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Before moving to Glasgow I was a young boy with a broken heart. Sue supported my transition from being removed from my birth parents and provided me with an abundance of love and support. After this Rita and Peter came along and brought me into their family and since then have made me feel like I was always their son.

Adopting a child

 

Ellen was adopted into our family at 5 years of age. She had been in foster care for nearly three years and previous to that was with her birth mother. Like most children removed from their birth parents, Ellen’s mother wasn’t meeting her needs sadly. Three years in foster care was a long time and though she was in a stable environment, Ellen was in a house where the mother was a child carer, so again Ellen’s personal needs were not being met and she was a number to some extent in the home. We didn’t quite understand how that could be but after being with us a while we could quite clearly see where the gaps had been for her. Ellen had to be with the child care children after school, didn’t have the option to go to her own room, focus on her personal interests, hobbies and knew that no one had a watch over her in a group of children.

Focus on personal needs and development 

Ellen was in a good routine and had been looked after well but it was clear that she had been in a busy house and her personal needs/development needed attention. It was as though she ‘floated’ around the house at first, was quick to go from one thing to another and not really listen to instruction or conversation. It was clear her attention and focus weren’t there for her age. I noted quite quickly with her friends that she would tune out and not listen to the conversations for long and was more interested in her environment around her. She was and still is a chatty, interactive little girl but there was a bit of hypervigilance and lack of focus. Ellen had gone through Primary 1 and was set to go through Primary 2 when she came to us. She struggled at the beginning. Her memory was poor and she didn’t remember a lot of Primary 1 content. She couldn’t even remember the days of the week. She had also been put to school at 4 and a half. As I stuck into homework with her I could tell she was capable of it. I knew she could think for herself, I strongly believed it was her lack of attention and focus that was slowing her down. She had also had so much change in her life, she was in charge of herself to an extent and was like most children – if they don’t want to do it, they’re no different to me as a child – stubborn!

She’s a thinker!

We took Ellen on her first holiday – to Turkey – she had a ball, in the pool all day, out in the garden – she has a great imagination and can play by herself for hours. Making houses, dolls, restaurants, shops out of whatever she can find. I knew she was a thinker in her own way. Well she proved me right! Ellen would always wake early but be encouraged to read for a little while and could get up at 7.30 at weekends. She had a nice big pink watch her brothers bought her to welcome her into the family and she could tell the time in hours and half hours. I got up this morning on holiday to find Ellen already up and in full swing with her dolls in her room. We had a chat about her being up too early and she said her watch said 8.30. I looked at her watch and sure enough it was and I thought oh it’s the time difference. It wasn’t until later that day I thought we are 2 hours ahead, checked her watch and it had stopped at 8.30 with the pin out. Ellen had got up and put the watch an hour ahead. At that moment I thought, she can think and work things out for herself no problem, she was only five!

Moving school made a huge difference

After two years we decided to move Ellen to the same school as her brothers and put her back a year. We thought this was the best opportunity at a new school. She had caught up considerably at her previous school but I could still tell she was running a bit younger than her peers and just needed that time to catch up developmentally.

This has been the best move for Ellen. In the last year she has come on leaps and bounds. I never thought I would see her concentrate so well. Her teachers have nothing but praise for her. She is moving up her levels, learning and retaining so much better. She reads and writes music, plays the piano, sings – learning her lyrics within minutes of new songs. Music has been great for her.

Empathy for other children

Her emotions have matured and she shows her happiness and love now which she struggled to at the beginning. She recently cut her hair for cancer, showing real empathy for the little girls with no hair and wanted to help them. Ellen was quite flat when she first arrived and didn’t show her emotions at all, even on opening her first birthday presents…… now she can barely sleep when it’s Christmas and birthdays.

Just like any other child with their parents

I am so proud of the resilience Ellen has shown. To think of the poor start and upset and changes she has gone through and to come out the other end the way she has is a credit to herself. She has developed a great sense of humour and plays pranks on her dad as much as he does with her, which is just great to see as it shows she is no different to any other biological child with their parents.

She is very much part of our family

I could not imagine life without Ellen now and it’s true, you get the child that is meant for you, biologically or not. Like any child, they will test boundaries, patience and sanity but hey ….. who didn’t as a child?

 

If you would like to find out more about adopting or fostering a child through St Andrew’s Children’s Society please call 0131 454 3370 or email info@standrews-children.org.uk.

 

This blog post was written by a couple who adopted a child through St Andrew’s Children’s Society.

 

 

girl with long hair in field of flowers

“Gill, have you seen her hair lately? It’s so long and thick now, it’s beautiful!”

“Oh my goodness, so it is!”

This was me chatting with one of our adoptive mums, whose 6-year-old daughter had come into her home, and heart, just over a year earlier.

Amazingly, her little girl now had the most gorgeous long dark hair where it had looked thin, and ever so slightly straggly, just a year or so before. She has literally blossomed, and her lovely hair was just one of the small and unexpected outward signs we were noticing in a wee girl who has settled into her adoptive home, and who is slowly learning to accept secure and permanent love. She has been able to relax into the knowledge that the fear and uncertainty of moves through birth home and foster care are over, and she is finally home.

So, as she twirled about, we enjoyed and celebrated this little one’s hair, as we celebrate all of the small but very significant milestones along the way for our adopted and fostered children. Because they are somehow just extra special. We know how hard won they are.

Of everything I do as an adoption and fostering social worker, this has to be the part of my work that I love the most. It still always means so much to see a child come into a loving home and begin to heal and recover from incredibly difficult starts in life. And you can bet if their eyes become bright and their hair shiny and thick, the same thing is going on inside. Their self-esteem is growing too, and their confidence in who they are.

Through a child’s eyes

Trying to put myself into the shoes of the children I work with is a huge privilege. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you can ever completely understand another person’s experience, not unless you’ve had the very same experiences yourself. So I am always, always, aware that I am slightly on the outside, trying to deeply imagine how things must have felt like for a child, and what the impact might be. And of course, we never know everything about what a child might have experienced, so putting together the puzzle of what a child is telling us is a fascinating and often emotive journey.

So, me, and the brave and inspirational mums and dads of our adopted and fostered children, turn into detectives. Poirot hasn’t got a look in! We put our heads together to try to understand children’s early lives and experiences, and the behaviours that come from them. We sit down over a cup of tea (or lots of cups of tea!) to talk, read, ask, explore, and work together to try to make sense of what a child might be telling us and, most importantly, how we can help them.

The games we play…

Helping children heal with theraplay by blowing bubbles

Thankfully, there are many ways we can support children’s recovery. Nurture, love, and consistent routines are key, and play itself is a natural route to helping children who have experienced trauma. At St Andrew’s Children’s Society, one of the approaches we use to support children is Theraplay™. This is a range of therapeutic play techniques designed to help children and their parents create secure and healthy attachment relationships. It’s amazingly effective, and a lot of fun too (more to come on Theraplay™ – watch this blog space!).

Quite often though, (and this always amazes me) children will surprise us, and show us that they can create their very own path to healing by using ordinary and simple games they choose for themselves.

Here’s a couple of examples; I once worked with a 4-year-old little girl who wanted to play ‘hide and seek’ every waking moment. She absolutely loved this game. Oh my, it was exhausting for mum and dad, and utterly boring and repetitive after a while. But they understood their little girl, and they knew that she was playing and replaying that sense of being lost and alone, and then being found, swept up, and hugged and loved. She wanted to feel this, over, and over, and over again. So for quite a long time, this was the very favourite game, above all others. Because this was what she needed most.

Then there’s the 6-year-old little boy who came into his adoptive home carrying a bag of soft toys with him; every single one of them was named and special to him. He called them his ‘family’. So heartbreaking to understand this little boy’s greatest need was to create a feeling of belonging for himself in the face of multiple moves through care.

I also worked with a 5-year-old little boy who went around the house sneaking up behind everyone or hiding and waiting so he could shout and jump out at them. All for the sole purpose of giving them almighty frights. He would do this repeatedly (no fun at all for those on the receiving end, I can tell you!). But we didn’t need to be rocket scientists to understand that he was playing and replaying the fear and terror of his early years, and making sure, time and time again, that really, truthfully, people can be frightened out of their wits, but that nothing bad happens. They were still okay, and it could even be funny.

Toddler playing with teddy bear

Play as therapy

The therapeutic value of play. Ordinary kid’s games really, except there’s a whole extra dimension to them. With adopted and fostered children, we often see an obsessive or repetitive quality about the way they are played out that points to some kind of trauma, and an effort to overcome or reframe difficult experiences through play.

And for the poor, besieged mums and dads at the end of this repetitive behaviour (we know it’s relentless), yes, they say, it does feel just a tiny bit easier that we’re having to play hide and seek for what seems like the zillionth time… or tolerating continually getting sneaked up on… or taking part in long, complicated routines at night to settle every single soft toy into place… because we know that what our child is actually doing is creating repeated experiences of safety and security, and laying down positive new pathways in their brains.
Creating a whole new world view, actually!

Art and music

child drawing on white paper with crayons

Art is another way children tell us the depth and breadth of their experiences. I’ve been astonished at the insight and accuracy in children’s art. It often says so much more than could ever be put into words.

And music too. I know of a little boy whose experiences were so difficult he couldn’t articulate them into speech. But he could sing them. And this he did, with the help of a practitioner skilled in music therapy.

I’m so grateful that there are many imaginative ways to reach a child who is hurting

Child’s play?

We have a throwaway saying in our society; ‘Oh, that’s just child’s play’. Well, I’m happy to say that, through the children I work with, I now understand a whole lot more about the subtle and important meanings and purpose in children’s play. I think anyone who has been fascinated by watching ‘the secret lives of four years olds’ will know exactly what I mean!

In the words of philosopher Martin Buber;

“Play is the exultation of the possible.”

I really like that thought.

 

If you would like to find out more about adopting or fostering a child through St Andrew’s Children’s Society please call 0131 454 3370 or email info@standrews-children.org.uk

 

Gill McHaffie

Senior Practitioner

two disposable masks worn adopting during a pandemic

We adopted our children during the pandemic

‘Mummy, where do you buy a ball?’
‘Err, is this question or a joke?’
‘A joke.’
‘Right. I don’t know, where do you buy a ball?’
‘A shop!’

Have you ever tried teaching a 5-year-old the intricacies of a joke? Sometimes it feels like we sit at a table talking to two Alice Tinkers from The Vicar of Dibley. At some point, I hope, a joke worthy of the Funniest Joke of The Fringe may occur but, on the other hand, one indisputable point is that this year has been unprecedented, and I don’t just mean that big pandemic thing that everyone seems to be talking about.

The day before the first lockdown due to the pandemic we brought two children into our home who we had adopted through St Andrew’s Children’s Society.

I feel that is a standalone paragraph for, despite the amazing support we received on the lead up to meeting our new family, we were suddenly locked in our house with a 4-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy. Thank goodness for zoom and our wonderful social worker!

Humour was our superpower

Mother and adopted daughter sitting by a river bird watching and laughing together

All of a sudden we realised what all the lead up to being approved to become adopters was about; why the questions about how we cope individually and as a couple, our ideas of being parents, support networks, general ideals and the reason for prep groups on separation and trauma. What we, as a couple, realised through the process was that we have a sense of humour. As we welcomed our family into our home our sense of humour turned into our superpower (yes, we even gave it a theme tune).

We were told by the lovely folk at St Andrews Children’s Society that ‘the first year will be hard’ and ‘there will be a honeymoon period and then the children will try and push boundaries’. Yes, they were right. It was tough and every day seemed a challenge. But with that, every day was just a wee bit easier. We had not had time to learn our children’s likes, dislikes and routines in their foster home, as the introduction period had needed to be reduced, in order to get the kids to us before the national lockdown. Everything was new to them. Everything was new to us. Routine (and humour) was our saving grace. We even wrote a daily schedule. Colour coded. It was fancy.

The lack of school hit the kids hard

In the introduction books we had sent them, there were pictures of the primary and nursery schools they would have been attending but it was months before they could go, by which time nursery was off the cards. We would drive to the school car park and sit and look at it, sharing an apple, talking about the things they would do and friends they would meet.

Family laughing and hugging after adopting during a pandemicFocus on the small things

Instead of the larger things we focused on the small. My husband is a vet. He really likes cows. Every hour, on the hour we set up an alarm; an alarm that went ‘moo. This became our hug alarm. That meant every hour, on the hour, we all stopped what we were doing and had a nice big hug. It helped to structure our day and kept us on that fancy colour coded schedule.

It’s OK to get some things wrong when you adopt

There are some things the kids got wrong. There are some things the adults got wrong. Main thing is to learn from the mistake and remember tomorrow is a new day. In the immortal words of Kelly Clarkson ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.

‘Don’t forget wee ones, it doesn’t matter what they look like so long as they are kind.’
Sometime later…
‘Wow, that’s an old tractor! What make is it?’
Boy: ‘Massey Ferguson!’
Girl: ‘It doesn’t matter what is looks like so long as it’s a tractor.’

We were all learning

Watching the wee ones grow as little people has been truly amazing. Watching how they slowly learned to trust us. Our son has found it easy to express his needs and fears. Working with his school, social workers and Rita, the Adoption Support Manager at St Andrew’s Children’s Society (who provided Theraplay TM via zoom in the early days) meant that we could get his needs met quickly; that the school could understand where certain behaviours came from. We were all learning, only he knew what was going on in his head, and we just had to remind him how well he was doing and how loved he is.

How songs helped us

Family songs? Yes, we have them too. I have a playlist that is, at best, eclectic. The current favourite is High Enough by Marvin Gaye – ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough, Ain’t no valley low enough, Ain’t no river wide enough, To keep me from getting to you, baby.’ Funny how a song can help a child understand just how much you would do for them.

Life Story Work

It is amazing how life story work can be fitted into every day. We took on three ex-battery hens; they went from their birth family (farm) into foster (the trust that saved them) and to their forever family (our home). We have seen dogs in the park on leads that are hackles up and this has let us discuss how we might show we are scared, feeling the need to hit out, run away or climb high. I have ‘cried’ over dead woodlice to help show empathy, we have read books about ‘how we wished for you’ (then I actually did cry). I’ve even explained in great detail how my tummy feels stretched to help the children understand how a full stomach feels.

‘The Report Card’

We often fell back on our superpower. In fact, my husband and I started a notebook, which we named ‘The Report

Card’. Everything that was funny, done or said, went into it. That way we had a good laugh at the end of every day.

When your adopted child says those three little words

Pink heart drawn on white paper with a crayon

Adopting kids is not easy. No one ever said it would be. I would not change anything for the world. Well , maybe the pandemic could have been at a more convenient time. I have heard that when a mum first looks at the face of her newborn baby her world changes. Well, the first time you hear your adopted child say, and mean, ‘I love you’ there is nothing in the world you wouldn’t do for them.

‘BOOOOOMMM!’
‘That’s a bit loud wee man!’
‘It had to be loud mummy.’
‘Why?’
‘It was a sonic boom of love.’

 

If you would like to find out more about adopting or fostering a child through St Andrew’s Children’s Society please call 0131 454 3370 or email info@standrews-children.org.uk

 

This blog post was written by a couple who adopted two children through St Andrew’s Children’s Society the day before the first lockdown in 2020.

Adoption: An insider’s view

Adopted boy on red trike

 

I was adopted just after birth

I am a 58 year-old father of three who was adopted just after birth.

The circumstances of my adoption don’t matter, what does matter is that my natural mother’s circumstances didn’t allow her to keep me or to care for me in the way she would have liked to have done.

What I would like to do here is to provide a few brief reflections of one life that began with an adoption, and how the team-effort of navigating that situation can, with care, flexibility and love, have a positive outcome.

Shadow of an adopted family on grassMy childhood

I’m aware that adoption is often a favourite subject in dramas, mostly with negative outcomes, stressful experiences, exploiting lingering resentments, and focusing on tragedy and hurt. Perhaps the opposite would have insufficient dramatic value.

My own experience was rather different to that, and the older I get the more I appreciate my childhood and realise that any pain associated with my adoption, was born largely by my natural mother.

I was arguably very fortunate in being adopted at a week old. My natural mother – not allowed to know any details – had been sent for a walk. She returned to an empty cot as I had departed with my new parents. This seemed tough, but how else could it be done?

My parents were loving and caring

My adoptive parents were loving and caring and having now had the benefit of seeing my mother’s letters to St Andrew’s Children’s Society, the adoption agency, I appreciate what a vital joy and genuine thrill my adopted older sister and myself brought into her and our father’s life. We were taught core values, laid down in gossamer thin layers of daily experience, like any child.

My adoptive parents died quite early

Life was not without stress however, and both my adoptive parents sadly died quite early: my mother when I was 15 and my father 23. There was trauma around then for sure, as there would always be, however looking back something had imprinted on me ‘which way was up’. Something had made a compass that continued to provide a sense of direction. Was this genetic; or was it the demonstration of love that I had received as a child? I now know my natural mother: she is established as my mother in my life, so the answer I lean towards is probably ‘both’. However I sense that either influence might if different, have upset the apple cart.

For that gymnastic feat of fortune I feel genuinely blessed although some have told me it is the tools to make lemons out of lemonade that we should feel gratitude for. I may never know.

Reunited with my birth mother

Fortunate timing in reunion also played a part.

I identified my natural mother in my 20’s but didn’t contact her until my 30’s. My first wife found she had cervical cancer during her pregnancy with our second child in my early 30’s, and that period of considerable trauma included meeting my natural mother and welcoming her back into my life, in hindsight at the point where she was most vital.

The 7th Cavalry

We met when my wife’s health was deteriorating after chemotherapy, and I had my seven-year-old son to care for. She arrived like the 7th Cavalry, helping me to care both for my wife and my son.

Odd looking back how the grief and stress of my wife’s illness was in a strange way the landing pad for the soft re-entry of my mother into my life. My mother and I used to walk and talk together for hours as we tentatively got to know each other, each recognising traits and habits, re-familiarising ourselves with essence of each other, both feeling a frisson of excitement when we touched. We clacked together like magnets when we first met and the intensity of that is difficult to explain to non-adoptees.

No resentment or rancour

On one such walk we passed the house she had been required to stay in when heavily pregnant with me. We hugged outside, and I felt so privileged to be able to tell her that all the fear, all the worry she had felt 35 years ago handing me over, and the fears for her own life’s path, had been unnecessary. Here we were both travelled well, fairly well adjusted, and now together again, with no resentment and no rancour, just steeping in the joy of the reunion. I told her that I never felt as though I had been abandoned by her: I had a loving childhood and had somehow put her aside for when I would really need her. Is this true? Who knows?

‘Blessed journey’

She and her family’s love and support accompanied my son and I through our recovery, becoming my ‘family’. When I met my current wife, married and parented two new children, both now adults, they were my support. Viewing it as a ‘blessed journey’ frankly doesn’t do it justice.

‘You only have one mother’ – I was blessed to have had two

I sometimes joked when people say ‘you only have one mother’, that I was blessed to have had two. All adoptive people do: one who lovingly builds the little spacesuit they arrive in, and leaves with them a set of silent instructions, and ideally another who lovingly guides and shapes their following of those instructions, hopefully but not essentially all the way into independent adulthood.

Every adoption is different I do get that, but to be an adopted person, I now recognise is a special, rather than a negative thing.

Being adopted did make me feel different

During the vulnerability of childhood, being adopted did make you feel different, there’s no escaping that. Apart from my sister, we each knew no other adoptees with whom we could share experiences.

My mother tried, and succeeded in large part, to make ‘different’ into ‘special’, telling us for as long as we could remember that we had been ‘chosen’ and were genuinely loved. I recognise now from her letters that that was genuine in a way I did not appreciate growing up.

adopted father holding his baby's hand in the palm of his handThe birth of my first child

Nonetheless, there always was a sense of being an island: a little bit of land surrounded by sea. Although you knew intellectually that you were connected to the mass of humanity, the link was hidden deep below a sea of circumstances, ones that you had no influence or control over. So the isolation was real.

It was not until I held my own first child in my arms that that I realised for the first time I was looking into the eyes of a blood relative. I became aware that I was not an island, but this baby with its dark eyes was the next link in a chain, a chain of which I was part, a chain that extended back for thousands of years. The birth of the first child for an adopted person is an especially profound experience.

The rewards of adoption exceed expectations

Any parenting journey is challenging and full of unknowns. Adoption perhaps brings some added unknowns and possible complications, but not necessarily in a bad way as fiction might have us believe. It is sophisticated and delicate, yet deals with deep seated emotions, tied to the most powerful of influences – our genes. Embarking upon this journey may require ballast, call for skill in handling undercurrents or emotional weather none of the parties expect, might call for reserves the parties didn’t know they possessed, but like any voyage of discovery, the rewards exceed expectations, and often exceed even the imagination.

 

If you would like to find out more about adopting or fostering a child through St Andrew’s Children’s Society please call 0131 454 3370 or email info@standrews-children.org.uk

 

This blog post was written recently by someone adopted through St Andrew’s Children’s Society in the 1960s.