It’s very hard to measure the ‘success’ of vulnerable young people as they grow. In schools we assess ad nauseum and maybe that can give us some indication of how much progress has been made in a child’s learning. Does it tell us more than whether they have good memories though? Does it tell us that they are growing in resilience, self-regulation and interpersonal skills? Does it tell us that they feel good about themselves and their futures? Does it even tell us that they have learnt how to be continual learners and growers?
I’ve just finished an initial assessment with a Psychologist to start doing some therapy with one of my children. The questions they asked made me think just how far we have come as a family. I can see great progress and growth in our children of which I am immensely grateful for.
Hope is a powerful thing. Something within the adoption and vulnerable family world that is hard to come by. I spend much of my time with other families who are struggling to see light at the end of their very dark tunnels. Schools who have tried everything they know to try and still don’t seem to be able to make a significant change for a child. The statistics don’t give us much hope either – they show high proportions of care experienced adults struggling to function, either ending up in our criminal systems or mental health environments.
With this in mind how do we approach new prospective adopters? With enthusiasm and hope? What about new teachers entering this ever increasingly stressful profession?
We have to be real and truthful about the challenges. We have to make sure people know that living or working with vulnerable children and young people can be heart-breaking. It can also be heart-warming too. There are many times when I look at my children and my heart wants to burst with compassion and pride at their strength and resilience. Other times of course I want to scream at their inability to communicate or to self-regulate. Just because something is hard does that mean we don’t do it? Of course not. If that were the case we’d never get out of bed in the morning sometimes.
When assessing the progress of our most vulnerable children and young people there are some things we need to consider:-
The typical childhood development stages. For my children who are all teenagers there are changes that are due to adolescence more than their Attachment difficulties or early trauma. These may be magnified due to their adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), but wanting to hang out with your friends instead of be at home with parents is a ‘normal’ teenage experience.
We may have blind spots. Due to our own histories or our journey with this particular child we may have developed blind spots. We might not be able to see how they have grown and be stuck in the past. We may need others to see what we can’t.
Tarnished with the same brush. We may be influenced by other children and young people we’ve known with similar histories so expect this child to behave in those ways. What I see in other vulnerable young people does not necessarily have to be the same in my child. Each story is unique and complex. Yes, there may be similarities and traits that we can attribute to Attachment or other conditions, but we need to see each child as an individual and as such measure their progress individually.
None of us have arrived. We are all on a growth journey. When I consider what I was like as a teenager and compare to my children it’s not very different sometimes. It may come from a different place, but the behaviours were similar. I’ve heard many adopters worry about the future of their child (and I do too) but it is a process. We’re looking to see that our children have moved along that path some – they won’t have arrived at 16. I’m nearly 50 and don’t feel like I’ve arrived either. It’s all a journey that needs patient companions to come alongside and travel together.
So, as we start this therapeutic journey with my child I am hoping for some good times together where he can feel supported and loved. I’m hoping for my child to gain some insight and strategies of coping too. Above all I’m hoping for a bright future where he can achieve all he can, letting go of the past and be able to build healthy relationships with others.