Layla's story, as told by her mother
“ I adopted my daughter nine years ago, aged four.”
The placement was a bit difficult from the beginning really. She settled, but I never felt things were quite right. The real change happened as she moved from junior school to secondary, when her behaviour went from manageable to really ‘out there’ and I was getting regular calls from staff members. She was also threatening to run away. The placement was definitely at the point of breakdown.
“ When adoption goes wrong, you need support.”
You haven’t caused the problems as an adopter and sometimes things are genuinely outside the remit of what you can deal with. I guess one of the biggest problems is that people can see adoption as a magic plaster. The assumption is that love cures everything; that once you’ve lost all the problems you become normal. The pressure points probably sound really petty. She had a voracious appetite, for instance, so she’d eat everything in sight and would leave nothing for my other daughter. There was also her behaviour at school. She’s a smart kid, but she was struggling with the boundaries they were setting.
“ I worried she’d have to go back into care.”
Layla’s school was great. She goes to an academy and although she was at the point of exclusion, they really were doing everything they could. It wasn’t a positive experience with the post-adoptive services in our borough, or with our local CAMHS service. We all felt like there was an attachment disorder, but they couldn’t see beyond that and there was so much red tape. I was pushing for specialist help to get her properly assessed. I wanted to know what we were facing and what choices I could make – but I seemed to be fighting everyone. Then I heard about the specialist Adoption and Fostering Service at the Maudsley Hospital.
“ I phoned the Maudsley in tears.”
The person on the other end of the line was brilliant – a real diamond. She understood why I wanted her to be seen, but their hands were tied at first by our local bureaucracy. The Maudsley were in the loop now, though, and in the end we were able to get the referral. Once there was an agreement in place with our local CAMHS service, things moved quickly. We had an appointment within two weeks.
“ The Maudsley assessment clarified everything.”
The first thing was a questionnaire to fill in – for Layla, for me and the school. We then had a five-hour assessment session, where they observed the interaction between her and me, and ran tests on everything including autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as a psychometric test. Their diagnosis was ADHD. Actually, I never imagined she was hyperactive, but they explained more; the fact that she’d been climbing the walls; she chatted incessantly and that she ran away when things got too much. Her speech was also monotone, which fitted with neglect. They clarified every little thing.
“ It was lovely for someone to understand, too.”
They saw Layla as I saw her, which was a big relief. She was relieved too, because there was a reason for how she was feeling and someone there to help. She began an eight-week social communication course, where she completed more tests. She could speak about her past and had the chance to take charge of her behaviour. It was also really helpful for her to meet other teens with similar problems. I also went on the course and had one-to-one chats with a psychologist, learning tools and techniques, like when to praise or ignore behaviours. That made a big difference – amazingly so. It’s so simple but effective.
“They will do what they can for you to be a happy family. Last year, things looked bleak, but now the future’s bright.”
The Maudsley team understand that and more. They know that people can be damaged in ways you can’t see straight away. As a parent, sometimes you might not see the difference between a normal growing up issue and a mental health problem. They can help you to unpick the muddle and get to the root. The team is extremely professional, friendly and approachable. They do what they can for you to be a happy family, and that was all I wanted. Difficulties understanding Layla’s condition would put a strain on any family. Now we have normal sibling problems. She’s much better in school and making good friends. She’s never been a bad kid. She just didn’t understand the consequences of some of her actions. Honestly, I cannot praise the Adoption and Fostering Service enough. We’ve just been discharged from their care and it’s been brilliant.