Navigating a world that isn’t trauma informed


Parenting a child with early trauma is tough, really tough. It can be rewarding, challenging and of course keeps you on your toes. But for me, a few years in, one thing is a constant – trying to explain to professionals and others the impacts of early trauma and often getting blank looks in response.

It isn’t to say that our little one hasn’t been treated by excellent professionals or had extremely caring teachers, because she has. It’s just that the root of the challenges is so far off the experience and knowledge of many people encountering her, that it can require constant explaining.

Some people that we’ve worked with have taken the time to learn or clearly taken on board at least some of what we say, but there is often that lingering feeling that it isn’t getting through.

Prior to our little one moving in with us, we did as much reading as we could and delved into any resources we could find on the impacts of trauma. We also had some counselling with a professional, who works with adoptive families. This was to work through any challenges that we might have, which could impact our abilities to parent an adopted child. She is an adult adoptee herself, so the perspectives that she brough to us were hugely valuable.

It may sound like a cliché, but we didn’t really understand until we were parenting our little one. We understood a lot of it in theory, but that is very different to witnessing the day-today struggles of child, or the triggers that come up for her and seeing just how innate early trauma is.

Connecting with others

We’re still, in the grand scheme of things, relatively recent adopters as our daughter has been with us for a few years. For me, understanding early trauma has been a process of constant learning and will continue to be. The worst thing to do would be to rest on our laurels and think we’ve got it nailed because she’s had a relatively good patch and things seem to be going in the right direction.

At times, the sense of difference as an adoptive family and the reactions that trauma related behaviour can bring out in people can be isolating. A theme I’ve written about on this blog before.

One of the things that has made the biggest difference to us is connecting with other people. This has been through adoption support organisations like We Are Family (full disclosure, I’m one of their trustees) and through speaking to other adopters online.

Talking things through with families who are experiencing or have experienced similar is invaluable, but increasingly I’d say the most important ongoing learning that I’m doing is from adult adoptees. A while ago, I attended a fantastic webinar put together by Adoptee Futures, who are a brilliant organisation run by and for adult adoptees. They also deliver training and talks for adoptive parents. The ones I attended brought together a number of adult adoptees, who shared their lived experience. It gave me a lot of a food for thought and further reading to go away and do.

Over time, two things have become ever stronger in my thinking when it comes to adoption. Firstly the need for serious reframing in the way it is understood in wider society – with a significant shift in the narrative towards it being the rearing of children with early trauma, who cannot live with their birth families.

The second is the need for services from education to medical practice and much more in between to be properly trauma informed.  I don’t just mean for staff at institutions to go on the odd half day course, but for it to be ingrained in the way that services are delivered. I believe that this would have not only be hugely beneficial for looked after and adopted children, but also for a whole host of people throughout society who have experienced trauma of one form or another.

Fighting for trauma informed practice:

Sadly, we’re a long way off a place where there is a more progressive understanding of adoption at large and where trauma-informed practice is embedded in all the institutions where it needs to be. With the direction of travel of education policy and thinking around adoption and children’s social care, large leaps forward are unlikely any time soon.

However, I certainly don’t think it is all doom and gloom. Despite the problems that exist, we have seen adopters, adoptees and organisations in the space come together to work on shifting the narrative and to argue for change.

More schools are becoming trauma informed and the more everyone with an interest in the issue makes the arguments, the more they will stick.

2 thoughts on “Navigating a world that isn’t trauma informed”

  1. Andrew… I really believe whole heartedly that what we experience is all meant to be. Your experience adopting a child with severe early trauma is standing you in good stead to be an advocate for real change in the space of early trauma.
    We are seeing it on the streets, how early childhood trauma’s are playing out in adults. Awareness is the first step, and you are becoming a key player.
    Love to you and the family Andy, you are doing an incredible job.

  2. I find it interesting and telling that one of the country’s adoption support groups (PACT) has changed the name of its support resource from ‘Adoption Hub’ to ‘Children and Trauma Community Hub’. There is finally recognition about what the real challenges are in adoption – I think it has largely been glossed over when recruting adopters in the past.

    To be fair schools can be quite supportive. As a parent you just need to talk to the school’s SENCO before you choose the school, to see how much they know, or how much they realise they don’t know! There’s some pretty good resources for adopters out there which my own adoption agency supplied, which give you the questions you need to ask beforehand. Plus a little prompt sheet at the beginning of each year, telling your school what your child needs if they are acting in a certain way, helps!

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