Saturday, 5 May 2012

Pre-placement contact - beneficial or traumatising?

This week I started on a course run by CAMHS and Post Adoption Support (PAS). The course looks at brain development, behaviour, attachment, play therapy and follows the theories and research of Margot Sunderland, Kim Golding and Dan Hughes.

This week we looked at brain development, the primitive and mammalian brains and how -in simple terms- an action, when repeated over and over becomes hard-wired in the brain.

In Mini’s case, his brain has been hard-wired to believe that caregivers abandon him. Again in simple terms (they're the ones I understand best), the more a message moves around the brain, the faster the brain learns to process it. Often we get to a point where we react before our brain has even finished processing, because it's so hard-wired into our primitive brains. If you see a lion in front of you, you don't stop to think about walking/running away, which way you should go, how fast - you're already running before your brain even fully recognises the danger!

For Mini, Social Services felt it was in his best interest (although how they came to this conclusion we’ll never know!), to see his birth family or a combination of them –2/3 times a week, in various contact centres for the first 10months of his life. Each time, he would be taken from his foster carer by a strange social worker, rarely the same one, to a strange place to see his birth family. At the end of each 2/3hour long session, he would be taken away again, by another strange person, and returned to his foster carer. What a traumatic experience to endure so frequently…especially for a baby….
How could he not feel abandoned by firstly his foster carer who was there to protect him and look after him, who was his primary care giver. And then at the end of each session, this person – his birth mother - who fed him, changed him and loved him to the moon and back for 2 hrs, also ‘allowed’ a stranger to take him again.

I’m cross with social services to allow this continual abandonment to happen. How could that possibly be in Mini’s best interests? There was never any real possibility that Mini would go back to his birth mother, so why did they continue to unsettle my son 2/3 times a week?? And why did they continue to give her hope that he’d be returning home. Why did they feel it was appropriate to send a baby off with strangers (albeit strangers with police checks)?

I’m not sure whether it would be worth taking this up with social services. It wouldn’t change anything, blaming people isn’t going to help anything, would social services even admit that this has contributed to Mini’s attachment issues? – I doubt it. Has it even contributed? Am I just looking at the situation with the benefit of hindsight and a teeny tiny bit of knowledge about brain development.
I don’t know the answers. All I know is that Mini was repeatedly abandoned and passed from carer to birth mother and back again regularly, and then a few months later, over a ten day period, was passed again daily from carer to me and the NC and back again, eventually settling with us.
It is no wonder that every time we take him out, visit friends/family, or have visitors to our home, Mini worries that he’s moving on and gets upset, emotional, angry, unsettled. And it's no wonder that he worries about being abandoned even though no threat is there - it's part of his primitive brain, he's thinking about survival, not being hurt again; it's hard-wired in, and so before there's even a threat, he's protecting himself by anticipating it.

I live in hope that we can re-wire Mini’s brain, and he can learn that he’s loved, very much wanted and a part of this family – forever! But I know it’s going to be a long, hard, slog, and a lot of hardwork from us all.

Now, if we were to adopt all over again, this is the sort of thing I would question with social services. What was the benefit of all those contact sessions? 4 and a half years ago, we were so excited to become parents, and believed what they told us. We didn’t think to question the damage this could cause to Mini.


  1. I so agree. Bonzo had contact twice weekly with people who had neglected him and who, in a lesser way, neglected him in these sessions also. The benefit to Bonzo was........? Makes me quite cross!

  2. Taking Mini repeatedly away from his family was totally out of order. And all this is supposed to be in his 'best interest'! That is a form of child abuse!
    Intersting what you say about the hard-wiring of the brain. I am pretty sure that my eldest's brain has been wired totally differently to other people, he can be quite bizarre in his behaviour sometimes. :( He still has a lot of unresolved emotional issues and behavioural 'stuff', and we can only guess where it comes from.

    My 2 also had regular contact with birth mum. Mixed experience for both.
    In the case of Boy 1 his health problems made it necessary for her to visit the foster carers house to see him. Obviously this would not work in many situations, but it was great for him - except that she was unreliable and often just did not turn up.

    Boy 2 was taken by his foster carers to a childrens centre to see her. This was ok,at least he was not taken away by strangers like Mini. Also when they realised that he was getting distressed every time he saw her they had the sense to reduce the sessions (but not stop them).
    But I really do not understand who the sessions were for; not for the kids certainly - especially after the boys were freed for adoption, at this stage the visits should have been stopped.

    As to the introductory period; we spent a week getting to know each boy. We did manage to circumvent the SS (sorry - social services!) to some extent, especially with Boy 2. We spent almost all our time with the foster family at their home mainly,'sharing care' rather than have the boy passed to and fro like a parcel for a week according to the social workers plan. Their social workers never did find out quite how much time we spent there. None of these '2 hour visit and then leave' sessions, but we were virtually living with the family, and doing the childs care with the foster mum there so the child felt safe. It seemed to work fairly well, although still pretty traumatic for the boys. Boy 2 was seriously ill about a month after he came to us, and I'm pretty sure it was due to stress.

    Let's face it, being adopted is not normal and it is highly likely to mess you up :(

  3. We have fostered many children and I have got nothing positive to say about contact with birth families when there is no chance the children will be returning. The fact that I cannot think of anything positive saddens me. There have been no shows, sibling rivalry, full blown tantrums, little kids coming home in taxis crying, anger, aggression, I could go on.Contacts working towards children being returned to birth family I view and support very differently.

  4. It makes me feel so sad and angry to read your post here. Of course I understand all the why's and wherefore's around the legal issues and the human rights issues but I really do have an issue with contact for contact's sake: as a box ticking exercise. Your son should really have been better protected at a time in his life when he was unable to protect himself. If SS knew that he would not ultimately end up with his BPs then what benefit does contact have? Again, I know that legally, until the case is proven and the adoption order made then that is what happens. The law is a bit of an ass at times and particularly, very often, where adoption is concerned. This is quite pertinent for us at the moment, for reasons I can't go into publicly at the current time. There must be immense frustration for SWs in such situations, when they can predict an outcome, but still have to show all steps have been taken to prove that a BP is unable to parent a particular child. I have said this week that it is like playing Russian Roulette with a child's life. I do feel that people should have a chance to prove themselves but at what cost? I wish I had an answer to that one. In the meantime all I can do is send you and that little man a hug xxx