This is one of my reflections from Preparation Group Training for Adoption that I did with Families That Last, an Adoption Agency in April 2011 and this post is part of the growing community of Adopters writing as part of the Weekly Adoption Shout Out.
Question: What did I find most useful from Preparation Group ?
Answer: For me, by far the most useful thing from the Preparation Group Training days was gaining understanding of some of the needs because of the developmental and emotional gaps for the adopted child.
This was fantastic for me. I have studied child development through my teacher training and my youth work training - but this was distinctly different. The visual illustration of THE WALL - made with bricks like mega blocks - was soooo visual and impacting. The wall was built with each layer providing the foundations and the subsequent layers of the child developmental milestones. We used stickers to represent each of the key ages and areas: love, needs met, stimulation, safety, security, play, stability, calm, socialising, nursery, school etc etc etc....
Alongside these bricks we looked at some case studies of children who had been neglected, abused, hospitalised, moved from foster care setting to foster care setting etc etc etc prior to being placed for Adoption.
In each case study, as we identified the various key bricks that were either just not there for the child, or the brick was being placed on top of a missing brick or bricks - such as: neglect - no food, left alone, health appointments not kept, or school not attended, moving house regularly, suffering physical abuse, emotional abuse with high levels of domestic violence and police calls and arrests.... etc etc etc
In practical terms and against what was historically thought, it is not enough to just put in place the new brick according to the child's age - or have as the new and visibly seen wall - the glossy theory that says - oh they will be OK as they are adopted now... it's a new start, they have been with you a year.... but for a child who has had no play experience or socialisation, missed nursery and playgroups, had no toys... the foundations are not there - simply adding the brick of going to school - will cause the brick to balance on thin air - and then to crash down in through the gaps.
Thankfully what has be realised now is that it is not enough to paper over the cracks, like wallpapering over poor plasterwork - but the bricks in the very foundations need to be inbuilt, embedded into the core foundations and to then be built upon from the very core: to be welcomed into the world and not rejected, to cry and have your needs of food and comfort met, to be loved and to have basic trust to be what you are meant to be - a baby.
I found this so impacting, as I reflected on my life as being adopted and the various foundational bricks my parents did instinctively embed in my life and as I thought about the broken and dysfunctional families I have worked with and as I faced adopting a child of my own.
I often think of the brick wall and the foundations that I need to embed and how stability is crucial for the foundations and resilience to survive and to thrive.
For me as a child, I was so aggressive at nursery school that I was expelled and didn't start school until I was 5. I was miserable throughout infant school, feeling cold and isolated and feeling in a bubble. My Mum worked hard at teaching me empathy, particularly, so that I could begin to understand how others were feeling even when I was still being the toughie and not feeling that pain myself, at all. My parents helped me try and try again with things like riding a bike or a musical instrument. When I failed some exams and had to re-sit and my boyfriend dumped me, I was upset and heartbroken but had by then more resilience to bounce back. I worked hard to pass the exam to get to Uni - and realised that the boyfriend wasn't worth me anyway!
I was so impacted by this and on reflection of my life too, hope to embed and build in resilience to PJ so that when hard times come in her life in the future that her whole world will not crash around her, causing her to fall through the gaps and land in the rubble of the foundations. Rather, I will support and cushion her falls, I will be that scaffolding for her as new bricks are placed in the foundation stones that are missing. We will continue to pour drinks and explore messy food like spaghetti or custard and jelly until we are secure enough to stop and to move on developmentally.
I will be working hard to fill in so many gaps that are missing.
I have some lovely and colourful bricks.
Let's get building.