Wiltshire Adoption Conference March 2012

Posted by on Apr 14, 2012 in Conference Reviews | 0 comments


On the 23rd March 2012, the Wiltshire Adoption Support Service hosted their annual conference. This is always a very popular and well attended event open to Adopters and Professionals alike. The Wiltshire Adoption Support Service generously fund this event so there is no charge to those wishing to attend. I have attended and participated at this conference in previous years. I have always been very impressed with the quality of speakers, and found the presentations extremely informative and so valuable to the work I do. Previous speakers have included Louise Michelle Bomber, Roger Catchpole, Julie Hudson and Alison Keith. The topics have included ‘Helping Children with Attachment Difficulties in School’, ‘The Adolescent Brain’, ‘Therapeutic Parenting (Dan Hughes)’ and last year, I presented on ’The Impact of Maternal Stress on the Unborn and Developing Child’.

Richard Rose

This year’s guest speaker was Richard Rose, Associate Professor and Director of Child Trauma Intervention Services. His presentation - entitled ‘Who do We Think We are?’ – centered on issues around identity and contact. Again, I thought Richard’s presentation was excellent. Richard shared his model of treatment in working with traumatised children and their families. He integrates Individual Therapy with Life Story Work and Therapeutic Parenting. The principles of each approach are grounded in Attachment Theory and the different interventions I thought were innovative and very child and family friendly. I particularly liked his “working on wallpaper” approach where the child is supported in creating a pictorial history of the their journey through care on a very large strip of wallpaper – “A ‘Bayeux Tapestry’ of the child’s interpretation of their life journey”. In his talk, Richard emphasised the importance of listening to and understanding the child’s perspective. Only when we understand their thoughts and perceptions can we provide them with the necessary information that can help them to revise beliefs and correct misperceptions in their life narrative. One of the creative ways he engages children in sharing their thoughts and feelings is by helping them to draw a ”Behaviour Tree”. Here children are helped to identify behaviours which are problematic for them (e.g. hitting, biting, sexualised behaviour, lying etc). These behaviours are drawn in the leaves and branches of the tree. The trunk of the tree represents the link to the past and the routes of the tree identify particular experiences such as loss, neglect, lack of boundaries, lack of affection etc . The child is helped to make sense of current behaviours in light of past traumas, they are supported in developing a coherent narrative around their experiences and their behaviour can be understood as meaningful and therefore, open to change.

“Blocked Care”

I also particularly liked Richard’s metaphor for talking about ‘blocks’ in the attachment relationship between Carer and Child. Richard used two glasses of water to represent the attuned, sensitive and reciprocal interactions between Carer and Child in early infancy. Water was poured from one glass to another, illustrating the natural give and take in relationships where a ’secure’ attachment pattern is likely to develop. Richard illustrated what happens when parenting lacks attunement and the Carer is characteristically unavailable, neglectful and / or abusive. The child continues to give (innately seeking a relationship) but receives very little in return. Eventually the child self protects by shutting down attachment seeking behaviours (firmly placing the lid on top of the glass of water). When in a new relationship with Foster or Adoptive parents, the child’s ‘lid’ remains firmly in place. The love and care the new Carers try to pour into the child, just seeps away. Eventually Foster and Adoptive parents also feel the need to self protect by shutting down their own attachment seeking behaviour. Both lids are firmly in place. In my experience, this is often the time when families present to Services for help. In my work with Foster and Adoptive Families, often expressed is the view that professionals from both Social Care and Child Mental Health Services perceive the relationship between the Child and their new Carers negatively. Professionals observe the lack of affection and warmth within the relationship and attribute this as the cause of the child’s difficulties. There is often a lack of understanding that this behaviour occurs in response to the child’s difficulties and is not the causal factor.

It is for this reason that Service set up to support Foster and Adoptive families often need a specialist resource where professionals are trained in the complexities of working with children who have been removed from their family of origin.

May be a topic for next year?