Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Spare a thought for Abuse Victims at Christmas

Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat…so please spare a thought…

There will be many families out there throughout this festive season who are suffering all forms of domestic abuse; not just physical but verbal, mental, emotional and sexual. Spare a thought for them and their children while eating your turkey and drinking your sherry.
Fourteen years ago I fled my marital and beautiful family home with my daughter in November 2000. I had been abused on all levels for over twenty years and in a flash of a light bulb I had to get out. And one major reason was I couldn’t play “happy families” around the Christmas table with family for another year. I knew I couldn’t keep my mouth shut anymore; I knew I couldn’t be the model wife and mother; daughter, sister and daughter in law for another painful traumatic Christmas day.

For over twenty years I had been the best host and family member possible. Through all of my pain, hurt, trauma and broken heart I had kept up appearances and been the model wife. That’s what you do, don’t you? I thought you “just got on with it”. I had heard that so often that that is just what I did. I thought everyone’s marriage turned into what mine had turned into. My mother had been married to my dad for over twenty five years and I was brought up to believe that you worked at your marriage; you didn’t just walk away you worked through the difficult and challenging times. My mother’s marriage wasn’t a bed of roses so I thought what I was ensuring was normal.
I had put off leaving my beautiful marital home for years because I didn’t want to be the one to break up my family. I didn’t want to be the one who took my daughter away from her father. I didn’t want to be the one who lost her dream future of “for better or worse, till death us do part”. Marriage for me and my family was, and is, for life and on top of all this I would be the only one in the family to fail and let the family down and be known as a divorcee.

Add to this, when, and if, I left or fled I would have nowhere to go, no money and no job. I was a stay at home mum, no money of my own and didn’t want to involve friends and family. And then add another layer of trauma on top of all this. My confidence and self-esteem were nil, I was depressed and close to a breakdown and a symptomatic alcoholic. For twenty years I had been brainwashed into believing I was worthless, a bad person, no one would want me and I had been systematically isolated from friends and family by my abuser. Where was I to go and what was I to do to ensure my gorgeous daughter was safe, could continue to attend her school and, where possible, suffered as little as possible.

Layer upon layer of abuse had been loaded onto my shoulders and into my heart and psychologically, emotionally and mentally I was at my lowest point. With nothing of my own, not even a car in my own name leaving was, for me like trying, all alone, to move a mountain. And I had no confidence that I was capable of managing alone. So as I said spare a thought for those families struggling to perform and act out Christmas festivities and please stop asking why we don’t leave. It’s not an easy decision or easy to do, no matter what the situation. And no one can make that difficult decision for you. My moment came one Monday morning in a flash and I knew I had to get out but until that moment comes and you are filled with strength please understand the control, coercion, isolation and brainwashing that is systematically used over time to ensure one cannot leave. On top of this add another layer of threats to kill you, your child or one of your family. And once you leave the abuse escalates in a very different form with threats of stalking, finding you and harming or killing you, as well as threats to abduct your child or children. For three years after I fled my abuser harassed, stalked and threatened me. He even attempted to kidnap my daughter from school.
So don’t ask me ever why I didn’t leave earlier, it’s just not that easy or simple for a whole multitude of reasons. And Christmas and festive seasons are one of the most difficult to survive and stomach.

For every last bruise you gave me
For every time I sat in tears
For the million ways you hurt me
I just wanna tell you this
You broke my world, made me strong
Thank you
Messed up my dreams, made me strong
Thank you


Thursday, 4 December 2014

A Teachers Induction at an International School in the Middle East

I awoke last night in the middle of the night after a nightmare that took me back to my time as a British teacher in the Middle East five years ago. I thought I would share with you some of the challenges I faced while working there that still haunt me. Within a month of applying for a teaching position online and a two hour telephone interview (while I was shopping in the supermarket) I was on a plane flying to Dubai to work as a kindergarten teacher in an International British Curriculum school as well as the gifted and talented and special educational needs advisor.

In forty degree heat on a rickety old school bus and after a two hour drive I arrived at my hot and dusty desert destination and was informed I would be collected at seven in the morning by the same rickety old bus and taken to the school for induction procedures to commence. Forty three international teachers had been recruited that year and all were to stay in a hotel until our apartment building was completed.
Now this is where it gets difficult and hard to believe but I want you to listen, believe and realise how challenging the life I was about to embark on was for a white western middle class teacher to comprehend the absolutely extraordinary policies and procedures we had to take on board and adhere to.

After the bone shaking bus ride to the school we arrived in the school parking lot and were ushered into the school auditorium where we were addressed by the senior management board (all of whom were westerners) and our Middle Eastern induction commenced.
As we all sat stunned ,we listened to our bosses in all seriousness inform us, that due to the fact that most women would wear the burka or niqab often accompanied by an eye veil when visiting the school, we would need to work out a comprehensive strategy of recognising the mothers and all female siblings, maids and drivers. They went on to advise that they had some strategies to suggest to us as follows:

Recognising female authorised persons to collect children from our classrooms by:
·         The sound of their voice
·         Their eyes (if you can see them)
·         Their jewellery
·         Their shoes
·         Their handbags
·         Their gait and walk
·         The decorations on their abaya, burka or niqab

As teachers that are trained in safeguarding and child protection, risk assessments and health and safety, we were completely speechless and dumbfounded. The end of the day at our classroom doors became the scariest and most stressful time of day. Each and every one of us was terrified we would let a child go with the wrong parent or someone who was trying to carry out abduction.

While working in the Middle East there were several attempted abductions in schools in the area by men fully covered in the burka or niqab. Thankfully the children in our classrooms went home with the correct family members or authorised collectors but I can honestly say I am glad I do not have to deal with the stress of that experience today.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

All we have is Hope

Hope is an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.
 As a friend and colleague on Tuesday I awoke with hope; hope that our 100 mile journey would be safe and our arrival on time. Hope that traffic would be kind to us and we would have time to find some breakfast. Hope that the day would be productive and all that I had envisaged it to be. Hope that my excitement over the past few weeks had not been in vain. Hope that all the contacts I was hoping to connect with would be all I dreamed of. Hope that my voice and others voices would be listened to and heard. All I had was hope that day.

You see that subconsciously all of us, every day, live in hope. Hope for something or another. It may be fine weather; that the car will start, that we can pay the bills or our babies will be born healthy. Whatever it is any of us hope for, it is relevant and personal to us, in our lives at that moment and calls for respect.

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse or any form of abuse often rely on hope. Hope that tomorrow will be a better day. Tomorrow will be lighter. Tomorrow the sun will shine and the fog will lift. Tomorrow I will not need the substances. Tomorrow I will not self-harm. Tomorrow the abuse will stop. Tomorrow someone will listen, someone will hear, someone will protect me. Hope that the perpetrator will be stopped, someone will notice, someone will have courage to intervene. Hope that the justice system will act with integrity and upon the law. Hope that they have a future.

Survivors have to rely on the hope that one day we will break the silence and talk. They rely on the hope that very soon we will talk candidly, openly and honestly about childhood sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation. Hope that there will be no more judging and you will see and validate the person as a whole. Hope that you will believe and take time to help them unravel the trauma. Hope that the memories will fade and disappear; hope that the smell of their perpetrator will be no more and hope that they will one day not taste, feel or hear their perpetrator just for a day. Hope that the triggers and paranoia will stop. Hope for a safe and secure space to exist and rebuild. Hope to sleep all night with the windows open. You see the only way forward for a survivor is to hope.

We have to hope with confidence and strength. Hope with desire and anticipation. We have to hope with courage and rise up and beyond our fear. We have to use our voices to raise hope and when appropriate roar like a lion or whisper “we will try again tomorrow”. Let your faith and hope be bigger than your fear; take the first step even when you can’t see where the staircase leads. There has to be hope at the top of the staircase or there would be no point. We will take each step together with courage.

So Tuesday when I left the Southmead Project Conference in Bristol discussing The Cycle of Harm, I had hope, infinite hope. Hope that together, as survivors, we are stronger; stronger as an amazing group of people. Together our voices will be heard and we will continue to roar in high places. Hope that survivors are fighting back and the roar is beginning to be loud in the right dens. Hope that we have started down a road with no U-turn. Hope that people are now listening and we are being heard. Hope that we can’t and won’t be silenced. Hope for change for children. Hope that the silence has been broken and an inquiry will be heard with expert survivors advising.

You see, if as survivors we don’t have hope, we will continue to live with dejection, hopelessness and despair and that it not an option. Our only option is hope, our roar and strength together. Our voices will be heard and survivors will get justice; we have hope. So my dear friends and colleagues keeping shouting together with hope.

"Never loose infinite hope"

Martin Luther King Jr

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Guest Post: He Forced Himself on Me

I was in the room
Lads queuing up
Daughter asleep
The camera rolling
Me feeling insecure
He forced himself on me
He takes my clothes off
Strips me
And that's it
I was in a different world

Written by a 14 year old at one of my Child Sexual Exploitation Workshops and published anonymously with permission.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

No, I didnt Want Attention ~ Domestic Violence & Abuse

This is my latest article written for and published by Domestic Violence UK to help raise awareness of Domestic violence and abuse.

I tell My Story of how it feels to suffer 20 years of abuse and then to not be believed by so called friends and to be told by one friend that "I just wanted attention".

This caused trauma on top of trauma and I suffered acute and complex PTSD for many years.

Please read an share around the world, to help stop violence against women and children and also to raise awareness of trauma caused by domestic violence and abuse.

Click on the link below to go to the magazine:


Monday, 1 September 2014

Travelling to Vancouver aka New Westminster, British Columbia


Well, travelling home to the UK I met two lovely chatty Canadian women who enlightened me that I had not seen Vancouver at all. I had spent two weeks in New Westminster, a different city to Vancouver. They enlightened me that I had not seen beautiful Vancouver and that is why I had been so confused and not enamored with the locality at all. They showed me pictures of beaches and mountainous terrain that was stunning. Now it all began to make better sense and I felt I was not going mad. It was further highlighted by my Virgin flight companion, Tanya, who again reiterated what I had missed out on and showed me beautiful pictures of her own stay in the real Vancouver. It was a long way to travel and not be immersed in the real beauty of Vancouver.

Sorry to anyone I may have offended or insulted with this particular blog...but sadly this was my experience of the Vancouver I ended up in!


Nestled on the west coast just above the US border between pine forests, working rivers, industry and bridges for as far as the eye can see is Vancouver. There must be over eight different design bridges I can view from the penthouse apartment I am staying in. The locals try to tell this true Brit that Vancouver, British Columbia is just like England but am sorry to enlighten those of you living with this illusion that is it nothing like my England or the my UK.

Surrounded by wide roads, freeways, American style road signs, scarlet fire hydrants on every street corner, houses that resemble the east coast of the US and primarily Virginia and row after row of high-rise apartment buildings and neon this is Vancouver. Out walking I come face to face, on every cross street, with the classic American “don’t walk tangerine hand sign” resembling the Arabic Hamsa which symbolises protection. Then when I am given permission to walk I see the USA white walking man; nothing close to my UK. Oh and I almost forgot, no roundabouts, but the other classic American four way stop. Not to mention the yankee range of stores.
Us Brits do not have anywhere close to the range of stores or the size. The breath taking variety and range of produce in each supermarket here is Vancouver can only be compared to the US, not my England. The weather is about the closest comparable to England. Seasons appear same time of year although Vancouver winters can be much harder and colder than the UK. Summers tend to be warmer.

Areas of Vancouver are very pretty and obviously wealthy but many areas are extremely industrial and grey. The river is a working river with tug boats pulling and pushing containers in and out all day. The freight train runs day and night with a slow low long horn blasting out across the city every few minutes and runs all over town. It’s good to see a hard working river but it does not paint a pretty watercolour. Someone commented to me that Vancouver is ugly and grey in the rain and I have to say I agree.
An attempt has been made at the waterside areas to make attractive eating spots and interesting walkways, but sadly not my cuppa tea, although I have drunk an awful lot of tea since arriving in a variety of vessels and situations but none of them served in a bone china English tea cup. And just like the USA tea is poor and weak and not English at all. I have bee lucky enough to drink good ole English Typhoo but still not as good as my home brewed PG Tips. Cheers.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Guest Post: An Unwanted Experience

Feeling worthless
How could this happen
I thought he loved me
Respected me
Wanted me
Left in a room
With a man I hardly knew
A camera
In the centre
Filming this unwanted experience
And fed up
It’s my sanity that he took
Need to escape
But where to
He controls every move I make

Guest post
A deeply heartfelt piece of poetry written, & published anonymously with permission, by a young sexually exploited teenager during one of my workshops  x

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Child Sexual Exploitation work in the North of the UK by the Seaside

Emerging from the Victorian town amongst a light breeze, sunshine and clear blue sky, we suddenly dropped sharply down, carefully excavating hair pin bends until we reached the once pirate infested fishing village. The sapphire ocean ebbed and waned quietly and serenely across the perfect golden sands, around the awesome and dramatic bay swung way out to a rugged breath taking peninsular. I gasped with delight. Seagulls squawked as they circled above gaudy striped wind breakers and deck chairs laden with sun soakers while children with brightly coloured buckets and spades were emphatically digging moats and building sand castles. It was a scene of sheer beauty and personified the stereotypical English seaside postcard. My tummy fluttered with childhood memories.

The promenade and pier were alive with locals and visitors enjoying the rays and wares of this beautiful coastline. Jolly round rotund shirtless men and boys chattered and debated fishing equipment and surf wear. Strappy topped mothers and children perused flip flops, sunhats and beach balls. Some ate cones with flakes, others fish and chips. Some enjoyed a beer in the pub garden, others a cola at the Surfs Up Café.
As I devoured my toastie perched on the promenade I watched this English street parade with glee. Dogs on and off leads scurried in and out of legs with as much excitement as the little children; they were all glad to be at the beach on this beautiful English summers day. There was a hubbub of chatter and laughter. Traditional old English carousel music gave a back drop to the scene while the continuous squeak of the quaint Victorian cable car transported families twenty yards up the sheer cliff face to the town centre. Ye Olde Sweet Shop was abuzz with children deciding whether they wanted to savor lemon bonbons, cola drops or fluorescent sticks of rock from large glass jars, lined up like soldiers on parade on all four walls of this little brightly painted beach hut.

The promenade was alive with the smell of vinegar, strawberry sauce, the ocean and sweat. I loved every single minute of this wonderful sensory experience. My brain was alert with childhood memories and cravings. My camera was on overload as I ventured out onto the pier and felt the sea breeze brush my face and whizz through my hair. What a good feeling that was. The simple wrought iron girders were decorated with funky and topical knitted samplers made by anonymous crafters who attached them to the girders in the depth of the night. Everyone was in awe and no one knew how they got there which made them all the more wonderful. Cameras flashed, visitors giggled at the quirky array and their was much chatter about this secret sect that only came out at night.
The horizon was crystal clear and crammed with tankers and ships delivering goods in and out of the port just along the coastline. It was a breath taking sight below a clear cobalt sky. Not a cloud was in sight. I turned and looked back at the promenade and it was like viewing a water colour painting in a gallery by a celebrated artist. I stood still for many minutes just taking in this unexpected landscape, breathing the sea air and watching the sheer simple enjoyment of being at the beach.

You see I had come to this haven for three days (after a long five hour drive) to facilitate workshops with young adult victims and survivors of child abuse and exploitation. I had no idea I would be faced with such a beautiful canvas amongst my important work. What an amazing juxtaposition I was in the middle of. The workshops were powerful and a great success; the young people were phenomenal and my hosts were amazing. What a privilege on all accounts and levels to deliver this important work just outside this beautiful picture postcard harbour and coastline with my fabulous partner in crime. We had no idea we would be able to relax in such a beautiful haven.

I know we made a fantastic duo, we definitely made a difference and left behind tips, knowledge and a way forward for the fab young people we worked with. We will definitely be back to continue our good work very soon.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Child lapping like a dog in my Classroom

This little three-year-old boy attended the nursery I was managing and was seen by a nursery nurse to be kneeling on the floor and “lapping” like a dog from one of the children's toilets. In order to be able to witness, record and report this incident I needed to witness this for myself. I asked the staff to let me know when they saw this happening again and to come and get me straight away. A little later on the little boy was seen to be "lapping" from the toilet again. I hurried to the children's bathrooms and to my horror saw with my very eyes this dear little boy with his head down the toilet drinking the water.

I stooped beside him and asked "what are you doing" he replied “having a drink”. When I asked him why he was drinking from the toilet he replied: “this is what we do at home”. I was actually dumbstruck, sad and speechless. I told him he could always ask for a drink from a member of staff in the nursery and that at nursery he didn't need to drink from the toilet ever again. From now on this little mite was reassured that it was safe to ask for a drink when at the nursery. 

After much discussion and meetings with mum and a variety of agencies, it materialised that this little boy's mother was a single parent, cocaine user and alcoholic and at home she strapped this little boy and his brother into high chairs in a spare room during the into day in order that she could sleep off her substance abuse habit. At night she tied both boys down in their cots so they did not disturb her social life and she could happily partake in her cocaine and alcohol habits.

we learnt she refused them drinks so that she did not have to change their nappies. The eldest boy who attended my nursery was so thirsty each day but was terrified to ask for a drink for fear of being reprimanded and that is why he drank from the toilet secretly in order to quench his thirst. At home, they had to sneak drinks and could often only get water by drinking from the toilet.

A written referral was made to social care and the assessment and intervention team was informed and a child protection procedure began. with a Team Around the Child meeting (TAC) called as a matter of urgency. The children were put on a multiagency Child Protection Plan which involved the nursery manager, health visitor, children's centre manager, general practitioner, police and social worker. Regular Child in Need (CIN) meetings was called and sadly for their health, wellbeing and safety, these two little boys were taken into long-term foster care and eventually adopted away from the area. 

Their mother was offered long-term mental health, substance abuse and parenting support.

Coercive Control - "Letter of Apology" from an Abuser & Psychopath - Domestic Abuse


Hello Angel

I cant even begin to imagine how disappointed you must be with my selfish behaviour and unreasonable acts. I am dead ashamed of myself. I couldn't believe my selfish and unreasonable acts and all I said last night. I lay in bed and asked myself "what was that I just did". There was no answer other than me being a selfish fool and a greedy idiot.

I am deeply sorry about my behaviour, my everything last night. I wasn't thinking straight. I realize I was being unkind and unreasonable to the one person who has done so much for me and my life, not just financially, but who has also turned my life around to be a better man. Am so disheartened about my acts and I just want you to find a place in your heart to forgive me.

I have transferred an extra £50.00 into your account and kindly, please, do not transfer it back to me. You deserve every penny of mine. Please, I am so so sorry.

Its a bad bit of me that behaves so unreasonably when it comes to money matters; I know I need help with that and mostly with my anger management. Kindly forgive me and help me to manage my anger and seek help for this dirty behaviour. Am so ashamed of myself.

Angel please forgive me.

I love you and am sorry for not treating you as the Angel you are.


Because I wanted the house to be at peace, I forgave him once again!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Safeguarding & Protecting Children in Regulated Activities

As an education consultant, qualified teacher, child protection and safeguarding officer, safeguarding children in my care over the years has been one of the hardest jobs I have ever had to do. Over my 30 years in education I have worked on some extremely challenging child protection and safeguarding cases covering serious neglect, paedophilia, grooming, substance abuse and serious domestic violence . Even as an experienced practitioner managing large day nurseries and working in schools all over the world, making a child protection referral is not only hard to do, but also unpleasant and scary.

Within my many years of training, it is stressed, I have a duty of care to the children I work with and should comply with the early years foundation stage statutory framework. As a professional I work by these policies at all times and would never practice any other way. The welfare of every child is always my main, immediate and first concern. I am an experienced, confident practitioner who doesn't have issue with standing out, coming forward and speaking up; many less experienced may not be so bold.

Some signs of child abuse are difficult to spot and assess. Some signs can resemble other issues. Covert child abuse is not simple. Young children cannot and sometimes will not disclose. It's impossible for very young children to verbalize. Some are groomed to keep it secret. Less experienced practitioners may find it hard to assess and also be scared to report in case they get it wrong. There is still a taboo and silence around child sex abuse; it's hard to believe it's happening right under your nose. It's hard to discuss it and hard to discuss with parents and carers. Paedophilia is a very uncomfortable subject and for less experienced practitioners, hard to assess, recognise and report.

Safeguarding Children does not just cover child abuse any more, it encompasses every aspect of keeping children and young people safe. Safeguarding covers every aspect of a practitioners day from door safety, stranger danger and managed risk to sun safety, safe equipment and health, and this just outlines a very small proportion of the role of leadership and management in early years settings and schools. Safeguarding today is an onerous and complex issue and one is required to be vigilant, aware, confident and buckets full of common sense.

Whistleblowing is another difficult and unsafe area within safeguarding and child protection. The whistleblower has no safe place and is not protected in law and cannot currently remain anonymous. As an experienced leader I have blown the whistle when practice has not been safe for children but soon after I have been thrown to the wolves with no protection from anyone and had to resign from my employment. Lesser experienced bold ethical leaders would chose not to come forward and whistleblow. Many could not afford to lose the job or stand the stress. I was extremely ill after whistleblowing an extremely unsafe environment for children in my care.

Referring is a complex process also. It requires keeping your wits about you, remaining calm and level headed and being confident in your practice. Telephoning First Response and reporting to the Local Area Designated Officer (LADO) the concerns you have is daunting and the process that follows is daunting and scary. The note taking and accurate confidential recording of conversations with all parties concerned in draining and exhausting in itself. Advising the parents, attending Team around the Child Meetings with all the professionals working with the child and completing referral forms and issuing comprehensive reports is hugely challenging for an experienced practitioner let alone an inexperienced one.

There is a major argument and requirement for mandatory reporting of known abuse in all regulated activities. This would require all practitioners in regulated activities to report abuse by law; currently it is discretionary. Yes, unbelievably, it is discretionary, so why would anyone report when they are scared in the first place, have no idea of the process once they have reported and if they are wrong could lose their job, business, reputation or all three.

All establishments working with vulnerable children and adults must have safeguarding policies and procedures in place but these are only as good as the individuals implementing them. A piece of paper in a file in an office that is not adhered to does not, and will never, safeguard children. Staff training is another big issue as the current training is very limited and does not cover the processes and procedures once a referral has been implemented.

Children and adults involved in the historic cases in the press currently would not have had to wait 30 or 40 years before someone listened and believed their pleas for help. Someone must have had suspicions; that someone would have been obliged by law and legislation, and with protection and support, to report their suspicion of abuse if it had been mandatory to report. Mandatory reporting of known child abuse would safeguard everyone involved once drawn up in legislation and I would have been protected as a whistleblower and possibly kept my job.

Follow: @mandatenow @jonathanwest _ @ed2inspire @paulabarrow

Thursday, 12 June 2014

No, I didn’t want attention - Domestic Abuse

Why don’t you just leave?
Why did you put up with him?
You must be stupid
You wanted attention
Why did you stay?

Just some of the comments laid bare at my door by so called friends when I finally plucked up the courage to break my silence, share my utter despair and flee my beautiful family home because I was being abused in every sick and sordid way possible.

Do you find them abhorrent?
I hope you now do? So, don’t judge me till you have walked my journey. Don’t judge me till you suffered at least as much as I did. Don’t make assumptions, stereotype or think for one minute you know the trauma I suffered or what I went through. Don’t ever tell me you understand or know how I must have felt because I can tell you, you don’t. You can attempt to show me compassion and empathy for the death of my spirit and soul. And I am sure it will come as a shock for you to be told that that’s all very nice. But, "so called" friends, during my darkest hours no amount of compassion or empathy helped me and you were not there anyway. You are no friend, cause you walked away. You deserted me in my darkest days. And friends shouldn’t walk away. Real friends stand by you. But can you believe, some of you "so called" friends even believed my abusers propaganda.

Don’t tell me I am paranoid; that I imagined it all.
I was not paranoid, neither did I imagine any of it. I felt every blow, every vile word, every silence treatment, every rape, every tear. So, let me enlighten you as to why I stayed. I am old fashioned and strangely I married for life. I did not sign up to be homeless, have no money and bring a child up alone. None of that was in my life plan or part of my dreams. Call me naïve, stupid or a dreamer but I always envisaged “for better for worse, till death us do part.” That's what I had been brought up to believe. You worked at a marriage and I had worked hard at being a good wife and mother, friend and lover, soul mate and confidante, why would I walk away from that and put my daughter through hell. So I tried to stay and to keep trying. Trying to make a home; trying to keep us all together; trying to make it work. Trying to keep a roof over my daughters head and keep food on the table.

So don’t ever judge me or my decisions.
Because you see, leaving everything you know and own is scary, no, no, it’s more than scary, it’s off the planet and there are no words to express the feeling. To have no job, money or a home is beyond what the brain can regulate. I fled, ran away, left everything. I forfeited my hopes and dreams to make a safe place for my daughter. When you have been made to feel useless, worthless and just generally non-existent for many years; you have no money and have no idea where you will go or end up with a small child, I have to tell you it is the scariest feeling on earth. I had been told for over 20 years that I was ugly, fat and no one would ever want me, so where on earth was I going to find help and hope. Who on earth was going to want me.

So don’t pretend to understand.
Because you see being subjected to mental, verbal, emotional, sexual and finally physical abuse, my daughter and I had no choice but to flee in what we stood up in. We couldn't live like that anymore. We had to hide for fear of him finding us. We had no money and I had to borrow money from anyone who could help in order to feed my child. I ended up with years of bad debt. The stress and discomfort was almost too much to bear. Depressed and suicidal at times, I suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and lived in a fog. Depression engulfed every minute of every move of every day. My world was always grey, overcast and dull; cold, scary and unknown. Lonely, misunderstood and ashamed I retreated from society and became reclusive. There was nothing familiar and I was paranoid I was being followed and spied on. I couldn’t take more than two or three steps without looking behind me and if strangers got too close to me I freaked out. I was scared for years after fleeing that he would come and get me. You see he threatened to kill me and kidnap my daughter.

So please don’t tell me it was my choice.
Because you see it wasn’t. I had no choice. My abuser made the decision for me. In the end his behaviour forced me to leave. I tried to stay because I thought I could make it better. I thought he would change. I thought he loved me. I hoped he loved me. I believed no one else would ever want me. I was groomed; brainwashed. I had no idea how I would survive. I had a beautiful family home; I didn’t want to leave it. How would I tell my daughter? How would I explain to my family? Where would my daughter go to school; did I have the right to upset her schooling. I felt guilty breaking up the family unit. Would there ever be a time I could forgive myself. Was I to blame. How was I going to earn money? What would we live on? Where would we live? How would I pay the rent. Would my daughter ever forgive me? Maybe if I tried harder I could make this terrible life work till my daughter left home? Or would he kill me or would I kill myself before then?

How dare you tell me I wanted the attention?
Fourteen years later I have only just had my personal possessions returned. I didn’t see or have access to my belongings for all that time. He would not let me in the house, changed the locks and the alarm system. I literally had to start over again. From a wooden spoon to a duvet, from a washing machine to cheese grater, we had nothing. We only had what we stood up in. Do rational people put themselves in this position for attention? Due to my abusers behaviour we have suffered immensely. I worked my arse off and made a new home and life for us both with the support of my amazing family. It has been heart wrenching, traumatic and painful for many years on many levels. Finally, we have contentment and peace, but it’s been a long time coming. I can forgive but never forget. Domestic abuse is a life sentence; it damages your heart, soul and spirit. You can never trust fully ever again. Would anyone in their right mind put themselves through this for attention?

So please don’t tell me you get it.
Cause you don’t. I lost several “so called” friends; people I thought would stand by me and help. Friends that I thought would support me and give me a sanctuary; a bed for a while or even a few pounds for food. Friends I thought that would cook me a meal or just call to check on me. These “so called” friends didn’t believe I was abused. Apparently I wanted the attention. Apparently I was so fickle that I needed to flee my home and marriage and break up my family because I needed the attention. I didn’t have bruises or black eyes; he was careful and clever where he hit me. Because I was abused mentally, verbally, emotionally and sexually the public are ignorant and reluctant to believe. You see they cant see those scars. And, yes, my husband raped me on numerous occasions. And, yes, there is rape within marriage. No means no, even when it is your husband. We were estranged under the same roof but he forced me to have sex under duress, held me down, threatened me through my tears and cries for help. And he made kinky obscene requests and raped me again when I said no and protested.

So now please tell me why you didn’t listen or believe me.
How could you not believe me? When a person tells you they are unhappy, scared, controlled, criticised and even subjected to a form of slavery…listen and hear their cry for help. Abuse is abuse whether it is domestic, child abuse, bullying, slavery, FGM…abuse is abuse. Abusers and psychopaths have no conscience or remorse, are arrogant and controlling; they display grandiose, self indulgent and narcissistic behaviours. They can be liars and have double lives…Jekyll and Hyde or Mr Charming. They have secrets, criticise, groom and brainwash you into believing you are not who you thought you were. They isolate you from family and friends and you become their possession; you are extremely vulnerable, scared and have no confidence or self-esteem. This is what they want because this gives them more and more power over you. By fleeing my ex-husband lost control and became violent and even more abusive, texting me abusive messages every night in the middle of the night to frighten the crap out of me and to continue to try to keep his control and power over me. He thought this behaviour would make me return home.

So do you now get it; do you now believe; are you now listening?
I hope so, I really do. I hope you feel sorry and ashamed. I hope you are embarrassed about your behaviour and additional pain and trauma you placed in my heart. I hope you never disbelieve a victim again. I hope through reading this you are now wiser. I am now strong and I have my confidence and self-esteem back and my heart, soul and spirit have very nearly healed. So to those of you that hang people like me out to dry, I say this…I hope you now see there was no intention of needing attention. I never needed any form of attention. I hope you listen, hear and believe in the future. And you know what, I really hope your conscience pricks. I hope you begin to have some understanding of why we stay and why we leave. You see anyone who stays has morals and a conscience and respects their wedding vows. And anyone who flees their family home must be desperate and unhappy; no sane woman (or man) does this on a whim…and certainly not for attention.

I didn't need this kind of attention.

Now I really do hope you finally get it? Just a little bit!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Child Development & Trauma

Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased?
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow
Raze out the written troubles of the brain
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart
  William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V Scene iii

Children can appear traumatised for many reasons including being gifted and talented. For some children and young people the stress of being highly able can be a lot to deal with especially on top of other difficulties and trauma in their lives. Take the following as a scenario:
               What we may know:

A young child in primary school has an EP assessment and has been identified with a full-scale IQ of 140 and is high ability in literacy. The child is in the top set in class. Not particularly high ability in any other area. Is bored in school and under challenged coasts and is extremely disruptive in class. Can be difficult, arrogant and indifferent to staff. Has social and emotional difficulties with their peers; find playtimes particularly challenging. Can discuss on a very adult level, asks difficult questions and is bossy and opinionated.

What we may not know:

The child is from a poor socio-economic background, was premature at birth and the mother is an alcoholic and the father has passed away. The family live and depend on benefits. The child is the middle child of seven children and has to help with taking care of their brothers and sisters. Prior to going to school the child has to deliver his two younger brothers to school (which is two bus rides away) and then get him to school. The child’s support systems at home are poor and the child is left to his own devices more often than not. After school this child picks up the two younger children, goes home and helps to make dinner and get the children to bed, then endeavours to do his homework and get himself to bed and so the scenario begins again at 6am the next morning.

If you add all this together and then consider anything else that we may not know, you may begin to see how a child maybe suffering from the symptoms of trauma and how this will impact on their behaviour. If you then add to this the characteristics, traits and behaviours associated with high ability you may then begin to see how the behaviours can be heightened.

Behaviours we may see as a result of ability and trauma:
Selective Mute                          

When children are traumatised from a young age they can develop Acquired Brain Injury (injury to brain function). Children who are traumatised may find school difficult to manage and the trauma may lead to some of the following impairments and distortions:

  • Speech, language and processing disorders
  • Learning difficulties
  • Distorted education narrative
  • Emotional and behavioural difficulties
  • Difficulties with social connectedness and integration
Research tells us that adversity prior to birth can lead to lasting developmental impairment and impaired brain function. Such adversity can also have an impact on the capacity of the child to benefit from the attachment process. Impairment can be caused by some of the following:

            Adverse genetic inheritance                                       Maternal exposure to illness

            Extreme deprivation                                                    Trauma

            Toxic substances, e.g. alcohol, drugs, radiation     Head injuries at birth

            Lack of oxygen at birth                                                Complications of prematurity

            Low birth weight

Alcohol is a neuro-toxin which adult brains can tolerate – baby brains cannot. Certain traumatised individuals have the capacity to turn off the pleasure parts of their brain and start to crave mind altering substances, e.g. alcohol, sugar, caffeine and nicotine – to name but a few. Some traumatised individuals show signs of other illnesses, e.g. migraines and headaches, breathing problems, aches and pains and avoidance techniques, e.g. not wanting to go to school.

Human brain development (the useful brain) develops after birth. Very few neuro-connections are there at birth but during the first year of life the brain mass doubles and the foundations are laid in the brainstem to begin to regulate our emotional life. In year one of the development of the baby brain, social interaction is the main influence. In year two those neuro-connections that have not been used and developed in babies first year of life “drop away” and the one that are left become coated in myelin, stay and become physical structures, e.g. fixed and firm in year two and we begin to integrate all the mass of sensory information our presents to us. From years one to four the foundations are laid to regulate our emotional life and from years two to six we begin to establish the foundations for the thinking cortex. It is now that we begin to be capable of abstract thought, cognition, meta-cognition, learning and learning how to learn.

If all goes well we have laid the foundations for development capacity of integrating our physical, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual development. Personality is not a given from birth. If all does not go well…… our brains can be depleted, damaged or injured so that the developing personality can be harmed. With help and support all is not lost and we are never beyond the reach of healing. Primitive patterning can be changed with time and patience of the caregiver, e.g. parent/carer, teacher, foster parent.

If a baby’s attachment needs are not met at birth and soon after, this can affect the structure of the developing brain. Symptoms for a child can be lack of self-regulation, e.g. temperature, intake of food, stress and processing disorders. Many high ability children have great difficulties with the processing of information, e.g. reading, writing, visual and auditory processing; some children with VPD/APD may have poor filters in areas like noise, light, crowds.

Babies are born completely helpless and to survive they must develop a bond between themselves and their main carer/s through scent, taste, touch, sound and the parental gaze checked constantly by the baby. To feel safe the baby must develop a deep sense of safety with their parent/carer in order to become less controlling and develop a healthy dependency.

Older children and young people with unmet needs may seek the attention of their parent/carers and be very controlling and/or very dependent. Children with unmet attachment needs may:

  • Be unable to form core identity
  • Be profoundly puzzled by relationships of every kind
  • Lack any fundamental sense of safety
  • Be very demanding of attention
  • Be very controlling
  • Be very dependent
Children with behaviour difficulties may be suffering from trauma driven by unmet primitive needs at birth – they are NOT naughty children.

Babies and young children require physical attunement with their parent/carer; babies and children need a network of main carer's and bonders in order to survive and develop into balanced adult individuals. They engage in an intimate dance of conversation from birth where their bodies and brains, feelings and thoughts begin to work in tune; this attunement patterns within the baby brain. Attunement provides the blueprint for all human interaction and stress regulation is the first pattern. Young babies cannot regulate stress and unregulated stress injures the brain. When a mother or carer is soothing a stressed baby as the carer’s heart rate, blood pressure and muscles calm, so the baby’s calm. Self-regulation of stress at birth is nil and children who do not have these needs met as babies may be unable to regulate stress. It is important to help children self-regulate.

Children suffering from trauma can be:

             Hyper-aroused                               OR                    Dissociative                  
             (Gifted/Over-excitable/ADHD)                                            (Gifted/hypersensitive/solitary/isolated)

Dissociation reduces pain and creates a coping mechanism for the survival of acutely traumatic situations.

Dissociation – a defense against overwhelming stress where the individual cuts themselves off from conscious awareness of their senses that makes use of the human capacity to split awareness.
Hyper-arousal – a disorder involving persistent deregulated stress.
Attunement – the process through which the infants carer, by mirroring and then leading change in the vitality and effect of the infant, enables the young child to develop regulation of stress, affect and impulse.

Extreme stress causes loss of blood to the brain and this incites rages. Traumatised children often find it difficult to self-regulate mood. Young children are subject to limbic storm rages when their brains are at an unstable point of development consequently they need their attuned carer to keep them safe, contain the rage and reintegrate them. When this happens the adults are role modelling self-regulation patterns and the young child learns:

  • To manage aggression
  • To manage destructiveness
  • To manage anger
Limbic System – A group of linked structures in the brain centrally involved in emotion, memory and the processing of complex social and emotional information.

When children do not develop these skills they may find it hard to manage such behaviours. Add to this the stress and misunderstanding of being gifted and having to manage the traits, characteristics and behaviours associated with high ability and you can then, perhaps, understand the impact of trauma on a gifted and/or high ability child. Many of the processes for speaking our feelings can be knocked out of us by trauma. The child that stands blank when asked why they did or said something often really cannot remember why or what they said due to trauma and dissociation.

Children with positive attachment will generally respond: 
impulse – thought – action

Traumatised children will often respond:                             
impulse – ACTION – thought
This may account in many cases why gifted children tend to display what some professionals may consider negatives behaviours. When working with children how do we know what traumas they may have dealt with in their short personal lives (and may still be ongoing)? Add to this the traits and characteristics of giftedness (which many professionals do not recognise or understand) and it may begin to come clearer as to the levels of trauma in some children within our schools.

Being gifted, or having gifted characteristics that are not understood, can, and will, cause trauma in children which can lead to (or exacerbate) unwanted behaviours. Children who have unmet attachment needs from birth and who are gifted will have double the dose of difficulties. When working with children we need to be aware of these concerns and difficulties in order to have empathy, compassion and understanding of what is required to endeavour to support, help and heal and traumatised child.

Recovery is not quick, but traumatised children can learn to think differently and have healthy happy lives. The traumatised child will need to be surrounded by a secure team of adults who understand and are able to work with the child; a multi-disciplinary team. Trauma disrupts cognitive functioning and some children can think it is their fault, they can try to stop themselves recovering because we do not know how or who we will be once we recover and this can be extremely scary. Trauma can take over our identity and being gifted may be one of the triggers for trauma. Trauma can stop articulation as it turns off the part of the brain that enables us to articulate our feelings. Intelligent individuals can’t articulate under severe trauma or stress.

You will find that traumatised children/individuals tend to stick together because their internal physiology matches and mirrors each other – like minded. Just like gifted individuals understand each other and stick together so do traumatised.

Carers, teachers and professionals living and working with traumatised children are likely to suffer from Secondary Trauma which is where it becomes very stressful for the caregiver or teacher to be in the company or around the traumatised child; they may be unable to continue to enter the emotional space of the traumatised child and begin to share the child’s avoidance. They too will begin to show the following symptoms:

Changes in health
Eating disorders            
Excessive drinking
Substance abuse         
Change in sleep patterns

Those working with traumatised children are the ones most likely to suffer from Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder (STSD). The three key preventative factors are training, support and regular supervision.

Traumatised children need:

1.             Help to develop trust - Affective attunement – soothing, stimulation, trust
      2.             Responsibility - Re-integrative shame – impulse, choice, responsibility
      3.             Self-control - Sociability – self-control, reflection, reciprocity

Appropriate treatment for trauma:

1.             stabilization – safety, explanations, words for feelings
      2.             Integration – physiological, emotional, cognitive
      3.             Adaptation – social connectedness, self-esteem, joy

 Working with traumatised children:

1.                Safety  – soothing hyper-aroused children
      2.             Engaging – stimulating interest and teaching about trauma
      3.             Trust & feelings – learning connectedness
      4.             Managing self – regulating impulse and the body
      5.             Managing feelings – choices and emotional processing
      6.             Taking responsibility – making sense of the world we share
      7.             Developing social awareness – learning self-control
      8.             Developing reflectivity – promoting self esteem
      9.             Developing reciprocity – learning that life can be joyful

You have brains in your head
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose
You're on your own
And you know what you know
And you are the child who will decide where to go
Dr Seuss