My last post was about Billy, so now it’s Jo’s turn. Here we have seen progress. After months and years and tens of thousands of pounds in legal fees and specialist reports, Jo was offered a local authority funded place at a Priory specialist 16-25 residential college for young people with Aspergers and similar social disabilities. As there are no specialist colleges for FASD its a best fit. To our amazement Jo managed to go to a trial few days in the summer and made friends, which made the September transition easier. She also did a few days summer work experience in the pottery of a local Camp Hill community craft centre which also gave her confidence. While we can’t say she is happy, she is a professional moaner, the change from being stuck in her room with only online relationships to her current situation is huge. The academic programme has not really got off the ground – she hangs around outside the class apparently too stressed to take part, but wants to be around people and have company. College for Jo is about social relationships, particularly boy friends, and given that her peer group are mostly on the autistic spectrum and socialisation isn’t their strong point, she has done well. It is an enormous advantage that the college have a 24 hour waking staff, so if she is awake at night she can and does go and talk to someone, reducing the likelihood of self harming. We just hope that the local authority will consider her progress sufficient to continue funding – any excuse to cut it will be so tempting to them. There is an annual review next month and rather ominously we had a letter from the LA saying that they had changed her Education Health Care Plan as a result of the review reports received from the college. To have Jo back home in her room at this stage would be heartbreaking.
It is almost a year since I last blogged and the truth is that life became too difficult and painful and my qualms about protecting the privacy of the individuals involved overcame my desire to write. I have realised that life will not necessarily get easier and the challenges increase rather than diminish as the children get older, so here is a brief summary.
Billy struggled in ‘supported’ housing, which was pretty dreadful. He stopped pretending to engage with any sort of education and sunk to the bottom in terms of behaviour and attitude, although still wanted to spend time, as much time as possible, at home. He seems to have spent most of his time playing on his Xbox with other lads, hanging round the streets at night, sleeping during the day, smoking, some drinking, probably getting a fair quantity of cannabis. He certainly had too much money which encouraged his life style, and the charity running the place were making a good profit from his housing benefit. Billy was asked to leave when seen on CCTV letting friend who had been banned from the property in at a window. The state of his room was a continual source of tension with staff. He would occasionally be given warnings to clean up but not actually helped to do so. Just telling him has never had any effect. He never mastered the laundry system, any more than he did at boarding school. He was always well turned out as he either bought new T-Shirts rather than retrieve dirty ones or brought his stuff home for me to wash. The main problem however was his girlfriend, not in herself, we were very fond of her, but their relationship was toxic. She was also in supported housing and as mixed up as Billy, but without the same level of family support. They started going out in January 2016, and from the start the relationship seemed very volatile. Billy could be verbally cutting and tried to push her away emotionally and using language, but the more he did so, the more she clung to and pleaded with him to keep her. As Billy became emotionally closer to her, and often thoughtful and caring, he also became increasingly possessive and controlling. We tried several times to suggest to her that she should leave him but to no avail.
Things came to a head in May/June – we managed to find a rented flat for Billy as he was once again homeless, and his girlfriend immediately quit her accommodation and persuaded us, against our better judgement, to let her move in with him (not that we could have monitored them at a distance, and they were over 18). A few weeks later, with another homeless friend permanently lodged on a sofa bed in the front room, and Jo staying for the weekend, Billy assaulted her. I went to collect Jo on Sunday morning and saw that the girlfriend was covered in bruises. I could go into detail of what followed and the next few months but won’t as it is unnecessary and distressing. The whole thing was somewhat predictable and we had tried hard to get appointments for Billy with CAMHS and an NHS psychiatrist. When we finally managed after a great deal of persistence from us and his GP, both services dismissed him, despite the fact that he was clearly distressed, disregulated, hearing voices that ‘told him to do stuff’, suffering lapses of memory, increasingly violent and frightened… CAMHS told him to contact ‘Teens in Crisis’ which he tried to do, but without success. The psychiatrist said after a brief interview that he was not schizophrenic, although noting that we thought he had signs of personality disorder, and discharged him. The girlfriend meanwhile was finally persuaded by her family to press charges of assault – and added rape for good measure, but didn’t understand that she couldn’t do that and still go out with Billy at the same time. She was actually in our house for the weekend when the police and her hysterical mother turned up to arrest Billy some weeks later. Since then she has alternated between wanting to be with him and wanting to destroy him. Billy was kept in custody overnight and released on police bail. Nearly eight months later the case is still waiting to go to the CPS. The (ex) girlfriend has made it her business to stalk Billy online, as well as by direct contacts, and ensured that anyone else he might go out with or befriend knows his past. This meant that Billy was unable to take up the college place he had intended in September and moved to another town to do a similar course, only to be ‘chased’ from there after a few weeks. He has now made a third move to still try to catch up with his Level 2 qualifications, but finding accommodation has proved extremely difficult. He evidently still loves her but accepts that for the moment at least they can’t be together. Her feelings seem as ambivalent as ever, and we can only assume that she is suffering from shock and trauma from the whole experience.
Meanwhile we attended the magistrates court last week where Billy was answering charges going back to 2014/15 for inappropriate Internet use. It took the police nearly two years to present the case to the Crown Prosecution Service who, much to the surprise of Billy’s solicitor, decided to prosecute. It is hard to see how it is in the public interest, but that is where we are. The solicitors did suggest that the delay had more to do with waiting until Billy was 18 (he was 14 and 15, and out of school when the offences occurred) and could be treated as an adult, rather than the merits or otherwise of the case itself. We are now at the stage of assembling medical and other evidence that can be used in Billy’s defence. He is convinced he is going to get a custodial sentence, which he may, and is suffering frequent crippling stress migraines. He had the unpleasant experience of having to disclose the details to his current college. We can only hope that he has learnt something about what you do in secret coming to the light eventually, and are glad that he was caught and stopped when he was. The one positive note is that with the help of the Adoption Support Fund Billy is getting around 25 hours of therapy from a charity. It probably helps him cope day-to-day but does not get to the roots of attachment, abandonment and sensory issues that lie behind much of his behaviour. What is frustrating is that he has been explicitly barred from receiving any treatment for inappropriate sexual behaviour as the case was still open.
The most interesting and effective treatment Billy has had so far is from a small group of
healers who broadly adopt the approach outlined by Tom Zinser in his book Soul-Centered Healing. Billy has seen one practitioner face-to-face on two occasions, and other work was done on his behalf remotely. The idea that he has sub-personalities, probably created at
points of trauma in his past, or possibly even past lives, makes sense to me. His personality changes and lack of awareness of what he does in different moods or persona is very apparent to anyone who witnesses them. I took an odd little drawing of a ghost-like figure along to one meeting of healers said that Billy had denied drawing it, but that it looked like his style. The therapists present said with one voice ‘he didn’t’, which I later realised meant that he didn’t do it consciously in his ‘Billy’ personality, but in some sub-ego state which he could not remember. Therapy consists in helping Billy connect to his ‘Higher Self’, as well as removing any unwanted negative energies. Although subtle these sessions have generally been marked by step changes and improvements in attitude. Billy has stopped saying that he is fine as he is and doesn’t need any treatment, and realises that he needs help. He spent a lot of time using a Ouija board and summoning negative entities (and producing some quite dramatic psychokinetic effects such as lights blowing, raps, knocks, mould growing on walls, orbs flying across the room etc.). This had been a ‘game’ since boarding school days that he had become hooked on much like the cannabis. One of the unwanted visitors was ‘Zozo’, well known to the young generally I discovered. Billy’s drawings of Zozo were a cross between a devil and himself – perhaps another sub-personality? Anyway, Billy insisted that he could handle Zozo and other negative entities, and the soul-centred mediumistic healing seems to have both removed any hangers-on and improved Billy’s mental state considerably. It hardly needs saying that such treatments are regarded as highly questionable by many people and we wouldn’t mention them to mainstream psychologists or other medical practitioners. My only interest is in helping Billy, and if it works, it works.
Taking responsibility for his actions and as far as possible leading a more regulated and fruitful life are also essential parts of the healing process. To this end we are continuing to support Billy to stay at college for as long as possible, although he frequently talks of giving up. He clearly has talent for music technology and has started a Soundcloud channel with some of his rap recordings. They are quite raw and honest, in true rap style, and are the best way to find out what’s going on in his life. While we many not like the language, it is at least creative and cathartic. His birth mother is also a fan and posts his latest songs on her Facebook page. One of the most moving was about his need of and love for her.
So why take so long to write any of this? Apart from the privacy issue there is a sense that the adoption community really don’t want to hear too much negativity, which is understandable. We know from friends, however, that we are not unusual in having an adopted teenager in contact with the criminal justice system, struggling with education despite being bright, self-harming through substance misuse and sex, and becoming increasingly violent or anti-social. The support just isn’t there. Tony and I benefitted from therapy but the targeted, specialist help Billy needed and needs has yet to materialise. Maybe it will remain mum at the end of her tether waiting for his brain to develop and gain more self-control. That could be the sum of it.
15th March 2016
We are really proud of you the way you have started to make some changes in your life, and we have had glimpses of the happier Billy we used to know. This weekend was, however, very difficult and exhausting. It was good to have a more normal night’s sleep on Friday, but then you spent most of Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights awake. For most of the time during the day you were in bed or asleep, even missing Jo’s birthday tea on Sunday. There was no opportunity to have a proper conversation with you, and you became increasingly angry and abusive. Refusing to return to your digs on Monday as planned made the situation worse, and meant that you could not attend your course. You left your room in a terrible state, with no attempt to clear up any of the mess.
If you want to come back here again there need to be some real changes.
- You must be engaged in education, work or training for at least 15 hours a week, or at least have evidence in the form of a letter or email confirming a start date to do one of these things.
- You need to get more help to deal with underlying anger issues. It is up to you how you go about this – whether you go back to your GP and ask for help again, follow up the idea of seeing a counsellor, do some work around the origins of your anger with the practitioner we saw on Friday, follow up Teens in Crisis, or try something else. Again we need to see actual evidence that you have definite arrangements in place. We will pay for therapy if necessary, but it is also possible to ask for funding from the post-adoption fund to cover any costs.
- When at home you need to sleep during the night and be up during the day, eat downstairs and be generally more engaged with the rest of the family. You are not to stay in your room all day, just coming down to grab some food. If all you want to do is play on your X-Box, you can do that in the hostel, or elsewhere. We do not want the X-Box coming back here again for that reason. If you are working or studying you too will need a good night’s sleep, as do the rest of the family.
- We expect you to keep your bedroom and bathroom in a decent state, with rubbish in the bin, dirty clothes in the laundry basket – or bring them down to wash, and the room left in a state in which I can get in to clean.
- We expect you to be polite, and will not accept abusive and threatening language, whether addressed to us or to anyone else.
In terms of the first point, actually committing yourself to some form of activity, you have a week or so before colleges and offices close for the Easter break. If you are thinking of coming back over the Easter holidays at all you have a small window of time to organise yourself.
Mum and Dad
I decided not to say anything about the hours of tearful girlfriend Billy said he loved, made feel special – who desperately loved him, who he unceremoniously dumped, or the unkind Facebook posts and trashing of his room – one step at a time. There is a long way to go, starting with dealing with his anger and the causes of his anger. Whether one can do anything about a lack of empathy I really don’t know. By the time Billy and girlfriend went on Tuesday (they should have gone Sunday or Monday at the latest) I was exhausted and traumatised by the sheer volume of negative energy and vitriol that had been unleashed. Feeling desperately sorry for the girlfriend, who is almost certainly better off without him, but who is so vulnerable herself.
We are in mourning. We have lost the son we had and have no idea if and when he will re-emerge. Like the prodigal son he evidently needs to experience life on his own terms, but is very poor at recognising risk factors and calculating how far he can go. Billy seems to think that giving a false name to the police will somehow keep him out of trouble. We felt obliged to tell his girlfriend’s father that he was threatening physical violence towards her for going out with another lad, and calling off the party he was organising. It does feel like a bereavement process.
Jo, on the other hand, flourished over Christmas without Billy around to put her down all the time. She misses him, or the old Billy at his best, and called him ‘The Grinch’ after the Dr Seuss character who ‘stole Christmas’ but actually blossomed. We stayed over night on 25th December with Tony’s sister and family as we usually do, but for the first time ever Jo sat with us at table throughout the meal, chatted, made jokes (more or less appropriate) and socialised. She behaved well, didn’t get over-excited, went to bed at a reasonable time and didn’t break or nick anything. (Objects do still tend to just turn up in her pockets, and she claims to have no memory as to how they got there).
Jo has now been out of school for over a year – with no immediate prospect of return. We went through the motions of trying to get her to attend our local secondary school, and after a great deal of effort she had a short tour of the school after hours when it was more or less empty. She remarked that a single year group is bigger than the entire intake of her previous school, and that she couldn’t learn in that environment. She is right on both counts. We had a second very unsatisfactory multi-agency meeting at which I understood that the EHCP coordinator would take the evidence that Jo couldn’t access this ordinary mainstream secondary school back to panel, with the agreement of all those present. The outcome, however, was that she is to be put on the school roll from 4th January, and that transitional arrangements, in the form of on-line education, will be put in place (or apparently have been). On paper the education authority will argue that they have met their obligations to provide an education for Jo. The fact that it has been tried and failed, is unsuitable, and inaccessible, is being totally ignored. We are threatened with prosecution if we can’t make it work. Well we know that we can’t, so presumably 2016 will see us in court. We are also faced with simply enormous legal fees if we want to proceed to challenge the LA decision at tribunal. I try hard not to demonise those involved, but simply can’t understand how decent people can lie, dissemble, and basically trample over the lives of others in this way.
A big step forward was Jo starting on hormone blockers in September. She has to have an injection every 28 days to reduce testosterone levels with the view of arresting puberty. She suffers all the symptoms of the menopause, and feels pretty lousy much of the time, but has seen some changes in things like speed of facial hair growth, which increases her confidence. Most of her life is lived online, waiting for former school friends to Skype or exchange Instagram or Facebook photos and messages. She also met up with a small group of them near one of their homes – unfortunately not near ours – a couple of hours away by train. Tony nobly went with her on the train and spent the day hanging around shops and cafes. She failed to make the return rendezvous and didn’t respond to phone calls or messages. After some three way conversations with me and her friend she was tracked down to the friend’s home, apparently without a charge on her phone and no idea of the time. Tony and Jo did eventually meet up and made it home late that evening. As Jo only leaves the house to go to Tesco about once every two or three weeks, to actually go on the train and meet other kids was a big event for her. It is so sad to see her at home, bored out of her mind, day after day, as well as very restricting for me. She has at least made friends with the cat, who she refers to as ‘hairy baby’.
It’s a while since I wrote a post – too many other things to do, not sure where to start, too exhausted – physically and emotionally. Boxing Day seems like a good time for a quick retrospective look at 2015. Christmas was different this year as Billy opted not to join us. In July we managed finally, after a great deal of effort on my part, to get a referral to a hostel for homeless youngsters in a town about 50 miles from home. His behaviour at home has become increasingly difficult, and he has nothing to do here. He almost but not quite finished his catch-up Sixth Form college year, sabotaging it really as he didn’t finish his courses. Still under qualified for progression to Level 3, the College said back in about April that they wouldn’t keep him on next academic year. We went to a talk about apprenticeships but he clearly wasn’t remotely ready for this. After some searching I found a housing project that also offered music technology Level 2 and Maths, as well as accommodation. Getting a social service referral was ridiculously complex, but we got there in the end. After a shaky start in a grotty little flat with five other lads, all older, which was evidently pretty scary, he was moved to the main building where at least they have CCTV and more people around, as well a a bigger room. There is still no-one on duty at night and the kids are pretty feral, left to their own devices much of the time. Billy has a key worker he sees for an hour a week, when he makes it, but seems to have fallen out of the education and isn’t doing anything else. He has money from disability payments and housing benefit pay the rent. At the moment he isn’t motivated to do much else and has fallen into a gang culture with very little effort. His fascination with guns and knives, inability to control his temper and distain for anyone weaker than himself are worrying to say the least. We picked Billy up today on our way home from relatives, where we spent Christmas, but having opened his presents he is keen to head back to his mates. It is so sad to see him like this. He is nearly 18 and the problems he had at five and ten are all there, and it is very hard to see how he is going to stay out of prison.
The adoption fund provided some therapy for us. It was supposed to be 20 sessions of art for me and Tony, 20 of drama for Jo and 20 of music for Billy. Tony and I have found ours very useful – Billy went a couple of times then wouldn’t turn up and Jo wouldn’t engage at all, locking herself in her room. Part of the ‘work’ we have been doing is letting go of the kids and realising that what we can do for them is increasingly limited.
Having driven for nearly 3 hours today already, Billy just came to ask if there was a train back to the town he’s living in (there isn’t). I will take him back after only about four hours at home as he assures us that it is either than or he will smash up the house. He’s angry with his girlfriend as she went out with her family and another guy. We worry about her ability to cope with someone as needy and dangerous as Billy but so far she sticks with him.
I haven’t written for some time – to busy and exhausted. One of the things taking up my time has been trying to persuade the Local Education Authority that Jo does have special needs and requires an Education Health Care Plan (ECHP) and fully-funded residential school placement. She was turned down for an assessment, but after several weeks of counter moves, the LEA have changed their minds, and we are back at the gathering documentation stage – again. As I had a quick cup of coffee and salad in town today I jotted down the following:
- To be born Hep.C + to an alcoholic mother with a heroine addiction;
- To suffer pre-natal brain damage;
- To be taken into care at three days old, and moved from a loving foster family to a new setting at 11 months;
- To attach oneself to, and crave the attention and approval of a brother who wants to destroy you, who will undermine you at every opportunity;
- To be bright and creative, but drop out of three mainstream schools unable to cope;
- To feel for as long as you can remember that you are in a wrongly gendered body, and hate yourself and the world for failing to recognise that you are really a girl;
- To want to socialise but be rejected by most of your oldest friends;
- To be sidelined by your birth siblings, who mean so much to you;
- To be depressed and stressed and isolated at home;
- To have no clear or realistic idea of the future and what it might hold;
- To feel that the world is against you and hide away from it;
- To struggle to make decisions and regret each failure to move forwards;
- To have so much to give the world but have no opportunity to express it…
Yes, I have special needs.
No, I am not fulfilling my potential.
I never thought I would enjoy therapy, but Tony and I are finding our weekly art therapy sessions a useful space to think about where we are and how to deal with the children’s behaviour. Our adoption worker also recommended looking at Nonviolent Resistance. One of the books I ordered was Haim Omer’s book, Nonviolent Resistance: A New Approach to Violent and Self-destructive Children (CUP, 2004). I have only dipped in so far, but it makes a lot of sense. I turned first to the chapter on ‘Violence towards siblings’ as Billy’s attitude and behaviour towards Jo is the cause of most violence in the family. I was thankful to read (p.113-14) that the author stresses the need for parents to be supported rather than judged:
We have seen that the prevailing assumption that parental abuse is the real cause of violence towards siblings is little more than a widespread dogma. This blaming stance toward parents precludes any possibility of building a therapeutic alliance with them. Professionals thus jettison in advance their main potential collaborators in the fight against the child’s violence. In effect, we can hope to cope with the hidden endemic problem of violence toward siblings only by moving beyond the prevailing accusatory stance and evolving an attitude of trust toward parents who are willing to get help. We therapists should approach these parents with the assumption that they are motivated by true concern and an honest desire to help their children and themselves. Viewing the parents as defensive, as sabotaging the therapy, as trying to invade their children’s privacy, or as bent on preventing her independence are professional habits generated by the erroneous view of the parents as the main pathogenic factor. What the therapist views as a parent’s resistance to treatment is often nothing but a reflection of the parent’s feelings that the therapist’s suggestions are not helping.
The same could be said for social workers and educationalists. We are fortunate at the moment in having some professionals around us who do recognise our genuine care and concerns for our children and who are working with us in trying to find solutions. We were working towards many of the principles of non-violent resistance anyway, including setting clear boundaries, keeping ourselves safe and taking back control – so far by keeping the children apart, but now we have the Easter holidays, which we meet with some trepidation. I wrote a letter to Billy, a kind of contract, which included some of the non-violent resistance ideas, including making it clear that we would not hide his behaviour, and that we would be present when he is at home – he might consider intrusive – and make the decisions as to what is and is not acceptable without entering into negotiations. The bottom line is that we will call the police and have him removed from the house if we can’t cope with his behaviour towards us or towards Jo.
Tony picked Billy up from College and took him to MacDonalds, our neutral space for talking. He explained that there was a solicitor’s letter and a letter from us for him at home, and talked him through the situation he was in. From there he led onto how Billy can help himself and meet our expectations of him. Billy is keen to avoid a custodial sentence and unusually open to suggestions as to how he can do this. Last time I spoke to him he thought he was fine and didn’t need to change, so maybe something has shifted. The good influences in the form of Jane and friends, as well as family, probably help. It is impossible for us to really know what and who is a danger to him and should be avoided, and who can help. Naturally at 16, living away from home, most of his life is hidden to us, and even when at home so much of his life is online that it is still a mystery, as we found out recently to everyone’s cost. Billy has arranged to have friends staying for part of the holidays which suggests to us that he is aware friends can help act as a corrective to some extent on his behaviour. These things are a delicate balance between control and firmness on our part but without communicating rejection or anger.
Second Letter to Billy
Things we can and can’t do for you.
We can and will:
- Continue to love you unconditionally.
- Be proud of your achievements and celebrate your successes.
- Welcome you and your friends – as long as you and they behave well, and treat the family and our home with respect.
- Try to support you when things don’t go well.
- Be upset and disappointed when you don’t take advantage of your opportunities, let people down, let yourself down, and make bad choices.
- Decide if and when you can come home if your presence or actions have an overly disruptive effect on the family.
- Call the police if we decide that your actions are more than we can cope with.
- Continue to liaise with social services, adoption services, the police, solicitors and Department of Work and Pensions on your behalf.
- Make choices for you.
- Mitigate the consequences of your actions.
- Undo your mistakes or minimise the seriousness of what you have done wrong.
- Turn your life around.
- Help you discover what you really want to do and be in life – that’s for you to do.
- Find you an apprenticeship or job – but the College and other agencies can help if you take advantage of their services.
- Tolerate bad behaviour in the home. This includes (1) being rude, provocative or unkind; (2) smoking or taking anything legal or illegal, apart from tobacco, in the conservatory or outside; (3) damaging the house, furnishings or belongings; (4) any violence, verbal or physical, whatsoever; (5) stealing; (6) lying; (7) misuse of the Internet; (8) excessive drinking.
- Seek to minimise or conceal your behaviour in the past, present or future.
- Bargain with you over what is or is not permitted.
We expect you:
- To be polite and considerate.
- To keep your room and belongings tidy.
- To actively plan for and work towards your future in a constructive and realistic manner.
- Ask for and accept help when needed.
- To keep yourself safe and behave in a responsible manner.
Mum and Dad