2020 is officially drawing to a close and like for many, I’m not overly disappointed about turning my back on a year which has ironically ended in tiers.
While it’s been a challenging year to say the least, it is one that has been unexpectedly lightened by moments of joy and self fulfilment and as I prepare to walk into my 40th year, I do so with a newfound clarity as to who I am, what I want from life and who I can rely on when faced with adversity.
So when everything kicked off back in March (underestimating the severity of Covid 19) I initially revelled at the prospect of being locked up with my family for a few weeks. Having just brought home baby number four (after a mere two weeks of leave) I couldn’t believe my luck when my return to work was promptly sabotaged by the pandemic. Needless to say working from the shed, home schooling and being segregated from the rest of the world for as long as we did wasn’t always a ‘lorra lorra laughs’ and ‘here’s our Graham with a quick reminder’. (You know you’re getting old when you realise that the younger members of your audience won’t understand that saying!!)
The Mini Beast Moved in………
She’s, quirky energetic outdoorsy and loud and she’s officially one of us. Slotting in like a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle, bizarrely it feels like she has always been here. From the outset it’s all about attachment and with lots of extra time on on our hands (despite these challenging times) forging strong relationships has not been a struggle – making this our smoothest adoption to date. One thing I can highly recommend for anyone who has (or will be) adopting a toddler is a very slow integration when it comes to preschool. For both our youngest children we have worked with the preschool to create a child centred action plan with attachment in mind. This has involved the children initially attending for fifteen minutes and then gradually increasing the time as their confidence builds and their trust in the adults around them grows.
For weeks it was going well and she would enter the school without a second glance until one day as we walked up to the playground she appeared clingier than normal. As we neared the door she started to cry, clung to my leg and babbled ‘Mumma’. Overwhelmed with emotion and feeling unprepared for the scenario, momentarily I didn’t know what to do for the best. Looking at the preschool leader with pleading eyes, she gently removed her and guided her into the classroom. It was a moment of mixed emotion for me as whilst it broke my heart to leave her, I also contemplated the normality of the reaction (in comparison to disappearing without a second glance) and how it demonstrated the strength of our relationship. Ten minutes later the phone rang and it was the preschool to reassure me that whilst she was snotty (she later came down with a cold) she was absolutely fine and was happily playing in the play house.
Of course, it’s not all been unicorns and rainbows – trying to entertain a lively toddler with the attention span of a Goldfish in the winter lockdown has been flipping hard work at times. Therefore this preschool has been our saviour even if on some occasions they have only rescued us for a matter of minutes at a time!
The EHCP Request…..
Two of our children are very black and white, therefore school is school and home is home. One of our boys has never been able to get his head around ‘homework’ so you can imagine how he responded to the concept of ‘homeschool’! School can be a challenging environment to navigate for many adopted children and home can often be their sanctuary. I’ve already come to the controversial decision that blurring the two does not work for all of our family members and therefore if the schools close again our home school (which shockingly fell into special measures, although my husband still disputes the Ofsted report) will not be reopening its doors.
So during the summer lockdown and after months of immense hard work from the SENDCO at my oldest boy’s primary school I finally received a telephone call from the local authority to ask the very important question…….were we prepared to put our long awaited EHCP assessment request on hold due to the growing pressures of the pandemic. Glancing up to see a dishevelled looking hubby and knowing that our son had lasted a matter of minutes in his classroom of two students before retreating to his bedroom to hide, I simply replied ‘no’. The line was temporarily silent before the slightly taken back voice replied with ‘the EHCP requires input from medical professionals who are not as readily available due to Covid 19 and therefore we are asking applicants to only submit plans where it’s absolutely necessary’. Momentarily skirting back over my son’s schooling history from aged three onwards and explaining to the voice on the other end of the line that we had reached the stage where an alternative educational provision may be required, I paused to allow her to consider my response. To my amazement she wasn’t giving up easily however her efforts were futile as I quickly brought the conversation to a close by confirming ‘it’s absolutely necessary, we fully understand if there is a delay however we would still like to submit – thank you.
If there was ever a moment where my tenacity has paid off this year, here it is and as a result we had an EHCP in place prior to him commencing secondary school in September, albeit a bit more last minute than the SEN team would have liked.
Sometimes it really does just take a few consistent, predictable, reasonable adjustments – and look at the difference they can make!
GCSE’s are looming but has lockdown hindered her chances?
She’d only been with us a matter of months before I picked up on the fact that something wasn’t quite right. Her speech was starting to develop but it lacked clarity and she continuously made this ‘eh’ noise as if she didn’t understand. I used to take her out for long walks in her pushchair and animatedly chat away to her, I’d talk about our surroundings or what we would be doing for the rest of the day however she would rarely respond. Every now and then I’d pop my face round the front of the pushchair to make sure she was ok and I’d be greeted with the biggest smile. Linking her lack of awareness to a trauma response, I left it for yonks before finally taking her to the doctors; you can imagine how silly I felt when he took one look in her ears before turning to me and announcing ‘it’s no wonder she’s not responding, she can’t hear you!’ It transpired she had blocked Eustachian tubes and it was limiting her hearing. Flooded with an overwhelming sense of relief, finally it all made sense. It took a little while for her first set of grommets to be fitted but when they were it made an incredible difference to her speech and overall development.
No stranger to a challenge here is one of life’s warriors who has commendably spent her educational life fighting. Fighting to keep up with her peers and at times battling and learning to manage bouts of crippling anxiety. Her predicted grades have always been strong however after missing four months of education and with some recently sobering mock results, I can’t help but feel that the government may have screwed her over (and the other children from disadvantaged backgrounds) with their decision to be the only part of the UK to embark on GCSES in 2021.
With official figures released by the DFE highlighting that only a third of adopted children pass their Maths and English GCSE compared to 59 per cent of other pupils. We’re hoping this one deservedly smashes her exams in 2021 whilst sticking two fingers up at the statistics.
The Adoption support fund (ASF) request comes good…….
As I sat in the glass fronted OT (Occupational Therapist) waiting room watching my son partake in some of the silliest looking activities (my favourite being the one where he was spun in an office chair until he looked like he was going to puke), I contemplated his journey to date.
It’s taken a long time to get to this point and we’ve had to jump through a lot of hoops to get here (this being our second ASF request to date). Mistreated and misunderstood for years (for his silent disability) by an education system that needs reeducating, it was a relief to finally be able to speak to someone who not only understood but had a greater understanding of neuroscience than me!
Despite sensory processing difficulties being linked to attachment, trauma and FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) it is becoming increasingly difficult to be able to access this much needed service for adopted children and their families and I’ve been left scratching my head as to why this is.
Joining me part way through the assessment to discuss the process further the OT explained how the outcome of the report could be used to provide training for the school, inform the EHCP and further help to support our son. Momentarily there and then for the first time in a long while I allowed myself to believe that maybe, just maybe his educational experience could turn out to be a positive one after all. I guess only time will tell.
Mum drops out of school……..
Now, I’ve always been a huge advocate of self care, however like many things in life that we take for granted, I’m not sure I truly valued its significance until it was taken away. Needless to say for adoptive parents it can be even more salient due to the additional challenges we naturally face as parents.
Our social lives, clubs and activities are what keep us happy, healthy, help us to destress and keep our mental health on track. It therefore should come as no surprise that with the pandemic restrictions mental health challenges are at an all time high for all age groups.
Feeling like a participant in a social experiment for months, I sat in my shed, listened to back to back tales of trauma, loss and poor mental health and then when I took a break, I would stroll across my garden and walk into my home to provide care to my little one or become a (very questionable) supply teacher in our homeschool. Eat, sleep, repeat and I think it’s fair to say that this could be rolled out as an effective form of torture. My only saving grace at the time was the mood enhancing benefits of the sunshine which thankfully we were blessed with in abundance.
Sadly, Autumn and early Winter lockdown was not as kind. The outdoor activities dried up the dark nights drew in and the schools returned; however things were notably different in the world of education. Understandably the focus had shifted to one of a health and safety nature, ultimately altering an ethos I wholly support and impacting greatly on the children who struggle to conform. The tales of trauma, loss and mental health challenges continued to flood in.
Unable to participate in the high level of self care that I’m accustomed to and continually suppressing aspects of my personality in an attempt to fit in it didn’t take long for me to become overwhelmed to a level like never before. Sleep deprived, unable to rationalise and cracking under the relentless pressure I simply couldn’t take any more.
So what did I do – well knowing that Covid had already put the kibosh on our work life plans, I unintentionally made a dramatic exit comparable to Little Mix’s Jessie Nelson in an attempt to protect my mental health.
For days I felt like a failure for being different, for having overly high expectations for the children and families that I work with and for seemingly not being able to manage my stress levels like everyone else.
Hitting an all time low, it was my glowing annual Fostering panel review that unexpectedly turned things around in my head and gave me the boost that I so desperately needed at such a dark time. Highlighting areas of my personality such as being unafraid to challenge, child centred and able to view things from multiple perspectives, I took onboard the comments and gradually I started to believe in myself again.
As the end of the year rapidly draws to an end looking up at our clock, filled with the tiny faces of our foster children, I realise that work has never been and will never be about money for me – it’s about making a difference in a world where diversity should be accepted and celebrated.
Tonight for the first time in a decade as I prepare for a stay at home with the famalam my final thoughts turn to our dedicated teaching professionals who have remained committed to educating our children whilst ultimately putting themselves at risk from the super spreaders of this world not to mention our Amazing NHS workers who have eaten, slept and breathed the trauma of Covid 19 and who are still standing strong as the true heroes of the year. This evening I raise my glass to you all!!
Here’s to a Happy, Healthy, Covid Free 2021.
This years New Years resolutions…..
1. Potty training (not for me) 2. Work on the potty mouth. 3. Try not to go potty.
Final note to self, give up trying to be organised and embrace the chaos.