Sarah Naish discusses how her training as a social worker and standard parenting strategies did not equip her to deal with parenting her five adopted children who had suffered trauma. She therefore set about implementing a therapeutic parenting approach which she has since taught to other foster carers and adoptive parents around the country to great success. Her article has been adapted from her new book, The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting, which covers 60 common problems parents face, from acting aggressively to difficulties with sleep, with advice on what might trigger these issues, and how to respond.
I am a therapeutic parent and I make no apologies for this. I am doing what my children need me to do to help them become functioning members of society, to be able to show kindness, build relationships and become effective parents themselves one day.
I first started fostering in 1987. Things were a little different then and foster carers were not very well supported. Moving three children from fostering to adoption inspired me to begin a career in social work. In 1992 I qualified as a social worker and began working with children and families, as well as fostering and adoption.
After adopting my five children, who are all siblings, in 1998 and 1999, I became aware that my social work training had not equipped me to deal with the issues presented to me on a daily basis by my traumatised children. I had all my old ‘nursery nursing’ skills, such as established boundaries and routines, but my children quickly taught me that my standard parenting strategies were now redundant!
I also realised that I had, inadvertently, often given inaccurate advice to parents caring for traumatised children, and that there appeared to be a gap between what social workers are trained to do and the expectation of adopters and foster carers about their knowledge.
In 2007, I took on the management (and later ownership) of a fostering agency that was struggling to obtain good outcomes. I implemented a whole therapeutic parenting approach using the TRUE model which I devised in 2010. This model is explained fully in my first book on therapeutic parenting, Therapeutic Parenting in a nutshell (Naish 2016). Staff were fully trained in therapeutic parenting strategies, and understood the correct way to support foster carers, and the children in their care using the TRUE model and associated techniques. The agency obtained an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ grading in 2014 in recognition of our excellent outcomes, and family stability.
In 2015 I left the agency to move full time into training and established Inspire Training Group, part of Fostering Attachments Ltd. I had become more concerned about the distance between supporting professionals and parents. I went all over the country delivering training and was often told by carers and parents that they felt disillusioned, isolated and blamed. I frequently heard that the system we were all working in was much harder to deal with than the children’s behaviours. Although this was a sentiment I shared, I had not realised the problem was so widespread.
As I was not able to find any research that was relevant to what I was seeing, I commissioned, and supported, the first comprehensive research into compassion fatigue in foster care in the UK, with the University of Bristol’s Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies. This resulted in the final report ‘No One Told Us It Would Be like This: Compassion Fatigue and Foster Care’ (Ottoway and Selwyn 2016). The findings are referred to throughout this book.
My eldest daughter, Rosie who was now an adult, began delivering training and working alongside me. Parents frequently expressed the view that they found it invaluable to have Rosie’s viewpoint to help them adapt their parenting style. We were often asked if we could write a children’s book from the perspective of a child who had experienced trauma. We decided to write a series of true stories based on our own family experiences, which would also help parents and children to understand where the behaviours were coming from and the best way to respond to these behaviours. My five children are represented in the books as Rosie Rudey, Katie Careful, William Wobbly, Sophie Spikey and Charley Chatty. Throughout this book I have referred to strategies with these stories, which parents and carers may well find a useful complement. I also refer to my children by their ‘book name’, which helps to identify different characteristics more easily.
Following the success of Therapeutic Parenting in a Nutshell, many therapeutic parents and supporting professionals told me how much they also needed a quick, practical reference guide covering all the day-to-day issues and challenges we face. I thought I would write a concise, jargon-free, behaviour-based A-Z, which was easy to navigate and solution focused. I anticipated having about 25 topics but after looking closely at all the subjects I am asked about, and asking other therapeutic parents what they needed, this quickly increased to over 60!
I need to just get one thing clear though. I am not a perfect therapeutic parent! I spent several years making lots of mistakes, and even on good days I would slip up more times than I care to mention. My children taught me everything I know about therapeutic parenting, as I had to constantly adapt my strategies to find a way to re-parent them effectively.
Although this book encapsulates all the strategies and solutions I have used personally and professionally, I have been given lots of ideas and input from all the thousand of adopters, foster carers and other therapeutic parents in our Therapeutic Parents’ Facebook group. In this group, we noticed that we had the same issues and challenges coming up time and time again. Over the last three years, the site has accumulated a wealth of knowledge and strategies which parents have found hugely beneficial. All of that experience has now been funnelled, sieved and discussed to provide you with the concise and relevant information you need… often in a hurry!
Some of the strategies and advice in this book do not fit in at all with standard parenting and might be new concepts for some supporting professionals in the field, but I felt it was essential to share strategies that other parents have found to make a fundamental positive difference to the child. After all, at the end of the day, we are all working towards the same outcome.
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