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Elaine's Story

My heart leapt when I heard about Adoption UK’s campaign to raise awareness in schools about the importance of attachment. Regrettably trainee teachers are not currently taught about the impact of insecure attachment histories on children’s learning, social skills and emotional development and Adoption UK is enthusiastically taking the opportunity to help plug this gap. I believe this will help our children, their teachers and ourselves as adopters.

Both of the children placed with us for adoption challenged me to understand the loss and trauma of children who have had to be removed from their birth parents and whose birth family experiences militated against developing secure attachments in infancy. As adopters we understand that an insecure attachment history is where children’s experiences in their birth families mean they are unable to develop secure attachments with their prime carers for various reasons such as the carers’ own insecure attachment styles or mental or physical health difficulties, drug or alcohol abuse; loss; trauma; neglect; abuse; maternal deprivation; separations; domestic abuse etc. Attachment theory helps inform our understanding of the potential deleterious consequences of insecure attachments which, for children who have experienced care, can include lower educational attainment, greater involvement in the criminal justice system and more emotional and mental health problems than the average child population including possibly an attachment disorder. Attachment neuroscience research also reveals that mother interaction stimulates the infant’s brain growth and development  and relational trauma can cause neurobiological consequences later.

We have an adopted daughter and when we received attachment training we began to understand that despite efforts to provide her with a secure base her attachment was ambivalent. In the early days she walked into school and never looked back to wave.

Sadly we experienced a placement disruption of a second child placed with us for adoption. Our first meeting was full of excitement and joy but initially I wondered if she had ADHD (often confused with attachment difficulties), oscillating from calmness to hyperactivity and with little ability to self-regulate. Our fortnight of introductions was akin to being hit over the face with a brick, reeling around as if on a merry-go-round which I desperately held on to for fear if I flew off I would end up in a dark abyss with nothing firm to hold on to. It was during my initial counselling training I realised I probably experienced her unconscious process of how she felt; no secure base, scared, out of control and disorganised. In my counter-transference I felt traumatised too and out of control and was chaotic. (I believe some teachers experience this too with insecurely attached children in their classroom).

We were her 18th placement and in attachment terms she did not have opportunities to form secure bonds. She could only trust in herself for her security. We arranged play therapy for her and the therapist described her as having a disorganised attachment, whereby the ‘carer’ figure was scary to her rather than a secure base. She wanted to be close sometimes and other times would not. Getting her to school met with extreme behaviours on some mornings and on others she was calm and happy to go. These chaotic and oppositional behaviours occurred in school presenting huge challenges to the staff and in particular her class teacher, an NQT whose experience was limited and whose confidence was eroded. Despite the school’s best efforts to respond to her needs, some of her behaviours were interpreted as naughtiness and she could not engage in learning or make friends. The school was not attachment aware. She was unable to trust anyone and why should anyone expect her to, having lived with so many people over her short life, with no opportunities to form a close bond?

These experiences set me on the pathway of wanting to see greater understanding in our schools about the consequences of insecure attachment. Adoption UK’s campaign to raise awareness has huge potential to help our children become more self-regulated in school and to settle to learn. Teachers who understand about attachment, including their own, will also be better equipped to teach the children and understand themselves better. The campaign will also benefit children who are not adopted but who have insecure attachments. The really good news is that research shows that as the children’s experiences change their attachment styles can change too.

So let’s do what we can to support this Campaign and dream about what this can achieve for our children’s futures.

Elaine, Norfolk
Adoption UK member, and schools’ campaign volunteer

For more information about Adoption UK's Schools' Campaign click here

If you would like to share your story please contact our Comms Team at press@adoptionuk.org.uk or on 01295 752240.

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