Last week Tom and I finally made it to Panel. Anyone who follows me on twitter will almost certainly know the result so I won’t try and create any tension and just let you know…we were approved! Whoop!
I felt absolutely fine all day – I deliberately made sure I was busy at work – but as soon as I walked in the building a swarm of butterflies let loose in my stomach. We arrived at exactly the same time as our social worker and it didn’t help my nerves that she seemed quite stressed out herself. I suppose her work is being judged almost as much as we are and a lot is at stake. After settling us in the waiting room she was whisked off to talk through the report with the panel.
While we were waiting we bumped into a couple from our final prep day who had just been approved. They looked so relieved and happy but I was finding it difficult to string a sentence together. I kept repeating ‘how was it?’ over and again. They put my mind at ease and I think I remembered to congratulate them but I can’t be sure.
After about ten minutes, a very severe looking woman, flanked by Denise and another, more smiley woman, walked down the corridor and introduced herself as the Panel Chairperson. Once she started speaking to us, it turned out she was rather lovely and she did her very best to put us at ease. She explained the process and told us the questions they were going to ask.
By this point Denise seemed much calmer. This was probably down to the fact that the panel chairperson had informed us that the report was so well written they had struggled to think of any questions for us. This was great to hear and reaffirmed how lucky we are to have Denise as our social worker.
Despite this, they managed to think of four questions for us, which were: what training have we undertaken during the approval process and what had we learnt form it; how would we set boundaries for our children whilst also being therapeutic; why did we want to adopt siblings and how would we manage; and finally how would we cope if our children were ever bullied for having gay parents?
The actual meeting took place in a room that we’d previously had two training sessions in, so we were comfortable in the surroundings, which helped us relax. The panel itself was made up of six women and two men, the vast majority of whom were adoptive parents, plus an administrator and Denise’s supervisor.
The chairperson then asked members of the panel to ask the questions. Without really making a decision to do so, Tom and I each took a turn to answer them, chipping in extra information where necessary. During one of my questions, I forgot a relatively important piece of information and Denise very helpfully reminded me of it.
While we were answering, everyone around the table smiled and nodded enthusiastically, which was lovely of them. I was aware that I was making odd shapes with my hands on the table so I thrust them under the table and played with my wedding ring. I would have sat on my hands but I think that would have looked a bit odd.
We were probably in there for no more than ten minutes but it flew by and suddenly we were being ushered back into the waiting room while they deliberated.
After what felt like an eternity but was probably no more than a couple of minutes, the chairperson, co-chair and Denise came out to tell us their response. Thankfully, she didn’t beat around the bush and was delighted to inform us that we’d been unanimously approved. To date, I’ve not heard of anyone not being unanimously approved but we’re still going to wear it as a badge of honour.
The chairperson explained that their decision was merely a recommendation to the agency decision maker and that we wouldn’t officially be approved for another ten to fourteen days. As unlikely it is that the agency will now say no, it does make me wonder why so much focus is put on the panel – particularly when, according to the invitation letter, you technically don’t actually need to be there. (I can't imagine why you wouldn't want to be, though.) She also asked us to give some further feedback as to how the process could be improved.
We were finally left with Denise and we all had a big hug. She seemed genuinely happy for us and we started talking about the next steps – but that’s for another blog.
Forty-five minutes after arriving, Tom and I walked out into the summer sun, called our parents, Whatsapped our siblings and friends, and went to a lovely Italian restaurant around the corner from the agency to celebrate. All in all, a very positive experience and a wonderful outcome. Phew.
Last week Tom and I read our Prospective Adopters Report (PAR). Ours was a 45 page document that sums up everything we’ve talked about in our assessment meetings with our social worker Denise.
It was a completely surreal experience seeing your life laid out in black and white on paper, and despite everything we read having originally come from our mouths, it was still a surprise. The main question we were asked to think about was whether we recognised the two people outlined in the report. Thankfully we did – with a few edits…
Mostly we asked Denise to clarify a few points where events had been conflated. For instance at my coming out story, Denise had stated that my brother was with me, whereas in actual fact he was in the pub round the corner with Tom and a large G&T at the ready. A minor detail but we all felt it was worth getting things accurate. Other edits were about the language used. Being a writer, Tom obviously has a way with words and asked Denise to slightly change a turn of phrase here and there in order to best tell our story. Overall though, we thought Denise had really got the measure of us and I found it a really positive experience.
We then talked through what our profile on the national adoption register would include. This is the information that the social workers of children in care can access to find potential matches. The form states the type of children we would be able to care for and includes our preferred gender, age, ethnicity, and religion, as well as how many children we’d be willing to accept. This was all fairly straight forward.
The hard part came when we were asked to decide what difficulties in the children’s lives we felt we could cope with. This ranged from severe physical disabilities to mild mobility issues, and from parents with a history of mental health issues to diagnosed illnesses. It’s really tough to say 'yes' to this and 'no' to that but we have to think about what we can definitely cope with, and also with the fact that we want a sibling group and therefore have to consider the effects of ill-health on a sibling. With Denise’s help, we worked through the list and felt positive about our decisions.
Wonderfully, Denise told us that three social workers had sent through profiles of children based on our profile that had been sent out, so we spent some time looking through them. One Denise immediately suggested would not be a good match for us; the second was for a single child; and the third we’ve requested some further information about.
At the end of the session Denise talked us through what to expect when we go to panel. Again she managed to allay any worries we had about it and we’re both really looking forward to it.
We finished up by signing a whole host of forms. The whole thing took three and a half hours and was probably one of the longest sessions, and definitely the most procedural. We were both drained and treated ourselves to a pizza and glass of wine to go over everything that had just happened.
So there we have it - our approval process is almost at an end and at the time of posting this blog we have five days to go until panel. Wish us luck…
Recently, our social worker spoke to us about whether we'd be interested in considering Fostering to Adopt as a way of starting our family.
Fostering to Adopt is a form of Early Permanence (EP) which also includes Concurrent Planning. We were made aware of concurrency early on in the process but very quickly disregarded it as not being suitable for us. But we thought it was worth finding out a bit more about fostering to adopt.
The following information is what I’ve gleaned from social workers, my own reading and my own opinions. Please don’t take it as gospel and if you require any further information you should speak with your social worker.
Fostering to adopt is when a child is placed with an approved adopter who initially acts as a foster carer, taking on the many responsibilities that come with that job (see below), but with the long-term plan being they then go on to adopt the child. This situation occurs when a child has been removed from his or her birth parents by social services and is very likely to be adopted, but the placement order from the court has yet to be issued.
Fostering to adopt obviously has huge benefits to the child, including:
So with these benefits, why isn’t this the standard way in which children are adopted? Well, I suspect it’s the uncertainty of the placement for the prospective adopters.
It’s my understanding that whereas in concurrent planning it is the primary plan of Social Services for the child to be returned to the birth parents, in fostering to adopt Social Services have already ruled out a return to the birth parents and the prospective adopters are the primary plan. However, the courts may have a different idea or a distant family member may come forward and request they want to be considered to adopt the child. You could be caring for a child (that you think may be staying with you forever) for up to six months and then have them taken away – and that’s something that could, and I suspect does, put people off.
There is also the fact that during the initial period of fostering, the child is a ward of the state so you have very few actual parental rights, and you would be very much expected to work alongside Social Services in the same way as any foster carer does. This includes (not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination):
All this on top of being a parent to a traumatised child. But it’s not all doom and gloom for the adopters though:
So for us adopters there are both pros and cons. But really, that’s neither here nor there, because adoption should be all about the child’s needs rather than the adopters. It’s taken a year of prep days and assessment meetings for me to get my head in that place, and now it is, but still…am I prepared to take that risk? How altruistic can I be?
I think another reason for people not signing up for fostering to adopt is the utter confusion that surrounds it at the moment. It’s still in its infancy and as such there is very little research into its effectiveness other than anecdotal evidence.
A few weeks ago, Tom and I went to an information meeting about EP and what we were told was in stark contrast to what our social worker had told us or what I had discovered online and in books. We left feeling utterly baffled.
It turns out that different local authorities use the legal framework for EP in different ways and some don’t use it all, and this has caused all sorts of issues. Surely a standardised approach to a system that is potentially so amazing for our children should be developed and used in all local authorities.
So where does that leave Tom and me? Well, we have a fabulous social worker who has a good knowledge of fostering to adopt and who has promised to be with us every step of the way. We completely trust Denise’s advice and know that she would never put us in a situation where we could end up losing a child we had fallen in love with. So we’ve decided that if a fostering to adopt placement comes up we’re willing to be considered. I appreciate that’s not a resounding yes but it’s not a definite no either. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
What is your experience of fostering to adopt?
In April 2015, Tom and I met with a social worker at our adoption agency for our very first meeting. By the end of it we had a long list of books to read, forums to join, and the recommendation of a single blog to follow. That blog was Sally Donovan’s.
The post was about self-care and it terrified me. In the first paragraph I read the text: “I collapsed into a mess of shattered nerves, frustration, anger and something like grief”. Oh my goodness! The writer had clearly experienced something terrible but as I read on I noticed a lightness in the writing that was actually full of hope. And it had me transfixed.
It was through reading Sally’s blog that led me to the Adoption Social which led me to all the other blogs I now read on a weekly basis. They often tell of the trials and tribulations of being an adoptive parent but somehow they too are always hopeful.
Reading these blogs is what made me think about writing my own in order to keep track of our adoption journey. And it was at this point that I started using Twitter as a way of connecting with the people whose blogs I was reading but also to let those same people know about mine.
I have used Twitter for work for years but have always kept that account completely professional and tweets were either directly about my work or those in my field. My new account was about me and the adoption process, and if I wanted to bitch about a late train, show off about an event I was at, or just share what I was feeling this was the place to do it. Having said that, I do try to keep those type of tweets to a minimum – who wants to be confronted with my *screaming* tweets at South West trains? And no-one likes a show off. However, over the last eight months, I’ve been continually amazed at how the vast majority of people I follow on Twitter are so open, caring and thoughtful – which in turn has encouraged me to do the same.
At times it’s been a strange experience for me. Complete strangers have tweeted about awful experiences and I have wanted to reach out to them but my natural British reserve has often stopped me. It’s the same if I see someone crying in the street – I want to ask if they’re OK but am worried about how they’ll respond. On the odd occasion when I have offered to help a crying person they’ve looked at me like I was mad. On Twitter, however, when I have offered a comment or thought it’s been greeted with thanks and appreciation, which has enabled me to do it more often.
For all the benefits of social media there are, unfortunately, also many downsides. Tom and I have a ban on using social media when we’re at home together in the evening. It’s all too easy to get carried away whatsapping, tweeting and facebooking and before you realise it, an entire night has gone. There are also the security risks both to ourselves and our future children - one of the reasons I’ve decided to remain anonymous. It’s the anonymity that allows me to be so open but also allows people to think it’s OK to say what they want without impunity.
A few weeks ago someone I follow on Twitter posted a tweet about their yet-to-be adopted child. A flurry of responses followed from people all giving their own points of view, but an hour later it felt like the original tweeter was being ‘attacked’ for a decision she had made, knowing all the facts, and in consultation with her social worker. A very final tweet from her did manage to stop any further comments but you got the sense she was exhausted from it all – I know I was.
It did amuse me that the very next day the same tweeter replied to a post of mine in an incredibly insensitive way. I’m sure she didn’t mean it to sound the way it did, but it just goes to show how careful you have to be when we rattle something off without a second thought.
Our agency recently organised a training event on the theme of social media and adoption, which I attended. It was a really informative night and I came away with some great tips and ideas about how to protect young people from the dangers of social media. These include:
Of course all of this is dependent on the age of your children. What is right for little Johnny isn’t necessarily right for little Tommy too.
So I wonder how I’ll use social media and blogs in the future after our children are placed with us. Will I have the time or inclination to continue my blog? I certainly hope so. Will I ask for advice and guidance on Twitter and Facebook? Almost certainly. Will I tweet every thought and emotion? Who knows.
But what I do know is that social media is here to stay whether we like it or not, and it’s up to each of us to use it as we see fit – both for us individually and for our families.
How do you use social media? Is it a lifeline or a straitjacket?
My husband and I have adopted two wonderful children. Duckling is 5 and Gosling, her little brother, is 3. I'll be keeping track of our journey here...