Body & Soul’s adoption programme

Posted on: 15th December 2016

For over a year now, we have been running a programme for children who have been adopted alongside our more established services. Jed Marsh, assistant director at Body & Soul, explains what the new programme is all about.

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What is Body & Soul’s adoption programme all about?

At Body & Soul we’re keenly aware of the psychological impact that childhood adversity can have on people throughout their lives. We work with people of all ages, but particularly young people, to transform childhood adversity into something more hopeful and productive.

This is where our work with adopted children and teens comes in: adoption is usually the result of some form of family disruption – whether bereavement, abandonment or an unsafe living environment – and our adoption programme has been developed to support young people through some of the challenges they face as a result of this trauma in early life.

How does this relate to the work you’ve been doing up to now?

We have been providing specialist programming for children and young people for 20 years. For most of that time, we have been working with children and young people affected by HIV. These members typically present with a broad range of emotional needs that are directly linked to HIV but also to circumstances like childhood bereavement, ambiguous loss, growing up in the care system, adoption, stigmatisation, shame, isolation and poor attachment.

A whole-person approach to care lies at the heart of the Body & Soul model, and we have always tailored our support to the individual member’s unique needs. Last year we began tailoring our existing programmes to meet the specific needs of children and young people who have been adopted. The success of the pilot programme we developed with the North London Adoption Consortium over the last 18 months has provided evidence for the positive impact of the Body & Soul model beyond HIV. There is clearly scope for further development, which is why we are expanding our adoption programme in 2017.

Who is Body & Soul’s adoption programme for?

We work with three different groups: we have the Young Explorer programme for adopted children between the ages of eight and 12; the Teen Spirit programme for adopted children between the ages of 13 and 18; and the Parents’ Place programme for the adoptive parents of Young Explorer and Teen Spirit members.

Poster for Teen Spirit adoption programme

Poster advertising the Teen Spirit adoption programme

What can members expect from Body & Soul’s adoption programme?

The Explorer and Teen Spirit programmes create an environment that provides healthy physical, social and cultural activities, limiting isolated or passive activities. Within this environment we encourage members to take positive risks, explore interests and try new things, such as playing an instrument, taking part in new sports or visiting new places. Our therapists engage and guide members in planning and decision-making, allowing them to set priorities, manage tasks and solve problems.

Once registered, young members attend our centre in Clerkenwell for an intensive group programme, which takes place on four consecutive Saturdays. A typical day might include a group drama therapy session, ‘family mealtime’, a creative therapies workshop and group play therapy. After the initial four-week programme, members begin to attend monthly sessions, which are also attended by a growing community of adopted young people who have also completed the initial programme. These monthly Saturday sessions provide a familiar format that allows children and young people to continue to build on their positive experiences at Body & Soul.

Meanwhile, Parents’ Place is the programme we have developed specifically for the parents of adopted children. Running parallel to Young Explorer and Teen Spirit programmes, Parents’ Place provides a space for learning, support and rejuvenation for parents, who can focus on their own needs comfortable in the knowledge that their child’s needs are being managed sensitively one floor down. This programme provides key therapeutic support and develops parenting approaches through techniques such as core mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness.

What are the specific aims of the adoption programme?

The programme has five key aims: to increase young people’s feelings of safety; to enhance their self-regulation; to help them develop a positive self-image and improved self-esteem; to give them a greater sense of control over their own lives; and to support the development of secure attachment.

We use a multidisciplinary team to achieve these aims, including qualified therapeutic practitioners, youth workers, educational professionals and trained peer mentors. The Young Explorer and Teen Spirit programmes are principally group-based therapeutic interventions. Initial needs assessments indicate that members of our adoption programme generally either avoid regular group based environments or experience difficulties functioning as a member of a group. Our programmes address this by relying on a communal approach where young people, peer mentors and staff function as part of a therapeutic community where relationships are built on trust, co-operation and respect rather than status or hierarchy.

The rationale for this approach is supported by NICE recommendations for group-based interventions both for adopted young people and their adoptive parents.

Who is eligible to register in this programme, and how much does it cost?

Adopted children between eight and 18 – and their parents – are eligible to register for this programme. We are based in Clerkenwell, London, so our members are for the most part living in London or the surrounding counties. Thanks to funding from the Department for Education, there is no fee to register for the programme – all the therapies are covered by their Adoption Support Fund.

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For further information on how to register for the adoption programme, or if you’re a qualified therapist and want to find out about opportunities for session work/volunteering, e-mail jed@bodyandsoulcharity.org.



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