Charlotte Jenkins is founder and director of Beacon Family Services, a not-for-profit therapeutic organisation supporting adoptive families. She is also a certified Theraplay® Therapist. Charlotte explains how play can help traumatised children regain a feeling of safety. 

‘Come on, catch up!’ seems to be our Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson’s, current cry. And my voice is one of many saying, ‘Hold on and wait for the kids. They may be strong, but they have little legs and they have been doing their best in tough circumstances.’

For anyone who is up-to-speed with the latest report from the Children’s Commissioner on children’s mental health, it’s clear that our children need us to slow down and prioritise their mental health and well-being, not speed up.

Never is this more important than when we are talking about children who have experienced trauma. The kind of trauma many adopted children have been through - abuse, neglect and loss of key relationships - leaves them struggling and feeling like they are at sea. For many children, this pandemic has been a reminder that the world is unsafe and at any given moment you can become separated from important and meaningful relationships. Adoptive parents have been doing their best to sail their boats through this storm with a skeleton crew.

Sadly, sailing in unknown and treacherous waters is not new for adoptive parents. Even before the pandemic, Adoption UK’s Adoption Barometer report revealed that around two-thirds of adoptive parents were under pressure with more than half experiencing stress and anxiety from the early days and 70% feeling that it was a continual battle to get the help and support their child needed. Almost 50% of these children had diagnosed social, emotional and mental health needs with adopted children being seven times more likely to receive a diagnosis of Autism.

Adopted children need to experience safety and connection in relationships at home and school before we even think about anything else. And as adoptive parents, you may well be feeling exhausted from doing your best to offer your children safety and connection. You too need some help so you don’t end up drowning while trying to make everyone else around you safe.

As a trained social worker, my advice to parents is listen to the experts and just play. Fun and joy are the greatest antidotes to stress and distress. I created our Cards to Help You Connect based on the play-based activities I use in Theraplay® sessions as a direct response to children’s need to feel safe.

Our therapeutic cards help parents and children identify how stress is affecting their

thoughts, feelings and behaviours and suggest a range of simple, fun and accessible play-based activities designed to help everyone return to feeling safe.

Play is a language that helps children explore their environment. When done with the support of an adult who cares and notices the child, it becomes transformative for both the child and adult. Play is so impactful, in fact, that it can reduce the time it takes to learn something new from 400-1000 repetitions to 10-20 repetitions when learning is done through play.

Perhaps if we introduced play-based activities to the House of Commons, the Rt. Honourable Gavin Williamson might very quickly learn that our children’s recovery and well-being are much more important than ‘catching up’!