Working with Social Workers
One of the more difficult aspects at the beginning of an adoptive placement is that you still get lots of visits from social workers. They come to see how things are going and will always talk to you and the child separately – just to make sure things are working out. I know that for many of us this is particularly stressful. Often you may not have had the best relationship with social workers through the process and really you just want to get to the date when the adoption has gone through and you will no longer be bothered.
Children who have been in care for some time know how to work the system. They get pretty clever at knowing what to say to their social worker – after all you have to remember that everything is always done in the best interests of the child. That can make the potential parents feel pretty vulnerable at times.
On the whole we had a good relationship with our social worker. She had worked with Mac and his family for a long time. She was due to retire and was pleased that she would be able to see Mac into stable placement before she finally finished work – he was one of her two last cases.
Mac only got us into potential difficulties with social workers once. I can’t know even remember why the situation occurred. It had been one of Mac’s difficult bedtimes. He had a small book that had numbers of important people in it. It was something he had so that he knew if he wanted to get in touch with them, he would have their number. One of the numbers was of a couple who had provided respite foster care for him when he was with Sue and Mark. They had also been foster carers for him and his brother when they were first placed into care. They had similar aged children, and he had happy memories with them. There had been a possibility that he might have stayed with them, but this wold not have been adoption, but long-term fostering – and it was decided for various reasons that this wouldn’t work. However, understandably Mac was still very fond of them.
So when Mac had gone up to bed, he had gone into our bedroom and phoned this couple to say that he was not happy (which was true – he had just been told off!). of course, he didn’t give her any of the context and she phoned the duty social worker.
The next day, our social worker arrived to confront us with this, and to talk to Mac about it. Of course, all of this was easy to explain. Mac was very contrite. It was close to Christmas, so we let him call the foster carers again, so that he could wish them a happy Christmas an have a better conversation and let them know he was happy and that things were going well.
In fact, we did find that social workers could be of great help. Mac was getting increasingly angry, and we wanted to find ways to help him with that and to be able to find ways to help us to deal with it.
We spoke to one specialist social worker who really helped us with some tips. The first one was about control – really much of the issues were around control and who should have it. It is very easy as parents to think that you must always be the ones in control – and it is important to be in overall control. But many adoptive children will have spent their whole lives with no sense of control at all – with their chaotic lives completely out of their control and many things happening around them that makes them feel unhappy or unsafe.
So, we found that we needed to give Mac an element of control. I have to say its one of the hardest things that we had to learn. Maybe give him a couple of choices and then let him go with the one he wants – decide what is really important and make sure you have control of that – if its not one of those then let him decide. We got better and better at it – and as we did things did become easier.
Another tip that I would like to pass on was a way to help with anger. With adopted children (and others in care), it is often the case that they cannot help getting angry – they get to a point when they really cannot control it any more. However much you tell them to calm down, the wiring in their brains will not let them do it. Mac used to know this was happening and would warn us and tell us to leave him alone.
One of his educational psychologists gave us the best trick ever to help him with these episodes of anger. As he got to that point (and we got better at recognising when it was happening) we asked him to do simple sums – 2+2, 3+3 – making sure they were straightforward. But making him concentrate on something logical used a different part of his brain – the logical part. The first time we did this, we were pretty sceptical, but as soon as he started giving us the answers, it was possible to see him calming down and being able to get control back of his emotions. It sounds ridiculous, but I promise it works – even in the middle of pretty ferocious temper tantrums.
Mac also went through a spate of bad dreams – we really wanted to help him with it. This is the advice we were given – give him a pair of magic boots. For Mac, the nightmare normally involved someone nasty chasing him. So before he went to bed, as he was falling asleep, we would tell him he had a pair of magic boots, and that if anyone chased him in his dream, then he could reach for them and he would be able to get away. Again, it’s a simple idea but it really did work.
So we did find the advice and support helpful – the professionals have seen so much of this before that they really can provide help when you need it. That doesn’t mean they were always right.
We warned that we should never get into bed with Mac. I think the feeling was that this would leave us vulnerable if Mac wanted to say something about us and accuse us falsely. And whilst I can see the sense in that, sometimes for the sake of you child you have to follow you instincts.
Most mornings at the weekends, Mac would jump into bed with us (luckily we had a very large bed!). He loved the contact and would love to play tickling games. Mac would regress and act much younger than his years. What you often find with adopted children is that they will display younger behaviour, trying to fill the gaps of things they missed out on. He particularly wanted to be close to Swee as his mum. This culminated in the best and most heartfelt comment that he ever gave her,
“I wish that I had come out of your tummy.”
Adopted children get you into difficult situations
You have to be ready for all sorts of difficult situations as an adoptive parent. I’ve already mentioned the embarrassment that Swee faced when she took Mac to archery!
What you will find is that most people want to know what happened to your child – they want to know their story. But you have to remember that the story is theirs to tell – it is something between you and them and you share it sparingly and only if absolutely necessary (e.g. with health professionals and teachers). Even then, you need to think carefully how much they need to know.
This can get difficult with friends and acquaintances – those who really care about you will understand, but many don’t. There is a morbid fascination with might have gone on in your child’s life before. Of course, the problem with there being a vacuum of information is that some people will choose to fill it with assumptions and misinformation. This can lead to some awkward situations – all I can say is that your first loyalty is always to your child, and you soon find out who your real friends are!
You also learn how to deal with you child’s tantrums by trial and error. Fairly early on, Mac was in a foul mood in his bedroom. I went upstairs and very calmly sat on his bed as he started to throw all of his soft toys around. Figuring out that this wasn’t too dangerous, I decided to call his bluff and suggested he kick them around as well (thinking I was being a marvelous parent and outwitting him!). He went to kick one teddy bear really hard, but misjudged and kicked the floor – I could hear the crunch of his foot!.
Luckily our local GP is very close by and were happy to see him straight away (it was just before they shut for the night). I explained what had happened – our GP was fully aware of our situation as Swee had worked there for a long time, so they had lived through the whole process with us. She examined his foot and declared that nothing was broken, just badly bruised. A great deal of limping went on for a few days – even if it wasn’t always the same foot! But the most important thing that Mac learned was that we cared enough to take him to the doctor when he was hurt.
One of the first things I can remember with Mac was teaching him about jokes. Mac had the most fantastic laugh – it rang out with complete abandon like a peel of bells. I loved to see him laugh – tickling him always worked a treat. If you tickled him he could barely stand it, but didn’t want you to stop. He would laugh and laugh.
Like most kids he wanted to learn how to tell jokes – he was dreadful at it! It took a while for him to really understand the concept. Making him laugh was easy, as long as it had a bottom or a fart in the joke it was a sure fire winner. However, he had a favourite joke which is still one of my favourites today.
Question: “What do you call a monkey with a bomb?”
Answer: “A Baboooom!!”
Mac and I loved to go to the cinema together. The first film we went to was early on and was called “Hotel for Dogs”. I was a charming story, but very soon I started to get worried (I hadn’t done my homework to find out the main plot). The two children involved were in foster care and were trying not to be split up – exactly what had happened to Mac and his brother.
I was sitting there terrified it might upset him. But as ever, Mac surprised me and said in a matter of fact way,
“That’s a bit like me, isn’t it?”
And that that was it. Its amazing how many children’s films have the premise of adoption or fostering and children not with their parents. Anyway, enough to say that “Hotel for Dogs” remains a firm family favourite.