Adoption support in lockdown

COVID-19 restrictions have been tough on us all but for families with adopted children, enforced lockdown brought with it a host of additional challenges.

Keeping children occupied and home-schooling while, for many, trying to work from home, was the difficult situation that parents across the world found themselves in. But for those families where children are already dealing with trauma experienced in their early lives, the disruption and uncertainty took on a whole new dimension.

Virtually all adopted children will have suffered trauma in some form. Even if they were very young when they were placed with their adoptive parents, they will have experienced the loss of their birth parents and one or more foster carers since. Others may have been removed from their birth parents after experiencing abuse or neglect. These experiences can manifest themselves in behaviour or emotional issues, sometimes many years later.

At PACT we pride ourselves on supporting our families for life. It could be advice on choosing a school, a listening ear during the teenage years, or a need for therapeutic intervention, PACT’s adoption support services are designed to help them all.

Our online Adopter Hub platform provides round-the-clock information, tips and advice from both professionals and other adopters as well as forums, webchat and eLearning. We have adoptive parents providing peer support through our Adopter Champions programme with individual advice and support available at the end of the phone. We have therapeutically-trained social workers in our Strengthening Families Team to provide in depth assistance. And we have our FACTS service – a suite of individually-tailored therapeutic support ranging from play therapy and life story work to filial therapy and clinical psychotherapy.

In addition to all of this, we offer training and support evenings for adopters and fun, interactive workshops for children and we have an in-house education specialist.

During lockdown, PACT continued to provide all of these services online or by videocall.

Among the most common issues our families called us about were keeping their children motivated to do schoolwork, keeping children occupied and also addressing parent and child fears about returning to school. Some parents also reported that their children’s behaviour escalated during lockdown due to previous traumatic experiences prior to adoption.

PACT’s Adoption Support Team Manager Julie Stolland said the Adopter Champions team came up with lots of ideas to help.

She said: “We encouraged families to find a rhythm of meals and bedtime plus energy-busting activities, sensory activities as well as cerebral moments and relaxation times. This helped families create space for school work when the children could concentrate.

“One mum set up a tuck shop at home where the children took it in turns to buy or sell from the shop. This became a great game where they learned skills in maths and handling money.

“Another family used the 54321 game on walks – a sensory game that helped the children to calm themselves.”

As for dealing with anxiety about returning to school Julie’s team helped parents to consider all the options and gave advice on how to have conversations with their children to allay their fears.

Julie said some families experienced positive benefits as a result of homeschooling.

She said: “A lot of children were less stressed during lockdown and this meant dramatic changes in their behaviour for the better.

“We saw children learning and progressing for the first time in a couple of years and the trust-bond between parent and child being firmly established.

“Lockdown allowed time for therapeutic parenting to become established without the interruptions of school.  Parents said they were less stressed because they were not constantly being called into school about their child’s behaviour.

“Some families are now seriously considering Education Other Than At School (EOTAS) for the time being as their children cope emotionally better at home or have sufficient Early Developmental Trauma that their child feels safer.

“We have seen a child move from soiling almost every day, standing and simply screaming, unable to take in information and having a meltdown with every change of subject or lesson. That child has now moved to a point where there are few or no toileting accidents, they are calm and beginning to learn. They found jumping on the trampoline between lessons helped them recalibrate and move between subjects.”

The extent of PACT’s adoption support services are only possible thanks to funding from many trusts, foundations, corporate partners and individuals.

One funder is St James’s Place Charitable Foundation whose donation of more than £97,000 over three years covers the salary of one therapeutically-trained social worker in the Strengthening Families Team.

During the first four months of lockdown, 15 new PACT families were supported by the social worker funded by this donation as well as their continued support work with 32 other families.

The social worker helped the adopted children manage and process any feelings, thoughts, and behaviours they may have as a result of attachment failings, developmental trauma, abuse and neglect and other adverse childhood experiences, which may have been intensified by the lockdown restrictions, and provided them with ongoing support to help build attachment and trust and thrive.

Chief executive of PACT, Jan Fishwick OBE said PACT was committed to supporting its families throughout their adoption journey.

She said: “Lockdown has been an incredibly challenging time for us all and we have had to be innovative and flexible to ensure our adoption support services provide the support our families need.

“But I have been full of pride and admiration for the whole team at PACT who have remained passionate and dedicated to making sure our promise to support our families for life is upheld.

“The financial support we receive for our work from funders such as St James’s Place Charitable Foundation enables us to continue this vital work with so many children and their families and for this we are truly grateful.”