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 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
I haven’t written anything for a while – too exhausted and unsure what to say. Jo is still at home but thinking seriously about going back to school tomorrow. It is a friend’s birthday, and she evidently feels that she is missing out on a good deal of social life. She can get quite disturbed at home and is very isolated. A couple of days ago Jo left empty sheet of paracetamol tablets ostentatiously on the kitchen table. I had no idea whether Jo had taken one for a headache, or the whole packet. We assumed that a serious suicide attempt would be more secretive, and she has long had a habit of self-medicating, as well as of threatening to kill herself, so I’m afraid we didn’t take all that much notice. I did mention this incident to the art therapist who came this morning, and he said he would have to report it. I also mentioned it to the woman from the LEA who phoned up to do a social assessment for Jo as part of the EHCP. She too was very concerned – although I assured her that Jo’s CAMHS counsellor was aware of her self-harming and state of mind. CAMHS can’t do much about it if Jo won’t engage with the service – I went on my own to her last appointment, as Jo wouldn’t leave the house. Jo wouldn’t engage with therapy at home either, barricading herself in her room when a lovely young woman came to do some drama with her. Jo has always engaged in risky behaviours, and our attitude since she was small was to ask ‘Is it life-threatening’? If the answer was ‘Probably not’ we would let her get on with whatever it was she was doing as supervising her was such extraordinarily hard work.
We had a good family day out visiting relatives a couple of weeks ago. The children are normally reluctant to join in our annual get-together and there have been occasions in previous years when having got them there they refused to get out of the car. Billy was the worst offender, but Jo would keep him company. This time his girlfriend Jane was invited along, which made all the difference. Billy behaved well in front of Jane, and Jane included Jo, making friends with her. Sunday morning we were discussing the success of the previous day when three CID officers turned up at the house. At first Billy assumed that they had come to take Jo back to school, and told her as much. They were in plain clothes and an unmarked car, but unmistakably the police rather than Jehovah’s Witnesses (we had them today and they are always in twos rather than threes). To cut a long story short, Billy is in trouble over an incident that happened about fifteen months ago. The police had traced his address through his mobile phone number, which he had exchanged with someone else involved. They had a search warrant and took away Billy’s laptop and phone. He was shaken, as we all were, but resigned. He also had to tell Jane at least some of what it was about as she was in the house at the time and he could hardly conceal that he was in trouble. Billy’s biggest worry seemed to be the effect on Jane and their relationship. The police also made it clear that if he didn’t present himself at a police station for interview they would issue warrant for his arrest.
I had two days to try to find a suitable criminal solicitor, and last Tuesday evening Tony came from work and I picked him and Billy up, and we made our way to the police station where we met the solicitor. She didn’t think that it would be in the public interest to prosecute, but the investigations will take some time and he has evidently been engaged in risky, and often criminal, behaviour for some time. Although we were all in a state of shock, there was also a sense of relief that things were coming to the surface, especially as Billy is still a minor (under 18) and there is an opportunity to address the underlying issues when the legal process has run its course. Prosecution is a real possibility, especially if the police find more incriminating evidence on Billy’s laptop, which they hadn’t had time to go through at that point. Billy did a good job of explaining himself but it was far from evident to us that he understood what he had done, or why it was wrong. He clearly knew that he was in trouble, but seems to live in a world with different values. So far at least Jane and her family have stood by Billy – he was at their house last weekend. Its hard to know quite what she sees in him, although he can undoubtedly be kind and caring, and they seem very much in love. We will make the most of enjoying the positive influence Jane seems to have on him while it lasts.
On Thursday as well as attending Jo’s CAMHS appointment without her, I bought a cheap laptop for Billy so that he can do his college work, and Nokia pay-as-you-go phone so that we can contact him, and he can stay in touch with his friends and tutor. I also had to go to the Job Centre with his birth certificate, which the DWP needed for some reason. They haven’t paid Billy’s benefits this month or last, which makes it hard to pay his rent, but I haven’t had the time and energy to find out what’s going on as yet. As I walked through the front door I could see that all was not well. Although our house is messy and too full of stuff, most of the stuff seemed to be on the floor, along with smashed remote controls and debris. The first thing I saw entering the drawing room was damage to the plasterwork – and I later found a smashed up chicken coup on the decking. I was pretty annoyed, having spent another day running round after the kids while they smashed the place up. Billy had retreated to his room and Jo had calmed down by then. He knows exactly how to push Jo’s buttons by being incredibly rude to her, and she reacts but damaging things to deflect her aggression away from Billy. After the smashing episode she asked him how he would feel if Jane could see him, which touched a very raw nerve. He was sobbing but looked murderous. Tony remonstrated with Billy, who wanted us to simply blame Jo for the damage (and to call the police). His stated ambition has always been to make her so naughty that we get rid of her. He wasn’t in a mood to listen to Tony, but hopefully got the message that provoking Jo to get a result is just not on. It is a pattern repeated endlessly since they were very small, but no joke with two large teenagers.
Tony and I had a few sleepless nights feeling that we had reached another crisis, or at least turning point. Having both children at home with two parents is tough, but with one parent impossible. We agreed that Billy could only come home if he or Jo had a friend staying so that there is someone to act as a moderating influence on Billy’s behaviour (although this is not always effective) and both parents are at home. Logistically this might be difficult but we have been here before. It means cancelling other plans and commitments, which is annoying but can’t be helped. On the plus side, Billy did apparently attend a music therapy session that took place in college today. I just hope he finds a way to work through some of his anxieties and feelings in a way that enables some positive changes in his life. One of the images that came up in the art therapy this morning was that of a nut, like a conker, hard and brown but breaking open with the green shoots of new life. That is what I would wish for each of us.
It’s half term, both children at home. Given their dysfunctional love/hate relationship that’s always stressful, but good news for the dog – one of them at least. Our piggy labrador gets plenty of opportunities to sneak upstairs and eat the cat food. She is masterful, waiting until attention is elsewhere and the doors left open, which sooner or later they always are. Not so good for the cat, who then has to parade up and down in front of me meowing until I notice that her bowl has been licked clean, again.
The kids feel unsafe together, even at fourteen and sixteen, without an adult present. We separate them when possible, or take it in turns to leave the house, but today Tony was working and I was at home. I needed to go to the post office then walk the dogs, and had only been gone about ten minutes when Billy phoned to say that I needed to come home. That they, not the dogs should be my top priority, and he wanted me to take him to get a haircut. He is a long way off being able to walk into town to go to the barbers on his own, and this level of dependence makes him a bit edgy and aggressive towards me. I was in the woods about ten minutes later when Jo phoned. I had to come home straight away because… I forget what exactly but they were squabbling and Billy wouldn’t leave Jo’s room or stop fiddling with her things. Apparently Billy was wearing his only pair of clean jeans, which had a tear in them. He didn’t want to wear them in town, and tried to get Jo to sew them up, while still wearing them. I suggested he change into tracksuit bottoms and I could then mend them quickly when I got back. This wasn’t acceptable apparently, but I haven’t heard any more about torn jeans so far. Not exactly a relaxing walk. We still approach the house with some trepidation if the children have been home alone – looking out for broken windows, obvious signs of a fight, loud shouts and bangs, or smoke escaping from a door or windows. We had an outbreak of good behaviour when they tried to get me to pay for an Xbox game that they could download onto both their machines. As Jo has very few games that she likes or can play I wasn’t against the idea, but didn’t want it to be a free gift. I said they needed to do some chores, and they did at least go and tidy their rooms. It’s not exactly doing something for me, but still better than nothing. They continued to phone from Billy’s room to my study on the floor below. Billy was trying to strangle Jo or something. I think they just need the reassurance that I’m still around and within reach as they both have trouble regulating their behaviour.
Billy had taken my letter about having to take responsibility for keeping his bedroom tidy pretty well, and at least made an effort to put dirty clothes in a laundry basket. He had asked for a bigger bin, so I bought a huge orange one meant for horse feed, which he has filled with empty cans and bottles, crisp packets and goodness knows what else. We did have a conversation when he came home on Friday, in which he said that he didn’t want to leave home at eighteen, so I assured him that we weren’t about to throw him out, he just needs to do some growing up. Billy returned to the subject today. The fact that he is nearly seventeen and that before long eighteen will be on the horizon has shaken him a bit. He did say that he didn’t feel mature enough for seventeen, let alone eighteen and the adult world. Billy didn’t come home last weekend. He texted to say he wanted to go to a friend’s house. I tried to get an address and phone number to check up, which was like squeezing blood from a stone. Eventually he said the friend’s dad (the parents are separated) would be away, but that they were both going to the boy’s elder brother. I persisted in asking for a name, number and address, which I was eventually given. I spoke to the brother, who confirmed that he knew Billy, and that there would be no drugs in the house. I looked up the address on google maps, and it was where I had been told it was. I offered to pick Billy up and take him back to college on Sunday – with his weekly supply of tobacco, but he put me off saying he was getting a lift. He did phone from his digs on Sunday afternoon to say that he didn’t have his key and was locked out, and needed tobacco supplies. He was also cold as he only had a T-shirt on. Quite what I was supposed to do about it I wasn’t sure, but I contacted his landlady who was on her way home, and kindly bought the tobacco en route.
It is very unusual for Billy to go two weeks without seeing me, but during last week I had another text telling me that he hadn’t been at his friend’s house after all, but at Jane’s. This was the first we had heard of her, but either his conscience had pricked him for not telling the truth, or more likely knew he’d be found out sooner or later, and thought it had better come clean. We wouldn’t have objected, with the usual caveats of wanting to know where he was, so not sure why the secrecy. Billy had apparently had a good time, and had been invited to go back over half term, then Jane will come here for a couple of nights. Having extracted a name I did some googling and was pleasantly surprised that they seemed a nice, regular family (which is more than I can say of the last girl we knew about, where we had two very needy kids together). Billy had said Jane’s family fostered, and I take my metaphorical hat off to anyone who does that. Jane’s mum phoned during the week and we had a good chat. I didn’t let on that Billy hadn’t told us that he was with them last weekend, nor that we hadn’t heard of her daughter until a couple of days before. Apparently he was a charming guest, kind and thoughtful. I was torn between thinking they must have got the wrong child and pride, or maybe it was relief, that he could make a good impression when he tried. Perhaps eight years of private education were not totally wasted if there is at least a veneer of social confidence and politeness. I’d like to think that our values have not been totally lost on Billy. He had even told them that his sibling was transgender, although Jane’s mother was confused about which way, unsurprisingly as Billy would have referred to her as ‘he’ and used her former male name. Apparently Jane has an elder brother with a life-limiting condition, and Billy had made a point of talking to him and introducing himself.
Jo in fact is very bored. She hasn’t been to school since 30th January, and can’t decide whether she is going back to her boarding school at all. She did say something about doing chores if she was allowed to stay at home. We are in a limbo, not knowing whether we should be looking for another educational setting or just giving her a chance to regroup. Jo coming out of school coincided with totally running out of money so we haven’t actually paid school fees either. So far the school have been patient on both fronts. It seems that being told she couldn’t take sex education classes with the girls was a final straw for Jo. Even the thought of school makes her shake, and she had reduced her life to her bed or duvet on the sofa, thus minimising all chance of anxiety-producing situations. She wanted to go to school on Friday to pick up her belongings and say goodbye to a couple of her girl friends. One faithful friend came back with us for a couple of nights. He is quite clingy and misses Jo, finding it difficult to make new friends. She finds this quite difficult as she likes her personal space, but he has been patient and loyal to her, and they play together much of the time on-line. I think Jo realises that if she ignores him altogether she will find herself almost totally isolated. Another reason for going to the school on Friday was a visit from a solicitor specialising in SEN legislation and tribunals. He explained how the new Education Health Care plans that replace the old Statements of Special Educational Need work. It was useful, and if we are going to get Jo back into her current school or perhaps a unit for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties (an EBD school), we will need to go through the application process for an EHC plan. My heart sinks at the thought as it is distressing, depressing, exhausting and very very time consuming and expensive. It shouldn’t be, but it is. I also met the head, who was concerned and obviously wanted to know what was happening. Talking to Tony later, we decided to see if the school will keep her on the books but suspend fees so that we can divert them into paying for a solicitor (notional fees as we haven’t raised the money as yet). We tried three times for a Statement for Jo in the past – or her primary school did on two occasions and we did the last time, and became increasingly cynical about a system which does not work for children by any stretch of the imagination. In retrospect we should never have gone to a tribunal hearing without legal representation, so we won’t make that mistake again.
When I wasn’t trying to walk dogs or manage the children’s anxieties, I was on the phone to the Department of Work and Pensions and filling in forms the length of short novels for Billy’s benefits. There is an enormous amount of duplication in the process as well as people just messing up. They are nice enough when you speak to them but the systems are not adequate to the task, which creates a huge amount of work for claimants. How Billy is seriously expected at sixteen to manage claiming on his own behalf I can’t imagine. Here I am with a PhD and it takes all my time and energy, telephone skills and perseverance. Given that the benefits are because he has learning difficulties, as do many who apply I imagine, the set-up is impossibly complicated. To relax I have signed up for Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s 30 day forgiveness challenge. I could watch the opening video, which only lasts a few seconds, with Desmond and Mpho laughing together on its own. It is a great de-stressant, with Desmond’s lovely infectious laugh. I can feel my stomach unknotting just thinking about it!
After some thought, I have decided to write a note to Billy to leave in his room. When he comes home on Friday he might go straight up and lock the door, without much of an opportunity for a chat. He will no doubt be surprised that the usual magical transformation hasn’t taken place. I’m trying some tough love – we’ll see how it goes.
It will not have escaped your notice that I have not tidied or cleaned your room this week. From now on it is up to you whether you clean and tidy it or not. If it is tidy, Penny will clean when she comes. As you know I had a breast tumour removed a couple of weeks ago. It turned out to be benign and not cancer, but it was a reminder that you will not always have me to clean up for you and sort out your life. If you need help in leaning how to tackle your room, just ask. The same is true of college work. There is support there for you at the moment but it will not always be available, so take advantage of it while you can. The goal is for you to be independent. If Dad and I manage to go to the USA in 2016 you will be 18, an adult. Hopefully you will be in full-time education, doing an apprenticeship or working. You might have your own flat. To get to that stage you will need to be able to look after your belongings, do your washing, cook, and manage your money. If you need a mobile phone contract or tobacco you will need to earn the money for it. There is a lot to take onboard, so the sooner you start the easier it will be when the time comes. Enjoy your freedom and responsibility!
Love Mum xxx
When you are in the middle of a situation it is hard to know which of these two realities one is living. Are things falling apart or falling into place? I guess it always feels as if unplanned changes represent things falling apart, even if experience tells one that such times can be creative. They generate change. Jo is like a chrysalis tucked up in her duvet, waiting to emerge as a butterfly. I suspect that this could be a long and painful process, and unlike the caterpillar who can just wait until the sun comes out in the Spring, Jo will actually have to find the resources to be proactive at some point. The crux of it is that she won’t return to school. It has been an increasing struggle this year, not that it was ever easy getting her there. She has now missed so much of her GCSE work that she has little chance of catching up, which is another disincentive to return. The main problem is a developing social phobia, not wanting to be looked at. Unfortunately our lovely daughter will only continue to become more biologically male, unless and until she can get her head around attending the University College Hospital endocrine clinic and going on hormone blockers. The problem is therefore not going to disappear with the Spring sunshine.
We tried and failed three times to get a Statement of Educational Needs for Jo, so will now need to start again with the new Education, Health and Care needs assessment process. In theory it is more holistic and will look at social and emotional factors, as well has Jo’s base- line cognitive ability. The SEN Statement process was also supposed to take broader needs into account, but in practice these were summarily dismissed. Jo might find the courage to carry on with her education in a much smaller residential setting, with therapeutic support available and a better understanding from all those involved of her complex mix of needs, her strengths and weaknesses. If she was in a wheelchair or was on the autistic spectrum I suspect her needs would be better identified and catered for, although I know that it is increasingly hard for all children and young people with any disability or mental health issue to get support and to find a place in society. The transgender process is just another part of Jo’s complicated but no doubt wonderful jigsaw. I can’t wait to see the finished picture (in this life or from the next!). We were planning a meeting at the school, with social work support and the Virtual School involved, but there seems little point if Jo doesn’t return there. It is hard to know how to plan or move ahead. It is also painful scraping around trying to find school fees on a month-by-month basis, with repairs and other things jobs on permanent hold, when the child is actually at home in bed.
Lone hero parent
I attended a retreat/conference in Italy and was, most unusually, away for four nights, leaving Tony to cope with both children alone at the weekend. This is not something we aim to do if we can help it. Billy arrived back from college with a friend. The friend had been before when they camped in the woods next to the house. I gather that all three children had some fun playing with B B guns (not something I like as they shoot hard plastic pellets, which I’m always afraid the chickens or other animals could eat). Jo was included, and from the range of pellets around the house and garden they obviously had a wide-ranging battle as well as some target practice. They also seem to have consumed plenty of fish and chips as the food left in the fridge was largely untouched and the debris extensive. Unfortunately, as so often happens, things took a turn for the worse on Sunday. Tony suspects that Billy was smoking cannabis, or something else that he shouldn’t, which makes him extremely aggressive. Apparently he physically attacked Jo in her room, and threw food or drink all over the wall by her bed (the evidence of which will remain until we can redecorate the room at some time in the future). Billy was extremely rude and verbally aggressive to Tony, who managed not to react – much to his friend’s embarrassment. I suspect that Billy’s friends, who all seem a nice lot, are just not used to seeing or hearing someone be so aggressive and rude within an apparently civilised family setting. Billy is not going to find it easy to keep friends, or be welcome in other people’s homes, if he can’t get on top of this behaviour. I had several requests for money while away, and as usual the money for his train fare seems to have been diverted, presumably for drugs. This is another situation in which it is hard to know how to react.
One decision I did make was not to clean and tidy Billy’s room. I went up on Monday morning intending to do it, but partly through exhaustion, partly annoyance, but also I hope some wisdom, decided that apart from taking a plate and fork down to the kitchen I would leave it as it was. My hope is that if I stop doing things for Billy he will begin to do them for himself. He won’t always have me around to tidy up after him. If I don’t do things for Billy he generally gets very cross with me and sees it as a lack of love and care, which makes him feel very vulnerable. Maybe at some point he will allow me to help him do the clearing for himself. If he felt that he had more control over his environment without relying on others he might be happier. A friend told me that one of the effects of dyspraxia is difficulty not just sequencing, but also generating the action words needed to perform tasks. This makes sense to me as I am aware of telling myself to do jobs one at a time in order to get them done (‘ignore the food and cans and pick up the clothes’, now take aftershave, razors, deodorants etc. back to the bathroom’, ‘get a bag and collect all the tin cans’ and so on). If I need to do this to accomplish a task, I do understand how Billy finds it difficult to even get to the stage of seeing the individual tasks within the whole chaos of his room. What I don’t really understand is why he needs to trash the room so comprehensively within such a short time. One little obsession is removing all his many caps from his cupboard, and hooks on the back of doors, and scatter them over the room, so one of the tasks I usually perform is ‘now find, pick up and put away all the baseball caps’. I have asked him why he does it but he doesn’t have an explanation for this behaviour, other than it is a habit. It sometimes feels as if adoptive parents need to be professional psychologists, rather than just overworked, underpaid, and very tired housekeepers, cooks and drivers.