Family's struggle to
adopt their ninth troubled child
Seven of Jim and Sue's children, including Maisie, still live with
them at home
BBC News 10th April
Over the past two
decades Sue and her husband Jim have successfully adopted eight of the
most troubled children in the care system, but when they took on
seven-year-old Maisie they feared even they did not have the skills to
cope with her. Was she too damaged to adopt?
"I'm going to kill
you, I hate you," Maisie screamed at Sue. She was having a violent
tantrum, which she called a "boom".
Maisie had been taken
in by Jim and Sue with the hope that their home would become her
permanent home, but they were struggling.
"There are often
moments we doubt our abilities to survive with the latest little darling
we've taken on," admitted Jim.
of Maisie's violence was aimed at Sue. She bit and kicked her, and in
extreme moments she had to be restrained her for her own safety.
Sue said the tantrums
could last for six hours: "There are times when I just say 'please
stop the world, I want to get off,' it becomes overwhelming."
Maisie was four when
she was taken away from her birth parents because it was too dangerous
for her to carry on living there.
She witnessed extreme
violence as her mother and brothers were beaten, and her mother also had
would have helped her survive threatening situations in her past.
"I know it's not
intentional," said Sue, "I know she didn't mean to hurt me but
in the moment she's absolutely terrified and fighting for her life.
"I understand it
and I need to help her to understand it."
Since she had been
taken into care Maisie had lived with 10 different mothers in four
Two attempts at
adoption fell through as other potential adoptive parents could not cope
with her behaviour.
Jim and Sue are very
experienced at successfully adopting damaged children.
the years they have taken on eight others who had all experienced
danger, violence and neglect in their early years, but who had managed
to turn their lives around.
But Maisie's extreme
behaviour was their biggest challenge yet.
If they could not help
her, Maisie would end up in care for the rest of her childhood, which
would most likely mean a secure therapy unit because of her violent
parenting at home had helped her so far but for the first time with
their children they needed specialist help.
As we had with our other
children, we recognised that Maisie lacked many of the developmental
experiences that help children to grow and develop.
In a safe, nurturing
family environment with consistent adult care they move through the
baby, toddler, pre-school, and other stages, gathering skills,
experience, and the tools they need for growing up.
Maisie had the body
and intelligence of an eight-year-old, but the emotional development
and behaviour of a six-month-old at best.
In addition she was
on constant alert, having learnt to expect danger at every turn.
Using the techniques
we had learnt, and practiced with the other children, we took Maisie
back through those missed years.
We gave her back the
warmth, nurture, love, and parental involvement she had so tragically
We held and cuddled
her, played finger games like a baby, spoon-fed her, and played
toddler games, bouncing her on our knees (or on a trampette when our
knees became tired).
We also started to
help her with her violent, terrified outbursts, sharing her hurt, and
helping her to understand her fears.
This was working, but
still we needed more. Maisie was still so violent, and was getting
bigger and harder to handle all the time.
For the first time
with our children we needed specialist help.
help though was not easy. They battled with the local authority for a
year before they got short-term funding to take Maisie to therapy
sessions at Family Futures.
"It costs £50,000
for a year's programme (at Family Futures). Compare that to the cost of
keeping her in care for another year which is £100,000 and rising -
it's a no-brainer, surely," Jim said.
It is a unique therapy
centre with an exceptional record in helping some of the country's most
troubled children, and has a 95% success rate at keeping families
Maisie also hoped it
would help her. "I have pulled Mum's [Sue's] head, slapped her
round the face, punched her and kicked her and then I felt bad after, so
it [therapy] will help my life out," she said.
Jay Vaughan, who was in
charge of Maisie's treatment, said it was extremely important that she
got help as soon as possible: "She's strong and Jim can restrain
her physically now, but this has to be contained in the next year
because otherwise it will be dangerous."
The therapy entailed
taking Maisie back step-by-step to revisit her past and confront her
most painful memories. The therapists used a number of different
techniques including drawing and role playing with toys.
lashed out physically as they tried to get her to talk about her past
and they often had to restrain her for her own safety.
In some sessions it
took an hour of screaming and crying before she was calm enough to be
able to talk about her past.
slow-going, and at times Jim and Sue felt they were making no progress
at all. But over six months, still supported by all the work they were
doing with her at home, they experienced real breakthroughs.
They had to build
Maisie up over months to get her to talk about her very early years and
the violence she witnessed.
Jay Vaughan said:
"It's terrifying for her to think about it, but once she does she
has tonnes of questions. She wants to understand and make sense of why
she is as she is."
sense of her past did make Maisie less angry. There was a noticeable
change in her behaviour at home.
"It's changed the
way she's perceived us," said Sue.
"It's just so
lovely and I'm not naive enough to think that that's it, that
everything's all mended now, I'm sure we're going to get a lot of
challenging behaviours in the future."
With the advances in
Maisie's behaviour Jim and Sue made the decision that they would adopt
"We've made a good
start," said Jim. "We've engaged with her and she knows this
is her family so she can start to learn about herself and deal with her
past from a safe position."
They still face a
battle for longer term funding and believe she may need three years of
therapy at Family Futures.
Jim acknowledged there
would be a long journey ahead: "It's a long, long way to go. I
reckon we've reached the third or fourth rung of a 25 foot ladder."
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