We held off from legally adopting Pickle for almost a year after he moved in with us. Not because we were unsure of our situation – far from it – but because it was essential for his emotional development and stability to attend the same school as Gherkin. He had already started to form relationships with our friends’ children, who also attended the local school. We felt there was no other option. We had to get a guaranteed place for him there.
Under current legislation Looked After Children (LACs) are given priority in the school admissions system, but once that child leaves the care system they are treated much in the same way as every other child, provided there are no special needs requirements.
So, under this legislation is the government suggesting that when a judge stamps a form, signs a piece of paper, and gives the gift of a cuddly rat (yes, bizarrely it was a rat), an adopted child’s feelings of insecurity, uncertainty, anger, loss, grief, and the myriad of other emotions that lend meaning to his/her life all magically disappear? That the underlying wounds of the child’s harrowing past are suddenly healed with one gigantic, bureaucratic sticking plaster?
Well, I can tell you from first-hand experience that the answer is a big fat, resounding NO! Thankfully I am not on my own in my thinking. In January 2013, thanks to the government’s overhaul of current adoption procedures, a much-welcomed legislation will come into effect affording adopted children the same rights as Looked After Children in respect of their educational needs.
Fortunately and unashamedly, we worked the system and a nursery place became available for Pickle at the local school at the beginning of the Spring term, after he had been in our care for a year. He was 4 years old. He was champing at the bit to get out of the house and I too was anxious for him to socialise with other children and help this defiant little monkey understand that rules and discipline apply to everyone.
The first six years of a child’s life are imperative in terms of developing emotional attachments. Many adopted children have been starved of this basic need, having had constantly changing faces as their caregivers. It has been proven that interruptions in the bonding cycle in these informative years can create problems throughout a child’s life and have potential repercussions in adulthood.
As parents, we have to create a foundation for an emotionally and socially healthy life from the day our children are born. For an adopted child, who has perhaps learned anti-social or unacceptable behaviours, it is often the case that an adoptive parent has to completely strip back certain facets of the child’s personality and start afresh with a blank canvas, building up a spirit and resilience that will enable them to cope successfully with the adversities of their adult lives.
The teaching profession plays a huge role in supporting parents not only academically but also with regard to a child’s interpersonal and emotional growth. I had never quite realised just how crucial this role was until Pickle started school.
I was able to meet Pickle’s future teacher in advance of his first day. She’s a young woman bursting with enthusiasm for her obvious vocation in life. Long may it continue! I hope the pressures of the education system don’t take its toll on her innate passion. Together, we discussed Pickle’s needs. We made plans. She listened to my concerns and she worked with me, I felt like she was ‘on my side’. It was important that Pickle’s school routines were as consistent as possible with those at home, to create a feeling of continuity, safety and trust and to limit anxieties and help build self-control. She is extremely empathetic and understanding towards all the children in her class, not just Pickle. I had already heard glowing reports from other parents, but I have been utterly astounded and amazed at how much she has helped Pickle grow in all aspects of his personality. She created a safe haven for him in her classroom when he was at his most vulnerable. She has continued the attachment process beyond the walls of our home by focussing his environment on strengthening social interactions. Most importantly of all, she has been adamant that we should discuss issues together as a three. Always including Pickle, so that he understands that we constantly work together as a team. And that’s exactly how I feel. We are a team. And without her guidance, support, encouragement, diligence and unfailing patience, our lives would have been so much harder.