result in a safeguarding investigation. I'm not disputing that may be the best way to go but given cuts etc will they get the longer term support they need. Cahms via the GP would help with managing the boys behaviour and meeting their emotional needs. It won't change the husband's abusive behaviour or his dependence and abuse on alcohol will it.
We expect so much of adoptive parents. Being a birth parent to much loved and uncomplicated birth children is a challenge but to adopt older children whose formative years were abusive or neglectful is on another level.
I don't want to be harsh to your sister but it seems to me she has a simple choice. Her husband stops drinking and stays stopped. He seeks help with managing his feelings and anger and promises never to raise a finger to the children again. If he breaches the agreement they reach on this, he moves out. I know I sound cold and clinical but this situation is not likely to improve or end well

LittleLionMansMummy Fri 10-Nov-17 08:55:10

As for support, yes she has a support network nearby - my parents, aunt, sister and me. We'd none of us see her struggle. She's not as close to my other dsis as she used to be (partly due to both my bils, which is a dysfunctional dynamic on both counts) but knows she could rely on her when the chips are down. Dsis will do what she can and wants to get closer to dsis and the dc.

workinwashincleanin Fri 10-Nov-17 13:33:53

I think the options are pretty clear - either dsis takes action, or someone else takes action and that may be more traumatic for dc, or the situation is allowed to continue behind closed doors.

To make it easier to take the leap, you and your dsis could sit and work out the practicalities and likely consequences and fall out with bil and how she'd cope with it all - all before discussing it with bil.

UnderTheNameOfSanders Fri 10-Nov-17 14:15:23

I sadly agree with workin

The boys need their mum to step up now and keep them safe. Either dad has to take very active steps to quit drinking and change his parenting, or he needs to leave.

If she is going to let things continue then someone else will need to step in.

Italiangreyhound Fri 10-Nov-17 22:38:49

Your not so dear sis is allowing herself and her boys to live in a difficult situation with an alcoholic. She is not meeting their needs or putting them first. I am pretty certain that would be the reason they were taken into care in the first place.

She is failing them by staying with a man who is harming them, and her and himself.

He needs to leave, sort himself out. and only return if he can live in harmony with the rest of the family without the booze, and with a job for more than two causa week!

When we adopted ds I told my dh, if things go wrong in our family I'd leave him before I gave up on the kids (meaning if he could not cope). Luckily, my dh can cope!

Once the cause of upset is out of the home I''d ask your sister to contact CAMHS for her older son and post adoption support for both sons in the light of the potential marriage breakdown -and for ds1's issues at school/withdrawal etc.

She also needs to meet school and discuss how together they will help ds.

Sorry to sound all judgey but working full time with one (or two) primary aged adopted children and sending them to after school club is not ideal. When does she get time alone with them, let alone you?

I'm guessing she needs to do this because her husband only works two days, can't be trusted to look after them and drinks a proportion of the family budget.

I'm guessing this is not new but is escalating. Suggest your sister makes a stand now.

Your bil needs to work, he needs to get off the booze and either shape up as a parent or ship out. But first he needs to go and stay with a support family member (not you, because you also have vulnerable kids). Someone who will push him to get help and get a job.

Sorry but to me it is that simple.

Even if these boys had not already been through the trauna of loss of one family! But they have. Your sister could also lose them.

She needs to get serious.

What she is accepting is not kind to anyone.

Putting your head in the sand is not a strategy!

LittleLionMansMummy Wed 15-Nov-17 15:31:33

I agree with everything you've said Italiangreyhound and you don't sound judgey at all. It's everything I think and feel about the situation too.

She replied to my email and basically said bil was mortified about hitting dnephew but... and then went on to excuse and minimise (dnephew was doing a dangerous thing, bil had already asked him to stop etc). Her response has infuriated me tbh. How can she be this blind?

Interestingly, bil has now admitted it to my parents apparently. They too are extremely worried but I seem to be the only one trying to do anything practical about it.

I think her response has made me realise that she will never properly address bil's problems, will continue to attempt to justify his actions and therefore those dc are at risk. This leaves me with little option than to report it.

She has contacted her new LA ss team though, which is perhaps a positive step. But I think she's approaching it more with them as a 'dnephew problem' than a bil/ family dynamics one. I am hopeful they may tease it out of her and dnephew.

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