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.

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.

What Free School Meals Meant to Me

This is the letter that the adult adopted daughter of one of our members wrote to her MP. It’s a powerful reminder of just how important free school meals are for neglected or deprived children.

So this is something that is really upsetting me. Long story short, school meals helped save me and my siblings. If I hadn’t only ate half of my school lunch and take the rest home to share for our dinner, the teachers wouldn’t have clicked on to something not being right at home nor would they have reported it to social services. Who could know what would’ve happened if they didn’t. The amount of children who do not have access to food at home is sickening, living below the breadline, and now essentially being taught that the privileged always come first. It’s not the child’s fault they’re in that situation but you’re teaching them it is because at the end of the day that’s who’s being punished. It just breeds negativity into them even more. But it’s all groovy because you get your £3000+ pay rise and free hot meals, go back to your warm homes, so why would it stop you from sleeping at night?

Reflections on National Adoption Week

Our first contribution, written powerfully from the heart, comes from a member who is tirelessly advocating for her adopted son 20 years after beginning their journey to become a family. Please read it and reflect:

Next week is National Adoption Week. More people will be encouraged to look into becoming adoptive parents. It is what I did 20 years ago. Naive, wide eyed, with all the love in the world to give. I chose my son and he changed my life. I will love the bones of him until I die.
That is the easy bit. What happens after social workers have dug and delved, made promises they can’t keep and made you feel inadequate is a whole load of nothing. I educated myself. I wanted to know why my tiny son was terrified, hugged strangers, hoarded food, ran away…
14 years of being in and out of meetings with health workers, social workers, the police, and mostly school followed. I still have box files of papers stored in the garage. I was told he just needed time, I was told he may be unable to live with a family, I was told to be strict
I begged with the LA, school, CAMHS that he needed help. I did the reading and the MA into adoption and developmental trauma, reactive attachment disorder. They hadn’t. Sorry nothing they could do to help. Sorry he was too out of control for them. Excluded aged eight.
Aged nine he would run from home and be gone for 11 hours. The police helicopter was out searching. The police brought him home where he would collapse exhausted, saying he hated me, until he broke down saying he loved me. Still no help. No therapy.
Through threats and brinkmanship, I managed to get him into a school, but he ran away from there. I had to bring him away when he was assaulted by a ‘carer’. He ran off into the City and I couldn’t find him. The LA put me on a parenting class where they discussed table manners.
Eventually he found drugs. They got rid of the fear, they made him confident, a feeling of happiness. He had new friends associated with them. I begged magistrates and judges to give him another chance. Until there were no more. He’s been locked away. I talk to him every day.
He’s struggling with the solitary, lack of exercise and light. We talk endlessly about his new start without drugs, about understanding himself. But the lockdown is breaking him. I just wanted to share this so you can think of it when you hear about National Adoption Week.
Adopters need to know the reality. That you will need more than love, a home and a job. You will be need to hang in there when everyone else has turned their back on you. You need support. And if not, maybe learn to hold your head up high in court and prison.

POTATO Arts Day (2019)

Every year, we have a couple of days break from looking after our traumatised adopted young people.

In the team of POTATO we have some talented artists, caring compassionate and fun individuals. We have all lives life with traumatised adopted young people and all genuinely knowledge the score.

So, we have an Arts Day. There’s a meal out all together the night before and it’s a relaxed and supportive group.

This year we have been focusing on designing a ‘Self Care Island’.

Here are a selection of collages and paintings our POTATO creatives made!

Sadly the events of 2020 have left us unable to arrange any Art Days.  Hopefully this will be possible at some point in 2021.

Special Guardians and Adopters Together

Whilst Potato is a support group, SG&AT are a campaigning group. It’s members ‘come together to think about what needs to change and support each other in campaigning to achieve it.’. There are a number of members of Potato who also belong to this group. For more information please click on the link below.

specialguardians and adopters together.com

Parents experience of Child Protection.

There are a large number of families with traumatised adoptees who have been subjected to child protection enquiries. Our group has experienced the whole range of enquiries, from the simple set of questions by a social worker to full child protection conferences.

The vast majority of these are about the young adopted person making false allegations. These allegations can be to do with the young person’s anger, emotional turmoil at the time or simply confusion with which memory belongs to which set of adults.

Prior to adoption, our families were fully vetted and accepted as excellent prospective parents. We are often told by CAMHS and Post Adoption that we are doing a really great job with really hard kids.

However, often the fact that it is an adopted, deeply traumatised and attachment disordered individual making an allegation is not fully recognised by the authorities.

Sonya talks about her experiences with the authorities following a false allegation against her. (Headphones recommended.)