Reflections: Voices of Adoption

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Reflections by Dr Shoshanah Lyons, Clinical Director of Beacon House – an innovative multi- disciplinary mental health service offering specialist adoption support.

I was inspired by yesterday’s media coverage of the struggles of adoption to share my personal reflections on the unmet needs of adoptive parents and adopted children. As a service, we have been privileged to work with over 200 adopted and SGO families funded by the Adoption Support Fund since its introduction in 2015. On a personal level, it has been immensely humbling, eye opening, heart-breaking and inspirational to see so many adoptive families walk through our doors.

I am deeply grateful for the ASF, it has opened the door to specialist support for so many families who find themselves in despairing crisis; and who are living with daily and severe trauma. It has for me, also brought the hidden pain of adoptive families into the public eye, and quite rightly so. As precious as the ASF is, our extensive experience of working with families has shown us that there is so much need that remains unmet. This needs to be shouted about from the roof tops.

What follows here is my own translation of what parents, SGO carers, children and teens tell us – on a daily basis – that they need:


1The Voices of Adoptive Parents

We need to be better prepared for what lies ahead when we commit our love and our home to our new children. We are often told about trauma, but we need on-hand, frequent, home-based support in the early months & years of placement. We need help to translate the theory to the practice of being a new parent to a traumatised child who cannot easily accept love and care.

We need professional support that is offered to us and our children to understand developmental trauma and the subtleties of insecure attachment. We can’t always make sense of our child’s behaviour, and we need professionals to help us with that in a non-judgemental, skilled and empathic way. We need professionals to see the whole picture, not just the symptoms and not just our parenting. We need professionals to understand trauma themselves, so many do not.

We need specialist support that is local to us. We cannot travel an hour to receive help.

We need professional support that is bottom up – that helps us to co-regulate our children and get them settled and stable before giving them their life stories. We need support to be paced and sequenced in the right way. Help can so often be too little or too much.3

We need social workers to empower us, to hear us, to see us.

We need our child’s school to be supported to understand developmental trauma. School needs to be informed, empowered and enabled to offer trauma-informed education to children who have been adopted. This would be transformational for our children. We need their developmental gaps to be met in school.

We need our friends and family to understand that normal discipline does not work for our children. Our child’s behaviours are not because we are getting it wrong, it is because their development has gone off track, and their brain & body are not able to respond to adults in the same way as other children.

We need friends, family and schools to understand that our child is not naughty. Our child is traumatised and they are in fight, flight or freeze mode most of the time. We need others to see their hidden pain and respond to that pain with kindness, not their behaviour with consequences.

We need our own mental health to be a priority for services. We suffer with secondary trauma – we are subjected to violence, rejection, abuse, denigration, threat and withdrawal on a daily basis. We carry our child’s trauma on our shoulders and it hurts us to do that, but this is hidden and misunderstood. We need our own secondary trauma to be directly addressed. Without this, our resilience is chipped away and we have nothing left to give.2

We need support when we need it, for as long as we need it, without having to battle for it.

We need the complexity of our family situation to be met with comprehensive support. One size does not fit all. We need others to understand our unique needs.

We need support that is joined up and holistic; and that includes us as parents.

We need our child to know that we love them, no matter what.

We cannot look after the most traumatised and vulnerable children in our community without these needs being met. These needs are not luxury, they are vital. We cannot do this alone.4

The Voices of Adopted Children & Teens

We need to feel safe – at home, at school and with professionals.

We need connection to others that is not too much or too little.

We need our parents to hang in there, no matter how hard we push them away.

We need to be asked “what have you been though?” not “what have you done?”

We need our community of adults to know that we are in deep pain, and that we don’t know how to show you this apart from hurting others or withdrawing ourselves.

We need you to be hopeful, we are resilient and we bounce back, if we have adults who ‘get it’ and ‘get us’ we can bounce back even more.

We need to be helped to calm our brains and bodies, we cannot do this alone. Don’t give up us, please.

We need help to understand who we are and where
we are going. We need to take risks to find the answers
to these questions.

We need to be accepted and understood without having to find words to explain ourselves.

Our experiences and our feelings are beyond words.

The struggles of adoption are a serious concern for our community. The BBC and Adoption UK Survey published yesterday showed us that more than a quarter of adoptive families are in crisis. At Beacon House, we are honoured to be able to change the lives of so many adoptive families, but so much more is needed to make adoption sustainable, ethical and effective for our children traumatised by loss, separation and abuse.

Dr Shoshanah Lyons is a specialist in psychological trauma and Clinical Director of Beacon House Therapeutic Services and Trauma Team. If you would like to find out more about our ASF services, please visit us at www.beaconhouse.org.uk or get in touch on admin@beaconhouse.org.uk or 01444 413 939.

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