Ready Steady Go Group Blog

Who is ready? Who is Ready Steady Go for School?

Thank you for the Music

Who is ready? Who is Ready Steady Go for School?

Week 1 of our new Primary 1 transition group and my colleague Kath and I are welcoming 7 children and their parents into the Green Room at Scottish Adoption.

Task 1 – finding your own super hero coat peg, putting away your shoes and depositing your water bottle into the tray. Following this, can we all “sit nicely on the floor” Sound tricky?

These uniform tasks are the starting block to most days in P1, but for some children, what may seem at first a simple request, actually requires a whole set of skills that not every child has developed before they start school.

For example:

  • Executive functioning skills that enable children to listen and respond to multi-part instructions.
  • Dexterity required to quickly change from outdoor to indoor shoes.
  • Emotional regulation to cope with separating from your parent.
  • Physical Regulation required to sit quietly on the floor following the excitement of all of the above.

Deep breath. It’s now 10 minutes into our 90 minute session. Things are happening with mixed results. However, it WILL be fine, as I have Kath, our Music Therapist, who I have now taken to affectionately referring to as My Music Lady with for this session.  Just as it’s about to look a little bit chaotic, cue the music.

The Collins English Dictionary defines an earworm as: “a catchy song or tune that runs continually through a person’s mind”. Bear this in mind.

Kath begins playing the chorus from one of the 3 songs that form the scaffolding to our sessions. Songs that underpin our key messages about school. For example:

  • The hello/goodbye song (building resilience around separation/reunions).
  • The packing your bag Song (a cheerful little ditty – designed to help with executive functioning, specifically the battle against lost items).
  • The Ready Steady Go Song (a regulation song designed help kids to move from excited to calm).

Songs bring the structure, structure brings the safety” a wise woman once said. Like magic, children are now transfixed and we’re onto another weekly staple, a school themed story and some basic comprehension.

After consultation with colleagues from Education, we’ve chosen 4 weekly themes. For example, personal space, working together, turn taking and listening. A particular favourite of mine was teaching the kids the concept of the personal space bubble, the hard sell being that personal space awareness is in-fact a Super Hero power. Now we have 6 children charging around the room for a game of musical statues, finding their spot to stop within their own “space bubble”. Brilliant.

On top of the children’s element of this programme, we also offered parents a workshop. This session is aimed at providing a space for parents to discuss in detail any behaviour that the group has highlighted. If these issues can’t be resolved with advice, the group provides a platform for referring families onto one of the other multi-professional areas within the Scottish Adoption Therapy Centre.

So, thank you for the music and for the opportunity to spend time with 7 little Super Heroes, who I’m confident will all give school their very best shot and smash it.

Melanie Thomson
Children’s Worker Scottish Adoption

Teen Groups

It’s 4pm on a Friday afternoon and my work for the day in my role as Children’s Worker at Scottish Adoption is about to begin.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

This afternoon’s events are a slight change from the norm. Instead of running our two young peoples’ groups, the Young Teens (ages 12-14 years) and the Old Teens (ages 15-18 years), we’re merging both, creating a super group and embarking on a rock climbing session.

We have 15 kids tonight, with the Young Teens having only recently having come together as a group and their older peers now over two years in. Looking at the larger group, it’s not hard to distinguish who belongs to which group.

In fact, if Attenborough were here, he’d be gently encouraging us to observe some key behaviour from these very different species. The proximity that the Young Teens have to their parents on arrival, standing separately, somewhat unsure of one another and eagerly looking for an ally. For some, this group might be the first time they’ve had the opportunity to forge a friendship with another adopted young person. For others, it might be that friendships in general are tricky. Three weeks into this new group and we still have the full pack. As a facilitator, I’m quietly elated.

The parents of the Young Teens are also acting as we anticipated they would; some question if their child linking in with peers with similar issues is a risk. There’s no doubt that bringing vulnerable children together can feel tricky. However, for adopted adolescents the teenage years can present a number of complexities with regards to identity, birth family and relationships.  During these times, the therapeutic support the group provides is invaluable and it can be argued that this is a risk well worth taking.

Looking across the room, I can see parents chatting and some swapping numbers. We hoped that this would happen, as even a five minute conversation sharing a family struggle can feel incredibly supportive. I hear “I get it. I understand. We’ve been there too!”

Despite the inherent commonalities of the Young Teens, the word adoption has so far only been mentioned once. This is because the focus for the year ahead is to have fun and to build trust with one another. Once this is established, the magic starts to happen.  Our plan to achieve this is simple. Games, team-work challenges, laughter and fun of the old fashioned variety are the order of the day.

Cast a look at the Older Teens and we see an entirely different picture. Some bodies entwined, others actively avoiding each other. I smell hormones and there’s an air of exclusivity to their huddle. This group has recently regressed from what could be defined in group work terms as their performing stage, to a more fractured state.  Having recently worked together incredibly well to organise and facilitate the Adoption Voices Conference (an overwhelming success by the way), followed by a number of changes to the group’s structure, the packs sense of safety has been jeopardised and they’re now re-grouping. In group work theory, this is known as Storming.

We’re back at the office for pizza and, before the last slice has been eaten, my co-worker and I have already diffused one major outburst, several mini dramas and watched an in-joke erupt into tears of laughter. Having already established a robust level of trust with one other, no subject is off limits. One of the questions they’ve asked this evening are, “If you could choose, would you rather not have had the experience of being adopted?”

I never cease to be blown away by the bravery of these kids. They regularly share their deepest private feelings with one another. They say they can’t do this with 99% of their other friends, but they do it here. This is their safe space.

However, with such intensity of emotions, some sessions can be difficult. This evening was tricky at best. Facilitating, or as described sometimes as the Conducting of a group, can mean digging deep into my skill base. For example, working to turn negative situations into learning experiences, constantly monitoring  the power dynamics, ensuring emotional/physical safety and doing this whilst genuinely (and they know if you’re not) staying attuned and joining in the fun and energy of the session.

There’s a reason adolescents are attracted to gangs, to packs and groups. Peer groups are a mirror. They’re practice for the wider world and they help teenagers develop social confidence. For adopted young people they’re more than that. They reduce feelings of isolation and provide a therapeutic community. Group work isn’t easy. It can be complex and often exhausting. But, reader, I love it.

Pre Placement Preparation Group

We recently held a Pre-Placement Preparation Group and asked if someone would be able to write about their experience of the group so we could share their experiences online with everyone.

We recently held a Pre-Placement Preparation Group and asked if someone would be able to write about their experience of the group so we could share their experiences online with everyone.

Why we have a Pre-Placement Day:

The Pre-placement Day arose out of recognition that the early days and weeks of a child coming home to its adoptive parents are both

(a)    really important in helping children start to build attachments, safe and security to their parents

(b)   can feel totally overwhelming for adoptive parents.

Up to the point of panel whilst there will have been talk about the needs of the children being placed for adoption and the type of parenting they might require.  The focus is naturally on completing the home study and getting approved.  However, after approval there is the opportunity to breathe and relax as the waiting period begins.  This felt like an ideal opportunity for us to meet with adopters and revisit the needs of the child and the different parenting that they might require. Both Introductions and the early days of a child coming home can be very stressful and difficult.  The purpose of the day is to help approved adopters really think about the task ahead and to hopefully equip them with a bag of useful tools. Below is one persons account of the group.

Our First Experience of the Pre-Placement Preparation Group

The invite to the session arrived a few weeks before we went to the approval panel. A tingle of excitement – this was real, something was going happen after all those months of home study. Having attended the evening prep classes over 8 weeks, we wondered how a full day, 9.30am to 4.30pm, would be filled, who would be there, what else could we learn?

There were 10 of us in the group that day – a reunion with one person we’d attended prep classes with – and a real mix of couples and single adopters. Everyone was at slightly different stages in the post-panel approval process. One woman was about to go to a matching panel, one second-time adopter was taking enquiries further with a couple of children, and reassuringly for us just 3 weeks post-approval, a few couples who hadn’t had any profiles sent to them yet.

After an icebreaker exercise to discuss in pairs how we thought a child we each already knew would feel being moved to live with complete strangers, we were fired up and the day flew by.

With plenty opportunity for questions and discussion (which there was a lot of!) Giles and Julie expertly took us through an agenda that included a reflection on how we cope with change and stress ourselves, so we can recognise the impact of placement on us as well as the child, and what our key worries are around placement overall.

We also looked in detail at the next steps of the process including introductions, what to expect and how best to cope, working with foster carers, plus a discussion around the legal process and the varying levels of uncertainty this stage can bring.

There was a group exercise on matching child behaviours with different types of attachment (secure, insecure, ambivalent, avoidant and disorganised), with instruction on achieving the first steps of security for your child, so that they can relax with you and go on to thrive. I thought Giles was particularly helpful in giving verbal examples of what you might actually say to your child in certain situations.

For example, we learned that quite natural and widely accepted forms of discipline that are effective with securely attached children, like the naughty step, where you’re saying to the child “I’m going to withdraw my contact or attention until you behave”, are not constructive with newly adopted children, whatever their age. To sever your newly formed connection or bond in this way sends out the wrong signal, making the child feel completely rejected when they might not yet have the resources to know that this is just a passing behaviour from you.

What we learned to do is say “no” firmly but then immediately reinforce this with warmth and encouragement by saying something like “but we’re fine, me and you, come on – let’s go and do something else”. In this way, we keep the child safe, keep them within our boundaries, but also go a long way to strengthen the bonding between us.

The session on funnelling was also very valuable in how you can get your family and friends to really help this work towards successful and early attachment. We feel much more confident about this aspect now, where before our family thought they may not meet the child for a long time. It’s also reassuring to know that social workers are happy to go out and meet family and friends to help explain the funnelling process and how they can be a part of it.

After the session on legalities, we broke for lunch and went to a nearby café as a group, giving us further opportunity to catch up on each other’s stories. And there were plenty breaks for tea, coffee and too many chocolate biscuits.

The day finished with Julie demonstrating different games that we can play to help with attachment in the early days, but to also help children catch up on developmental stages they may have missed from inconsistent or negligent care. For example, playing peek-a-boo helps children learn permanence: that their parents still exist even when they can’t see them, which is crucial for children to settle in nursery or school, and be relaxed and open to learning.

Again, Julie was great at getting down on the floor and actually showing us the games and talking through their function, so that you could really imagine doing this with your own child.

We found the day really helpful as preparation for placement. It was the usual roller-coaster of emotions, just like the prep classes, but it was reassuring to learn more about the extent of future support that we’ll have access to, like Theraplay, toddler groups, starting school workshops, right up to when our children are teenagers and need to check in again for security around their bigger life decisions.

All we can say is thank you – and bring it on!

Pre School Groups

One of the best thing about becoming a parent through adoption is that you are never really alone.

One of the best thing about becoming a parent through adoption is that you are never really alone. As well as two lovely children, we have also gained new friends and a wonderful support work that we access whenever we need help (much to the envy of some parents we know).

“We have shared the highs, lows and several glasses of wine with the friends we have made through our initial study and whenever we needed professional input Scottish Adoption have been on hand.”

Pre-School Groups

The pre-school toddler groups are a great example of this. These sessions offer a real opportunity for parent and toddler to bond in a safe, dedicated and loving environment. This means laughing together and playing games that are both gentle but stimulating for all participants. Bonding is often an initial “stumbling block” in many adoption placements and these sessions can help promote attachment between child and parent.

The sessions themselves are simple and small (about three or four children with their Mums or Dads and a couple of Scottish Adoption workers to support). We meet, play, sing and have tea and cake and play some more over the course of an hour or two. Of course there is loads of chit-chat and sharing experiences of parenting and adoption, which can be a real relief to talk with people who understand the additional dimension that adoption brings to being a parent.

Games

The games themselves include (my favourite) singing and acting the “Go-so-Fast” song, playing “peek-a-boo”, parent-and-child wrapping each other up in loo roll and then bursting free, drawing pictures, doing body outlines of parent and then drawing outline of child in the parent’s outline (our kids really loved this one), “Find the Cotton Wool Ball”, and many more. All of which help your child to develop and your attachment to grow.

During the group sessions not only did we get time to focus on our children in an appropriate and distraction-free environment (we have two children and finding one-on-one time is very important but quite hard to find – we always go with only one child and one parent), but there are numerous opportunities to network and swap stories with peers in adoption. This can put things in perspective and re-assures us. At the same time our children can play in a way that will reinforce adoption lessons and be creative in an unconditionally loving and familiar environment.

Adoption is a shared adventure for parents and children, and the toddler sessions are a really good way to start out with some fun, play and cake!

Groups

Our son attended the P1 Transition Group and our daughter attended the Girls Group.

Our son attended the P1 Transition Group and our daughter attended the Girls Group.

Girls Group

“It helped me understand that being adopted wasn’t scary or so different. It helped me feel it was a better place to be. And I enjoyed the girls’ group – it was fun!”

Our daughter is quite introspective so the Girls Group allowed her to see that she wasn’t the only girl in her situation and to see that it was fine to talk about her feelings about adoption. She could say things, if she wanted, in a place where she didn’t have to worry about hurting our feelings as parents. While the girls were in the group the parents got a chance to chat with each other which was brilliant. We were really happy that our daughter had some other adopted girls to talk to and be with and she seemed to really enjoy it.

Primary 1 Transition Group

“I absolutely LOVED it, ‘cos you got to sing and do ‘motorboat, motorboat’ and I made nice friends. They were adopted too. You also got to play games”

My son loved his P1 Transition Group. Although he was only a little aware of the reason for the group, I think he really felt connected to the other children. During the week he’d ask “when are we going to Scottish Adoption?” He saw it as a kind of club for children just like him. It did really help him realise that school was something that happened to all children like him and there wasn’t too much to worry about. For us parents it was even more important. We all had worries about our children starting school so it was really brilliant to share our concerns and to discuss things that we hadn’t even thought of. Even without that common link, it was really good to connect with other adoptive parents.