Cain Snipp has worked with children and families since 1986 in statutory, voluntary, private and NHS organisations. Much of this time has been spent working with looked after and adopted children. He is registered with the British Association of Psychotherapists having undertaken a psychoanalytic training and is a qualified Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist. He also holds qualifications in Social Work, Play Therapy, Counselling and Theraplay.
In this exclusive interview Cain explains new innovative approaches to child and family therapeutic services and his plans to enhance adoption support across the UK.
Could you tell us about your professional background in child and family services?
My passion has always been working with children and families across different areas; from mental health to fostering and adoption services. What led me to start working directly with children was a passion for finding out what I could do to effect positive change in people’s lives.
I gained my social worker qualification in 1992 and began working with children and families as part of a local authority team dealing with child protection issues and children in need. While I was working in those areas I decided to develop my specialist interests, and began working directly with fostered and adopted children. From there I went on to work as part of an adoption team for a local authority which is where my interest in adoption was further developed.
I used to do a lot of work around losses, separation and trauma but I became aware that I needed better insight and skills to ensure I was able to assist in a child’s overall development. With that in mind, I went on to train as a play therapist working in therapeutic services for children before qualifying as a counsellor and psychoanalytic child and adolescent psychotherapist.
What drove you to work with fostered and adopted children specifically?
When I was working closely with fostered and adopted children in the early 90s, I identified it as an area where social work and therapy could change lives. I decided to specialise in adopted and fostered children because I recognised how stress and traumatic events in early childhood had an impact on the quality of relationships with adoptive parents.
It was during my term as a social worker for an independent foster agency that I grew interested in fostering and adoption as an area where I could assist the families who were doing a difficult job parenting children dealing with trauma subsequent to having been abused or neglected.
Who has influenced you professionally during your career?
I am inspired by pioneers in the field of child psychotherapy and psychology, the most prevalent of which being Donald Winnicott and later, Bruce Perry who studied the impact of trauma on children and adults and the presentation of disassociated states.
Winnicott was a paediatrician and analyst who worked with children and families. He used to talk about healthy development being established through healthy relationships which led me to start thinking about working with adoptive families and children in relation to attachment and issues around loss and separation.
I looked at alternative methods of therapy for children and families, which is why I completed a training course with the Institute of Theraplay – a centre specialising in an interactive attachment-based play therapy model that is used to encompass the child and parent through playful interaction. I was one of the first to practice in Theraplay in the UK and I undertook a Master’s degree to research the outcome of Theraplay in the UK. I was working in child and adolescent mental health as a senior social worker at the time when I introduced the model and developed a project for adopted and looked after children known as the Attachment Project which is still going today.
This was a turning point in my career where we were challenging the traditional view that children are offered family therapy or individual therapy and the parents are offered separate sessions with another therapist. What I wanted to do was get the parents and child in the room together. While that is not pioneering now, it was innovative to practice in that way previously. This is something I have used consistently throughout my career.
How has adoption support changed over the last twenty years and what change have you seen in child and family adoption support services?
Certainly in the 90s there wasn’t much provision for children who needed therapeutic services and post adoption support wasn’t established, acknowledged or even offered as part of the overall package in any meaningful way.
A major criticism of traditional services is that children and families need to fit the model of the service rather than the service meeting the needs of families. This is precisely what I want to bring to Yorkshire – flexible services where therapists go into families’ homes to deliver therapeutic interventions. This has been developed as a direct result of feedback from adoptive parents who became exhausted dealing with challenging and demanding behaviour and then had to travel long distances to attend therapy sessions. So, rather than asking them to travel to their therapists we suggested that the therapist should travel to them.
The other thing I am passionate about is creating services that are flexible and respond to meet the needs of the child. What children have told me is that they feel stigmatised attending sessions with a therapist and often feel like they are seen as ‘mad’. I want to move away from the traditional model where they have to visit places that are often unsuitable for therapeutic services, which is why we want to develop home visits as a standard service delivery.
What we need to put in place is a thorough assessment of children’s needs, with some adoptive children not requiring professional help after assessing their strengths and not just their difficulties . Sometimes the parents may need some help, but the children don’t require professional intervention. For those children and families that need help, we need to introduce early intervention to avoid adoption disruption which occurs when a family or child have reached breaking point; the child may have given up relating or being part of something or the parents have become exasperated with the issues relating to early trauma.
Most adopters when they first adopt feel euphoric when they get the child and they often don’t want professional help at the start. We need to emphasise that this is a good time to build the foundations and the holding environments that will facilitate personality growth in children and families when professional assistance is provided.
Why did you choose to work for PAC-UK?
PAC-UK provides training to educate the public, key policy makers and politicians on the reasons why children behave in certain ways. They provide the information needed to understand the emotional difficulties that children have to face as a result of fostering and adoption. It is my own learning and capacity to learn new things that drew me to PAC-UK, an innovative and progressive organisation that is thriving in the wake of government recognition for adoption support.
For more information on PAC-UK services in London and Leeds visit our website.