Tag Archives: Education

Retrospective 2

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’.

Letter to Billy

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.


Dear Billy

 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

Falling apart or falling into place?

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 caterpillchrysalis to butterflyar 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.

imagesOne 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.

Going With The Flow

imagesI thought of calling this post ‘Last Chance Saloon’ or ‘Trouble with Teens’. While walking the dogs I stood by the river and watched the water flow towards the sea and tried to let my anxieties flow away with it. A bit of green plastic was travelling down the middle of the river preceded by a log. It was easy to imagine a mini-submarine on its journey downstream. A heron took off from the opposite bank and buzzards wheeled and called overhead. I had had a sleepless night worrying about Billy and his poor attendance at college. His learning support tutor emailed me yesterday to say that one of her team had seen Billy in college in the morning, but that he hadn’t turned up to the class immediately after this. Particularly frustrating for the learning support worker who had made the effort to be there to help him. I suspect Billy was off to the cinema with some friends. He knows that he has a review meeting coming up next week and that attendance is crucial. Despite this he is only turning up to around half his sessions in a not very crowded or demanding timetable. I lay in bed wondering whether I should send him a text reminding him to go to his learning support class at 9am today, and other lessons, or he would probably be kicked out. I decided against possibly waking him at four or five in the morning with the ping of a text and left it. I then had a phone call from his tutor, telling me what my mind had already worked out, but Billy’s evidently hadn’t. That there was little chance that his teachers would take him for Level Three work next year on present performance, and that if they didn’t think he would pass the year they would ask him to leave straight away. We are back at the same place in an ever-decreasing spiral, with few other alternatives if he miscalculates here, as well he might. Billy is still only sixteen with two and half GCSE passes, no work experience, few life skills, not much self-discipline and expensive habits. Not an employer’s dream, nor an anxious parent’s. There is not a lot more I can do for Billy right now, hence the need to unknot my stomach and let the tension flow out of me and downstream with the flotsam on the river.

Tony did get Jo to school Monday morning after our failure to do so Sunday night. His patience was just beginning to crack after about two hours of cajoling her to get up and dressed, but eventually they left the house at about 9am, so quite a triumph really. I gather they had a useful talk in the car, so maybe it was worth the delay to have that opportunity. Reading this blog had alerted Tony to how socially isolated Jo is at school. The boys don’t really know how to react to her transitioning to a girl, and she can’t socialise with the girls after 9pm when they have to be on their single-sex landings. Tony talked about how this might be an option if she moves ahead with hormone blockers, and wondered aloud whether her reluctance to do this means that at some level she is ambivalent about it. He mentioned an online trans friend Jo follows on social media who still uses his male name and seems to enjoy moving in and out of a female identity. Jo reacted strongly and said that Tony talking about it stressed her, and that when he said things like that it gave her doubts. Tony was able to talk about facing any doubts and fears rather than repressing them, as they would always bounce back to hurt her. If she allowed the doubts and associated feelings to the surface she could have a look at them and come to a decision. Without doing that she was locked in a panic state. Whether she was able to process this advice and act on it is another matter. Tony is hopeful that it could be something of a breakthrough. It is certainly a message we can both reinforce and try to support her in moving ahead in whatever direction she wants to go. Another case of going with the flow, over rapids and around obstacles if necessary. I will try to practice making that the theme of the day.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

As 2014 draws to a close it is appropriate to look back to the highs and lows of the past year, and to our hopes and fears for the year to come. Here are some of them.Unknown-1

 Looking Back

  • Billy getting kicked out of his public boarding school in March 2014, shortly before his GCSE exams. Quite a low as it looked as if he might leave education for good at that point with no qualifications. His mental health would have plummeted. The silver lining was that we were spared having to find a term’s fees. He did go into school to sit a couple of GCSEs, but did no revision and had very odd sleep patterns so was tired. Not surprisingly he didn’t perform well. At least he scraped an English Language GCSE, which will stand him in good stead. The Sixth Form College offered him a place for a Level 2 course as he didn’t have the qualifications, or maturity and study skills, to go on to A’ Levels or equivalent.
  • A high point was the National Citizenship Service scheme for 16-17 year olds run by the College for four weeks in July. After three months spent mostly in bed, Billy managed against all expectations to rally himself and take part in the scheme, which was a great success. He made friends, joined in the activities, and enjoyed it. We managed to get him back each Monday morning, which we hadn’t really expected. He misjudged things at the end and smashed up one of the buses, which we had to pay for. The staff dealt with it and he never mentioned it to us nor we to him. We were grateful for their professionalism.
  • Another low – being told by a friend’s mum via Facebook that at 15 Billy had got girl pregnant. He had met her online and only met her twice. To our great relief there was no sign of the girl actually having a baby, and the relationship didn’t last long. Whatever she told him, and whatever did or did not happen to the unconfirmed pregnancy, the due-date passed without any sign of an infant. I did manage to establish that the girl was known to social services and that she was being monitored, as if there were a baby it might well be at risk. There was a sense of déjà vu, as if Billy was determined to replicate the circumstances of his birth, but he seems to have been given a bit longer to grow up before taking on the responsibilities of parenthood.
  • A very important part of 2014 was Jo’s continued journey from boy to girl. A decisive moment was the intervention of the clinicians from the gender clinic, who came down to her school. The new head had decided to change the school uniform, and I had discussed with Jo the possibility of going back after Spring half term in the new girl’s uniform. She has always hated being dressed as a boy at school, and was really pleased at the idea, although understandably nervous about people’s reactions. The staff hadn’t anticipated things moving so quickly, but were open to the notion that moving too slowly also had dangers for Jo, who needed a sense of forward momentum. Over the half term she changed her name by deed poll, and we cleared out all her boy clothes. The girls’ games clothes, kilt and blouses were duly purchased and named. The biggest problem was and is the shoes, as she is at least a 9 UK size, in some makes 9 ½ or 10 in trainers. I don’t know if you have tried buying women’s shoes that size, let alone black leather school shoes that don’t look as if they are made for hiking. Most stop at 7 or 8. We did discover that Clarkes have a limited range of 9s in female styles, thank goodness!
  • Jo finished her six-month’s assessment at the Gender Clinic, and its up to her now to move on to the next stage, which is a physical examination and hormone blockers. She is scared of injections and having blood taken and nervous of the physical, so hasn’t kept any of the appointments so far. A high point was the two trans-teen groups she attended at the Tavi, and the three mentoring sessions she has had with people from Gendered Intelligence (see the links page for details).
  • Other domestic news – a third dog joined the family on a permanent basis, an 8 year-old Pointer. We’d been walking and looking after her now and then for about a year since her owner died, but she joined us for good in May. Three dogs is a bit of a pack, and being tall and clever she can open all the doors and pinch anything she likes off the counter. We have a regime of locks, but are still greeted regularly by three enthusiastic dogs rushing from the back to the front of the house when they hear the car engine. Fortunately they all get on well with one another.


Looking Forward

  • Where do we want to be this time next year? It would be great if Billy had completed his first year of college successfully and moved on to a two year A’ level equivalent course. He would like to share a flat with a friend next year instead of lodging with a local family during the week (the college is too far away for a daily commute) – a big jump but who knows? He has made great strides in terms of settling in, getting himself up in the mornings and keeping out of trouble (more or less).
  • We’d love to see Jo continue on her path with confidence – probably with the help of the hormone blockers as she will be 15 in 2015 and her body is becoming noticeably more masculine, which distresses her. She has to wait until 16 for the feminising hormones, but also needs to be on the blockers for a year first, so needs to get a move on. She can of course stay as she is, but our fear would be that the self-harming, usually cuts with a knife or razor on her arms and legs, would carry on if she feels she is stuck with a body she doesn’t like. It would also be great to see her find the head-space to do some schoolwork. She wants to so some sort of post 16 course, but at the present rate won’t achieve any qualifications at all. She has the ability to pass a few exams, especially in more practical subjects, but needs to find the energy to apply herself to it, and there isn’t much spare at the moment.
  • Some funds to undertake essential repairs would go in handy – the family bathroom is ceasing up and needs replacing, and a door fell off the kitchen cupboard for the umpteenth time. I came back from walking the dogs to see that Jo had left a note to that effect. The boiler isn’t working properly and anyway is underpowered for the size of the housIMG_1796e. There are holes punched in doors and walls and bathroom floors and tiles are all stained. Fortunately we are not particularly house-proud, you can’t be with kids with tempers, but it does get me down at times. I wonder whether one can crowd-fund essential repairs? And what’s really essential anyway? I guess offering a safe and loving environment is still the number one priority for 2015, so a very Happy New Year to everyone.

Not So Holy Innocents

images-1I could hear the church bells coming up the hill from the neighbouring town while letting the chickens out. That answered the question as to whether there was a service there today. In our parish the vicar has a day off after the Christmas festivities. The Sunday after Christmas celebrates the Holy Innocents – the infants under the age of two killed by King Herod, on hearing the news from the Magi that a king had been born in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago. I contemplated the many innocents still being killed today through war, hunger, persecution, neglect, accidents and natural disasters. Ten years ago thousands were killed by a Tsunami in South East Asia, and today another airliner disappeared with all its passengers. This evening Billy and I are going to Heathrow Airport in London to meet a former school friend who is coming to stay for the rest of the holidays. I pondered too how Billy and children like him can so easily be both victims and aggressors.

It was in Year 10, having returned to school after a long absence, that Billy got into trouble on a school trip. I dread the phone call from someone in authority – although it is not always bad news. My first thought is always, “ what have they done now?” A call late at night from Billy’s housemaster in Spain was not propitious. Billy had apparently threatened someone with a knife, bad enough, but had also spent all his pocket money on the ferry going out on vodka. Another kid had bought hundreds of cigarettes, but got away with it. The vodka was used to host a party for kids from their school and others at their hotel, plus some local layabouts. Not surprisingly the staff didn’t appreciate having to deal with it, or the inevitable calls to parents to let them know that their children were in ‘deep-shit’ (excuse the language). Billy was lucky not to be expelled on that occasion (but was subsequently). His period of suspension was accompanied by some on-line bullying from peers who wanted him to be chucked out and made their antipathy to Billy clear. This was a form of persecution that, following prolonged bullying previously, was deeply destructive for Billy. The friend coming to stay, who I will call Edgar, was the only one who stuck up for Billy on-line and stood by him in person. We did observe that Billy didn’t appear to be asked to the homes of any of the English kids, nor were they allowed to come to visit or stay with Billy, so he was dependent on overseas boarders for company. We can only assume that he was regarded as a bad influence on their kids, as he had been quite popular in Years 7 & 8. We could only speculate as none of the parents would say anything and we didn’t like to ask directly, but the assumption had to be he had been dealing drugs. We never had any direct proof, only hints from conversations.

So one houseguest despatched, the spare room cleaned and bed remade, we look forward to Edgar’s arrival. He spent most weekends and some holidays with us for about a year and a half, so it will be good to have him around again. He once said rather endearingly that staying with us was better than a 5* hotel, so the pressure was on to keep up the cooked breakfasts. We could at least provide a break from the routines of boarding school. We were thankful to Edgar for sticking with Billy when he was expelled. Billy had also been invited to stay with Edgar on a couple of occasions, although by all accounts didn’t behave particularly well. I’m not too thrilled that Edgar is apparently bringing Billy a sheesha (hookah), as the last oneBilly brought back with him from Edgar’s I threw in the bin, along with anything used for smoking. The quid pro quo was that we would buy 25 grams of tobaccoUnknown-1 a week. I don’t smoke, don’t want the children to smoke, and don’t approve of smoking. But given that Billy is going to do it anyway, we would rather know what he is taking and have some control over it. How we will deal with the sheesha I’m not sure as it hasn’t arrived as yet.

OK, time to inspect the bathroom before leaving for the airport. Just hope that Billy hasn’t been planning a drug-fuelled few days with his friend (it has happened before) while I try to get my head around his neglected coursework due in when he gets back to college next week.

Is it worth it?

IMG_0555I sent my blog link to a cousin. We don’t meet often as we live in different countries, but are very fond of one another. She wrote:

Have just read your blog on adoption.  Left me with tears in my eyes, as to what you have and are going through. You love your kids, but it sounds as if you have gone through a living hell.

Your patience/ love and insight are just amazing.  It just goes to show, that the very early years are so important in the development of a child. You and Tony have given them so much love, but the early traumas cannot be erased...

I find it extremely difficult to express my feelings, as I just can’t even begin to understand what you have been through.  When you have children, of your own flesh, or adopted, you just never know in advance, what is ahead.  Perhaps just as well.

Her reaction showed me how hard it is to get the balance between the positives and negatives when writing about our lives, especially as I would regard her life as having had its fair share of difficulties and tragedies (father died young, a lot of serious illness in the family, economic and politically challenging situations). I think the lesson is that we can only live our own lives, not someone else’s. We get the experiences that we need and can learn from.

Before we adopted ourselves we knew two families who had had very difficult adopted children. Both were interracial adoptions, although that probably wasn’t a particularly significant factor – the children might well have had FASD, although it was not often diagnosed in the 1980s when much less was known about the effects of drugs and alcohol in utero on children’s subsequent development. In one case the marriage broke up and one parent went with the birth child and the other with the adopted child as it was too difficult and destructive for them all  to live together (we have often thought we might need to do this to separate the kids – albeit as a temporary measure). In the other family, the child became violent and had to leave home. He ended up on the streets and his father thought he should probably be in prison or a psychiatric hospital for his own safety and that of others. From the outside both instances looked tragic, disastrous. We asked the fathers whether they regretted adopting, and in both cases they answered ‘No!’ At the time that seemed noble but almost incomprehensible, but I understand it now. We would not change anything. We don’t regret adopting our children. They have been good for us, and enriched our lives. Yes, its been very hard work, but also fulfilling. We have grown as human beings and hopefully the children have been given a solid foundation after a difficult start in life. I’m not sure whether we would recommend it to others – but that’s not the same as saying its not worth it.

On not participating in school activities

imagesI had the slightly surreal experience of reading Billy’s school magazine – from the boarding school he left rather suddenly in March, when after bringing alcohol into a school dinner-dance we apparently ‘agreed to withdraw him’ (school speak for being expelled). He is now officially an alumnus so on their mailing list, although I would be surprised if they benefit from future donations or legacies from that direction. The magazine, slickly produced, was full of stories and photos of children, Billy’s peers, excelling in various activities, whether on the sports field, in music and drama, academically, and a wide range of extra-curricular activities. I would not have recognised it as the same school as the one Billy attended. He apparently achieved little or nothing, had few real friends, did no music or drama, and didn’t take part in any extra-curricular activities. He generally found the whole experience rather terrifying and exhausting. When trying to think about what would have suited him, and the many children like him, one would have to conclude that the school setting would probably need to look very different. He pushes against authority, but needs adults he respects and looks up to. Having a key adult as point of contact and safety is crucial and didn’t always work out well for him at that school. Billy needs predictability and routine but without excessive use of sanctions. He likes his teachers to be ‘mates’ but definitely in control so that he feels safe and protected. He doesn’t really understand boundaries, so will overstep them and misjudge situations, so he needs teachers who are patient and understanding, who don’t take it personally when he loses his cool and is rude and obstreperous. He also needs people around him with good professional training on attachment who know how to respond appropriately – not just to feel sorry for, blame or scapegoat him.

I’m sure that by the end of Prep School (Year 8) I was seen as an overly-protective and interfering mother, making excuses for a badly behaved, lazy child. One of the most useful resources I have come across was a video in which an actor plays the part of a foster mother advocating for her son with his head teacher who wants to exclude him. She is emotional, feels helpless, and ends up in tears. At a peer-to-peer group of adopters and foster carers someone advises her to remind the school, and other professionals, that she too is a professional doing her job in bringing up this child. I have found this invaluable advice. Time and again I have been ‘summoned’ to a meeting at which various members of staff or other professionals have basically told me off for my child’s behaviour. It is upsetting and emotionally draining, but I realise that they are unloading their frustration and sense of failure onto me. I can try to turn the situation around and to persuade them to treat me as a partner, reliant on their sense of professionalism and training. On the rare occasions I have found an effective advocate in such meetings it has generally transpired that the individual is also an adoptive parent. Training on attachment and other issues around neurological trauma and behavioural disabilities should have the visibility in initial teacher training and on-going Inset training that dyslexia and dyspraxia now have. It is not only adopted children or those in care who have attachment issues. Sadly emotional and physical neglect occur in apparently stable families and there are many children in need of a different sort of education with much better, targeted support.


Jo was bored and didn’t want to open the large manila envelope with ‘Art Homework’ on the cover. Her computer was locked in Billy’s room where they had put in a night’s gaming, finishing around 4am. Wonderfully, she turned her energy into doing something creative, in this case making a crossbow. It was simple but very effective, the bolt being the inside of a ball-tip pen, that she could fire a great distance with speed and accuracy. When Billy emerged he was fascinated – and frustrated, as he doesn’t share Jo’s ability to make things, and was dependent on her to reload it. While she hit the bull’s-eye on the homemade target time after time, he couldn’t hit it at all. I was a trifle alarmed when Jo said “Let’s go outside and make incendiary bombs” and suggested that it was rather cold and dark outside. Billy went to his room to retrieve a Nerf gun, which he fired with considerably more accuracy. They then gathered up some more weapons and disappeared downstairs. I could hear that Tony had taken over and they had evidently all disappeared into the cold darkness of the garden to shoot at something or other. Billy kept up his usual ‘anti-tranny’ diatribe but Jo is getting much better at ignoring it, concluding that he is just not a very nice person, rather than getting mad at him.

The Gender Clinic

It’s a miracle! We are on our way to the gender clinic, or rather the Gender Identity Development Service, with Jo for one of her three-monthly appointments, to be followed by a mentoring session with a male-to-female transgender volunteer from the wonderful organisation Gendered Intelligence (see the Links page for details). The clinic at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London, affectionately known as ‘the Tavi’ is where all transgender children and young people in the south of England and Wales are referred. The miracle is getting Jo out of bed and ready. We usually go by coach or train, or on one occasion her housemaster drove Jo and me from school to north London in order to demonstrate his support for her, which was great, and useful for him as well I think.

Jo has strong avoidance instincts when it comes to appointments, or life in general. She weekly boards at her current school (if only there were state schools like it) as even when we moved to be within commuting distance of the school we still couldn’t get her there. Any transition can be difficult. We have spent years trying to get Jo, now 14, to school, often failing and usually late. When combined with trying to do a full-time job it was unbelievably stressful. Getting her back to school on Sunday nights is still difficult or impossible now and again, but at least it’s only once a week. She has been at her current school since Year 6, and weekly boarding since Year 7, aged eleven. We didn’t think that she would cope, but being quite a social animal there were lots of benefits to boarding. She finds it tiring and stressful at times (and has a long history of self-harming), but seems much happier than she was at her lovely Catholic primary school. Classes of 28 were way too big and however skilled one teacher and a teaching-assistant were, they could not provide her with the tailored education she needed. Added to this, being transgendered, by the time she reached Year 5 (nine or ten) most of Jo’s girl friends had deserted her and she didn’t relate to the boys, so was miserable and isolated. I would drive past and see her standing alone at the edge of the playground which was pretty heart-wrenching. At boarding school you are thrown together, and although she is in a much more male environment than ever before, with boys outnumbering girls about three-to-one, there are compensations in having close company. Jo’s boarding school are also able to get her to do things we’d totally failed at as parents, such as getting her out of bed in the morning, and into it at night, getting her to shower and change clothes, brush her teeth occasionally, do homework, attend dental and doctor’s appointments, or get her hair cut. The relief of sharing the parenting in this way is considerable, if financially challenging (the school do give us a small bursary, it’s always worth asking – see the financial help page as well). As well as changing her name and gender, officially, earlier this year, Jo also changed from having girl-friends to boy-friends – an interesting and complicated situation, especially in a mixed-boarding school. I’ll save for another post.

And now we are speeding up the motorway to London. We have given up on advance booking of trains, coaches and hotels as we end up having to cancel at the last minute. I only texted a dog-walker an hour before we left, having cancelled at the last minute when Jo refused to budge too often to risk doing it again. Luckily the dog-walker is able to come, so the dogs will at least get an afternoon walk and food before we get home this evening. I left them each with a marrow-bone treat which should occupy them for a couple of hours at least. And Jo’s looking great! I think we’ve had several changes of clothes before finally coming downstairs. I saw her in a new, pretty red dress and black boots, before reappearing in flowery skinny jeans with a new top and tight black three quarter-length jacket. She washes her hair then wears a beanie hat (with IMPERFECT written across the forehead) to try to make it dry straight, although I like the natural wave – which due to some Jamaican paternity is unlikely to be beaten into submission. The aim is to produce a Japanese anime look, with which the hair won’t readily cooperate. Its interesting how asexual many anime characters look, I can see why she identifies with this style.


Moving On – From School to College

With huge bare feet, pyjama bottoms and a hoodie, 16 year old Billy returned to college last night, or to be more precise, to the family with whom he lodges in the town where he attends college. He is happier than we’v6th forme seen him for years, in fact since leaving primary school at the age of eleven. The five years he spent in, and sometimes out, of the private school we carefully chose for him because of its supposedly good pastoral care, small classes, and all-round non-selective education, were pretty miserable. He left before completing GCSEs with very little to show for a lot of effort (on our part and that of some of the staff), as well as considerable financial sacrifice. Whether he would have survived our local state secondary school we will never know, but given the complex nature of his problems it seems unlikely. His attendance at college is still patchy but he now has a good circle of support, which includes the college learning-support team, a one-to-one helper in Media Studies, a personal tutor, a post-adoption worker, and someone from the Virtual School with a brief to help adopted children, as well as his parents, and the host ‘mother’ who keeps an eye on him during the week. Billy also had a CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health service) counsellor as well, but they seem to have signed him off after their last meeting, despite my fears that Billy is approaching adulthood with unresolved issues, trauma and high levels of aggression, but on the positive side he is still in college with only one week of term left, and there have been many occasions when that possibility seemed a distant dream.

As Billy is undoubtedly bright and articulate, a million miles from being considered suitable for a Statement of Special Educational Needs, or its successor, his difficulties have largely gone unrecognised and unaddressed. Most adoptive parents will however recognise a familiar package of low self-esteem, poor processing and problem-solving skills, weak working memory, what’s called ‘executive functioning’ difficulties – which amounts to not coping well with everyday life, sensory integration problems, hyper-vigilance, and so on. Add to this, frequent stress-related migraines that migrated from his stomach to the classic visual migraine, and what looks like a pretty addictive personality and it is not surprising that formal education is a struggle. The current ‘pull-your-socks-up’, ‘just try-harder’ league-table, exam-based approach to education is a disaster for children like Billy. He won’t do well in exams, if he does them at all, and most schools and colleges are very quick to get rid of children like him who eat up resources with little to show for it, have patchy attendance and threaten their place in the league tables. Teachers can feel frustrated and de-skilled when their tried and tested methods don’t seem to work. From our perspective growing up and still leading a life not unlike that of his peers is success. We have been lucky to find some excellent teachers committed to Billy and their work, but they are fighting the systems they are in, whether in his private (public) or current state school.