‘The only certainty in life will be uncertainty because the world they are inheriting, and in turn, reshaping, is characterised by change’. Brooker 2008.
This quote in used in our transition guide that’s due out in a few weeks and it’s placed in our chapter on the stage after secondary – transitioning to the future. It’s a big scary place for most of us but, certainly for our most vulnerable, it can be even scarier.
I normally try to be encouraging in my blogs, particularly to other adopters or people who care about children who’ve experienced early trauma. We all need hope and if you are having a particularly hard time with primary age children or indeed secondary age you may be hoping I will say it gets easier! For me that hasn’t been the case. Once they left secondary school it got more challenging in lots of ways. It may not be the case for you of course, but it’s good to be prepared.
If I look back, the ways that have been more difficult have been:
- The strive for independence without the skills. As we know ours often seem independent when it is really self-reliance, that ability to get their needs met in whatever way necessary. Society then tells you that at 16 and more so at 18 you now must organise your day, your money, your relationships, your work, how you feel, who you see, what you do. Previously adults would do that for them but now so much more is expected to come from them and if they don’t have the skills yet for that then it can be very difficult. This isn’t just an adopted or vulnerable child thing of course; many young people may find this hard.
- Having a clear and certain future without knowing who they are. This one has tripped mine up and still is. My eldest at 22 is very unclear on who she is and what she might be able to do. Again, not just a vulnerable young person problem but made worse by adverse children experiences that are triggered sometimes daily by becoming an adult.
- Being forced to grow up without the tools to function. I was always told that mine would be emotionally younger than their chronological age and this has been the case all the way along. For my eldest though this gap has created more problems post-secondary which meant she spent four years at college instead of two. Now, having left college she is adrift and finding the next stage incredibly difficult. So much so that mental health issues have arisen that were previously hidden. When you are at school there is a plan, a routine, things to do every day – even if you didn’t like school, it gave you some structure. Now, she struggles to get out of bed some days and can’t find a job that will give her that purpose.
- The onus on building relationships is down to them without the ability to connect with others in healthy ways. This has been a problem for us throughout the teenage years and now beyond. It’s easy to understand why, with the history they have, that they would gravitate towards other vulnerable young people who they can identify with. As they get older this gets more dangerous as their vulnerability can lead them into relationships that at best aren’t helpful and at worst – well I don’t like to think about that! As parents we have no control and sometimes very little influence on those decisions, the only thing I’ve been able to do is stay as close to them as possible so that I can exert some influence, sometimes.
- Being expected to engage with services as an adult without the ability to express their needs. All of mine have struggled to navigate the world of college, work, universal credit, health professionals and the list goes on. With some I have been able to become an appointee so I can at least help them with those conversations. For our youngest this has not been the case. He doesn’t have a recognised reason as to why he would need my help. To all intents and purposes, he is a typical 19-year-old lad who doesn’t really know what’s going on sometimes, but other times is very capable of working and engaging with others. I’ve come to realise that these systems are not easy for many of us. Universal credit for example is probably the hardest to understand and to communicate with. You get 10 minutes in a meeting to try and tell someone why finding work is so difficult for you, and many times my son hasn’t understood what’s been told but doesn’t know how to say that. I have had to attend those meetings and try and interpret. Why is it made so difficult? I don’t want to start a whole political debate on my blog, but it is frustrating at times and especially when people expect young people to be able to just understand and take responsibility when just attending the meetings can cause stress for them.
So just a few of the issues and challenges we’ve faced as a family post education. I could talk about housing too as that’s our current dilemma, but I won’t for now. I just wish there were more services out there that could help – maybe there are, and I’ve just not come across them yet. If anyone knows any, please let me know. We have come across one such organisation called Imagineer who offer support brokerage and they are helping us with housing and trying to help our eldest move out with some support.
In our transition guide there are some tips for secondary school staff and further education staff on how to help young people move onto the next stage, but for parents or other close adults it can be difficult to know how to help.
Relationship is the key (as it usually is in all things). During this in-between stage for young people, they often need to hold onto those long-term relationships whilst they are pulling away from parents. I see this in my youngest the most. What is supposed to happen during this stage is that he moves away from his parents as his source of comfort and goes towards his peers. He also though loves to spend time with extended family and other positive adults he’s grown up with. This helps him to move away from us as parents but also has some stability with other adults he knows. They become even more important to him right now.
As a parent all we can do is stay close in relationship so that we can have some influence and support. We must let go. I’m speaking to myself here as I know some of the struggle is about my reluctance to let them try, my fear that their vulnerabilities will overwhelm them. So, that’s my word to myself today – let them try but be there if they still need help. Very difficult path to walk, as many parents will contest, I’m sure.