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‘Why Can’t My Child Behave?’ by Amber Elliott

Dr. Amber Elliott, author of Why Can’t My Child Behave? talks about how she became motivated to start her own company to support looked-after children, and how this in turn led her to writing the book, a parenting manual for traumatised or neglected children.

“In the space of a couple of weeks in April 2010 I journeyed from disheartened, overwhelmed and unmotivated to passionate, inspired and some may well say hyperactive. This was my transition from a Local Authority and NHS Looked After and Adopted Children’s CAMH service to setting up The Child Psychology Service. I didn’t know whether I could make a living but I did believe I could make a difference.

I should first make it clear, that my heart, passion and politics still lie idealistically within the NHS. Quality services for looked after and adopted children should be available to all, free at the point of access and provided at the moment it is needed. However this was not where I found myself and I needed to do better for looked after and adopted children and their families.

The problem, as I saw it, was that the right therapeutic messages were not getting “out there”. The developmental trauma of looked after and adopted children was treated with the same models of therapy that had been researched and developed on entirely different children and the emotional and behavioural consequences of trauma were being simplistically seen through the lens of behaviour modification i.e. “we can shape this undesirable behaviour using rewards and punishments” (regardless of its underlying psychological causes).

The staggering fact is that 60% of children in the care system have severe and enduring emotional and mental health problems – that’s compared to 10% of all children. Trauma based problems of this severity cannot be “fixed” by just “firmer rules and boundaries” but it’s what foster carers and adopters are routinely encouraged to do in response to trauma based challenging behaviour.

In my career as a Clinical Psychologist my passion has always been to help looked after and adopted children to develop beyond their early trauma to happier, healthier lives via supportive and therapeutic work with their primary carers. My work is about enabling healing from the effects of traumatic early relationships via new therapeutic parenting relationships.

In the brave new world of independent practice, free from all the constraints and securities of employment, I was faced with the dilemma of how I was going to achieve this. Armed with my grandiose aspirations and my new-found energy I knew I wanted to set up a high quality therapeutic and consultation service. Within six months I was meeting with families, foster carers and Social Workers and getting the therapeutic parenting message out there.

I was also constantly thinking about how I could reach and support more people. The cost of direct work with a private psychologist will be a barrier in some cases, when Local Authorities cannot be persuaded of the importance of targeted, quality and comprehensive therapeutic support and sometimes when families are, broadly speaking, doing ok. So, I got thinking about how I could offer different levels of support and help to foster and adoptive families.

There are some children and families who need the intensity of therapeutic direct work. However some don’t. What everybody who is parenting developmentally traumatised children needs is the encouragement, confidence and know-how to steer away from reward-punishment strategies and towards practical ways of dealing with trauma behaviours therapeutically.

I wrote Why Can’t My Child Behave? Empathic Parenting Strategies that Work for Adoptive and Foster Families for just that reason. I wanted to provide a go-to guide that has the simplicity of the time-out and star-chart manuals but with a sound scientific backbone. I aimed to write a book whose theoretical basis and practical delivery is tailored to work for looked after and adopted children for the short and long-term.

I’m proud to say that Why Can’t My Child Behave? has turned out to be a readable, scientifically sound book that foster carers and adoptive parents are receiving well.

PAFCA_logo hi-resAs well as writing Why Can’t My Child Behave? I also created Parenting Advice for Foster Carers and Adopters. is a web resource that joins together the expertise of foster carers and adopters with that of professionals to improve the emotional well-being, behaviour and mental health of adopted and fostered children. We pride ourselves on having a very practical focus so every single article, profile and feature on PAFCA contains a Top 5 Tips Section. These are practical ways of using the information included on each page.”


Dr Amber Elliott is a Clinical Psychologist and Director of The Child Psychology Service, a clinical service for looked after and adopted children and their carers. 

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