Thursday, 27 June 2013

Chapter 11 – The Second Preparation Day Pt 2 - The Curious Incident of the Playfully Accepting Empath In The Afternoon.

I know my P(L)ACE!

We returned from our lunch break ready and raring for more. The afternoon session started by introducing a concept which will become familiar to all preparing for adoption... PACE.

Playful – Accepting – Curious – Empathic

Now some people prefer to refer to this as PLACE rather than PACE – the L standing for Loving. Our trainer, Maureen pointed out that since “Loving” ought to be a given in any case and in any circumstance then it didn’t count... so PACE it was.

There’s no way in which I can do justice to the elegance of the PACE concept (and the whole of Dyadic Development Psychotherapy, of which it’s a guiding principle) in the space available here. Safe to say, though, there’s plenty of literature out there to draw on and both Caroline Archer and Dan Hughes are not a bad place to start. All the books mentioned in the previous blog use this as a foundation to their approach.

One has to admire the elegance of the technique in teasing out vital information from a confused child unwilling or incapable of expressing how they feel or grappling with the reasons for those confused and fractured feelings.

  • The Playful approach of holding circumstances lightly and even subverting them (in a sometimes quite surreal manner) not so much to break down the shields and barriers put up by the children as to dodge right around them – brilliant!
  • Accepting things as they are without apportioning blame and certainly without compounding the complex guilt emotions already likely to be present – fantastic!
  • Using cleverly formulated questions and a Curious approach to raise thoughts the child may be unwilling or unable to express. Putting wise words in their mouths by pondering what they must (in reality should or could) be thinking or feeling – superb!
  • Being Empathic to the child’s feelings and situation to guide how the discussions developed and to find priority areas on which to work first – amazing!

It’s a powerful technique and we all finished the session quietly vowing to start trying it out on our family, friends and work colleagues.

The ties that bind
Anyway, the afternoon session closed with a particularly powerful group exercise based on one of our case studies. Designed to illustrate just how much of an upheaval adoption could be for a child, even in the most benign of circumstances, it left all of us in the group profoundly moved and with some deeper insight into what we were embarking on.

We stood in a loose circle, each of us clutching an envelope while Maureen sat crouched in the centre. We opened our envelopes and, one by one, read out the character we would play in the role play. Birth mother, foster carer, front-line child services social worker, adoptive father... and so on. Doreen, walking around the perimeter of the circle introduced the scenario. Freddie had been born to parents both of whom struggled with dependency on drugs and alcohol. Added to that his mother suffered from some learning difficulties. The was a constant atmosphere in the house, with an ever-present threat of domestic violence lurking in the wings. A red woollen thread was passed between Freddie and each of his birth parents, each of whom was asked to outline how they felt about being lumbered with a constantly crying child they’d never planned in the first place. These were the first of the ties by which Freddie was bound to those around him. Freddie filled us in on how he was feeling, describing his feelings, and his fears. Some neighbours had raised concerns that Freddie wasn’t being properly looked after. Another red thread was handed to Freddie’s front-line social worker. Other people appeared on the scene, each adding their thoughts on their role in the unfolding scenario while Freddie responded.

Freddie was removed from his parents and placed in a foster care placement – two more threads – and another social worker was assigned to assess the way forward for Freddie. Another thread. Others entered the picture, doctors, police and on and on... the network of threads grew thicker and thicker. The odd thread was broken – the birth father – who drifted off after several months of irregular contact. We were informed that he had dropped off the social services radar and could not be traced. Freddie moved to another foster placement and new links were made and broken.

Finally the decision was made to place Freddie for adoption. One by one the threads which had bound him to his past (and to his origins) dropped away, littering the floor until all that remained were four threads between Freddie, his adoptive parents and the two social workers dealing with his case. Finally those two threads were dropped to the floor, leaving Freddie sitting nervously on the floor holding onto the newly formed threads which linked him to his adoptive parents. All other direct links with his past were gone but they still lay there reminding everyone what he had gone through. Freddie remained in the centre of the circle looking along the two remaining threads into the eyes of his new adoptive parents with a mixed look of hope, worry, regret and fear.

We stood in silence for what seemed like an age but which was probably merely a minute. All that remained was for the trainers to sum up briefly what had been covered that day. And, frankly, that was about all we could take. Questions for homework and our reflective diaries were circulated and we all shuffled quietly out of the room and back to our cars.

Half way through the first stage of the process proper but with so far still to go.


Sarah Hill said...

Another very informative and helpful post. Thank you for linking it with the Weekly Adoption Shout out.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for blogging, this is fantastic! and every blessing in your (gruelling) journey through this