The POTATO group

Welcome to all parents of teens (and post teens) adopted in the UK

We are a UK based group of parents who have adopted our children from the looked after system in the past 20+ years. All of our teenagers are incredible survivors who need specialist parenting which can be very hard going. Despite dealing with some heavy subjects, we like to meet socially and have a bit of relaxation with other parents who understand what we are facing. We are looking forward to the easing of restrictions which will enable this to happen again. These pages are by way of an introduction to our group, our aims and an overview of what we do. We accept families with adopted children, teens and young people but our focus is supporting parents through the teenage years.  Our group is a not for profit organisation committed to this community. We promote (and try) to follow therapeutic principles (in depth document HERE.)

Here is a brief (not exclusive) list of things the POTATO group do.

  1. Demonstrate kindness to fellow adoptive parents, and their children, primarily via our secret Facebook group but also, when circumstances allow, face to face.
  2. Actively encourage “self care” by members, to help protect both their physical and mental wellbeing.
  3. Share our considerable expertise in areas such as housing, specialist schools/ colleges, mental health problems, therapy, addictions, the criminal justice system and other difficulties traumatised young people often bring into our lives.
  4. Signpost national events of interest to our members.
  5. Promote good practice and present to local and national authorities.

Please visit our membership section for details of how to join us.

Child to Parent Abuse – UK National Study Day

A Potato members view given as a Presentation to a UK national study day on child-to-parent abuse  on 15 November 2021

Child to parent violence and abuse across the lifespan

A parent’s perspective: what parents know, what parents struggle with, what they need from service providers

So here we are again.  Discussing an issue affecting thousands of families UK wide.  A ‘Problem’  muttered about, an ‘issue’  talked about recently in the media, lives touched by CPVA , some lives ruined, stress, physical injury, coercion, verbal and emotional abuse, theft and criminal damage at the hands of our much loved, but often traumatised children.

 When I was first asked about talking to  the study day today I thought that I would tell you about my own personal experience of living with, without and loving my now adult children, some of whom used child to parent violence and abuse over many years, some from their primary school years and others in their late teens and early adulthood.  BUT to do so would violate both their and us, their parents, privacy.

So today you will hear about the collective experiences of parents  in a peer to peer support group that founder members started over 8 years ago, a group of parents that parent traumatised adopted children and adults.  We had to start our own group because we were unable to get the help and support from adoption charities when as a group we wanted and needed to talk to one another in an online forum, primarily about CPVA – we didn’t call it that over a decade ago because we didn’t know what it was, why our much loved children were abusive to us and how on earth to get help for ourselves as parents or for our children.  In 2013 many of the founder members took part in the Selwyn et al research, Beyond the adoption order.  It was only after taking part that many of us realised the true extent of our children’s  violence and abuse,  and that our local authorities children’s services, post adoption support, camhs and the police seemed unable to offer the support and help that we desperately needed. Not a lot has changed since then, other than as a group, we know that for us, trauma is at the very heart of CPVA.

Move on ten years and although many of us that took part in that research now parent at a distance and have used many of the techniques / programmes that you will hear about today, indeed many of us would have been participants in the research that you will hear about too.  We will have been the voices that you may or may not have heard on TV, in newspaper articles and radio phone in’s to try to raise awareness of the horror that is CPVA.

We have new members joining the Potato grp  (Parents of traumatised adopted teens organisation) most weeks, it should shock you, this audience today, that many adopters who are experiencing CPVA have never been made aware that they may experience this sort of abuse from their children.

This week is Adult abuse awareness week. In preparation for this presentation today, our members were asked to look at their own LA’s safeguarding websites to see what, if anything, was there to raise the issue of child to parent violence and abuse over the lifespan.  Sadly, I have to tell you, that anecdotally among our membership of almost 400 parents, less then 5 of their LA’s make mention of CPVA and only 3 have information on their websites about CPVA.   I could only find one Police force in England with information about CPVA on their website.

I was asked to speak to the study day today about: What parents know, what parents struggle with and what we need from service providers.  Sounds a very simple list of wants, but it isn’t.

Those of you listening today may be practitioners, you will know what sort of abuse we suffer, I won’t go into that other than to say that for the members of the Potato grp, we seem to experience the extreme end of CPVA.  More often than not we are not believed by services or wider family or friends,  sent on a number of parenting courses, need mh support, seen by our GP’S, need care in A&E’s throughout the land and become well known to the local police force.

We are frequently told by some practitioners, CAMHs professionals and social workers, if we and or other family members are at risk from our children and young adults we should ring the police, So we do.  Often it is only then that we receive the sort of help we have been asking for, many of us for many years.

Each and every family, be they biological parents, foster carers, Kinship carers, special guardians or adopters each have very different stories to tell about what they know – the only one thing in common is probably that we are all suffering, our children too, not only from the abuse we suffer at the hands of our children, but also through ignorance of services about why this happens and to a greater extent due to the lack of joined up thinking and doing across the board to help us and our children.

What we know is that CPVA is damaging to us, our children and society.

Within the adoption community, anecdotally, because the research is so scant, we know that when or even if  the support is there to help us to ‘manage’ CPVA or Adult entitled dependency, at a minimum, over 2,000 children will re enter care every yr from previous permanence.  The statistics are buried in the DfE returns – SSDA 903 and have been since 2015 when they started being counted.   Those statistics talk about ever increasing numbers of teenagers entering care from biological families too –  and yet again very little research is actually going on to find out why.  I would challenge each and every professional to look at those Statistic’s  to find out what is happening in each of your local areas tomorrow.   I would stake the lump sum of my newly acquired pension that you won’t find that information easily and that it won’t tell you why these adolescents are entering care either.  I would further suggest that CPVA will be in the mix together with extra familial  child exploitation. Where LA’s  (in England and Wales) seek to obtain Care orders – it will likely be on the grounds of our young people being ‘Beyond parental control’  and blame attributed at our door.

Some Potato statistics reflect some recent research completed during  lockdowns and during the pandemic – but these stats pre date pandemic and do not change.  Over 90% of Potato members have experienced CPVA  – the vast majority – over 60 % for 5 or more years, before joining us, most often starting in the primary school years and early adolescence .  Many know little about how to get help and support until they joined the Potato group – many of those only finding out for the first time that they weren’t alone in being subject to CPVA  – a common thing that they are told most often by Children’s Social Care.

Potato members found the police to be the single most useful, empathetic service among all others but we wonder if that is because we are adoptive parents and it is conceived by the police that we are seen to have rescued children from the abusive homes from which they entered care. Maybe a form of positive discrimination takes place about CPVA in homes where the child has a known history of being a victim of trauma and abuse? Some more experienced officers may have removed our children from those abusive homes. The discrimination certainly is there when one looks at support and training for parents re CPVA-  a recent example being an online course to support your parenting of a child using CPVA –  a once a week 10 session online course for adopters at a cost of £1,134.00 pp or £2,160.00 per couple.  How lucky are we adopters to be able to access such a service if we or the Adoption support fund will fund it.  As a group we worry about non adoptive or special guardian families and how they can access or afford help like NVR.  This is the support we all need.  Sometimes it can feel to adopters that ‘professionals’ are profiting from our and our children’s misery.  We get that you are helping us , we get that its your job but after the session where you most likely are helping us to manage our lives, you get to go to supervision, you get to talk through some harrowing stuff, but you don’t live in it,  you don’t have to worry about whether tonight is the night your 14 yr old uses your credit card which you forgot to put in the safe after ordering their Christmas present online, about whether you will be in A&E because this time your 12yr old did manage to use the knife she has been hiding in her room for months to injure you, about how your traumatised 18 yr old will manage in custody overnight without their cuddly toy that they have to have to help them get to sleep, how and whether the magistrates will hear from you via a duty solicitor that your much loved  traumatised child should not be criminalised.  When it is no longer safe for your ‘young’ adult child to live in your home, you are not involved (or even know) that we face such a battle to help them to be housed in accommodation that understands their history, their trauma and our continued support and love from them while we parent at a distance.   All of those examples are real life scenarios for many parents, day in and day out.  They are the things we struggle with, together with a sense that not even those that help and support us can really understand unless they have been there themselves.

My personal opinion is that almost any child or adult child who uses CPVA or AED as a way of exerting control over their parents has suffered some form of trauma.  Others presenting today may have a different view and I look forward to hearing their thoughts about that. 

What we need from service providers is joined up thinking and doing. We need to see CPVA clearly stated in the Domestic Violence Bill,  its great that the Domestic Violence commissioner recently spoke out about CPVA,  but we need to see and know that our struggles are taken seriously by all service providers and a good place to start would be the evidence that CPVA exists being clearly stated, that CPVA is recorded accurately, that policies and procedures within safeguarding teams are in place, help and support are in place when we need it, at the early help stage , not just when our children have to enter or re enter care or be arrested.  We need the CJS, YOTs and social care to understand our and our children’s trauma and not to seek to criminalise our adolescents or young adults , but to have easily accessible programmes to help us all. 

In a piece of research completed during the pandemic, the area where I live reported in a response to a FOI request about emergency calls re CPVA from June 19 -June 2020, there are a mean average of 60 such calls per month.  I note that no such data exists specifically in the force area that I live in about adult child PVA.  Although statistics exist re calls about safeguarding adults there is no way of knowing what proportion of calls relate to adult child to parent abuse.

A thematic review of the work of youth offending services during the COVID-19 pandemic A review by HM Inspectorate of Probation November 2020, stated that they had concerns about the experience of parents who were victims of child and adolescent violence.  Their recommendation was that PCC’s should work with partners to understand the levels of child on parent violence in their areas and ensure that help is available to support and protect parents who are victims and furthermore that the YJB support the development of a specific approach to managing child and adolescent to parent violence that protects the victim ( albeit that that recommendation related to  periods of lockdown). Case managers and other professionals they spoke to were concerned about the potential for an increase in both severity and frequency of this form of abuse.  Maybe professionals should also be asking their PCC’s whether they intend to seek to ‘understand’ the levels of CPVA in their own areas. 

The work of many services, some of which you will hear about today in developing  programmes to help us is great and is expanding nationwide but it remains piecemeal,  its not good enough that an adopter in one area can get help and support but a biological parent can’t.  It’s not good enough that where local CSC decide to lay blame for a child’s CPVA at the parents door, can and do take care proceedings against those parents, occasionally meaning that those parents can and do lose their livelihoods.  Please look at the PEGS website.  Sign the Child to Parent Abuse Covenant (CPAC). To encourage employers to sign up to raising awareness of the issue, creating an environment where parents feel comfortable and safe to disclose their situation and seek support.  We need service providers to talk to one another, to understand where their service fits into the jigsaw that is CPVA.  Professional silo’s are so often found to be a major contributor in serious case reviews or adult safeguarding reviews. The professional silo’s is something that I have been banging on about for years – it’s important. In fact its one of main reasons I raised the possibility of this study day today on twitter over 18 months ago.  I hope that the audience listening today will take away it’s importance going forward .    

That, folks is what parents know, the things we struggle with and what we need from service providers .  The most important and immediate need is that all service providers, LA’s , the CJS system and Government departments start to ‘think’ together and that they start to do.  We, parents and children need all to get on board, to understand, to help us and our children to pull through.

You can download this article in PDF format here.

If you are an adoptive parent and would like to join our group please visit our membership page

Strengthening Families – All-Party Parliamentary Group for Adoption & Permanence, The Care Review, The Spending Review – Is any of it enough?

The long awaited APPGAP report relating to adoption and permanence has now been published. It’s title is “Strengthening Families: Improving Stability for Adopted Children”.

Download the APPGAP report

The report states: –

“This inquiry was conducted to feed into the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in England, to ensure that the experiences and needs of adopted children and their families are taken into consideration as part of this ‘once-in-a-generation’ review.”

“One of the central conclusions of the inquiry is that the adoption sector needs a paradigm shift from ‘family finding’ to ‘family building’.”

The ongoing care review of Children’s social care in England may make some reference to the difficulties and issues for the Potato groups membership and we hope that the spending review will not only focus on the first 1001 days of a Childs life, but also on the family life of children where they are no longer able to live with their 1st families.

There have been many ‘reports’ but who actually listens and hears the real lived experiences of loved, but
traumatised children, teens, young adults and us their adopters, special guardians or kinship carers? More
importantly, who will listen enough to actually bring about paradigm shifts in the Children’s Social Care system?

Potato response to the APPGAP Report

So – did the report and recommendations go far enough?

On a positive note, we recognise that there now appears to be an understanding that sometimes it is absolutely necessary for us to parent at a distance and that re-entry to the care system should not be viewed as adoption disruption.

And yet, within the report or recommendations there is no reference to what happens when our children re-enter care under S20 in England, S76 in Wales or via S31. S31 requires ‘blame’ to be cited upon adoptive parents in order to secure a court order and suggests by it’s nature that there is adoption disruption. The very point of parenting at a distance requires parental responsibility, which we have in abundance and SHOULD enable us to be advocates for our children, teens and later , when our children become adults in the legal sense of the word.

This is one critical and fundamental shift that does not seem to have been heard. One recommendation
of the APPGAP is that those of us that parent at a distance should have ‘a’ meeting.

“Such multi-disciplinary conversations are essential for improving practice and preventing young people in future from experiencing the trauma of having to leave their home prematurely and/or re-entering care.”

Sadly that recommendation will not address the ongoing rise in those families where our beloved children re-enter care.

There are no recommendations around multi disciplinary best practices involving not only social workers and educational specialists but other statutory bodies such as the criminal justice system or DWP. If there is to be a paradigm shift it needs to be across the board.

The report talks about the impact of adoption on birth parents, It says

“The voices and experiences of birth families are not listened to enough, and yet we recognise their important role in an adopted child’s journey. The adoption sector as a whole must do better in creating safe spaces and mechanisms for listening to and drawing on birth families’ experiences to inform practice.”

Perhaps ‘birth families’ should be replaced with “birth families and where children re enter care , adoptive families” – our experiences MUST also be informing best practice when ‘our’ children re enter care. Here at the Potato Group we think there is still some considerable way to go before those responsible for decision making within Children’s Social Care truly ‘get it’. All the while that they don’t, we remain fearful for the future of our adult children and the future of adoption overall.

While we appreciate these quotes from Potato evidence used within the report;

“Not all teenagers are struggling with their identity, trying to understand their place in the world, abuse their parents, trash their homes, self-harm, are exploited both sexually and criminally and become familiar faces to our local constabulary and courts.”
Members of the Parents Of Traumatised Adopted Teens Organisation (POTATO) group

“Often our traumatised adopted teens need crisis mental health support, but due to a lack of trauma informed mental health provision, our young adults are more often arrested rather than helped in any meaningful way.”
Members of the Parents Of Traumatised Adopted Teens Organisation (POTATO) group

It feels very important to us to publish the words of a young adult that was adopted from care who re entered care in their teens and our full evidence given to the APPGAP.

Click here for Molly’s evidence

Potato Group Evidence to APPGAP

The Potato Group, with over 600 adopters parenting over 2000 children UK wide, were given the opportunity to present evidence to the APPGAP inquiry. Our evidence centered around loving and living with and without our children, the much needed support that traumatised children and their adoptive families so desperately need and yet, thus far, has been forgotten about, despite being assured previously that our information is helpful.

We represent those families that Selwyn referred to in 2014 ‘Beyond the Adoption Order’ which looked at adopters living with traumatised children displaying challenging behaviours and those unable to live at home.

As a group, Potato is very clear – things must change.

The Potato Group was given only 10 minutes to present this evidence. Our evidence therefore focused on the extreme end of spud land and some significant issues we would have included with more time were omitted; such as the significant number of children, teens and adults in mental health units. Considering the paradigm shift that the inquiry is suggesting, 10 minutes to truly understand the changes Potato members consider vital hardly seems adequate.

Click here for the Evidence Potato Group Provided to APPGAP

We know about the long-term effects of early adversity. So the Government, the Dept of Education and Health, children and adult social care and the criminal justice system must fully support our children and families; not just in the early years but long term.

Children’s Social Care hold so many keys to removing children, decision making on permanence, training,
approval of FC, adopters and SGs. They also hold the keys to support and therapy via Regional Adoption Agencies. They are responsible for the safety of the whole family until the child reaches 18 or 21 or 25 if our adult children have re-entered care. Potato group members evidence points to LA’s talking of being trauma aware and fully understanding of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and yet supporting families in a sensitive manner when they really need it is at best inadequate and often has enormous negative life changing consequences for adopted children and adoptive families precisely because they don’t put any understanding into practice.

Potato’s experience many challenging behaviours, particularly as their children enter adolescence. And yet
Children’s Social Care suggest we need to put in boundaries, be more flexible, we need to safeguard our children more and tell us that ‘all teenagers do that’.  This advice is not what should be expected from those who claim to be trauma aware. The vast majority of teenagers don’t have to deal with the traumatised child’s experiences of struggles with identity, understanding their place in the world, they are not violent and or abusive to their parents, damage homes, harm themselves, get exploited sexually and criminally and sadly become very familiar to local police officers.  

So we find that the only service that can help in moments of crisis is the police. What our traumatised adopted teens often need is crisis mental health support but due to a lack of trauma informed acute mental health provision our teens and young adults are more often arrested rather than helped in any meaningful way. We support our child when the CPS choose to prosecute our children, we write letters to the magistrates and judges to inform them about our child’s early adversity and how they, and we, have been let down by so many state services.

When family life is unsafe for all, but not because the child is at risk from us, our worlds can mirror what ‘our’ children’s first family went through but without the same level of care and understanding that is afforded to many of them. When our children re-enter care or have to leave our homes prematurely, we are faced with hostility and a lack of care in most cases. Many parents find themselves ‘blamed’ by social services for the family disruption that child to parent abuse causes, requiring re-entry to care. LA’s seek to evoke care proceedings where voluntary accommodation under s20 is most often enough. They seek to take parental responsibility from us, to alienate our children from us. This is morally corrupt.

Where our children are accommodated by the local authority, so many are then ‘cared for’ by private providers who don’t understand their trauma histories or the importance of our continued role of parenting at a distance.  They need to.  Our children are parents of tomorrow. They must be know our love, care and support for them despite them not living in our homes.  

Molly’s words resonate with hundreds of members of the Potato Group, on all the issues she raises. Our
commitment to our children is life long and yet we recognise the familiar exclusions from LAC reviews because our child, so they say, doesn’t want us there, to judges having to record in judgments that we must remain involved in order to support our children.

Our Potato experience is that following re-entry to care our traumatised young people and adults are more often than not involved in the Criminal Justice System, NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training), our young women pregnant, in poor or sub-standard supported living and with a variety of supposedly trauma informed professionals who don’t support in a sensitive manner, create unnecessary wedges between us and our children and then move on at their earliest possible convenience.

Our sister group, SG&AT (Special Guardians and Adopters Together) have submitted a wealth of information about what happens when our children re-enter care under S20 ,S25 and via S31. We are hopeful that you will include that evidence in your report. The data on re-entry to care is a national disgrace when over 4.000 children re-enter care but LAs purport to not knowing their previous permanence status and, one that all in authority should be deeply ashamed of.

We remain hopeful that those in a position to change things for the future of the children being removed today will listen to the experiences of care experienced young adults, and that true support for them and those that love them will follow. 

We have to have hope because none of us want Social Care to be offering condolences and help with funeral costs when our children die as care leavers or adults, rather than truly helping and supporting them before they believe there is no other option for them but to die at their own hands.

Social workers telling us that our teens and young adults need to learn that there are consequences to their actions, telling us to stop financially supporting our adult children, telling us to let them stand on their own two feet when they are living away from us when they are trying to do so on a single person under 25s Universal Credit in supported and semi supported living has got to stop. The assumptions that we can care for our grandchildren under child arrangement orders rather than fully supported Special Guardianship arrangements also has to stop.

‘Our’ children deserve better. We, as their parents deserve better. Society needs to step up. Decision makers, policy makers and holders of the purse strings need to step up. Social Care, family courts, the criminal justice system and the DWP need to step up.

Here are a few things that we, with the ‘lived experiences’ suggested could be sorted within the lifetime of a parliament that would go some way to addressing the broken system:

  • EHCPs to become a legal document to cover education, health and [social] care across both Depts of Education and Dept of Health and Social care. To be automatically issued by the courts when an adoption order is granted. To be re-assessed at an interval of not less than every five years until the adopted person reaches the age of 21. Should it be decided that the EHCP is no longer required, that the plan can be re-assessed at any point in the adopted person’s journey. This new true education, health and social care plan should be informed by a neuro sequential model of therapeutics.
  • That when we ask for ‘support’ we do not have to jump through hoops and have to battle for the support that is needed in education, health and social care (in effect a true EHC Plan that covers all three).
  • Where it is safe to do so, Children’s Social Care ensure that ‘letter box schemes’ are brought into the 21st century to ensure that ‘our’ families have ongoing, helpful communication with each other to the benefit of ‘our’ children.
  • That CSC do not view a need to re-enter care (or a family’s need for respite) to be turned into a blame game in order for our children and us to be able to be fully supported in our role of parenting at a distance.
  • That the ASF recognises that some adopted young people leave home prematurely, that access to the ASF is not based on‘reunification’ but their need for therapeutic input.
  • That the family courts consider whether there is merit in cases of children re-entering care due to the sequalae of their trauma histories rather than risk of harm should remain S20 rather than LAs having to go down the CO route because they believe that they are following guidance from a previous President of the family division.
  • That our much-loved children, no matter what age, can have us as their advocates within social care, the Criminal Justice System and any and all aspects of their involvement with the DWP.
  • That our child’s full and open, non-redacted SC files are available to them as adults and that they are fully supported to access that information.
  • Consider your language. We may have had a period of family disruption – not adoption disruption.

Recommendations made that are pertinent to our evidence are: –

The lack of clarity around how a supportive relationship between adoptive parents and a child who has left home prematurely and/or re-entered the care system should be addressed. Therefore, social workers, adoptive parents, and other professionals involved in the young person’s life should conduct a Reflection and Response meeting to allow for holistic reflection, learning, and the formation of a detailed plan to support the family to remain in relationship moving forward, wherever possible. It is vital at this critical point that families feel listened to, supported, and involved in decisions made.

The ASF should be made available to all adopted children who have re-entered care, as even when it has been deemed unlikely that they will return to live with their adoptive family, many parents remain parenting at a distance.

We will see how the £200 Million talked of in the spending review and the budget announced today will help us, our traumatised adopted children (and those with SGO’s) to be strengthened as families living separately but where our children and young adults are parented at a distance.

Since the publication of the APPGAP’s report, many organisations have been giving their thoughts to the Review of Children’s Social Care. A recent report from the Nuffield Foundation talks about birth children of Foster carers or carers but totally ignores the potential issues for birth children of adopters. The Review of Children’s social care talks about how 1st families needs in the social care system deserves and needs to be looked at separately to the care review – we don’t disagree with that but what about adoptive parents, special guardians or kinship carers of previously looked after children that re enter care ? We aren’t to be considered as having needs too? Apparently not. It’s not good enough for the 4,000 children per year that re enter care for the second or subsequent times in their lives.

Following the success or otherwise of the usual narrative of National Adoption Week and the Care Leavers week we now await the Spending review and whether the calls for the Adoption Support Fund (which is open to Special guardians and should be renamed to reflect that) will be funded for 10 years will have been heard.

Hopefully that will be the case, but without the needs of traumatised children and their families being heard – warts and all – the ASF will remain a drop in the ocean that does not address the knowledge and understanding that ‘our’ children and us, ALL, their parents need from all manner of professionals that is required to allow ‘our’ children to become good enough parents of the future. No amount of money can fund professionals to emotionally care for that child and their family.

Those professionals that do – we thank you.

If you are an adoptive parent and would like to join our group please visit our membership page

Mindfulness as an antidote to stress

Reproduced by kind permission of Simone Harch who runs hiddenvictims.co.uk

Caring for a child who has experienced early life adversity can be stressful in many ways.   

Adoptive parents who I interviewed experienced high levels of stress through being unprepared to parent their children; experiencing physical and emotional abuse from children; isolation; fighting for support and understanding; and feeling worried for the future.   My personal experiences strongly aligned with these findings.

As National Adoption Week 2021 comes to an end, this post focusses on adoptive parents; in particular, to strengthening the mental health outcomes of this unique group.

The impact of continued stress

Stress is the body’s reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure (NHS England). 

When stress is experienced, the body automatically responds via the threat response system.  The sympathetic nervous system pumps resources to the heart, lungs and major muscle groups, allowing us to ‘fight or flee’ as needed.  Stress hormones increase functions that promote survival; and decrease functions that are non-essential to the fight-flight response (for example by altering immune, digestive and reproductive systems and growth processes).

Interestingly, the body does not distinguish between what is ‘actual’ (eg. being attacked) and what is ‘perceived’ (eg. a worry or rumination); in both situations, the threat response is the same.

When the threat (stressor) has passed, our parasympathetic nervous system releases calming hormones which help to regulate the body back to a balanced state. 

The issue for many adoptive parents is that stressors – both actual and perceived – are ever present.  The body and the mind can feel constantly under attack, meaning that the threat response (fight / flight) system is always activated.  Long-term activation of the threat response system – and over-exposure to stress hormones – can disrupt many of your body’s processes, putting you at increased risk of many health problems including heart disease, gastro-intestinal problems, depression, anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, weight gain and memory loss. 

Balancing the impact of stress

It can be very challenging to change the volume of stressors that we experience; because for most adoptive parents, these stressors come from external parties (schools, authorities, social care, our children, family members and friends who may not understand the impacts of trauma).  Most parents have no choice but to engage with these external parties. 

As external stressors start to accumulate, our ability to manage our internal dialogue can be compromised – often leading to an increase in internal stressors (worry and rumination).  This combination of internal and external stressors keeps our threat systems activated.

While there is little we can do to remove the stressors, we can take steps to mitigate the impact of these stressors.   And we should do this for our own physical and mental health.  In my personal and professional experience, the best way to do so is through mindfulness / breathing practices.

I understand that many people are dubious about mindfulness.  Some don’t like the stillness; others find it hard to manage their thoughts.  There is so much information out there, that sometimes it’s hard to really understand just how simple the practice can be. 

Practicing mindfulness

Mindfulness is described as “paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment in the mind, body and external environment, with an attitude of curiosity and kindness” (Mindful Nation UK, A Report by the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group (2015)).

There is much written about how to practice mindfulness.  There can be an assumption that you need to sit in one place, at the same time, for a set duration each day.  Some people may like to practice in this focussed way; but it is not the only way.

My own mindfulness practice is much more fluid, and I use it frequently during the day.  I practice primarily when I feel my nervous system firing (for me, this means I may feel more anxious, shaky, that life is ‘speeding up’ or I am feeling increasingly restless).  These are signs that I am moving out of my ‘green zone’ of contentment and into my ‘amber zone’ of fight / flight.  Refer Regulation article.

When I feel this change in my body, I take active steps to regulate back to my green zone.  I do this by being present, engaging my senses and breath to take control of my bodily state.  For example – in nice weather I stand in the garden and bring my attention to the sounds that I hear and to the sensations of sunshine or breeze on my skin.  At the same time, I calm my breath, breathing into my belly with slow and steady inhalations and exhalations.  I remain in this state for a minute or two, being aware just of the sounds, bodily sensations and my breath.

I also have many times where I just focus on my breath, imagining a balloon slowly and steadily expanding and contracting in time with my inhalation and exhalation.  The beauty of breath practice is that you can do it anywhere anytime.

I practice for short periods of time – often just 1 or 2 minutes.  I set the timer on my phone, turn it to silent and allow myself this time just to be.  If thoughts arise or my mind wanders I gently notice – then I actively move away from the distraction and return to noticing just my breath and my senses. 

With this practice comes a feeling of inner calm and a slowing down of my central nervous system.

Some days I have no activation of my nervous system, so the aim is not to calm or quieten my internal state; rather, on these days the aim is to strengthen this way of being and embed my mindfulness practice into my life. 

How can it help?

Practicing mindfulness regularly – preferably daily – can bring many positives, including:

  • increasing our mental strength;
  • allowing us to become more engaged and present, and less stuck in worry / rumination mode;
  • becoming less reactive and more able to manage challenging experiences;
  • improving symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and burnout;
  • becoming more emotionally resilient.

For me, it means moving away from the stressors for short periods.  This doesn’t mean that the stressors are resolved or removed, rather, that I make an active choice to change my focus.  When I do this, it alters my internal state, allowing me to be regulated, connected and more internally robust.

I have had a corresponding change in my mental health – less anxiety, less ‘stuck in my head’, much more emotionally resilient and more able to respond rationally to challenges.  Mindfulness has given me space.  I really encourage you to give it a try.

Resources

There are so many wonderful mindfulness resources including podcasts, blogs, apps, books, magazines and training programs.  My starting point was a book called ‘Mindfulness – A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’ by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.  Written for the end user, it gave me enough information, without overwhelming.  I also recommend a free on-line training program – “Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance” by Monash University through Future Learn. 

By Simone Harch of hiddenvictims.co.uk

If you are an adoptive parent and would like to join our group please visit our membership page

Trauma damage to the brain

After a difficult week one of our members , Louise , wrote this: –

“Just going to leave this here because I know many of you are, or have been, in this situation:

A brain which has been severely traumatised in childhood can end up wired up very differently to that of other children.

Having a brain which is wired up differently gives someone an entirely different way of interpreting and responding to the world.

When the world of education, health and other key professionals starts from the presumption that all children and young people (and indeed the adults these children go on to become) have a brain which starts from the premise that they are safe, have their needs met and are “ok” as people, total misreading and misunderstanding of circumstances occurs.

This leads to children and young people being penalised for things which are in fact irrefutable needs and to those with the understanding, often adoptive and foster families, being hounded for, at best, having outlandish ideas, and for at worst being in the wrong.

Developing brains are shaped by their experiences and when these are traumatic the brain is in effect damaged.

Until the world of professionals can develop some kind of widespread common understanding of this, rather than in small pockets, those with brains traumatised in childhood and those who seek to advocate for them, stand up for them and parent them will continue to be penalised, undermined, demoralised and to experience self doubt in the face of unjustified criticism.

Sometimes as a professional you have to step outside the box, be open minded, look beyond what you know or think you know and see something you may not have expected to see.”

If you are an adoptive parent and would like to join our group please visit our membership page

I’m Tired…

Potato Members have recently been attending a variety of online events talking about CPV (Child to Parent Violence), Attachment and The Care Review.

The words of a potato member demonstrate clearly how many of our members feel so misunderstood when we are simply tired. We parent traumatised children/ teens and young adults who entered our lives with attachment difficulties that did not melt away and CPV became the reason so many of our much loved children then re-entered care. Will the care review be able to hear uncomfortable truths about traumatised children and how adopters (special guardians , kinship carers and long term foster carers) are misunderstood when we are simply tired of it all? Our spud said this

“I often used to wonder what people would do when they ask you how you are if you didn’t just say fine but outpoured – they would probably regret asking or avoid you in future.

Well tonight I’m not fine so I’m treating you lovely Potato folk to a self pitying whinge called I’m tired…

I’m tired of whinging
tired of being tired
tired of the stress, anxiety and worry
tired of the daily challenges
tired of the not knowing
tired of not being in control
tired of the frustration and conflicting emotions
tired of feeling numb, hollow and empty
tired of the helplessness and grief
tired of trying
tired of putting on a brave face and pretending to cope
tired of trying to please everyone with little or no thanks
tired of treading on eggshells
tired of keeping it all in so not to alienate people further
tired of not knowing whats truth and whats lies
tired of failing when i try my best and the lowering self esteem and confidence that is creeping back in
tired of the micro moments i manage (guess thats a positive i still have them) swiftly being snuffed out by the next bad news or challenge
tired of loss of people and my possessions
tired of disturbed sleep
tired of not knowing who i am anymore
tired of feeling sorry for myself
tired of fight and flight competing with each other
tired of double standards
tired of being blamed
tired of being judged
tired of feeling compromised
tired of worrying about the future and the childrens future and safety
tired of constantly fearing the worst
tired of the what if’s and what should have beens
tired of feeling so lost that i feel the need to write and share self pitying rubbish like this.
I guess I’m just tired 😴!”

Trauma Inspired Poetry

There are some of our members who are not only adopters but also Special Guardians.

The Potato Group has been given permission to publish a poem written by Dawn Henderson, a Special Guardian kinship carer for her nephew.

Some of our Potato members are not only adopters but also Special Guardians to their grandchildren and the poem was discovered on another facebook group. The trauma theme may well resonate with some of our members too. We would like to thank Dawn for allowing us to publish her work.

If you are an adoptive parent and would like to join our group please visit our membership page

If you would like more information on Special Guardians and Adopters Together please visit their website

DON’T TELL ME

Don’t define me by my labels or my hurt,
Or my deep primeval rage.
Define me by my spirt,
Which is infinitely engaged.

Don’t regard me as just RAD,
ADHD or more,
Scatter all those preconceptions
On the well-trod travelled floor

Don’t regard me as unique,
That misaligns me more,
I’m not so different from you, you see
Just my heart and head hurt more.

Don’t regard me as a project,
or something to be fixed,
I have infinite life within me,
I am brave and I have gifts.

Don’t disregard my future,
Don’t write off all my plans,
Embrace and accept my imaginings,
My life is in your hands.

Don’t wallow in self pity
At the life you have today,
That undermines you and I
And Is damaging in every way.

I may not hear you say it,
But I feel when you are sad,
And because I believe I cause it,
I end up getting mad.

I don’t want you to reach me
But please come here and hold my heart
I know that what my soul needs
As I show you all my hurt.

I don’t want you to see me,
Don’t look too closely or too near,
I don’t want you to judge me,
Getting close fires up my fear.

I don’t want you to love me,
I’ll spit and fight and bite,
I do want you to love me
But I’m exhausted, just be near.

I’ll use hateful words,
To keep my distance,
Attack you, to keep you near,
Trash my room to release my tension,
It’s not at you,
It’s all in me.

Don’t tell me I am safe,
When I know I am afraid?
Don’t tell me I am loved,
When I don’t know what that means.

Don’t tell me you will listen,
Then talk all over me,
Don’t tell me I am wrong,
It’s who I need to be.

Don’t stop fighting
For my recovery,
Don’t stop learning
To soothe my wounds.

Don’t stop learning,
Take me with you,
On the road,
To healing me.

©️Dawn Henderson 2020

If you are an adoptive parent and would like to join our group please visit our membership page

If you would like more information on Special Guardians and Adopters Together please visit their website

Regulation and the Adoptive Parent

A very interesting blog piece around regulation. We have been kindly been given permission to post it here. If you would like to visit the blog you can find it at :

www.hiddenvictims.co.uk

Regulation and the Adoptive Parent

Emotional regulation is an unconscious act for many of us.  When emotionally regulated, we often feel calm, connected and safe within ourselves and with the world in general.  While life may not be ‘perfect’, our sense is one of hope.  We are alive in the present moment.   

When we become unregulated, we move out of this calm, connected, safe place (what I call the Green zone).  Instead we enter a place of fight / flight (Amber zone) or freeze (Red zone). 

How do I differentiate between zones?

Each zone has a distinct feel, encompassing emotions, thoughts, bodily sensations and behaviour.

Deb Dana, A Polyvagal Guided Approach

(Reference: Deb Dana, A Polyvagal Guided Approach)

Prior to adopting, I spent most of my life in the Green zone.  I had experienced relationship breakdown followed by divorce, work stress and relationship struggles; what I would call the ‘normal’ challenges that many of us face through our lifetime.  I did move into the Amber zone on a fairly regular basis but was always able to return myself to a Green zone state.  Regulating myself was something that just happened, often with little conscious thought. 

Adoptive parenting pulled me out of my Green zone.  I spent my time at home dealing with the manifestation of adverse childhood experiences.  When I wasn’t dealing with those experiences, I was battling with Services for understanding and support.  Most of my life, I guess about 80% of my time, was spent in the Amber zone.  How my body felt, my thoughts, feelings and behaviours, were driven by threat.  That’s not to say we lived in a house where there was constant fighting or I was running away, more that there was an underlying sense of unease, danger and unpredictability.  My body felt pretty wired all of the time. 

This had implications for both my physical and mental health.  It also had enormous implications for our family, in particular for my daughter.  Because I lived in the Amber zone, I was not able to offer her the safety, hope and connection of the Green zone.  And she needed Green zone parenting so that she could build secure attachment pathways and learn how to regulate her own nervous system function.

During my years of family therapy, no-one ever really spoke to me about what was happening for me.  Our therapists empathised with how hard it was, but the focus of our work was about giving me the tools and techniques to be a therapeutic parent.  It’s easy to reflect on what could have been different.  My wish was that someone had said to me “you are living most of your time in Amber, we need to teach you how to live in your Green zone again”.

Note of caution: it sounds simple to return to the Green zone, but it can be difficult depending on your personal life history and circumstances.  Sometimes a therapist or a trusted friend or family member can help us on this journey.

Was it just me?

I was curious – was it only me who felt this way?  Through interviewing participants for my research, it became clear that I was not the only adoptive parent to consistently live in Amber / Red zones.  Participants spoke of a range of experiences that moved them into an unregulated state, including:

  • Realising they didn’t have the skills needed to parent their children, often because information had been withheld from them
  • Experiencing verbal and physical abuse
  • Feeling isolated as a result of friends and family pulling away
  • Feeling judged and blamed and being self-critical
  • Fighting for support for their children and the broader family
  • Worrying about the future, in particular their child’s future
  • Feeling physically and mentally exhausted

Many lived much of their life in the Amber zone.

It’s important to say that the aim is not to live in the Green zone for 100% of the time – that would be unrealistic and there are times that Amber (in particular) is relevant.  However, for those of us who have started to live the majority of our time in the Amber zone, the aim is to increase our time in the Green zone.

Learning to live in the Green zone

Through my clinical work, and in applying the principles to myself, I know that it is possible to live in a complex family situation, but to spend extended time in the Green zone.

First: notice how these different states are for you.  Build an awareness of what happens to you in each state.  By that, I mean notice what happens within your body, are your thoughts positive / negative, what feelings are there, and how do you behave?  Are you connecting with others or pulling back from connection?  Are you living in the present moment, or going back / forward in time?  Building this awareness is important because often we aren’t able to connect with these different states, we live without defining what’s happening for us.  The aim is to increase your awareness of what happens to you in each of these central nervous system states.

Second: identify what supports your move to the Green zone.  This may be people, activities or places.  Build a list that place you in (or helps to return you) to the Green zone.  My list includes:

Yoga, Walking in nature, Patting my cat,
Having a really nice coffee and cake, Talking to family and friends,
Signing out loud, Reading, Flowers, Laughing
Immersing myself in a film / tv program, Being in my garden,
Talking through things with my counsellor / husband / close friends,
Using a safe place visualisation after crisis points

Third:  start a mindfulness / breathing / living in the moment practice.  When you live in a world that feels constantly dangerous, it feels comfortable to be in that state.  We keep the Amber zone alive by being self-critical, predicting something negative in the future, or revisiting past incidents.  I have found it takes considerable time and energy to actually live in the present moment and practicing mindfulness has made the single biggest difference to my life. 

In practicing these three steps, you will hopefully build your awareness about your central nervous system function.  As a result, when you move to an Amber / Red zone, you will notice that change, and you will have pre-identified strategies to return yourself to a regulated state.  Over time this will have a cumulative effect.  

Parenting a child with complex needs can be very personally challenging.  Increasing time in the Green zone can bring improvements in both mental health and physical health.  It can help to increase parental presence and increase feelings of empowerment.  Through repetition, returning to and living in this safe, connected and hopeful place will become your new normal.

As always, the parent is the greatest healing tool for the child.  Helping to regulate ourselves will ultimately help us to help our children.  

References:  Polyvagal Theory is an essential tool for my work as is the work of Carolyn Spring (Reversing Adversity), Dan Siegel and many mindfulness teachers (in particular I reference the Mindfulness for Wellbeing & Peak Performance program offered by Monash University through Future Learn).

If you would like further information please contact the blog owner:
Simone Harch
E:  simoneharch@hotmail.co.uk
Business:  www.completecounsellingservice.co.uk

If you are an adoptive parent and would like to join our group please visit our membership page

How Can A Potato Make A Difference?

Being an adopter faced with the complexity and difficulties of parenting our tats through the teenage years and beyond, we are held back by three “P’s”

Personalisation
Thinking it’s all our fault – – it isn’t, even though constantly being blamed for difficulties can damage our self image and diminish our self confidence.

Pervasiveness
It affects every aspect of our lives -it seems that way but we can find ways, so even in extremes there are strategies for finding brief periods of escape.

Permanence
It’s going to last forever -it won’t. It just seems that way but you will get through it even though some residue and effects of trauma will remain.

So how do our Potato group members find the support they can need within our group? Here’s what two of our members have said recently: –

First member

“POTATO enables us spuds to share problems, advice, and experience to help our decision making; Empathise and give emotional and practical support; Share the humour and tragi-comedy of our lives; Feel a sense of community when at times we feel we are living in a world so different to that of neighbours, friends and colleagues, a world most of them fail to understand.

We are not drowning and won’t sink while ever other spuds are at hand to throw a lifebelt while we await a hoped for lifeboat.Unlike the Royal Mail, posts on here will always be delivered and responded to swiftly. I think the above posts alone are justification for POTATO.”

Second member

“I have been sharing the hard knocks and heartaches of parenting our adopted son with well-meaning, close friends for many years.

Some responses proved they didn’t really understand the issues or compared our worries for his future with those of their own birth child being unable to get into a good university.

Following a particularly difficult couple of years, I needed help and the Potato Group was recommended to me. Initially doubtful of the benefits of membership, I imagined explanations of how the situations of others are much worse than ours and where we had gone spectacularly wrong. Instead, other members are very generous with their support and some experiences are shockingly similar to ours.

There is a huge amount of experience, knowledge and affection in this group. I am so thankful to have found it.”

If you are an adoptive parent and would like to join our group please visit our membership page

Don’t judge until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes

One of our members recently had a conversation with a friend which left her struggling.

My son is making some difficult choices this year, that I don’t approve of, but I do still love him and we still support him practically and emotionally. Her kids are a similar age but high achievers (elite athlete and medical student). Her view was that she wasn’t sure she could continue to support or have contact with her children if they were making the same choices as our son. Surely as parents our job is to love our kids unconditionally even if we don’t like their choices and actions?

Many of us have struggled with other peoples’ ignorance around trauma, had to lose friendships and relationships because they can’t or won’t just be supportive of what we are dealing with.

Most of us agree that it’s easy to sit in judgement when you’re unlikely to ever be in a similar parenting situation to any of us. Many Potato members rallied and offered a supportive message. One of the messages clearly demonstrates how being part of this unique group provides support and understanding which is often not available from friends and family.

“Before I found this group one of the things that caused me a lot of anger, frustration and upset, was some family and some friends giving me grief for sticking by my adopted son through many difficult situations. It meant I often felt I was in the wrong, others telling me it wasn’t ‘normal’ to stick by someone who behaved towards me as he did, without realising that there’s nothing ‘normal’ about our situation.

The only thing I knew is how I felt about our adopted son & that I wanted to be there for him. Then I found this group & how I felt became my new ‘normal’, most people on here think and react like me & it gave me permission to stick by him & I no longer had to justify why. That made it easier for me to accept that I am just always going to be there and the acceptance felt like a huge weight lifted. Just another reason why I love this group. Your friend has no idea about any of that or how she would behave if she lived it. For that she should count herself lucky and that her children are so perfect because how would she react if they weren’t? And you just need to know that whatever the people who don’t understand say, on here you are ‘normal’ & doing more than fine to us x”

If you are an adoptive parent and would like to join our group please visit our membership page

Adoptive Parent’s Poem

This moving piece of poetry was written by a member. It clearly shows the struggle and heartbreak that many adoptive parents experience, especially when dealing with those who are supposedly there to help us.