A Letter to England

I arrived to live in England short of 20 years ago. I was young, naive, then.

I arrived carrying only my luggage, overflowing with CDs. My life was all about music, I couldn’t even imagine a life without music. I remember walking towards Diego’s flat. My luggage breaking. CDs and records spilling out of it. And I was still smiling, happy with the prospect of a life in the UK.

Days passed by. I got my first job. A customer service job. I recall this Irish guy marching at my trade till at 7.30am asking for some water. His van was stranded just outside the store and he wanted to fill up his radiator. I was looking at him, trying hard to understand what he was saying, w-wa-wawa, woha… nothing! I felt tears coming to my eyes, what was I doing in the UK? I wouldn’t have made it alive.

Life was hard. I was living in a place I couldn’t understand. The effort I was putting in trying so hard to understand, fit in, find my way, was just giving me headaches at the end of every single day.

And then, one random day, it happened. I was at work. I was sitting down in the canteen on my lunch break. My usual corner, the only place I felt safe from people trying to interact with me. I was sitting there, it was so crowded. I was attempting to read my very first book in English. And suddenly it happened: someone made a joke and I found myself laughing at it. I wasn’t even listening to the conversation, I was reading my book, but I got the joke!

Let me tell you: things changed from there. I got a better job, a better home, a better English. That joke gave me the confidence to build a better life for myself.

Years passed. Happy years. I had a career. I got married to Diego. We travelled. We laughed and we fought. We bought our first car and then a house. Then we bought our next house, the first place that felt like home in a very long time.

This house, this marriage, this life in the UK brought us our son. Our wonderful, unique, quirky son, who makes our lives so complicated, fulfilled, exciting and happy. Never thought someone could make me love him so much, and pushing all my buttons at the same time.

England was a dream destination when growing up, it became the place I was living in, and then just my life. Now I’m leaving England, and I feel a sense of emptiness in my heart.

I will miss my England, the gossiping of the mums at school run, my “get fit” 2km school run, the whispering of the wind through our back garden trees, the birds that wake me up at dawn, the smell of take-away, and the multitude of languages and cultures.

I’m going to love telling my son about the place his coming from, the wonderful people we’ve met here, about his troubles at school, the first friendships he made, his foster family and his long-distance brother. I will be so proud, and a tiny emotional, in telling him how loved he was by the friends he made in here and everyone he met.

And I will always be a bit regretful for taking him away from all this. I will always be wondering “what if”. A part of me will always feel guilty about moving away. I just hope I can live up to his expectations and give him the life he deserves.

So, I guess this is my goodbye to a wonderful place, and to the great people that have seen me grow up and became the woman I’m today.

I raise my glass to England, the place where I feel at home.

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Those Three Words

Disclosure: We received a free copy of this book from the publisher in order to share our review of their product. We only ever feature products we consider worthy. All opinions expressed in this post are based on our personal view.

Those Three Words is a book about adoption written by a woman who falls pregnant at the age of 19, and after briefly considering taking her own life, decides to live and deal with her new reality.

After regaining a better sense of perspective, she takes the pragmatic decision to terminate the pregnancy, so that no one would need to know about it, her family first of all. While in the process of planning her covert abortion operation, and all along struggling with the implications of her choice, she stumbles upon the news of a violent protest outside of an abortion clinic. The shocking messages and attacks of pro-life campaigners add more distress but she perseveres, and with the help of a friend she organises a fake holiday trip in one of the states where abortion is legal. She’s moments away from terminating her pregnancy and giving in on this baby, but at the last minute her conscience prevails and she decides to cancel the clinic appointment.

Her options at this point are either to keep the baby or find someone who could look after her. It would seem I kind of gave the end away in the opening sentence of this post, except this is not how the story ends; that’s just the beginning. This book is about the life of a woman after she decides that her child should be given for adoption.

Those Three Words is the first book I’ve read that was written by a birth mother. I read about adoption almost every day, but what I read always starts with the adoption. It’s easy to forget that these children were the children of their birth parents first. What happened before the adoption is hardly ever mentioned, unless it is tragic, that is, and even less common for me is to read what happens to the birth parents after the adoption is finalised.

Reading this book has been hard at times because it forced me to live a part of my child’s life I’ve never even bother considering before. I never thought about how the months of pregnancy must have felt for his birth parents, the doubts about the decision they had taken, and the pain of holding the child in the first moments of his life and having to say goodbye only minutes later. And anything I could imagine doesn’t even come close to the account of a woman who lived through all of that.

As the adoption is finalised, the mother in this book can carry on with her life. She rejoins college and goes on to complete her degree. She embarks in her career, and later starts her own family but, in all this, the pain of losing her child never really fades. The adoption is part of a past she cannot and does not want to forget, even when it taints otherwise joyous occasions, like the birth of her first nephew, or the birth of her “first” child.

What strikes me the most, tho, is the amount of gratitude this mother shows towards the parents who adopted her child. Being an open adoption, she meets with them at the beginning of the process and over the years they get to know one another through letter exchange. She chooses them, although the match is completely fortuitous, and knowing that her child is loved and supported by the family she chose brings her comfort. It was a good reminder of how important the exchange of contact letters can be for birth parents. But reading about it I couldn’t help wondering if the birth mother of my son would have picked us, given the choice.

Throughout this book, I gained a new perspective. Although I will never truly understand what it feels like being a birth parent, at least I’m more aware of what it meant for this mother who loved her child from a distance for so many years. Reading it stirred many different emotions, often negative ones. Some about a past I conveniently decided to ignore for so many years, others about future events that one day I may have to live, like the reunion between my son and their birth parents. But I’m glad I did read it.


Those Three Words, thumb

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Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD): The Essential Guide for Parents

We are very glad to welcome a guest post by Keri Williams, a regular blogger at raisingdevon.com and author. In this post Keri writes about her journey into raising a child with reactive attachment disorder, on which her book is based.

What if? It’s a question that haunts me and many parents of children with reactive attachment disorder (RAD). What if I’d known sooner? What if I’d done things differently?

Today my son Devon is 16. He’s very dangerous – violent towards adults and children, has suicidal ideations, and causes thousands of dollars in property damage. Due to safety concerns, he’s been unable to live at home for the last several years. He’s angry, sad, and hurt. It’s not what I dreamed of when I adopted him as a friendly, jabbering three-year-old with round cheeks and a bright smile.

From the time Devon came to live with us at three, I knew something was seriously wrong but had no idea what. He played with feces, threw screaming tantrums for hours, and seemed defiant and willful. I tried parenting strategy after parenting strategy, but nothing worked.

I was still trying to ‘fix’ him when, at nine, he pushed his then four-year-old brother down the stairs in a rage and karate chopped him in the throat. That was my wake-up call. We needed help.

After a few hospitalizations and intensive in-home services, Devon’s behaviour continued to decline and he was admitted to a psychiatric residential treatment facility. There he was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder (RAD). What a huge sigh of relief – finally we could get some treatment.

Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that there are no quick answers or easy solutions for kids with RAD. I struggled to find therapists and treatments to help, I became increasingly isolated from family and friends. Over time, however, I learned how to navigate the system, how to advocate for my son, and how to get the support I needed. Raising a child with RAD is a hard road to follow especially when you don’t have a support system or know where to go for help.

This is why I wrote the guide I wish I’d had a decade ago. My new book, Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD): The Essential Guide for Parents, is written from the trenches. No platitudes or false promises – only key information, practical suggestions, and resource recommendations.

I can’t help but wonder, what if I’d had this information when my son was three, or five, or ten? Would things have turned out differently? Maybe. RAD is a disorder that is stealing our children’s futures and devastating families because we too often don’t have the knowledge and resources to do any better. My hope is that this resource will help families find a way forward.


Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), thumb

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Wouldn’t you want to know?

If you suspected that your child had a mental health problem, wouldn’t you want to know?

I had an odd conversation not long ago with a mother who thought her 6 years old son could suffer from autism, she even mentioned Asperger, but was hesitant to investigate the matter further.

I first thought she was being irrational, but then I heard her reasons. She worried that knowing for certain her son had a mental condition would label him forever, preclude him a normal life, and she didn’t want that for him, particularly because the whole family had learned to cope with his behaviour well.

They love their child for who he is–bad behaviours, cheeky smiles and all–and they would hate for anyone to look at him any different. So they’d rather take the criticism of relatives and the glances of random strangers, rather than giving them the chance to stick a label on their child and be done with it.

I didn’t want to judge them, also because I was too busy pretending not to notice how much of the unusual traits of their child behaviour mirrored my own child’s behaviour, and worry that my son could have Asperger too. I didn’t openly disagree with this parent, but I still thought she was wrong.

Pretending everything is fine when it might not be is unfair to her child. Autism would make his life so much harder, and not recognising it as a disadvantage will end up hurting him.

The stigma around mental health illnesses might be partially to blame here. It would have been a completely different conversation if she suspected the problem was with one of her child’s legs. I’m sure in that case she would have wasted no time in seeking medical advice rather that having him limping for the rest of his life.

Or it might be that when your child is involved, it’s much harder to be impartial. Much of what she said was challenging about her child’s behaviour sounded too familiar for comfort, but I didn’t exactly hurry to look for our GP phone number to find out more.

Some of you might be in a situation very much alike this family, or have been in the past. What advice would you have for them?

Thanks to Jay Wen for making the feature photo used in the article available freely on Unsplash.

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An Essential Guide To Keeping Foster Children Safe Online

The internet is an extraordinary place. It’s an endless resource of information allowing individuals to learn, teach and entertain. It can have a huge effect on society in general and can influence certain ideas and perceptions of matters that we may have never engaged with face to face. However, since the growing reputation of social networks, there’s a risk that many of those connected with them are in danger of experiencing negativity online.

Foster children generally come into care from having a challenging background which can affect their self-esteem, confidence and cause depression. Social media can be a vulnerable place for those who get too caught up in the activities available online.

Understanding Risks and The Impact

In this section, the types of risks involved with being online will be outlined and how they can have a negative effect on children.

Cyberbullying

This is probably one of the main risks for children that they face online. The growth of mobile phones and social networks means children can be easily targeted with abusive jokes and threats. Essentially, children will be targeted through a joke that can later escalate to something far more serious. It can normally start from those who claim to be a close friend or trolls who remain anonymous making it easy for them target children. The longer that the bullying goes on it can be extremely detrimental both physically and mentally to the victim. So, if you get any hint of cyberbullying try to stop it as early as possible. Even if your foster child is causing the abuse, make sure to monitor it and stop it appropriately.

Mobile Games and Apps

Apps have been a common feature for smartphones allowing people to use services and products at the touch of a button. However, there are some applications and games available in app stores which aren’t suitable for younger children and are normally applied with age restrictions. The biggest risk with mobile apps is that in order for them to improve the user experience for the benefit of their business, they look to access personal information and sensitive data which the downloader must provide.

This can make children extremely vulnerable as apps information can be easily accessible for cyber-criminals. It’s important to make sure that you monitor the types of apps that a child is downloading and it’s not an app that easily shares personal data.

Grooming Online

The internet can be scary considering the ease at which individuals can create false personas and profiles online. This has disturbingly made online grooming incredibly easy to do. Online grooming is when an adult creates a profile or remains anonymous online and contacts children in a friendly manner. Soon enough they create a relationship with the child, easily gaining their trust and using it as a way for them to take advantage of them. It then provides them with the opportunity to meet up face to face which can be extremely terrifying. It’s a popular method for child groomers as children are unfortunately more likely to trust people they meet online than the ones they meet in person. They can also easily target those who don’t have their internet use monitored.

Other risks that are not as commonly known

The ones outlined above are the more common risks when it comes to the dangers of online, however, there are also other risks that you should be aware of:

  • Hacking/identity theft
  • Blackmail
  • Promotional content about self-harm or drug use
  • A section of the internet known as ‘The Dark Web’ where illegal online transactions can take place (It’d be worth educating them about the matter if your child is tech-savvy)
  • Sharing of information which appears to be false news

Methods That Can Be Used To Help Protect Young Children

Young children have become familiar with how the internet works due to the influence it has on their lives growing up. Unfortunately, this can’t necessarily be said for parents and carers making it difficult to protect them from online use. In order for you to have the knowledge to deal with matters that can help protect them from the online world, we’ve outlined some steps that you can take that can help towards protecting them for misuse of the internet.

With any electronic device that has the access to connect to the internet, they provide the option to have parental controls so that you can manage the content they see online. Look to do this for both the main computer you use at home and also their mobile or tablet devices. Just try not to make it out like you’re controlling them though, do it in a way that allows them to understand the reasons you’re doing it.

Sit with them whilst they’re on the device and ask questions about the game they’re playing or the app they’re using. Then they can be involved in the process of applying privacy settings when you choose to ask about it. They’ll be more familiar with the device to access the section of the app or game, but you can help them to understand why the privacy settings are needed. It can be used as a way to teach others.

A setting called ‘location services’ is something that apps/games can use to share the device’s location. This can potentially be shared with strangers without knowing it so check to make sure this isn’t being used. You can normally find this in the settings menu.

Always be sure to keep the apps up to date too, as the majority of the time the app developers will provide an update to keep the security improved.

Being a foster carer you still want to encourage your children to grow and make decisions for themselves, so where possible show them how to report abuse if they receive any. This way, you’ll find it easier to trust them if they do receive negative comments online.

It can be easy as a foster parent to be left behind when it comes to online resources so it’s important to take advantage of the resources available to you. Regular communication and involvement between you and your foster child can be key to making the process easier with protecting them.

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Manoeuvring In The Dark

There are moments in life when it’s clear that the decision you’re about to make will affect the rest of your life. When you have a family, you have to cast the dice on what is best for you, your partner, and your children. It’s such an impossible task, a huge responsibility, and nothing can prepare you for it.

That was exactly the kind of situation my husband Diego and I found ourselves a few months ago. It took us countless evenings of pondering, discussing, arguing, and fighting. Then planning, swaying, rethinking, and replanning. But eventually, we reached a resolution.

And here we are today, surrendered by boxes and empty shelves. Where once were furniture, now there are only dents in the carpet. They are deep marks, indentations that won’t easily disappear. We have been at this crossroad before, but not as a family.

We have sold our much-loved family home, and most of its content too, because in a couple of months we’ll say farewell to this country and head back to Italy.

I’m overwhelmed by the conflicting emotions this change brings up, and I find it really tricky to explain how I feel. Excited, afraid, happy, worried, panicky, overpowered and so much more all at the same time.

We will have to figure out how to bring a bit of England back with us. For our son, this place is part of who he is, where he was born. We don’t want him to forget his origins. And for us, after almost 20 years, this place is part of who we are too.

This decision has the potential to be one of the hard conversations waiting for us in the future. Since becoming parents, at every turn, we have been finding ourselves wondering how we’ll justify our decisions. Adoption gives even more chances for difficult conversations. Every word exchanged in contact letters with birth parents and relatives has to be chosen carefully, because we are keenly aware that one day our son will judge us on those words, and the choice we took for him. This time is no different.

I don’t know how I will explain to my son Ben that, although moving to Italy with us meant sacrificing part of his heritage, it was what we thought was best for him, and in the process he gained a life surrounded by a larger family. That we didn’t intend to hijack his life, or tear him away from what happened in the early part of this life story. We will always support his relationship with his birth parents and brother, correspond with both of them, and never forget about them. Moving doesn’t need to change everything.

We are striving to make this move as smooth and stress-free as possible for him. Our little Ben is enthusiastic and he’s already planning what to sell and what to take with him. His telling his friends about the big lorry which will collect all our stuff, and the plane that will take us in the new house.

I heard a song playing on the radio not long ago. It fitted so perfectly well in our life. I want to believe that those words are true, that what matters in the end is just being together, no matter where.

Cause they say home is where your heart is set in stone
Is where you go when you’re alone
Is where you go to rest your bones.

It’s not just where you lay your head
It’s not just where you make your bed
As long as we’re together, does it matter where we go?

(Gabrielle Aplin – Home)

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From foster care to {F}OSTER

A few months ago a new contact popped up on my Twitter feed, his name is Sirrele. I was captivated by the story of this young man, by his courage and his determination in making a difference in somebody’s life.

Sirrele’s life wasn’t an easy one. He was removed from his mother’s care before he was 2 and placed in the system. The placement became an extremely abusive environment that continued until he was in junior high school. After trying to protect his younger brother from abuse, he was placed in a juvenile detention center, then into a multiple group homes. He left one of the group homes to live on his own for 4 months at the age of 14. Then had an opportunity to reconcile with his mother in Sacramento. In Sacramento, he met two individuals that changed his life, Charles Kidd and Ed Manansala, who he now considers his dads. It was through their unconditional love and mentorship that helped change his trajectory in life.

You can watch him talk about his life story, and about {F}oster, his new project for children in care.

Sirrele has two big passions. One of them is helping children in foster care. At the age of 15, he began his advocacy for foster youth to help provide a voice to a community that needs it the most. His other passion is software engineering. He is the founder of {F}OSTER, a virtual free-of-charge coding mentoring program for foster youth ages 14-24.

Sirrele hopes to create a safe space for foster youth in the competitive world of computer programming. He knows first-hand that without a humble, responsive, sincere mentor, many youths–especially foster youth–can feel alone without a shoulder to lean on. {F}OSTER is that shoulder! {F}OSTER is that support system!



Sirrele agreed to a short interview. Here’s what he told us.

Where the idea of {F}oster comes from?

I wanted to combine both of my passions, Foster Care and Software Development in a way that I could give back in an impactful way. Mentorship and programming have saved my life and I want other foster youth to experience the same thing.

How far into the project are you?

We are starting the actual pairing of Foster Youth and programmers in May 2018 (foster care awareness month). In the meantime, we are actively developing partnerships and internal processes to ensure that mentors and mentees have the best experience. My main goal is to get as many foster youth and programmers as possible!

Have you collected any material to use as reference?

Our mentors will be assisting mentees in a Code Academy course of their choosing. Each week they will use Discord, which is like Skype on steroids, to communicate with each other. The commitment is an hour, however, we do encourage that they spend more time together if possible. Before we pair the mentors, we will have training so that the mentors get a better understanding of the community they are going to be serving.

What reaction have you had so far?

Everyone has been extremely supportive! I have connected with 14+ organizations (school districts, foster care organisations, and tech companies) and plan to grow our partnerships. There are many youth across the states that are wanting to be mentored. Programmers are seeing this as an opportunity to get away from there daily code and give back.

What kind of commitment is required of programmers who want to join the initiative? Can small groups of programmers offer tutoring for the same child?

Right now we are looking at a week commitment. However, I have been posed this question a lot, and even more so by programmers. I really want to think about this a little more. I really see the value of one-on-one mentorships. I don’t know how the mentees will deal will having too many mentors that may be less involved.

What kind of technologies are kids more interested in? (general programming, web programming, hardware automation, etc)

I think it’s hard to answer this. Most people getting into programming do not have a full conception of all the options. My goal is to have the mentors introduce them to those options and pair them with a programmer in a field that they find interesting.

What kind of help do you need to promote {F}oster?

I would like AS MUCH help as possible! I would like to be in the position that there are too many youth or programmers interested! Any support to help get as many programmers and foster youth would be really appreciated!

How can people interested in the project get in contact with you?

I can be found on social media: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Feel free to reach out to me. I’m always happy to hear from people interested in the project.

I hope you believe this project as much as I do Please, add Sirrele to your contacts, and help spread the voice about this worthy initiative.

{F}oster is accepting applications for mentors and mentees! If this sounds interesting, please fill out this online form!
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All about Adoption Conversations

In February 2017, after a three-year wait, I became the mother to a lively toddler boy who was born and grown up in India. I was the mother to a girl already and I was quite full of myself regarding parenting. Sleep, diapers, tantrums. I knew the drill, nothing could surprise me anymore, right? Oh, little did I know.

Adoptive parenting is a whole new dimension. Sure, I was spared a good degree of torture by not being a first-timer, but I had to train myself on a whole new set of skills. I had to document on trauma and its manifestations. I embarked on a journey which I feel will last years, potentially my whole life.

Books, communities, discussion groups, events, I researched adoption everywhere I could. I am a passionate podcast listener, so naturally I looked into adoption-related podcasts quite early on. There are some exceptional ones, which I follow and listen to regularly. However, I started longing for one which would expand the view and embrace different perspectives. There are excellent resources for adoptive parents. Others focus on adoptees and their experiences. And most podcasts are US- or UK-centered. I stood there, in the middle of all these different voices. And I was based in Finland, whose adoption and care system has little similarities to US and UK. I decided I wanted to collect all these voices and add the unheard ones. This is how my project of the Adoption Conversations podcast started.

Adoption Conversations is a weekly podcast where I interview guests with any kind of link to adoption. I have no agenda with it. I’m not trying to prove adoption is good or bad. I’m simply documenting my humble learning journey and collecting as many experiences and testimonies as possible.

My target audience is anyone who is interested or involved in adoption, as are my guests. So far, I have interviewed some adoptive parents and adult adoptees. I plan to host also birth family members, as well as experts, social workers, researchers, and policy-makers. When searching for guests, I am reaching out to people from different countries, to get in touch with diverse perspectives and experiences. I am convinced we can learn a lot from how processes and policies work in other countries.

You can find the Adoption Conversations podcast on my blog, ITunes, and Google Play. I appreciate any kind of feedback, so feel free to reach out if you have suggestions or comments, as well as if you have a story to tell.

I am passionate about documenting my learning journey and spreading information about adoption. Outreach can plant small seeds of change.

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