Tag Archives: School

To Be…

I haven’t written for some time – to busy and exhausted. One of the things taking up my time has been trying to persuade the Local Education Authority that Jo does have special needs and requires an Education Health Care Plan (ECHP)  and fully-funded residential school placement. She was turned down for an assessment, but after several weeks of counter moves, the LEA have changed their minds, and we are back at the gathering documentation stage – again. As I had a quick cup of coffee and salad in town today I jotted down the following:

  • To be born Hep.C + to an alcoholic mother with a heroine addiction;
  • To suffer pre-natal brain damage;
  • To be taken into care at three days old, and moved from a loving foster family to a new setting at 11 months;
  • To attach oneself to, and crave the attention and approval of a brother who wants to destroy you, who will undermine you at every opportunity;
  • To be bright and creative, but drop out of three mainstream schools unable to cope;
  • To feel for as long as you can remember that you are in a wrongly gendered body, and hate yourself and the world for failing to recognise that you are really a girl;
  • To want to socialise but be rejected by most of your oldest friends;
  • To be sidelined by your birth siblings, who mean so much to you;
  • To be depressed and stressed and isolated at home;
  • To have no clear or realistic idea of the future and what it might hold;
  • To feel that the world is against you and hide away from it;
  • To struggle to make decisions and regret each failure to move forwards;
  • To have so much to give the world but have no opportunity to express it…

Yes, I have special needs.

No, I am not fulfilling my potential.

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.

Sex education and the transgender child

images-6Jo sent me a text wishing me well for my operation yesterday. I was chuffed that she remembered and was thinking of me. I was sitting in the car waiting to go home last night when her housemaster phoned. My first reaction is always, ‘Oh dear, what have they done now?’ but apparently he had a tricky situation that he wanted to discuss. He kindly said that he had phoned me as the ‘voice of reason’. I can see that when staff are close up to a situation it can be difficult to step back and consider the options. This term in Citizenship classes Year 10 are covering sex education. We had received a letter informing us of our right to withdraw our child from this section of the curriculum. Jo had been asked whether she wanted to go with the boys or the girls, and had not surprisingly wanted to join the girls. Some of the girls in the class felt inhibited with what they saw as a boy present, and at least one parent had raised this as an issue with the school. The teacher in charge of Citizenship had gone to the housemaster for advice. Maybe they were hoping we would just exercise our right to withdraw Jo and solve their problems that way, but that would stigmatise Jo through no fault of her own. I reminded the housemaster that if they felt they could not teach Jo as one of the group they had an obligation to provide individual tuition for her to cover the same syllabus with a suitably qualified (female) teacher. He was open to that, but wondered aloud about the competence of any of the staff to take on that role. I also suggested that the school could use this as an opportunity for some wider gender education, and that the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London, and Gendered Intelligence, must have plenty of experience they could draw on in this area. I offered to speak to the headmaster to see if he would pay for someone to go and speak to the staff and/or students.

It was also a chance to discuss with the housemaster what Jo had said earlier about feeling it had been left up to her to explain to fellow students about being transgender, and what it meant. She rightly felt that this was not fair. I passed on to him that tutors had not adequately explained to their tutees what it meant to be transgender, and that just saying that Jo had changed her name and would return to school in girl’s uniform wasn’t enough. He conceded that most tutors probably hadn’t explained it as they didn’t understand themselves. We left it that he would talk to the head, but I can see that this is one I will need to follow up. I do hope that this becomes a positive opportunity for some further education rather than just a negative experience of stigmatisation and exclusion for Jo.

Meanwhile Billy continues to avoid classes at college, and the people who could help him, while sending regular texts for more money. He wanted another £20 because he ‘took the wrong bus’ which I think probably translates as ‘had to ask x or y who is over 18 to buy tobacco for me and pay them to do so’. I continue to urge him to speak to his tutor or leaning support teacher about issues he has with attendance. He did say he was feeling overwhelmed, but seems paralysed when it comes to doing anything about it. People can only help, however willing they might be, if he turns up. I can’t seem to get that through to him. I have seen the same situation with university students, some of whom are probably exhibiting signs of depression, but they are not my responsibility in the same way and are older, better able in theory at least to take control of their lives. It is hard to know when to stop pleading with and for someone, and just let them get on with making a mess of things.

UnknownWe put the dog pack in kennels for a few days so that I have some post-operative time without them jumping up and pulling on the lead like a husky team. It is blissfully peaceful in the house without them. Much as we love our dogs we never planned to have three large ones. It makes a change to be able to leave doors open or unlocked (the pointer can open every unlocked door), without dogs rushing through the house, muddy feet and enthusiasm everywhere.

Stressed Out!

Unknown-1One sometimes hears that bereavement is the most stressful event in many people’s lives, followed by moving house. The thing that sends my stress levels through the roof is children refusing to go to school. Both kids have done this for prolonged periods, making full-time paid work impossible for me. This evening we should have been taking both children back to school but the signals from Jo were not promising. It started early afternoon with complaints about feeling sick and generally unwell. Spending the weekend in the dark playing on her computer or lying in bed with an iPad while snacking can’t help the digestion or headaches. She insisted that this was not the problem. Not taking a very long shower (an hour plus) was another bad sign, as was the fact that at 5pm she was still in her nighty, which she’s been wearing all day. Bringing her English prep to me about the time we were due to leave was a good sign, but was quickly followed by a return to bed and refusal to speak to anyone. My body was pumping adrenaline and I was feeling homicidal by this point, trying hard to maintain a calm exterior. I took Billy back to college (two and a half hours round trip) as he was already sitting in the car having a cigarette. I can’t see his tobacco supply lasting the week. I didn’t want to be in the house with Jo as years of school refusal have taken their toll on my nerves. Although feeling exhausted, at least taking Billy offered me the prospect of some time to myself in the car on the return journey. Walking into the kitchen on arriving home to find a new load of dishes and pans sitting by the sink didn’t improve my mood. Nor did discovering that Tony had not informed Jo’s housemaster that she wouldn’t be returning tonight. He had apparently had a rather odd conversation with a duty member of staff in Billy’s old school, who had eventually asked him which school he thought he was talking to. I have given Tony the phone number of Jo’s housemaster numerous times, and he could also have googled it. It is not the events in themselves that get to me, so much as contUnknown-4inually having to take responsibility for others – I feel the need of some downtime. If I were an animal right now it would be a prickly hedgehog.

The problem is that for years, pretty much all her school career, we have struggled to get Jo to go to school. If we thought home education could work we would have tried it, but she is a non-co-operator and would have simply spent her entire life in bed. As an infant we could use physical force to get her dressed and into school. Once there if not happy, she did not generally appear unhappy, and she is a very sociable child, loyal to her friends, funny and good company. The middle primary school years were particularly hard as she was big enough to resist getting dressed or getting into the car, and out of it again at the other end. We might resort to force – extracting her from the foot-well of the car where she had jammed herself, then locking the car doors, for instance. Until the end of Year 5 I would then have to give her a piggyback across the playground to the school entrance. This process, which started with waking her up about 7am, often took till lunchtime, making a normal working life impossible. I would just have time to go home, have something to eat and walk the dogs, before it was time to pick the kids up again. To say that she has problems with transitions is an understatement. I loved my job, parts of it anyway, and it was good to be in adult company, but finding the time and energy for challenging children and a career was a nightmare.

There have been periods of weeks or months more recently when we began to think that Jo’s difficulty in getting into school was behind us, but sadly not. This is the second time in the last three school nights that we have been unable to get her there. When this happens it is rare that she makes it in on Monday, wiping out Monday for doing anything else, but she generally surfaces by Tuesday – taking out most of Tuesday as well. On the last difficult Sunday, the last week of the Autumn Term, she did eventually get dressed, and her bags were all packed and in the car. It got too late for Tony to come along and share the driving as he had to be up early Monday morning for work. Jo eventually came outside and to stop her going in again I locked the house. She stalked off round the side, in a well-entrenched pattern of behaviour – when little she would run into the garden and hide just as we were about to leave. I sat and waited in a cold dark car. Nothing. Eventually she returned and tried the front door, realised it was locked and went back into the garden. After about an hour in the car I had a phone call from her on my mobile (cell phone) to say that she was in the house. I had to admire her determination, which has never been in short supply. In pitch darkness she had manoeuvred a very large ladder from the far side of the house onto the decking, and up to my study window, then climbed in, leaving the windows wide open on a bitterly cold night. She was back in her bedroom and had no intention of moving. It was about 11pm by this time, and although the school had been alerted and said they would let us in when we arrived, I wasn’t up to a long drive there and back again by that point. One-nil to Jo! I revel in the fact that the children can now put themselves to bed, as bedtimes were awful, but it will be so good when we no longer have to persuade reluctant children to go to school, for them as well as for us.images

Why Transgender Children Need and Deserve Support

IMG_0546I drove Jo back to school last night, after a last minute marathon to do at least some of the homework that could and should have been spread over the past four weeks, rather than the final an hour and a half of the holidays. I sat at the computer while Jo dictated to me, or left instructions as to what to say while attempting to dye a strand of plaited hair blond (it didn’t work). In the car she shared her anxieties about school, and I can see her point. Although the staff have been very supportive, and she gets sick of her housemaster, tutor and others saying that they are totally ‘there for her’, its still hard. She had wanted tutors to explain clearly and fully to their tutor groups what being transgender meant. Instead, the message seems to have been that Jo had changed her name and would be wearing girls’ uniform. That left the onus on her to do all the explaining. The girls in her age group mostly accept her as a girl, but there aren’t many of them, and one or two have been very unkind (‘spreading rumours about her’, she says).

One of the easiest ways to get at Jo is to say that she is gay – which means that boy friends or potential boy friends are also automatically labelled as gay. This started before she transitioned. She was still outwardly a boy but clearly felt female and her sexual orientation shifted from girls to boys. Jo and her boyfriend do not see their relationship as one between two gay kids. Having close relationships with either boys or girls is complicated for her. She is biologically male, and has not started on hormone blockers. Living on the girls’ landing in a boarding school is out of the question – she could theoretically get a girl pregnant, however unlikely in practice. She shares a room with another boy who boards part-time. This was her choice as she didn’t want to be isolated in a single room – isolation carries its dangers in a school setting. She doesn’t socialise with the boys on her landing. There have been incidents when they threw her padded bras out of the window, and sprayed her perfumes all over the place, drew on mirrors with her lipstick and so on. They have two fantastic common rooms on her landing but Jo feels awkward socialising with a group of teenage boys (most of whom have learning and behavioural difficulties) and prefers to stay in her room.

She did have a small, supportive group of boys and girls she hung around with, who accepted her as she was, before and after her transition. Unfortunately they have all left, either expelled or withdrawn from the school (in other words asked to leave) – mainly for drug offences, a ubiquitous problem it seems. With a couple of exceptions the boys don’t want much to do with her. Most are awkward in her company. They don’t know how to react or what to say. She overheard one kid say to another, “that girl’s got a dick”. Its understandable if they have not had any real education in gender issues but also deeply hurtful when you just want to go about your daily life. New children are a threat as they pick up gossip from peers and stare. It seems that things are not explained well to the other kids. It is a while since I have really had a chance to talk to her tutor, who I seldom see, or housemaster, who is usually busy looking after the children and sorting out various problems when we drop her off or pick her up. In some ways negotiating reactions at school and engaging in educating her peers in a relatively safe environment is good preparation for adult life, but I can see how tough it is. No wonder she has little energy and attention left for academic work. The best part of the week is apparently sport, which she used to hate, as this year instead of being forced to take part in team competitive sports she has opted for climbing, at which she is pretty good.

Leelah Alcorn

leelah

Images: Justice for Leelah Alcorn/Facebook

It is only one week ago, on Sunday 28th December 2014, that another transgender teenager,  took her life by walking under a truck. She was just 17 years old. There can’t be many parents, especially parents of trans children, who don’t feel distraught at the tragedy of the loss of this young life. Leelah Alcorn from Ohio in the USA left a suicide note on her Tumblr social media account to be posted automatically after her death. The account has since been removed, but her message needs to be heard if Leelah’s plight is not to be repeated, so I make no apologies by posting it here in full. I don’t blame her parents or community, although I do believe they were and are profoundly mistaken in their attitudes. They have lost a child, which is tragic. They are in defensive mode, it seems, trying to justify why what they did was right. They were apparently convinced that their Christian convictions did not allow them to recognise Leelah as transgender. There is nothing in the Bible on the issue and although I don’t want to defend the Bible (I was brought up on Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror), I can’t identify their attitudes as Christian.

There is a valid argument that Christianity is what Christianity does. In other words it doesn’t exist in any abstract form, but is the sum of what people who identify as Christian say, think, believe, teach and do. The same can be said of any religion. While to some extent I subscribe to this view there is also something to be said for rejecting extreme manifestations of a religion that are not in accordance with tradition and core teachings. Most Muslims do not regard the Islamic State jihadis as exemplars of their faith. There is nothing in Buddhism that exhorts its followers in Sri Lanka to persecute Muslims, or anything in Hinduism that compels Hindu nationalists in India to regard non-Hindus as second-class citizens. Certainly living in the UK I have never come across people calling themselves Christian who subscribe to the views of Leelah Alcorn’s parents. Maybe they exist, but strictly binary views of human nature are either not the norm, or if held are put alongside a willingness to learn from others’ experience. If God is Love and there is no male and female in heaven, gender is part of our adventure on earth as human beings, not something intrinsic to our spirit, which exists before and after this lifetime. If God is Spirit and not an anthropomorphic person, being in God’s likeness does not imply being either male or female. For people who are not religious the whole debate must seem ridiculous, and does a great disservice to religion in general.

So here is the text of Leelah Alcorn’s message to all of us:

If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue.

Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in … because I’m transgender. I could go into detail explaining why I feel that way, but this note is probably going to be lengthy enough as it is. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally “boyish” things to try to fit in.

When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.

My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to Christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more Christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.

When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.

I formed a sort of a “fuck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight Christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.

So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.

At the end of the school year, my parents finally came around and gave me my phone and let me back on social media. I was excited, I finally had my friends back. They were extremely excited to see me and talk to me, but only at first. Eventually they realized they didn’t actually give a shit about me, and I felt even lonelier than I did before. The only friends I thought I had only liked me because they saw me five times a week.

After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like shit because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.

Goodbye,

(Leelah) Josh Alcorn

Printed in: http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/12/31/leelah_alcorn_transgender_teen_from_ohio_should_be_honored_in_death.html

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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.

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.