I had a worrying and all too familiar email from an adoptive parent this week about her child’s experience at school. In this case a Secondary School but I know many children who have these experiences at Primary School too. I know I may also be preaching to the converted here as many of you reading my blog are either adoptive parents or carers yourself or in education and bought into the realisation that vulnerable children need a different approach.
However, for those still struggling to understand why, or indeed as something you can say to your sceptical colleagues I want to share some of this families story – and also many others I’ve come across.
Children and young people who’ve experienced early trauma and who show signs of Attachment Difficulties as a result are not like other children. They have lived (and sometimes still live) in a topsy turvy world – one that many of us struggle to fully appreciate. Life may be a challenge for us in certain areas – say finances are tight and we worry about there being enough food, or can we afford to send our child to the holiday club in half term. For many of the children in our mainstream schools they live in terror of what might be when they get home. They have been VERY hungry and continue to be frightened that their basic needs won’t be met. They are paranoid about what people think about them and about making friends, they constantly agonise about not being able to follow the teaching and do their homework.
They basically live in fear.
Then they come into our schools. Where there’s lots of sensory stimulation – people, noises, movement, tastes, sounds, smells. All can trigger those early experience of neglect and/or abuse. Forgetting to ask your Mum to sign your planner can lead to extreme anxiety, being called names by other children can lead to extreme anxiety and meeting unrealistic high expectations of learning can lead to extreme anxiety.
All of which leads to ‘bad’ behaviour.
This one lady whose email has triggered this blog said that her son is turning into a thug to survive! “Really, I hear you say – he has a choose in that surely, he just needs to get a control of himself and sort himself out!”. You know what, I’m sick of hearing such responses that have no compassion or understanding for a child’s circumstances. Yes, we need to help him to not turn out like that and to be able to find better ways to manage his anger. But to put all the pressure and blame on a highly anxious child with no strategies or capacity to manage – that is appalling.
It worries me that as a society we are getting less compassionate towards others. The pressures from the educational system to achieve results at all costs is hindering the progress of vulnerable children. We HAVE to have a different approach or the cycle will just continue and boys like this one or my children will end up in the prison system and their children in the care system.
I appreciate also that it is difficult for schools. To manage the complex needs presented today in our children is tough. And to do it within a compassionless system is even harder. BUT we need to be BRAVE. I know many of you reading this are every day – when you go into school or you look after your children you are pulling on that bravery to go against the grain for the sake of the children. BUT how long can we do that? How long can people sustain that persistent commitment to children who need them so much? It is tiring and without support from those around you it can become very demoralising.
Sometimes it is an invisible disadvantage that vulnerable children have. Treating all children the same, when they haven’t had the same advantages, is a lazy way to be. The ‘one size fits all approach’ is the equivalent of chucking a book at a blind child and saying “just read it – everybody else is”. We are letting our children down and our communities when we do this. When we push compassion aside and punish children for behaving in extreme ways to extreme fears.
What is the answer then? I’m under no illusion to think that my little blog post will change the attitudes of those pulling the educational systems strings. And I long ago made the decision to work outside of the system for the sake of the children I can help. I know many others such as Gareth Marr are campaigning to change the system – and I’m totally behind that. However, for my children and those that are in trouble today the speed with which change occurs will not help them. I want to provide as much help and support NOW to those who need it NOW.
I don’t often tout my wares on my blog – that’s not what it’s for, but I feel passionately about this subject. If you are an adoptive parent or carer and want help with your school I’m inviting you to contact us on 0121 405 0310 and we will do all we can to help. For those in education who know others would benefit from more understanding of the needs of vulnerable children please call us too and we will do all we can to help.
We run various training courses and also do observations of children onsite and give recommendations. We recently ran a whole day at a Primary School in Cheshire with very dedicated staff where we observed three different children – two adopted, one not and then spent some time with the adoptive parents and then did a whole staff training.
Partnership with such schools is vital and we want to inspire others to find the compassion and bravery needed to do something different. To say – I will do what I know is right for this child, regardless of the targets.
I guess the other thing we can all do is to acknowledge the bravery in each other. There is a growing community of people fighting for the needs of vulnerable children – I have met many on our courses and continue to be moved by their commitment. We need to be more vocal about our beliefs. Maybe we will see change in our time but I do know that the relationships that young people have with adults are crucial. It either confirms or challenges their deep rooted beliefs about adults – that they are mean, cruel, distant, emotionless, selfish, unloving and dangerous.
Their contact with you will either start them on a path to trust or continue them on the road of rage and shame that they are on. What we do is never wasted. You may feel like you only have a small amount of time with a child but it can make such a difference in their lives.
So continue to be brave and compassionate – whether you are a parent, carer or educator. Keep the child at the centre, get support from like minded people and take a different approach that may change the future of that child forever.