Hello and WELCOME to PsychAssist. This week’s guest article is from Dr Amber Elliott who is a Chartered Consultant Clinical Psychologist who took the brave steps of stepping out on her own to develop her social enterprise. Amber explains how she worked in a Looked After & Adopted CAMHS service which ultimately led her down the path of starting her own service. This is her journey of how she started The Child Psychology Service (TCPS).
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This is the story of Dr Amber Elliot of The Child Psychology Service (TCPS) and the Journey to Becoming a Social Enterprise.
In the space of a couple of weeks in April 2011 I journeyed from disheartened, overwhelmed and unmotivated to passionate, inspired and some may well say hyperactive. This was my transition from a Local Authority and NHS Looked After and Adopted Children’s CAMH service to setting up The Child Psychology Service (TCPS). I didn’t know whether I could make a living but I did believe I could make a difference.
I should make it clear, though I won’t go on as much as I could, that my heart, passion and politics still lie idealistically within the NHS. Quality services for looked after and adopted children should be available to all, free at the point of access and provided at the moment it is needed. However, this was not where I found myself and I needed to do better for looked after and adopted children and their families.
“You don’t resolve those kinds of problems with tighter rules and boundaries”
Dr Amber Elliot (TCPS)
The problem, as I saw it, was that the right therapeutic messages were not getting “out there”. The developmental trauma of looked after and adopted children was treated with the same models of therapy that had been researched and developed on entirely different children and the emotional and behavioural consequences of trauma were being simplistically seen through the lens of behaviour modification i.e. “we can shape this undesirable behaviour using rewards and punishments” (regardless of its underlying psychological causes). The staggering fact is that 60% of children in the care system have severe and enduring emotional and mental health problems, that’s compared to 10% of all children and you don’t resolve those kinds of problems with tighter rules and boundaries.
In my career as a Clinical Psychologist my passion has always been to help looked after and adopted children to develop beyond their early trauma to happier, healthier lives via supportive and therapeutic work with them and their primary carers. My work is about enabling healing from the effects of traumatic early relationships via new therapeutic parenting relationships.
“I knew I wanted to set up a high quality therapeutic and consultation service”
Dr Amber Elliot (TCPS)
In the brave new world of independent practice, free from all the constraints and securities of employment I was faced with the dilemma of how I was going to achieve this. Armed with my grandiose aspirations and my new-found energy I knew I wanted to set up a high quality therapeutic and consultation service. Within six months I was meeting with families, foster carers and Social Workers and getting the therapeutic parenting message out there.
I was also constantly thinking about how I could reach and support more people. The cost of direct work with a private psychologist will be a barrier in some cases, when Local Authorities cannot be persuaded of the importance of targeted, quality and comprehensive therapeutic support and sometimes when families are, broadly speaking, doing ok. So, I got thinking about how I could offer different levels of support and help to foster and adoptive families.
When I was writing my first book, Why Can’t My Child Behave? Empathic Parenting Strategies that Work for Adoptive and Foster Families. I became aware of just how limitless the need for this support is. So, I started work on developing a more dynamic, interactive service. Parenting Advice for Foster Carers and Adopters (www.pafca.co.uk) is a web resource that joins together the expertise of foster carers and adopters with that of professionals to improve the emotional well-being, behaviour and mental health of adopted and fostered children.
Four years and one baby later, I took the stomach-churning decision to take on an administrator and two Clinical Psychologists. Ignoring the wise counsel of our solicitor and accountant we also then became a Community Interest Company (CIC). We had always operated within social enterprise principles but this made it all legal and made me feel like I could sing from the rooftops about the quality of our services without raising suspicions that I was simply ‘selling’ our services for financial gain. Being a CIC undoubtedly made things more difficult and financially onerous (TCPS and I pay far more tax this way) but it was something I was proud to have done and I have never looked back.
We are now a hardworking, happy team of 10 (and still growing) and we have achieved an Outstanding Ofsted rating for our core work in Adoption Support. Most importantly our families say we make a life-changing difference to them.
Dr Amber Elliott
Chartered Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Service Director
The Child Psychology Service CIC
Thanks for reading this week’s guest article by Dr Amber Elliot! Tune in next week for more great content!