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by Staff writer

Adoption week 2022 – What is the relevance of developmental trauma?

This week, commencing the 17th of October, is national adoption week in the UK. As you may have seen on social media already this week, and likely will over the coming days, conversations are happening all over the country concerning how best to implement and sustain resources and infrastructure to conduct adoption to minimise harm to vulnerable children.

The article you are reading is the third in this month’s series about the different awareness campaigns happening in October that we’re getting involved with. As mentioned in previous posts, our contributions to the discussions that are happening are tied together by a broader theme of recognising accessibility needs for marginalised groups of the population, as well as actionable steps to address these.

If you haven’t already, you might want to read our first article, where we outline this in greater depth.


What is necessary?

The theme that has been chosen for this year’s adoption week is identity and relationships. There are many important reasons to consider the relevance of these factors in a child and family’s wellbeing, many of which are being imparted by other groups and writers at present. Conversely, the scope of the insights that we are able to confidently provide here come specifically from our background of practice and trauma-informed theory.

If the shared intent with this campaign is to support a person’s sense of identity and the relationships that they exist within, then one of the ways this can be achieved is to have a greater understanding of one’s own history and needs.

Given many of the circumstances which often lead to a child being assigned for adoption in the UK -to say nothing of the process itself- it’s not uncommon for developmental trauma to occur. Chronic trauma of this kind, if taking place during key early developmental stages of childhood, can cause a person’s identity and past experiences to be deeply fragmented.

In the typical case where this trauma hasn’t been treated with the care necessary to resolve it, it will remain disintegrated from the brain’s long term memory. Any coherent sense of meaning or association that can be made from these experiences is reliant on that level of integration and without it, it is much more difficult for an individual to arrive at any subsequent position of understanding and acceptance.


How can this cause further harm?

As was the case in our previous articles on the topics of dyslexia and mental health awareness, this area is one in which unadressed historic harm can manifest as any number of remaining unmet needs which are, by and large, invisible to others. When external adverse circumstances impose these hindrances to cognitive, emotional and relational development, it can be even more arduous and harrowing in turn to continually be denied acceptance and critical support for the individual difficulties that arise as a result.

This is compounded by the shallow likelihood that a child affected in these ways will have a complete awareness of these personal needs themself, as compared to others who have not endured similar trauma. In the case of adoption, these complex needs that have not otherwise been formally diagnosed as a pathologic developmental or behavioural disorder, will result in an adoptive home environment in which there is inevitable friction and distress that cannot be clearly communicated and isn’t broadly understood.

The child in this context is typically left to fill in the blanks by believing that they are lesser than others, aren’t trying hard enough and/or have something wrong with them. For the adoptive carers, it can be difficult to understand what the reason can be for them to be experiencing such distress and agitation despite everything that’s been put in place in the hopes of supporting and accomodating them.


What can be done?

One of the frequent clinical services that we conduct is NMT assessments to identify where developmental trauma has occurred and, further, in which specific areas of development it has caused delay. As a result, it is possible to recognise on a brain map where support can be provided to assist a child in catching up on neglected milestones to achieve a similar level of development as is expected for an average of their same age peers.

Much like with our educational needs assessments, there is an inherent expectation within the framework that suitable access requires this initial recognition of individual needs. For adoption cases, these assessments can ensure that parents and carers aren’t set up to fail at hidden challenges that nobody involved in the caring process may have been suitably informed of otherwise.

From here, it’s also possible to take concrete steps in the process of trauma recovery, as well as meeting the present needs on an immediate short-term basis. Having this sort of actionable understanding can be the necessary catalyst for acheiving lasting, integrated healing from the adverse childhood experiences which caused this inhibotory delay, and thus, the delay itself.


What’s next?

If you found this article informative, be sure to remain on the look out for the rest of October. Our final article in this series will be released before the end of the month, in which we will expand upon many of the points raised here and in previous articles.

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or questions of your own, please get involved yourself. If you found this article through social media, be sure to add a comment or send us a message. Alternatively, if you have a more direct query, you can reach us in the office on 01282 685345 or at office@jsapsychotherapy.com

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