What adopters and children say

Are we failing these vulnerable children? – Sandra’s adoption story

Posted on: 8 October 2014

boys with a bike

Sandra and her husband, from south Devon, adopted two boys (aged 16 months and three years) – they loved them from the first moment they saw them – and still do. The social workers have been kind and supportive over the years, but Sandra thinks perhaps more sustained help was required.

Sandra shares her Devon adoption story, in her own words:

“As we are celebrating Adoption Week, I believe it is time for a serious, honest appraisal as to how we support our adopted children.

In 1999, my husband and I adopted two little boys, the youngest of five siblings. Our adoption process was handled by a skilled and sympathetic social worker. Once approved by the adoption board, the matching with our sons-to-be, was swift and professional. Our new life was about to begin.

The boys were from a birth home of neglect and emotional and physical abuse, born to parents who were addicted to drugs and alcohol. They had spent ten months with a good foster-carer who had nurtured them and given them every chance of a good future. Our youngest son was 16 months when he came to live with us, the elder nearly three.

We loved them from the first moment we saw them – and still do.

The oldest boy was small and timid. He suffered from terrible night terrors and was wary of loud noises or any hint of disagreement. However, his sunny personality, amazing social skills and dogged determination have seen him through.

He struggled at school, but nevertheless, is now, at 19, a qualified chef in sole charge of his kitchen, and taking evening classes to train to be a plumber.

He still avoids any conflict and is very much the ‘peacekeeper’, but he has taken control of his life, has a lovely girlfriend and is, I believe, generally happy. His past has troubled him from time to time, but he has always had the ability to articulate his feelings so that they can be brought out into the open and discussed.

Sadly, things haven’t been so straightforward for our younger son. At the beginning he was easy and compliant – in retrospect probably not a natural reaction for a young boy taken from the only security he has ever known – but it later became apparent that he had a deep, simmering anger that would manifest itself at the drop of a hat.

He will hurl furniture, smash bottles, damage property and shout abuse. He has damaged my car while I have been driving and will throw missiles with enough force to cause serious damage. His rages are so intense that there is no hope of reasoning with him or applying ‘normal’ behaviour management or sanctions. Usually, there is no discernible trigger. These incidents may last up to an hour.

When, however, he is calm, he is remorseful, tells us how much he loves us and how he just can’t help what he does. I have tried, throughout his life to get him the help that he needs but it just isn’t there.

I have been told by various agencies like CAMHS,  that unless he ‘really wants to be there’ they won’t see him. No, he doesn’t really want to be there, but we are the adults, and it is up to us to take care of his welfare just as we would if he had a physical illness.

I have been sent on various courses designed to help me cope with the behaviour, but what I see are other caring, intelligent adoptive parents at their wits end because there is no help for the children. Parenting courses are the soft option. Parents are unlikely to swear, throw things and destroy property. It is easy to deal with them. It is not good enough.

We are failing these vulnerable children. Appropriate therapeutic and psychiatric help should be a right from the outset. The children should have access to this support on a regular basis so that they may form a trusting relationship with their therapist. Proper scientific research should be carried out to assess the damage done to these youngsters and carefully planned, supportive intervention should be applied. The reason babies are nurtured and loved is so that they grow up to be balanced, confident individuals. Where this is missing, there will, to a greater or lesser degree, be problems.

Sometimes love is not enough. It is no good waiting for the criminal justice system to pick up these children when, as young adults; they ‘go off the rails’.

This is just a snapshot of my son’s life. He is seventeen and six foot tall now. Just the other day he punched a hole in his own car windscreen in temper and frustration. The consequences of his birth have blighted his life.

I still love him. I am proud of the way he has managed to hold down a good apprenticeship despite being unable to cope with school life. I will continue to love and support him, but my husband and I are weary – exhausted with the daily grind of treading on eggshells and repairing the emotional and physical damage from his outbursts. He will be eighteen next year and our ability to protect him will disappear. I feel so sad that it is probably too late for him.

So, during National Adoption Week, a bit of honesty is required. We are failing damaged children? What are we going to do about it?…”


Supporting adopters – message from Devon Adoption

Over the past years, Devon Adoption has developed a dedicated team of very experienced social workers and community care workers. There is a support network of professional adoption specialists, such as educational psychologists, child therapists, psychologists who specialise in adoption issues and occupational therapists.

The team of Adoption Social Workers, who have specialist training in working with families with children who have experienced loss and trauma, have had additional training in Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP) – an effective approach to working with children with attachment difficulties developed in USA by Dr Dan Hughes.

Devon Adoption is here to help every step of the way, from completing your application and matching you with a child, to contact with the birth family and support after adoption. We recognise that parenting adopted children is very challenging at times and we aim to provide services specifically to help you understand and meet your child’s needs.

Devon Adoption will be with you and support you for life – if you need it

adoption@devon.gov.uk or 0345 155 1076.