Sunday, 13 April 2014


Further to my trip I thought I'd put up a few pics to fill in the gaps.

The road to Sure24


Giving out toothbrushes

Inspecting smiles

One of the girls dormitories

New playground equipment

Ugali and cabbage.

Training in Swahili

Structured play at weekends

Light relief

I am embarrassed how excited I was

Last views of Kenya, for now
                                                                                     Sammy (ex street boy) and founder with  Milly, his wife

Friday, 11 April 2014

Adoptive Dad on Tour

As the blog is clearly about me I thought it appropriate to side step the usual suspects and give some brief thoughts on my little trip to Kenya.

I was honoured to be be invited to travel to Nakuru in the Rift Valley to deliver training to staff at my friend's school and orphanage.

We encountered some challenging situations and stories and on several occasions I had to take myself away for a discrete weep.

Staff described stories of abuse, children suffering multiple bereavements and experiencing trauma un imaginable in a UK context.
I won't bore you with the gory details, needless to say it was a challenge to remain composed in the face of such stories.
However, all was not bad and we did manage to enjoy ourselves, playing cards each night in a truck stop and drinking Tusker beer.
We had bizarre cultural exchanges trying to translate various types of sexual abuse into Swahili.

The trip was brief and my companions and I worked hard to ensure that we made good use of our time there.

At the end of one seminar I was asked 'How to help, what do we do for children who have experienced, multiple trauma, loss, separation and abuse?'

There is no easy answer, in the UK the same question would be struggled to answer. Reading Twitter feeds, Facebook and talking to friends we are constantly seeking advice on how to parent our traumatised and brutalised children and access specialist services set against a background of cuts and reduction in services.

So, when confronted with 147 children with heartbreaking stories and no available parents what is the answer?
With child protection and therapeutic services effectively non existent what can be done?
I have to believe that the most basic tools are within all of our grasp.

Love, patience, kindness, forgiveness, listening and empathy.

The most profound and insightful intervention will fail if not built on the foundation of these qualities.

Easy? No certainly not, often the hardest qualities to draw on.

But regardless of where you are they are available.

Saturday, 29 March 2014


We've planned a holiday and come what may we're going.

Previous experiences of going away with Flossy, Lotty and Peanut have been mixed to say the best.
Before the wee two/three arrived it was not uncommon for us to go away on proper holidays like proper people. Normal strains with children but on the whole good family fun.

But since the day Flossy and Lotty arrived in 2006 things have not been the same.

Firstly, they where in the Looked After system and it was just too complicated.

Secondly, we had become the size of two families.

Secondly, Flossy does not do holidays.

In her little head she loves them, she has a wonderful time.

However, the safe landmarks of her life are removed. Her routines, culture and familiar surroundings are replaced with restaurants, campsites, other peoples homes, strange beds, scary men....I could go on.

Every attempted trip away has ended in hyper vigilance, red line rage, inappropriate behaviour resulting in free fall parenting.

The consequence being that often we pack up early and dart for the relative safety of Coates Towers. We escape back into our humdrum routines and patterns, a safe place.

A few nights away here and there and the odd long weekend have been the most we've attempted and have all led to the realisation that the best we can hope for is to be shouted at with different background scenery. At worst its been gloves off, no holds barred war.

So, with a scant regard to history we are trying again.
We've payed our money and we're taking our chance, we jet, yes an aeroplane, off in two weeks.

We know that from the moment we step through our door to the moment we return fear, worry, anxiety and panic will prowl round Flossy. But we all want to go and be like a 'normal' family.

Flossy is excited, we're excited/nervous.

But his time we're optimistic, there's been a change in the air. Flossy is a year into DDT and though I have no idea how or why there is a subtle shift in Flossy. Over two weeks since the last redline, which is a long time around here, a record in fact. Its still no cakewalk I assure you, but it is a green shoot. Self awareness is awakening and a genuine desire to be the "boss of her cross"  is beginning to emerge for the first time.

We are accompanied by two families who get "it", accept "it" and love her all the same. Safe people for us and her.

Ginger, Gracie & Queenie have opted out (cutting us down to a more manageable six)

The Big One is coming, though our eldest child it & technically gives us a 1:1 child to adult ratio if things turn ugly.

We're going to trial run trips to the airport. We're explaining why, who, how, where and when.

Empathy and patience turned up to 10.

We are determined to be chilled out therapeutic "Dan Hughes" kind of parents.

A few months ago we had a routine meeting at the local CAMHS HQ we raised the topic of the planned holiday.

Flossy's CAMHS lady was encouraging, she advised write down the things that may be stressful for her.

Mrs C and I laughed...........nervously.

CAHMS lady laughed.........knowingly.

There is not enough paper in the world

We all laughed.

So, watch this space, watch the skies.

Note: If you have to have "it" explained then there's a fair chance you don't get "it".

Thursday, 20 March 2014


I read an interesting article on when to tell your adopted children about their birth parents. Reading it made me think about our own experience of shepherding our children through the facts of their early life and journey to us. Like peeling an onion.

Each of our children, though two sets of siblings, have unique stories. For ease I will share the story of one.

From the very beginning of our journey Mr C and I decided that we would be as honest and open as possible. Reading the files we realised that at 18 everything that we were reading would be available to them. We resolved to ensure that by the time they were old enough to access the files there would be no surprise information.

The big one knew her parents, she entered the 'system' at 4 and a half. 18 months later moving in with us only a few memories remained, some sad, some good and some scary.

So we began to peel the onion.

Answers that satisfied a 6 year old, "mummy A couldn't" were subtly changed to "mummy A wouldn't" as the years passed.

With increased understanding came a new grief over old facts.

Knowledge about the process of reproduction brought new revelation and sadness.

An appreciation of the nature of relationships brought insight into lifestyle and choices and disappointment.

Warnings of the perils of substance misuse from school made sense of some memories.

At each stage her questions scratched a little deeper, pushed a little further.

And with each layer the grief came with new losses and new heartache.

Slowly simple monochrome memories became technicolor windows into the world of the little girl she was and her life and journey.

The day came and we handed over the file to apprehensive hands. We promised no surprises, no revelations. But to see it in black and white in her own hands with her own eyes was a new layer, so new grief and new tears.

The layers continue, life events remind of what was lost and continues to be lost.

We have constantly been the bearers of bad news, tempered with explanations of context and our love and empathy. We've resisted the temptation to judge and searched hard for the positive.

We've navigated three through their past so far, with varying results, sadness, anger and indifference.

It's early days for the little three, they're not so little now and we cannot guard them any longer, the onion must be peeled.

I don't feel threatened and I'm secure in their love for me and my love for them.

But I hate that in giving them what is rightfully theirs I cause them hurt and pain.

There will never be a soft focus, 'TV moment', adoptee parent reunion on a park bench with mutual tears for my children.

But the onion must be peeled.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Nine to Five

Following the trials and tribulations of prospective adopters this week in the twiterverse I was reminded that as adopters we've given our lives to a system that for most of us is an alien world.

Social workers, panels, health and safety inspections, DBS, NSPCC and Local Authority checks, references, personal and professional, the list goes on.

Until we stepped into this world we'd been the masters of our own destiny, captains of our own ships, as it were.
But we give ourselves to a behemoth of a system that sets us on slow, hopeful course for children.

This wedding of ourselves to the system does not end at approval we move to waiting for matching (the worst bit), then pre adoption order. If things work out then that may be the end, but perhaps not, adoption support workers, CAHMS, Educational Psychologist etc. all may become an integral part of our lives.

Fundamentally, we are undertaking major works in our lives, choices and decisions that will echo through future generations. For our Social Workers it is a job, they may be passionate and compassionate but it is ultimately their 9 to 5, and rightly so in the interests of their wellbeing.

This, necessary,  imbalance lies at the heart of frustrations that I'm sure all adopters and prospective adopters have experienced.

We live our lives in real time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, this is in contrast to Social workers, who run at about 8 hours a day Monday to Friday.

Our week lasts 168 hours and social workers about 40, give or take.

When the Social Worker says "So, if we arrange to see you next week" for them that is 40 hours away, and they have lots of other people to see and cases to run.

We are just waiting while the process moves on, 168 hours waiting. The system holds the power and we are mere cogs in a big machine.

But the waiting is loaded with all kinds of silent obstacles:

Why did the SW ask that question?

Is the house not clean enough/too clean?

Why did they not ring me back?

If I leave another voicemail message will they think I'm too needy?

If I don't ring will they think I'm not bothered?

Mrs C and I have passed through that trial, and I assure you the first time was the worst. But the system is woven into the fabric of our lives.

We remain at the whim of secretaries making appointments for Flossy.
For Gracie we leave a message on a social workers phone on a Thursday but no answer by Friday tea time means a certainty of no word til Monday at best.

It is a circle that cannot be squared and we have accepted the inevitability of some aspects of it.

What have we learned?

To make friends with everyone we meet.

Push nicely.

Where possible only ask questions that we know the answer to.

And lastly write a letter to the head of the Local Authorities Children's Services and kick up a biddy great big fuss, ha ha.

(That's another story)

Friday, 21 February 2014

Let's call it a breakdown

Adoption breakdown is a phrase that is batted around the adoption community in hushed tones.
When I've heard of adoptions breaking down I've alway thought of the bravery of the adopters to make that call and say,

 'I can't do this any longer'.

As adoptive parents we have slogged through the process of approval, dancing to the right tune and jumping through the hoops. Proving again and again that we will make good parents that we have the right stuff.

So, for whatever reason, to then say actually, this can't go on, I can't do this...................

Well, I just thought that it took courage.

At various times I've questioned my capacity to parent, usually precipitated by Flossy. But while my focus was there a slow, quiet fracture was developing with Gracie.

Perhaps, more accurately the fracture was being revealed as it had always been there. But who knows and I'm resisting the temptation to re visit the ins and outs of the last 14 years.

It seems inappropriate to spill out the gory details of all that has happened for the interweb to pick through.

But  I can tell you how I feel & what I think.

(The ever vocal Mrs C has her own story to tell, so I'll not presume to reflect her thoughts here.)

As a family we have lived and breathed adoption from the moment we decided to apply. We heard of breakdowns on our prep course, anecdotally through friends of friends who knew someone. Sitting on  a panel, we received updates and notifications of occasional breakdowns.  The Narey Report  in 2011 quantified adoption breakdowns, shedding some interesting light on the figures and facts.

However, considering my own situation I am reluctant to use the phrase 'Adoption Breakdown'. As Gracie is not quite 18 the perhaps she will be included in these figures but I feel that they only tell part of the story.

But the day came and we could not continue. No shouting or screaming but we were no longer able to  parent her. It was very clear Gracie no longer could tolerate being parented.

I made that call and said 'we cannot and are unwilling to continue as we are'. It didn't feel brave, it felt like betrayal, like defeat, like relief.

Thankfully, Mrs C and I are of one voice and mind but we react differently with tears, doubt, disbelief, anger and worry. I'm sure emotions that every parent has felt for a child that has cut ties and walked their own path.

The wheels where set in motion, a Social Worker visited, foster carer identified, plans made and Gracie moved out.

When her Social Worker rang to say she was coming to collect her that day I sobbed.
Now, I'm not sure why I did as I'm spitting feathers now. But there is a dull ache in my heart that I can't quite resolve.

I find I have sat in every seat at the adoption table as my child is now in care.

We continue to love Gracie but there has been a breakdown, not an adoption breakdown, if you know what I mean. We're still mum, dad and daughter. Things are civil but not right.

We are fortunate that we have have several good friends that have walked a similar path and offer wise and sage counsel.

No funny story, no witty anecdote, just thought I'd let you know.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Revealing Pizza Incident

Without doubt pizza is the food of choice in Coates Towers. All, bar Mrs C, consider it to be the pinnacle of culinary evolution and without fail the suggestion of pizza for tea will raise a collective cheer and on occasions has diverted emotional catastrophes.

So it is no surprise this week when Mrs C and I had a simultaneous revelation about the workings of Flossy's mind all brought through the wonder of pizza.

Now, we consider 'ordered in' pizza to be the height of sophistication and bourgeois decadence. The significant financial outlay required to feed the Coates Massive can only be justified in exceptional circumstances.

To date has only occurred three times in the 8 years since Flossy arrived. Consequently, we buy pizza from the supermarket, fear not though, our hearts beat with no less love for pizza.

On the first occasion we 'ordered in' emotional breakdowns were the order of the day. Flossy was adamant, to the point of screaming,  that she MUST have a stuffed crust. After the intense computations, trying to consider the best combination of deals and offers, she got her wish. However, she ate the pizza and left the stuffing of said stuffed crust and declared it the greatest culinary wonder in all of God's creation, the pinnacle of her young life.

After this the second occasion was a little smoother and I took control and choice from little minds and hearts, consequently all was well.

The third occasion was this weekend.  Mrs C and I were off for a much deserved, so we think, weekend away and Grandma and Ginger have been left to manage the rabble. As a treat an 'ordered in' pizza was sanctioned.

With 48 hours to go Flossy asked the question "what pizza am I going to get?", then she started to unravel before our eyes.

Unusually, both Mrs C, Ginger and I saw the transformation simultaneously; realised what was happening and responded rather than reacted to the situation.

The leaflet from the pizza company was like shot of adrenalin to her eyeballs. Choices, choices, side dishes, different sizes, stuffed crust, deep pan, toppings, extra topping. Overwhelmed by choice.

But for Flossy this was not about choice but an opportunity to get the wrong pizza, a pizza that she  she didn't like or want. While everyone else got the pizza they wanted

The stress of choosing the wrong pizza was overwhelming and the thought of having the wrong pizza delivered was unbearable.

So, she was trying to take control to manage a situation that she could not manage.

"I'll order it, I'll pay for it when he comes to the door"

We carefully explained why that would be too hard for her.

We gently asked her which one she'd like, too hard. "I might like them all"

We narrowed it down specifying exactly what she didn't like.

"Pineapple?", "no".

"Mushrooms?", "no".

All the time Flossy's tension was dancing around the tipping point. But we're all calm and we could see that the issue is not the issue. Flossy was worried, but right then, with Ginger, Mrs C and I listening she felt safe.

A thousand times before we have missed, mistimed or ignored the signals and been led into conflict. But not tonight.
We listened hard and made sure we were seen to listen.

We got down to her choice of cheese, tomato and chicken.Unconventional, but approved. I took control of the choice of size (she'd choose XXL large) and crust and we had a resolution.

To ensure that all doubt is removed we asked her to write her choice down. She had an idea and decided to write all the things that she doesn't want on her pizza as well.

Ginger, a logical fellow, suggested that this may take some time and tried to discourage her.
However, I impishly shush him and declared it an excellent proposal. Thinking that this could make for an easy evening I encouraged her to write all the toppings that she definitely wouldn't like on the list. She smelled a rat when I get over helpful after a few minutes and suggested that a car, a boat and then a hen would definitely ruin the pizza. However, her tension and anxiety have gone and she knows that we all understand what she wants and more to the point what she doesn't want.

We heard her and she knew we did.

We frequently reflect on freak outs and crap moments and see the underlying issues and how our responses have often exacerbated tensions and been catalysts to calm or chaos.
Though I am often book clever and training wise my understanding of our children continues to develop.
Sometimes things happen that reveal their inside world, their fears and thoughts. Tonight I feel like I have seen a little deeper.


At breakfast the following morning Flossy declared "Queenie, thinks I'd like a Meat Feast pizza!"

Queenie has been killed.