Case study: Lucy, Special Guardian
Lucy is the matriarch of a big family. She lives with her partner, John. She has three children and is the Special Guardian for two of her great-grandchildren, Luke aged 12 and Thomas aged 10.
Luke and Thomas’s father (Lucy’s grandson) was involved in drug dealing and addicted to drugs. Their mother used prostitution to fund her own drug addiction.
The parents had a highly volatile relationship and the home environment was chaotic, unpredictable and neglectful. The boys were referred to social care.
There was no other family member who was in a position to provide a stable home for the boys, and, after a period of time on a Child Protection Plan, the boys came to live with Lucy, who became their Special Guardian when Luke was 2 and Thomas was 6 months old.
Although the boys seemed to settle well and life felt good when they were younger, as the boys got older their behaviour became increasingly challenging, both at home and at school. ‘It got to the point where my partner and I had no social life anymore because we couldn’t find anyone willing to look after the boys,’ Lucy says. ‘I started reading up on lots of things, including attachment difficulties, as the school wasn't coping well with them and I wanted to find ways to help to manage their behaviour.’
At a coffee morning for Special Guardians held by the Special Guardianship Team, Lucy heard about the Nurturing Attachment Groups (NAGs) offered by Families Empowered. She was in a low place: feeling isolated, frustrated at the lack of support and despondent about how badly things were getting at school – she wasn’t confident she could cope with much more.
At the first NAGS session, Lucy recalls, ‘I thought I was the only one – and then was overwhelmed to learn so many other people are in similar situations!’ She goes on, ‘I was very keen to learn and listen. Initially, I felt that wasn’t everyone’s reason for being there, which was frustrating at times when they talked a lot. But as the sessions progressed I became more patient and cooperative around listening to other people’s problems’.
NAGs is a therapeutic group not a training course – Lucy admits that at the beginning she thought it would be just about learning what the boys needs were. But as the weeks went by, she realised that it was actually about the changes she needed to make to respond to the boys emotional and behavioural needs. She comments, ‘Liz and Debbie (the DDP Practitioners) were very understanding and listened. It didn’t take long to feel a connection with them because of the interest and care they showed.’
Lucy says ‘Until NAGs, everything I had tried either wasn’t successful or wasn’t having any longer lasting impact. With the Group, I learnt about the boys emotional needs and linking this back to their attachment difficulties and early life trauma. It’s changed how I relate to the boys. I’m staying more calm and not shouting – understanding that you can’t connect with children if you don’t remain ‘in the calm’. I’ve really valued understanding PACE (parenting model incorporating Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy), putting it into practice and seeing that it works. The children feel safer as a result and there are much firmer boundaries.’
Lucy feels that the hardest part of being a Special Guardian is ‘the isolation and frustration when other people don’t understand the boys’ behaviour and judge them as being ‘naughty’. Even my partner struggles to accept that the boys’ behaviour is linked to their experiences in early childhood.’ She goes on, ‘There continue to be challenges, particularly with the boys’ education and their aggression with each other. But attending the Group has empowered me to understand their behaviour better and be more able to articulate the boys emotional needs to other professionals, including at their schools.’
Luke says he feels safer - and grandma is calmer!
In conversation with Liz Stirrat, November 2019.
Meet some more of our families
Sean's adopted son was often really challenging to parent but Sean didn't think he really needed help. Then he met Families Empowered and realised this kind of support was exactly what he needed. Sean discovered how to move beyond traditional parenting models and respond to his child's early life trauma to build a happier family all round.
Lucy took on two of her great-grandsons when their parents' struggles with drug addiction exposed their serious neglect. As the boys grew older, their behaviour became increasingly difficult and Lucy's relationship with them and their school was very troubled indeed. Find out how she shifted approach and turned a corner.
Susan is the Special Guardian for her granddaughter as well as her niece's daughter - both sets of parents struggle with drug addiction.
It's been a rocky road but learning about attachment difficulties and exploring her own parenting style therapeutically have transformed their family life.