Barnardo's LINK Adoption and Family Support Service

For more than twenty years Barnardo’s LINK has been providing therapeutic services to anyone affected by adoption.

This includes therapeutic services for prospective adopters, adoptive families, adopted children and young people, adult adoptees, birth family members and, in recent years, families where children are placed under a Special Guardianship Order (SGO).

We have accredited independent therapists based across London, East Anglia, South East and South West England, who can meet with adoptive families face-to-face in their own homes to work together on the principles and practice of therapeutic parenting.

Our Attachment Focused Therapy (AFT) service, in particular, is designed to encourage the attachment or bonding between the adoptive parent/s and their child/ren in order to build the beginnings of a trusting relationship, one which gives mutual attachment, predictability, esteem, and pleasure.

This therapeutic parenting model is underpinned by Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy, promoting the principles of PACE (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, Empathy), as developed by Dan Hughes.

Funding for these services is available through the Adoption Support Fund [ASF], up to £5,000 per child per year. You can either ask your Social Worker about how to apply to the ASF, or else we can give you more information.

In addition, following the national lockdown as a consequence of Covid-19, LINK has expanded its capacity to deliver therapy virtually by telephone or live video link, such as Zoom or Google Meet. This means that we can now offer our services across the country.

See the links below for our full range of services, including our new work diversifying beyond adoption support.

Get in Touch

If you would like any further information about LINK, or if you wish to make a referral for one of our services, please email [email protected]. 

For families we can provide information about how our services will help you have a greater understanding of the challenges you may be facing as an adoptive family, and how they will support you to develop your therapeutic parenting skills.

For professionals we can provide advice and guidance about how our range of therapy services could help meet the presenting needs of a particular adoptive family. We can also give you indicative costs for a potential application to the Adoption Support Fund, and can send you a referral form for completion.


Dates for the therapist training courses will be added in Spring 2021.

Our services

Attachment Focused Therapy

The Attachment Focused Therapy service is designed to encourage the attachment and bonding between you and your child/ren, in order to build a trusting relationship that develops mutual attachment, predictability, esteem and pleasure.

This service can be offered pre-placement or in an existing placement, whether before or after the adoption order. Funding can be requested through the Adoption Support Fund.

LINK's AFT service is based on a therapeutic parenting therapy model, which is underpinned by Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy, promoting the principles of PACE developed by Dan Hughes: Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy.

Early Placement Therapy

Early Placement Therapy is there to support you as you begin your adoption journey. The focus of the sessions is on the bonding and attachment between you and your child, by exploring your expectations of being a parent and by looking at the reality of being a parent of a child that was not born into your family. This will enable you to have a deeper understanding of how the child's past experiences have affected their view of the world and will encourage you to understand the importance of attachment based parenting.

This service can be offered pre-placement or in an existing placement. Funding can be requested through the Adoption Support Fund.

My Life

My Life therapy can be particularly helpful if your child or young person is struggling to make sense of the connection between their pre- and post-adoption lives and experiences. They may have mixed emotions about leaving their birth families to come and live with you, and this can express itself through outbursts of anger, frequent asking of questions and lack of self-regulation.

My Life helps both you and your child or young person to gain a greater understanding of their life journey so far, and to enable links to be made between the past and the present. The work starts with what life is like today.

Various age-related techniques (e.g. Life Roads, Memory Box) are used to help understand and express feelings, tell the story and identify the connections between the past and the present.

If a Life Story book exists this may be used and re-worked.

The work is undertaken by a LINK therapist and is underpinned by Attachment Focused Therapy.

Play Therapy

Play Therapy is for children who are experiencing chronic, mild and moderate psychological conditions, which cause behavioural problems and prevent them from realising their potential.  The sessions allow the child to communicate his or her feelings and help them to understand their emotions and how they express them.

The play therapist will work intuitively using a wide range of play and creative art techniques, mostly responding to the child’s wishes.  The therapy may be non-directive where the child decides what to do within safe boundaries, or directive where the therapist takes the lead, or a mixture of both.

Play therapy is particularly effective with children who cannot, or do not want to talk about their problems.

Safe appropriate space will be used for sessions usually in the therapist’s practice room but can be in the child’s home or school.


As with any other family, there can be times on your adoption journey when previously good and nurturing relationships between family members begin to fall apart. Adolescence can be one such time of challenge, where the young person is striving to establish their own sense of identity outside of the family dynamic. Young adulthood too can be when the person wants to draw away from the family home and parental influence or control.

Reconnect therapy is designed to help the whole family to communicate, discuss and have a better understanding of the issues that they are facing.

This work will help your family build bridges, use coping strategies and talk about what you would like for the future.

The aims of the service include:

  • improved ability to enjoy a positive family life and social relationships;
  • improved relationships with siblings, parents and other family members;
  • improved emotional regulation;
  • improved confidence.

This work is undertaken by Link Therapists and is underpinned by Attachment Focused Therapy.

Stronger Families

In the past, social workers referring parents to LINK have said that they would have preferred the therapeutic support to have been offered prior to placement. This acknowledges that while you will have had general training and preparation during your assessment, the focus was not on the specific child/ren being placed with you.

Similarly, adoptive parents have said that they wished their therapy could have started prior to the children being placed, in order to have had a better understanding of the impact on their own lives.

LINK has listened to social workers and adoptive families and developed a confidential service that can be offered in the crucial time between linking, matching panel and placement.

We will support you throughout this very important time as you start this new chapter in your life as a family.

Ongoing Support Service

The Ongoing Support Service involves a combination of emotional support and practical recommendations. We can continue to support you and your family after the Attachment Focused Therapy or Early Placement Therapy sessions have ended.

The focus of the work is to reinforce the bonding and attachment between you and your child/adolescent. We can help remind you of the skills and techniques that you have learnt, and support you in sustaining the successes you have already achieved. 


This service can be helpful if, for example, you are about to embark on Attachment Focused Therapy but need time first to discuss and process your own emotional or psychological concerns. If this service is right for you then your Social Worker can make an application to the Adoption Support Fund.

Alternatively, you may be an adopted adult with unresolved issues about your past life with which you would like therapeutic support. This service can either be self-funded or, in certain circumstances and depending where you live, can be funded by your Local Authority.

Birth Family Member Support Service

This service is available to birth family members where adoption may be the plan for a child or children in your family. The service is available for up to 12 months beyond the Placement Order being made.

The therapist will be able to provide you with support in understanding the adoption process.

The meetings provide an opportunity to discuss:

  • the adoption plan
  • the matter of parental consent to adoption
  • future arrangements for contact
  • anything else about the adoption that might be giving you concern
  • signposting to other services that may be available
  • a referral to access Therapeutic Counselling if appropriate

2020 Family Support Services

Following the national lockdown in March 2020 Barnardo's LINK developed a range of support services for any family that has been struggling to cope with the impact on their lives of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The service is open to any family with children or young people, irrespective of whether they are an adoptive family or not.

This service has been commissioned by a number of Local Authorities, Regional Adoption Agencies, NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups, and national charities supporting people with certain life-limiting conditions.

Please email us to find out if this support is available where you live or for your circumstances.

Aims and objectives of the service

  • help reduce feelings of isolation
  • encourage communication between family members
  • explore any fears, anxieties, difficulty or distress
  • help with conflict and conflict resolution skills
  • develop strategies to improve your situation
  • find practical solutions to the daily challenges

Intended outcomes

  • reduce the negative impact of Covid-19 on family life
  • alleviate the stress of physical isolation
  • secure the best possible outcome with regards to family stability, mental health and well-being

Find out more

How to access our service

Most of the therapeutic services we offer are eligible for funding through the Adoption Support Fund. At present, the ASF will fund up to £5,000 per child each year for adoption support or for Special Guardian Order support.

In order for an application to be made to the ASF on your behalf, you will first have to have had an assessment of your needs for adoption or Special Guardian support.

Barnardo's LINK does not, currently, undertake such assessments so, if not already done, you will need to contact your relevant Local Authority. In the first three years post the adoption order that duty to assess remains with the Local Authority that made the placement or SGO with you.

After three years the duty to assess transfers to the Local Authority where you live, if that is different from the placing or SGO Local Authority.

You should have been given contact details of who to approach for an assessment of your needs for adoption or Special Guardian support, but if you are unsure please email us and we will try to help you contact the right person or team.

If you have already had an assessment of your needs for adoption or Special Guardian support, then please discuss with your Social Worker if you are interested in receiving one of our services, who can then make a referral to us on your behalf.

Training for therapists who wish to offer adoption support

In December 2010, amendments were made to the Adoption and Children Act 2002 to ensure that individuals affected by adoption in the UK are provided with support and services from practitioners who hold the proper qualifications and experience.

If you are a qualified therapist who wishes to offer adoption support services, we can provide you with the necessary training.

Our new modular training programme is designed both to provide sufficient learning to enable you to undertake adoption support therapy, and to enable you, if you wish, to deliver Attachment Focused Therapy.

The courses will be delivered virtually, consisting of e-learning modules and ‘real time’ sessions.

Once trained, you will need to register with Ofsted, or with an Adoption Support Agency (ASA), to undertake any adoption therapy.

If you make yourself available, once trained, the Barnardo’s LINK service may approach you with an offer of undertaking therapeutic work, including adoption support work, on our behalf that has been commissioned by a Local Authority, a Regional Adoption Agency or other commissioning agency.

You will not be either an employee of, or an associate with, Barnardo's, but will remain an independent therapist who can mix private practice and work for Barnardo’s LINK.

Please note that successful completion of this training does NOT guarantee registration with the Barnardo’s LINK service.

Feedback from a Family

“Like most adopters, I thought we’d be the ones who would overcome any problems with the sword of love and the shield of consistency. Whatever our child’s past, we’d make it all better just by being such great parents. Of course it didn’t turn out that way. Love was often met with anger, boundaries and discipline provoked panic and, at times, massive meltdowns. After six months of having our parenting thrown back in our face, we were exhausted and out of ideas. We needed help.

Our assessing agency offered a wide range of post-adoption support, and we reluctantly accepted it. After all those months of regular social worker visits, reviews and so on, we wanted to get on with being a family, undisturbed by outside agencies – but now we were back to assessments and endless talking about personal stuff. It was the last thing we wanted, but in retrospect it was a major turning point. We were put on a course of twenty Attachment Focused Therapy sessions, hoping that this would provide the magic formulas to manage our son’s emotional and behavioural problems. In fact, the focus was on us, not on him. He was acting exactly as expected; it was our handling of his emotions that needed adjusting.

Basically this meant unlearning almost everything we’d learned in preparation training, from parenting books and from our own friends and family. Everyone stresses the necessity of firm boundaries (‘Children need them! They love them!’ is the mantra) and consequences that must be followed through. We tried this, but in nearly every case it was a disaster. Our new therapist suggested removing all boundaries except those absolutely necessary for personal safety, and creating an environment of freedom and acceptance where no behaviour was ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’, and certainly not punished. This immediately freed us from the terrible, escalating game of tit for tat that was driving us all crazy: if you don’t eat your breakfast you can’t watch TV, if you throw that toy at me again I will take it away, if you don’t brush your teeth you can’t eat sweets. Our son’s need for control was so great that he’d suffer almost any consequence rather than do as he was told. What he desperately needed was to feel that he was in control, and that he could act out without being punished. His rage and grief had to be expressed and accepted, not boundaried.

After a while this started to bear fruit; our son began to trust us, and to feel safe and relaxed rather than constantly vigilant and frightened. Mealtimes, bathtimes and bedtimes began to settle into something a bit more like normal. But progress was slow: he was still expressing a lot of anger, especially when something nice happened to him. Presents, trips and treats were often repaid with insults, tears and rage – and this was triggering anger in us. I always used to think of myself as a pretty laid-back person without much of a temper: boy, was I wrong. I started matching my son’s anger with anger of my own, and when that red mist descends, it’s hard to turn back.

Again, there was no easy solution, no mantra I could chant to prevent myself from losing my temper. My husband and I both had to think about things that our son’s behaviour was triggering in us – painful issues in our own lives that we thought were resolved and under control. It’s hard to admit that you’re still dealing with grief or bullying or whatever, and harder still to dredge these things up while you’re in the white heat of adoptive parenting. But again, it worked. Now I can control myself – eighty per cent of the time, at least. My husband and I know each other a lot better, and are more patient. We’re not saints or robots; we still get upset. But things are under control, and our son is flourishing – even able to accept the discipline of school.

I’d say to anyone considering adoption, or in early placement, to consider post-adoption support as a vital part of your new lives. Don’t look at it as an admission of failure. Adoption is hard even at the best of times; you can’t do it on your own. Don’t bottle it up. You owe it to yourself, and your child, to access the help that’s on offer.”

Rupert Smith

Family stories

Disclaimer: These stories are a compendium of family situations we have encountered over the years and the types of support we have offered. Any resemblance to actual persons or actual events is purely coincidental.

AFT for a family with a teenage daughter

Background and reason for referral

Helen and Dan were at a loss as to how to support their 15-year-old adopted daughter Claire, who was now refusing to go to school. She had friends there, seemed to enjoy school and was doing all right academically. She hadn’t reported bullying and neither did the school. Everything outwardly seemed to be going well.

But then school started to overwhelm her, indeed everything seemed to. Claire had retreated to her bedroom most of the time and had switched day-for-night in terms of her sleeping pattern. Her eating too had become erratic: she would only eat when she wanted to and then only a limited range of foods.

Our work with the family

When we met the family, Helen and Dan were emotionally drained and hoarse from shouting. There had been breakages and violent angry outbursts from Claire when her parents tried to force her out of her room and back into ‘normal life’ and routines. The school was putting pressure on Helen and Dan to get Claire back into education: but they just didn’t know how to. They were at their wits’ end with worry and didn’t know what to do next.

Claire had lived with her young and vulnerable birth parents for only a few months. They had struggled looking after her safely, and domestic violence had brought both the Police and Social Services to their door. Claire was then taken into care and went to live with foster carers. She had two placements before being adopted by Helen and Dan aged 18 months. Claire was brought up as only an only child.

Although Helen and Dan had noticed Claire liked to be independent and in control, they felt her life with them had been relatively straightforward until recently. According to her Mum and Dad, Claire had seemed to change personality over just a few short months.

In the first instance we recommended help for Helen and Dan in terms of ‘therapeutic parenting’. Although general parenting had got them through until now, as often happens in the teenage years as the brain goes through many changes and developments, it seemed likely that Claire’s early attachment trauma had come to the surface and a new approach was needed.

What we felt was needed was to help Helen and Dan to see their role at this time as 24/7 therapists for Claire, not just parents. Claire felt safer with Helen and Dan than with anyone else in her world and she had made it clear she wasn’t keen to see a therapist herself.

Our therapist helped Helen and Dan to understand Claire’s new behaviours in terms of a young baby being very frightened in a terrifying, overwhelming world. Through this understanding Helen and Dan were able to see her behaviours in a new light. They were able to reassure her and support her as if in the young baby developmental stage that she was often presenting with at this time.

They were able to be patient over food and sleeping issues and be with Claire in a soothing, calming way: sometimes singing to her and stroking her, even rocking her as you might a baby you are trying to comfort. Helen was able to take a few months off work to just ‘be’ with Claire, who liked it when Helen was present and available in the house with her. It made her feel safe.

We were able to support Helen and Dan with the school’s expectations. We liaised with the school Special Educational Needs lead to help explain what was happening with Claire in terms of trauma and we also spoke with the Educational Social Workers. New home education methods were put in place and fraught demands were replaced with support all round.

Although Helen and Dan’s new parenting approach was not a ‘quick fix’ for Claire, it soon calmed their worries especially when they saw Claire being happier and more relaxed. They were all able to enjoy life once more with a greater understanding of Claire and her early trauma.

Our therapist was able to help support Helen and Dan with their anxieties about the future and also their occasional frustrations, with relapses into conflict and shouting with Claire. Our therapist was able to help Helen and Dan to adjust their expectations as parents and accept Claire for who she was: where she was with her trauma and emotional processes.

They learnt to be much more in the present with their thoughts and attention and to take life moment by moment, enjoying their time with Claire without comparing her with peers her age. They were able to find family activities they all enjoyed, such as walking their dog or doing art and crafts around the kitchen table.

Helen and Dan also explored their own upbringing with the therapist. They examined the academic and peer pressures they were under in their own teenage years and how that had made them feel. These were pressures they didn’t want to pass on to Claire, but somehow they leaked out if they weren’t careful. Exploring and reflecting on them helped Helen and Dan to avoid doing this more easily.

The progress we made

Gradually Claire was able to take part in more trips and activities outside of the house. Overnight stays anywhere new was challenging and anxiety-provoking for her, as were crowds. Helen and Dan learnt to minimise both of these, as they now had a clear sense and understanding of what Claire was going through.

Helen and Dan are still receiving support from our therapist, but sessions are less frequent as they have increased in therapeutic parenting confidence. All are hoping Claire will eventually be able to join in with the therapy when she feels able to, but this may be a while off yet.

Recovery for a family experiencing a breakdown in adolescence

Background and reason for referral

Jane and Sally found parenting Simon and Hazel a particular challenge when Hazel, aged 14, reached year 10 at school. She seemed to prefer the company of her peers: perhaps had been drawn to the wrong crowd and had discovered drinking and smoking cannabis as a new pastime.

The firmer Jane and Sally tried to lay down the law at home and restrict her actions outside the home, the harder Hazel fought back. She refused their demands and smashed some of their favourite possessions in response. She lost interest in school work, not seeing the point in anything other than ‘having fun’. Jane and Sally had expected the teenage years to be a challenge, but this seemed to be on a whole other level: more extreme than what any parents of teenagers they knew were going through.

When the tussles between them and Hazel became physical as well as emotional, Jane and Sally knew the family needed outside help. They started asking the local authority for therapy. Unfortunately this was slow to materialise and in the meantime Hazel, now 15, had declared she had had enough of them and wanted to go back into care ‘You’re not my real parents’, she said – something any adoptive parent dreads hearing.

Broken-hearted the mums signed a Section 20 agreement to retain parental responsibility while Hazel lived in foster-care. This, however, was just the beginning. Resisting boundaries and discipline in foster care, it wasn’t long before Hazel ran away and lived first in one hostel then another. She also made contact with birth relatives via social media. Eventually she ran away, losing contact with Jane and Sally and Social Workers altogether.

Our work with the family

It was at this point they were introduced to our therapist. The worry and stress of not knowing where Hazel was or how she was, or indeed if she was even alive (she was on the ‘Missing Persons Register held by the police), was unsurprisingly taking its toll on Jane and Sally. A key part of the early work was for the therapist to listen to Jane and Sally and help them through their emotions of sadness, worry, shame even – they felt they had let Hazel down and not been ‘good enough parents for her’ - and feelings of anger too towards Social Services, who they felt had badly let them down. They were also bewildered by what had happened and by the speed of it - it had all been so overwhelmingly intense.

Simon, their son who was three years younger than Hazel, quietly watched on, noticing the terrible effect on his mums and also dreadfully missing his beloved sister. Hazel had largely brought him up when they lived with their violent, alcoholic birth parents who were frequently either ‘out of it’ and non-functioning. Sometimes their Mum would be locked in the bedroom for hours with a ‘client’, sometimes domestic violence between Mum and Dad would shake the flat.

Simon’s earliest memory was Hazel standing in front of him protecting her from their Dad’s punches. She did her best to feed him when there was really nothing much around to eat. They had been 3 and 6 when they left the birth family and 5 and 8 when they were adopted by Jane and Sally. Eight years later, without Hazel around, Simon lost his compass, his direction in life and he fell into a clinical depression. She had been the only constant in his life and without her there, age 13, Simon fell apart. He began cutting himself and talking about suicide.

Urgently we arranged therapy for Simon as well. Initially he needed someone to help him with his feelings. He was angry both with his adoptive mums and with his sister. Life as he knew it had changed irrevocably, or so it felt, and he needed help to grieve and he blamed the three of them. He loved and hated his sister at the same time and, above all, he hated his birth family.

This moved on to attachment focused therapy with his mums. By this time they were in a better place, having been helped to understand the complex developmental trauma their children had experienced and how Hazel had begun ‘acting-out’ her trauma, her confusion about her past, her life-story and her identity as she reached puberty.

Together the therapist helped Simon and his parents talk about the impact on them of Hazel’s disappearance and what had happened in the months and years before. Together they worked through their feelings and the supportive attachment bond between them increased. Simon began to trust his parents more and ‘felt’ that they understood, as he could see how much they were impacted emotionally by his past and Hazel’s past. This made a huge difference to how he felt about them.

The progress we made

There was great news after six months – Hazel answered a Social Worker’s social media message and allowed herself to be rescued from prostitution. She still didn’t want to live at home but at least the family were re-united. Therapy allowed the mums to work with ‘long-arm parenting’ – parenting at a distance, providing a loving, supportive, therapeutic presence even though they were not all living in the same home.

Once Hazel had recovered physically from her months away and the ordeals she had gone through, she was ready and willing to embrace therapy too. Initially she had her own therapist to work with and talk to confidentially. This led to some joint therapeutic work with her brother and then joint sessions with her mums. Eventually the whole family engaged together in sessions of attachment focused family therapy.

This was a complex piece of work, spanning a number of years, bringing together the fragmented parts of the family as each of them pieced together the fragmented parts of Hazel’s and Simon’s past and the impacts on all of them. With the help of therapy, together with other sources of support and information, Jane and Sally took on board the sensitive and reflective therapeutic parenting approach and credit this in turning the family around from hurt and blame to bonding, trust and support and even fun again.

SGO family with an 8 year old

Background and reason for referral

Heather and Dave are a Special Guardianship Order family. They took on Heather’s four-year-old niece Sidney after Social Services gave them just a couple of hours to decide: either she came to live with them, or else she would go into permanent foster care. Sidney’s parents were drug-addicts and she was being badly neglected. Heather had raised her own daughter Ruby, who was by then in her late teens, largely as a single mum and had got together with Dave more recently.

They had been looking forward to more time on their own together once Ruby left home, but they decided they would take on Sidney because they didn’t want her to grow up in foster care and because Heather felt a duty to her youngest sister, Sidney’s mum, who was clearly struggling.

Soon after Sidney arrived though, Heather realised that parenting her was going to be very different from parenting her own daughter. Sidney was violent towards Heather: hitting her, spitting at her, throwing things, breaking things and she had huge temper tantrum-meltdowns at what seemed to be the slightest things. Heather said she was in shock at first and found it difficult to find her way. She had to reduce her hours at work just to allow her to cope and to have some recovery time when Sidney was at school.

Gradually over months Sidney calmed down to some extent. Both Dave and Ruby were a great support to Heather in parenting Sidney. The school felt that Sidney was showing signs and symptoms of ADHD– poor concentration span, disruptive in class and needing one-to-one support with school work. No one though talked about developmental trauma and what Sidney has been through in her short life. Such trauma can often give rise to ADHD-type symptoms. They organised a session with the school Educational Psychologist and talked about getting an Education, Health and Care Plan. This took many months, but eventually it was achieved and Sidney was given permanent extra help at school as a result.

They managed for the next four years just about getting by, having good days and bad days, with just enough good days to keep them going. Sidney, now aged 8, was more settled and was calling Heather mum, which Heather liked and made her feel she was doing something worthwhile.

But then two things happened that changed the balance. First, Heather’s mother died. This brought up complex emotions for her because her own family background had not been straightforward. Second, in the same year Dave got a promotion, something he had dreamed of, but this meant he now had a lot more extra stress at work which he brought home with him.

These two factors meant both Heather and Dave were holding extra stress and couldn’t be there for each other in the same way as before, or for Sidney who felt the change becoming violent, aggressive and more anxious and demanding.

Breaking point came when Dave was seen by another parent to treat Sidney roughly on the way to school, when she was having a meltdown. He lost patience and shook her as he shouted at her. The parent reported Dave to the school, the school called Social Services with the result that it became a child protection case.

This led to the involvement of Social Workers in the family for many weeks, and a feeling of shame enveloped Heather and Dave particularly at school, seeing the other parents at the school gate who they felt didn’t understand what they were going through with Sidney.

Our work with the family

But the child protection issue finally led to the help they needed after post-adoption Social Workers contacted us. Attachment Focused Therapy was put in place for the family and the couple began their journey learning about therapeutic parenting, receiving the first real support they had had with parenting Sidney.

At first Dave didn’t want to be involved. He felt he had too much on at work, the shame was too great and, after all, Heather did most of the parenting with Sidney as she was her niece. So the therapist concentrated on working with Heather. The therapy sessions gave Heather a welcome space just for her to let out all her pent-up feelings – all her sadness, grief, frustration, hurt from her own childhood, grief from losing her mother and anger at her sister and her situation. It also gave her a chance to acknowledge her own deep exhaustion.

Gradually Heather began to feel lighter and happier again. She began to rediscover things she enjoyed such as craft-making, to allow herself rest and to take refreshing walks in nature. As she felt happier and more resourced she noticed, remarkably, Sidney changed too, becoming calmer and happier. It was just a natural change without Heather particularly doing anything differently. Our therapist explained this was a demonstration of how Heather’s and Dave’s state of being had a big knock-on effect to Sidney and that their own self-care was therefore vital to keeping not only themselves but the whole family functioning well.

Heather was ready to learn about therapeutic parenting at this point and threw herself into the task. Although she had discovered for herself that some aspects of traditional parenting just did not work for Sidney - such as ‘big consequences’ - learning the overall logic and rationale of the therapeutic approach really helped Heather. She particularly got the point that providing emotional safety for Sidney was the most important thing above all else. The words ‘regulation of emotions’ and ‘connection not correction’ became new buzz phrases for her.

The new parenting methods that Dave was observing, with their obvious positive results in terms of a closer relationship between Heather and Sidney and more laughter and fun in the family home, encouraged Dave to become involved in the therapy and to learn the techniques himself. They began to have the therapy sessions together as a couple and to share their feelings and concerns in the session as they learnt together to look at their own triggers for the aspects of parenting Sidney that they found the most difficult. All this helped to bring them closer together and closer as a family unit.

A big part of the therapy was really thinking together about what Sidney had been through before she came to them and how this must have been for her: having to cope alone had been terrifying and she had no idea what having a caring mum and dad was all about. This meant that she didn’t trust Heather and Sidney when they tried to be loving and kind to her. This also explained why she had often pushed them away, especially in the beginning, and had rejected their care. That had confused them greatly and hurt them too, making it harder to be warm and kind to her because they didn’t get a positive response.

The progress we made

Eventually, a year on into the therapy, the therapist felt it was time to bring Sidney into the Attachment Focused Therapy. The therapist felt that Heather and Dave were ready for this: both were now acting like reflective therapists in their own right, able to remain calm, most of the time, whatever happened, and able to see the deeper meaning in Sidney’s behaviour. These joint sessions gave a space to explore some of the things that were difficult for Sidney now and to make the links to her past experiences and the trauma she had been through with her family of origin. All this helped her understand who she was and why she found certain things difficult, reducing her shame and increasing her confidence. The sessions gradually, bit by bit, began to heal her trauma, with Heather and Dave there to help her feel safe. This increased the attachment bonding between all of them.

Eventually Heather and Dave were able to say that the child protection issue had enabled a small miracle to occur in their family. What initially had seemed a negative event was the catalyst that led to some very positive changes for them all.

Early Placement Therapy with a toddler

Background and reason for referral

It is often said that nothing can prepare you for the reality of having a child, and that is equally the case with adoption as it is with having a birth child. Marion and Peter tried their utmost to prepare for having Mabel who came to them at age 20 months. As well as the Local Authority adoption preparation course, they did every other course they could find. They watched online videos, joined groups, talked to friends who had adopted, and read books about therapeutic parenting and modern day adoption. They felt they were as prepared as they possibly could be and they probably were. They were excited and hopeful and believed they had everything ready and in place.

Nevertheless the day Mabel arrived into their home, after being with her foster-carer for 17 months, knocked them for six. What surprised them was her level of energy and how she wouldn’t go to sleep. She was into everything and wanted to play and be with them as much at 2.00 a.m. as 11.00 a.m. They couldn’t get her to settle though they tried everything they could think of. If they left her she would simply scream and not stop.

They knew that some ‘controlled crying’ at bedtime could be useful and OK to do, but too much and Mabel’s system would be flooded with cortisol and maybe it already was. If they read to her and showed her picture books it would calm her while she was with them, but as soon as they laid her down again to go to sleep she would start screaming once more and so they went through the same cycle again and again.

Marion and Peter copied the foster carer’s bedtime routines to the letter. They used the same clothes, washing liquid, shampoo and soap, so that smells around Mabel were as similar as possible and she had her familiar toys with her as well as new ones they had bought her (in moderation). Both Peter and Marion became exhausted and as fractious as Mabel was becoming – all of them suffering from sleep deprivation. Eventually they decided they should do shifts with Mabel to give each other turns to sleep for longer stretches.

The Social Worker became concerned because the exhaustion seemed to be moving into ‘blocked care’ for this couple. The child they had waited so long for had finally arrived, but now they were too exhausted to enjoy being with her and playing with her. The Social Worker could see signs that being parents to Mabel was becoming a strain rather than a joy. Some Early Placement Therapy was put in place to see if talking things through confidentially with a therapist, who would come to their home, might help.

Our work with the family

Their first session with the therapist was six weeks after Mabel arrived and she began by listening to Marion and Peter’s difficulties and their frustrations in these first few weeks. She explored with them what being a parent meant to them and picked up a sense that Peter and Marion wanted to be the perfect parents to Mabel – a much wanted child for them.

For Marion it was almost as if her worst nightmare was coming true – that she wouldn’t be a good enough mum to Mabel and she had begun to dread the Social Worker visits for fear that Mabel would be taken from them. The longer this went on the more tense and worried she became and this, combined with the exhaustion, was tipping her into a depression. Her fear also meant Marion didn’t feel fully able to open up to the Social Worker about what a strain the sleep deprivation and difficulty getting Mabel to sleep was putting both her and Peter.

What a relief it was for Marion and Peter to be able to talk openly to the therapist, to share their worries, to cry and even moan and complain too, without fear of being judged or having any consequences for their chance of a successful adoption. As the therapist left after the first session they looked visibly more relaxed.

The following sessions explored each of their childhood backgrounds and their journey through adoption, via the trauma of unsuccessful fertility treatment, and provided an outlet for a backup of emotion that they hadn’t even been aware was so present and significant.

As Marion and Peter relaxed, so did Mabel. She was able to sense their state of being and it affected her state of being. Over the first couple of weeks of therapy Mabel was noticeably easier to settle and didn’t wake so often in the night. A downward spiral of stress and despair began to reverse.

The progress we made

By the time the 8 sessions of early placement therapy came to a close Marion no longer dreaded Social Worker visits, felt more confident in her role as Mabel’s mum and more confident in Peter’s ability to be her dad too. The therapy enabled everyone in the family to feel safer and maybe saved the placement from disruption.

As Peter and Marion had been learning, feeling safe is everything for adopted children, who have been through so much before they arrive, and that even the experience of moving carer to their new ‘forever’ parents is yet another traumatic experience for them.

Stronger Families with two young brothers

How the service helps from the beginning

There is a great deal to think about and prepare for before having a child by adoption. Once matching has started that’s when preparations move from being about a hypothetical child to a real living child or children.

With an intervention we call Stronger Families we start supporting families with this specific preparation once the parents have been matched. For background information the therapist attends the Link Meeting with the parents, where every aspect of the match is gone through. They then arrange to meet again once the matching panel makes the match official. The therapist will also have access to the children’s CPR document and the parents’ PAR report.

This gives the parents the opportunity to talk about and reflect on the personality of, and any potential vulnerabilities for, their child. It is also a time to consider what to expect in terms of likely behaviours and emotional characteristics.

Dalbir and Jalsa found this process very helpful in the run up to adopting two brothers, Hardik and Praneel, aged 5 and 3. The boys had experienced neglect as well as physical and emotional abuse, in an environment of domestic violence, before being placed in foster care. Dalbir and Jalsa were able to reflect, together with the therapist, about the specific experiences that each child had had, as recorded in the CPR report. They considered the likely impact on the boys and how that might show itself initially and at later developmental stages.

Simple questions such as ‘What might young children who have lived with domestic violence and abuse show in terms of behaviour?’ can be useful. The fact that one of the brothers was older and had therefore been in the environment for longer was significant. He was coming to them at a later developmental stage, what might this mean? The younger child, Praneel, was often kept in his pushchair in the family home and perhaps experienced more neglect. What would this look like?

Jalsa and Dalbir had already spoken to the foster carer and had up-to-date reports about how the children were now. They had been in foster care for two years and had responded well to this care. When they had arrived in foster care Hardik, then aged 3, had only eaten with his hands and wasn’t used to sitting to eat at a table. Both boys were a great deal calmer than when they had first arrived, but did still show some hypervigilance and were emotionally younger than their years.

The first meeting is also a chance to talk though general principles such as how the move itself is a stressful event for the children. It’s an attachment loss to move from the foster carers to their new parents: they are going from the known to the unknown. Regression in terms of emotional age and behaviours is often seen at this time. Dalbir and Jalsa found it sad that their children were having to go through this attachment loss to be with them. Talking about this with the therapist was an opportunity to work through those feelings.

Two hours is spent with the therapist before introductions and then another two hours during the period of time that introductions are going on, although in practice this can be difficult to achieve with so much going on at this time. Introductions can be such an intense, emotional and exhausting time, often far away from home. Dalbir and Jalsa found it helpful to share their thoughts, observations and excitement at meeting their children in the flesh and getting to know them.

What the therapist is aiming to support the parents with during introductions is to help them process their initial reactions to the children: does it feel right, are there any serious doubts arising at this time? It is important to acknowledge and discuss these, even if it means ultimately this isn’t the right match. It’s better to know at this stage than several months down the line.

The last session happens when the children have been living with their new adoptive parents for a couple of weeks and the parents have had a chance to try out therapeutic parenting in practice. The therapist comes to the family home again and the parents have the chance to talk about how things are going without fear of judgment. They can both celebrate where they have got to and also discuss any problems or difficulties, worries or concerns.

Consideration of further support

It’s at this point that it can be useful to assess if more therapeutic help would be beneficial in the coming weeks and months to help the new family settle, or if all is well for now. If more is needed it can be organised swiftly at this point. Dalbir and Jalsa were exhausted but quietly relieved that all seemed to be going well with their boys. They had settled into their new rooms and beds, seemed to enjoy being with their new parents and having their undivided attention.

Dalbir and Jalsa were keeping visitor numbers low, minimising stimulation and uncertainty in as many ways as they could. The therapist talked through the possibility of a ‘honeymoon period’ with them, where the children are in a kind of shock at first and it can take a few months for their full emotional reaction to changing homes to surface. There may be other times in the children’s lives when their early trauma can be triggered and come to the surface in terms of emotions and behaviour. Having had a taste of therapy early on can make it a more natural resource to turn to in times of need.

Further Reading

Our ‘Statement of Purpose’ is available for download below.