Book Review: The Girl who Just wanted to be Loved

I just finished reading a truly amazing memoir by Angela Hart. This is the first of her books that I’ve read and I loved it.

Angela is a specialist foster carer in the UK. She and her husband, Jonathan, have been fostering since the late 19800s.

This book it seems is set in the late 90s, but was written in 2016. Angela often makes references to the advice/ resources that were available at the time of fostering Keeley and what is available now. Much more is out there now around issues of attachment disorder, and secondary PTSD.

Angela and Jonathan were contacted by their link worker Sandy about fostering eight year old Keeley because she had been turned away by several carers in the past year and a half due to her behavior which included bad language, rages, constant lying , hygene issues and didn’t seem to be able to be guided by any of the mainstream parents. It was felt that Angela and Jonathan, being specialized foster carers had extra training that could help with this.

At the time they had two boys living with them who were generally well adjusted and settled at home. They soon met Keeley and on that first day they witnessed Keely’s swearing and need to control. However when she came for respite, a trial few days, she seemed to be really engaging and sweet. She seemed to want to please and there didn’t seem to be any of the negative behavior. Until she went out to play and hit another child. And ignored Jonathan, which she did for the intire time she was in the home. She treated Jonathan like he was invisible. She also would bruese herself for an unknown reason. It could be self-harm in order to let out her emotional pain, or to gain attention. It seemed she was very possessive of Angela just wanting her and only her around.

In spite of this switching between good and bad behavior and her testingthe family, they decided to take her. Her behavior was such that she really could not remain in mainstream foster care and would have had to go to a specialist unit.

The next six months were a huge rollercoaster ride for the family. Filled with good times, Keeley joining a theater group, helping Angela with artwork, going shopping with her, making a good new friend. These good moments were overshadowed by really shocking behavior. She would physically fight with the boys and verbally abuse them any chance she got. Her jealousy around Angela was very pronounced and made family times very hard. Everyone was walking on eggshells because they were afraid of when she would go into her next rage/ abusive comment to others.

Standard behavior techneques such as time out and taking away rewards/ star charts had no effect on her. They either made her more agitated or she simply didn’t care. What calmed her down was individual attention but even when it was just she and Angela she still could make very mean comments about her and then go on as if nothing happened the next minute.

Everyone knew where this behavior came from. Her mother was emotionally, physically, and possibly sexually abusive. It was thought that her grandfather was also sexually abusive to her before she was taken into care. She was getting therapy only once a month. And shockingly, at eight years old she was allowed to go into therapy by herself and everything was treated “confidential.” So that Angela and Jonathan had no idea what went on there nor could they talk to the therapist at all for advice.

Angela was extremely careful to note down everything. It seemed like Angela would get a handle on one behavior and then others would come up, but then that first behavior would come back again. No matter what happened Keeley’s way of handling everything was to lie, even if it was incredibly obvious take no responsibility and just go on to the next episode or be good for awhile when it was something she wanted.

It was her link worker Sandy, who told her one day that Keely’s behaviors reminded her of a conference she went to where Attachment disorder was discussed. She explained what little she knew about attachment disorder, the results of a failure to bond to caregivers within the first three years of life. Which accurately describes Keeley. She mentioned a psychologist by the name of Dan Hughes, who is well known in the world of attachment disorder. Because it was late 90s there wasn’t facebook, all the authors out there writing about it, or anything else. All Angela had was his basic model of working with kids PACE. Which stood for playful, accepting, curious, and empathetic as ways to respond to a child when they’re displaying these behaviors.

Angela put her whole heart into using this method. And sometimes it worked. And even Jonathan could disarm her with a playful response. Angela realized that when Keeley thought that she was upsetting her, and that her behavior bothered her she seemed to really enjoy doing it. But when Angela acted like it was no big deal to her (I.E not a problem for her if she didn’t get into the car, take a bath ETC) Keeley sometimes would respond by stopping the behavior.

Angela and Jonathan did the best they could with such little information. Parents and caregivers today have a good amount and variety of techneques to choose from and mix and match. Which is important for this kind of child because you need to stay a few steps ahead of them. Angela also was not in touch with anyone personally trained in these ways of working or even the concept of attachment disorder. Both Sandy, and Joan, Keeley’s social worker were supportive but I’m still shocked that the therapist could not be accessed.

What really took a toll was Keeley’s affect on the other boys, particularly Phillip who had anger management issues of his own. Keeley knew just the right buttons to push on meeting anyone, and so got really adept at bullying Philip. It was really maddening and sad to see how she tormented him and Carl, and the rest of the family. This Angela and Jonathan could not put up with forever.

They said so at a placement meeting. Where they learned that actually Keeley being placed with them wasn’t the ideal solution. They knew she should have been placed with a single carer because of how Keeley was better with one to one attention. In the same meeting it was said they’d need to find two single carers as one couldn’t handle the emotional toll. So not sure how that would work, if they’d come in shifts or something. But it was clear her being in a family setting was something social services knew wasn’t exactly the best. But they said they didn’t have a choice. Angela and Jonathan, while not wanting to make it sound like they couldn’t cope in general were clear it wasn’t doing anyone any good to have things remain how they were. There were weekly contact sessions with her emotionally immature mother but Keeley was under a full care order so no plans to return home.

The father who previously was said to have completely disappeared long ago was contacted and moved back to the area very much wanting to connect with Keeley. While it was a shock to everyone that the case might go this way, (Keeley moving in with her father when she had such issues with male caregivers) anything was better than how things were.

Something else that helped relieve the stress was Jonathan and Angela talking to a counselor. This counselor was very patient and understanding and totally encouraging. She said they’d done everything they could, and addressed their feelings of burn out. What was called at the time transference. This renewed their energy to go on a vacation just before Keeley moved. The vacation was full of huge ups and downs ending in a nasty physical confrontation that proved enough was enough.

The family just barely made it through those last weeks of the placement. You would never think things would go well with Keeley moving to her fathers but they seemed to. When Keeley by chance saw Angela and Jonathan ten years later she was a polite and emotionally together young woman. Reading between the lines it seemed like she had had hard times and would always deal with the trauma of her past. But that incredibly her father, and mother were supportive the best they could.

I really really love this book. Because it shows truthfully every event that occurred in the house and exactly how a child with attachment disorder functions. The lying, stealing, physical and emotional bullying, playing dumb, hygene issues everything will resonate with parents and caregivers of children with this disorder.

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