You can read the guidelines here westminster_camhs_transition_guidelines_sept_2016.docx
Building on our initial recommendations for future practice, the two child psychotherapists who succeeded us in Westminster Children's Services have have now developed an excellent new set of guidelines for professionals, using their own experiences in the field, and after careful consultation with social work colleagues, adopters and foster carers. These guidelines take our recommendations and develop them into a fully considered and fleshed out set of guidelines which we feel are extremely helpful to all those involved in helping children to move between homes. The document hasn't been finalised yet but the guidelines are already being implemented in Westminster and also form the basis of ongoing training and support for adopters, foster carers and social workers.
You can read the guidelines here westminster_camhs_transition_guidelines_sept_2016.docx
A happier transition - article about our research in The Fostering Network's Foster Care magazine (Issue 165)
A happier transition
Child psychotherapist Sophie Boswell talks to David Eggboro about research she and her colleagues carried out which highlights a serious problem with the way some children are moved on from foster care
A child who is quiet and compliant during a big change in their life may be not actually be fine – they may be hiding deep feelings of pain and loss which too often go unrecognised.
This phenomenon provided the foundation for a recent piece of research by child psychotherapists, Sophie Boswell and Lynne Cudmore, which examines what happens to some children when they are moved from foster care into adoptive families.
‘One group of children who caused concern were those who were settled and attached in foster care placements but approved for adoption,’ Sophie says. ‘There was anxiety about how painful this loss might be for the children, and how best to help them and their carers manage it.’
One of their first such cases was Kyle (not his real name): Kyle was placed with his carer, Liz, at a few weeks old. A deep bond grew between them, and he clearly felt safe and loved. When he was three, adoptive parents were found for him. However, amid the excitement, both Kyle’s social worker and Liz expressed great anxiety about how he would cope with the separation.
Despite these worries it was decided that Kyle would move just 10 days after meeting his new parents and, to avoid confusing Kyle or undermining the adoptive placement, he would then have no contact with Liz for three months.
Throughout his last night with Liz, Kyle slept with his arms clasped around her neck. However, when the time came to say goodbye, he was surprisingly quiet and compliant. His new parents were left to make the decision about whether he would ever see Liz again.
‘Situations like this gave us serious misgivings about the way children were being routinely faced with such abrupt losses,’ Sophie says. ‘We felt it would leave them bewildered, distressed and fearful of future losses.’
Avoiding the blind spots
This prompted Sophie and Lynne’s research, carried out with two social work colleagues. ‘The Children Were Fine’: Acknowledging Complex Feelings in the Move from Foster Care into Adoption was first published in BAAF’s Adoption & Fostering journal in March 2014.
The research found that adults involved in the adoption process, despite their best intentions, were unable to identify the children’s distress because the children usually withdrew into a compliant state which adults took as evidence that they were fine. Sophie explains: ‘This “blind spot” is particularly prevalent where the adults themselves are dealing with huge amounts of stress.’
Their recommendation is for current policies to be brought in line with attachment theory. Wherever possible, the relationship between child and carer should be maintained and supported throughout the transition, and at least until the child has begun to settle and feel safe within their new family. They believe that more thoughtful transitions will be less traumatic for children and provide a better foundation for new relationships.
In Kyle’s case the adopters did arrange contact with Liz and went on to build up a positive relationship with her which continues today.
Keep Connected is The Fostering Network’s campaign about the importance of maintaining relationships between looked after children and their former foster carers. We are calling on the UK’s governments to develop guidance and regulations to help fostering services support this bond when children move to another home.
Click here to download a PDF of this article.
How social workers can keep children in contact with foster carers after adoption - article written by us for Community Care
Sophie Boswell and Lynne Cudmore explain how social workers can help adopted children maintain attachments
In the flurry of excitement before a child is moved to be adopted, the fact they are losing a parent figure seems to get overlooked.
Our research showed that during this time levels of anxiety within the adopters and foster carers are extremely high. Despite the best intentions of professionals and others involved it is difficult for to keep in mind some fundamental facts about attachment and loss in young children. Such as:
What can social workers do to prevent this from happening?
Many people are involved in decision-making during these moves, but there is no one person with overall responsibility for ensuring these principles are kept in mind. Social workers have a crucial role in providing clear guidance and support to foster carers and adopters so that the children’s emotional needs remain central during every stage of an adoptive move.
Social workers can help by providing a clear and consistent message that this is an important relationship and one that should not be abruptly broken. Transitions can be much more gradual, with clear plans for regular ongoing contact with former carers not just planned but actively supported.
Regular and frequent visits from former carers, probably quite short at first, should be taken as the norm. These should become less intensive over the following months as children settle and become attached to their new parents.
If adopters or foster carers become anxious about potential upset during or after a contact, social workers can gently remind them that it is better to support children with their feelings, rather than give a message that distress is better avoided or denied.
Where actual contact is not possible other ways can be found for ensuring the foster carer remains an ongoing presence in the children’s lives. In an ideal scenario the carers will gradually assume an ‘auntie’ or grandparent–like role.
A good relationship between carers and adopters is crucial in determining how thoughtful the transition will be, and whether or not ongoing contact is carried out in a mutually supportive way.
Sensitive ongoing support and guidance from a social worker can ensure foster carers and adopters take on the task of providing as much continuity and joined-up thinking as possible over the transition and beyond.
This will give the child the message that both old and new attachments are important and have a place in their life. It will also mitigate against the pain of torn loyalties or having to shut down memories of people they have loved.
We believe that the system inadvertently gives out the message that foster carers’ relationship with a child is no longer important after the move. Carers who question or show distress about this are too often seen as obstructive or unprofessional.
Foster carers should be encouraged to remain in children’s lives, albeit in the background. Social workers will have a crucial part to play in supporting foster carers who may find this upsetting, and in reminding all parties that this can help new attachments being formed with adoptive parents.
Adoptive parents often feel in the dark about the emotional impact the move has had on their child. At the same time they are being asked to make major decisions about contact and other issues.
Although they are trained in attachment and loss prior to placement, we suggest that social workers also provide adopters with extra help in understanding their children’s emotional needs post-placement. This should include recognition of the ‘compliant’ child who may appear to be fine but may have cut themselves off from their feelings, as described above.
Most people agree that a child who appears cut off or ‘fine’ after a major loss is usually more worrying than one who is able to communicate their distress. However, this quickly gets lost when adults are anxious or upset themselves and seek reassurance that a child is not unduly distressed.
Social workers can play a crucial role in holding this in mind and helping others to do so, resisting the temptation to be relieved rather than worried when a child in this situation appears to be ‘fine’. A child who is not showing their feelings will need the support of sensitive, emotionally available adults who can be aware of, and hold on to, feelings that the child may be finding frightening or overwhelming.
Sophie Boswell and Lynne Cudmore are child psychotherapists and author of the report: ‘The children were fine': acknowledging complex feelings in the move from foster care into adoption.
Source: Community Care
Our piece in The Guardian's Social Care Network blog on Tuesday 1 December generated some lively debate
On Tuesday we wrote about our research for the Guardian's social care blog: gu.com/p/4ejkp/stw
Reading the lively set of responses we were struck, as always, by how emotive and complex this topic is, and how much passionate feeling it can provoke - strong agreement and equally strong disagreement. It is always humbling to hear from people who have direct personal experience, and to remember again and again that each case carries so many contradictions, complexities and individual personalities that there can never be a one size fits all solution.
The strong reactions to the piece also gave a snapshot of just some of the intense feelings we encountered in our research, as well as in our own experiences of adoptive moves. Intense feelings among and between the adults can become all-consuming when children are being moved into their adoptive homes. There is the inevitable anxiety and tensions between foster carers and adopters; it is very hard for one group not to feel undermined or under threat from the other, given the circumstances. Also the opposing and strongly held schools of thought about whether it is better to keep alive old attachments or to close them off when separation occurs.
Adult adoptees express very different reactions to this, as seen in some of the responses - some are full of grief about painful losses not being recognised; others feeling they should be left to attach to adoptive parents without being forced to remember their past lives. The array of differing responses to this question are crucial to try to understand, they can only deepen our knowledge and understanding of the adoptive process and are invaluable in developing better guidelines in this area.
We are grateful to The Guardian for giving us a platform to share our research and help to keep alive this very important and complex debate.
Please continue to contact us with your own responses. We are keen to hear from people across the field who have some insight or experience to share with others.
Adoption can be a traumatic upheaval and our care systems aren't helping - article written by us for The Guardian Social Care Network blog
Article by Sophie Boswell and Lynne Cudmore, child psychotherapists
Adoption can bring huge long-term gains for children, but leaving a previous carer also involves a major loss. So how do we help children manage this huge upheaval in their lives?
Received wisdom in social work suggests that a quick, clean break is best. It is usual practice for children to move home seven to 10 days after meeting their new parents, and contact with their foster carer after the move is generally no earlier than three months, and often a long time after that. In reality, many children never see their foster carer again.
As two child psychotherapists working in a social work team, we became concerned about the impact these abrupt moves were having on the children. The sudden loss, we felt, was likely to leave them bewildered, distressed and fearful of future losses – not the best position from which to try to build a trusting relationship with their new parents.
We could see that the adults involved were sensitive and thoughtful people whose aim was to make the transition as painless as possible. And yet, when the time came, these rigid procedures appeared to be adhered to blindly, with no one able to say exactly why this clean break approach was best, and nobody confident enough to try another way.
One example is Kyle*, who was placed with his foster carer, Liz, at a few weeks old. For the first three years of his life she provided him with love and stability, comforting him after the intense weekly contact sessions with his birth parents and welcoming him into her family as if he were her own child. A deep bond grew between them, and he clearly felt safe and loved. When adoptive parents were found for him, amid the excitement, both Kyle’s social worker and Liz expressed great anxiety about how he would cope with the separation.
Despite much discussion about what this might mean for Kyle, we were still told that Kyle would have to move home 10 days after meeting his new parents, and would then have no contact with Liz for three months. Any deviation from this was seen as too risky, undermining the adoptive placement and confusing Kyle. This, we were told, was how moves had always been done.
On his last night with Liz, Kyle slept with his arms clasped around her neck. When the time came to say goodbye, he was surprisingly quiet and compliant, and this was interpreted as a sign that he was fine. Once he had moved in with his new parents, they were left to make the decision about whether he would ever see Liz again.
Soon after this, we began work on a research project into why moves were carried out in this way. Through analysing semi-structured interviews with social workers, foster carers and adopters, we identified a blind spot in people’s minds that prevented them from seeing what was going on with the child at an emotional level.
Various reasons for this stood out: anxiety about undermining the adoptive parents, fear of encountering unbearable pain in the children and, more generally, a systemic reliance on procedure as a defence against distress. Like Kyle, the children usually withdrew into a compliant state, which people took as evidence that they were fine.
We think these moves should be brought in line with what we know about attachment and loss in early childhood. Wherever possible, the relationship between child and foster carer should be maintained by all the adults throughout the transition and beyond, at least until the child has begun to settle and feel safe with their new family. In Kyle’s case, with support from professionals, the adopters did arrange contact with Liz and went on to build a positive relationship with her, which continues today. This is still unusual.
However, things are beginning to change. A few adoption agencies are experimenting with slowing down timescales and introducing early and regular contact with former carers. More research is being planned, and we are getting feedback from other professionals, foster carers and adopters who share our concerns and desire for change.
If the care system and the professionals involved can provide a thoughtful and safe environment for the adults and the children at this turbulent time, we believe the transitions can be more gradual, less traumatic for children and provide a better foundation for new relationships.
* Names have been changed
Our paper was published in the March 2014 issue of BAAF's Adoption & Fostering Journal (vol. 38 no. 1 5-21).
Click here to view the BAAF article.
This topic has been gaining momentum in recent months. This news section includes some examples of recent coverage.