So we are now in stage one and the first month feels like there’s nothing for us to do. During stage one the agency have to carry out a number of statutory checks. These include…
…four referees (two from each of us) had to be named in the registration of interest form (ROI) who could talk to the agency about the type of people we are and their experience of us with children. I chose Matthew, one of my brothers, and my best friend Claire. Tom chose his sister, Dianne, and his best friend Charlie. Their first job is to complete a questionnaire about us and then talk to our social worker on the phone.
…a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check which replaced the old CRB a few years ago. As I work with young people on a fairly regular basis I have completed many of these forms and so there wasn’t really a concern about it. Tom and I had contacted one of the administrators at the agency to hand in our completed forms and show our proof of identity. Unfortunately we went to the agency’s satellite office rather than the head office! Thankfully, Lorraine, our social worker, was there and was able to take all the information they needed. It was great to meet her, albeit very briefly, as it meant we could get dates in the diary for our first home visit. At the time of writing we should have had the DBS back by now but have been informed there is an eight week delay which means we’ll be stuck in Stage One until the end of January!
…and a full medical check to make sure that we’re fit and healthy enough to be parents. We booked in to see our doctor and filled out quite an extensive form. I decided to look on the medical as an MOT which I’m rather glad to say we both passed with flying colours. I need to lose a few pounds but I knew that. I was also very pleased to say that instead of the £72 fee we were told to expect we were only charged £24!
Whilst we were waiting for all these people to write (hopefully) nice things about us, we could do nothing but wait until the home visit and our two preparation days.
Now I’m not one for sitting around and twiddling my thumbs so I decided to complete the family tree that’s part of the stage one process. The agency had outlined very specific rules for doing this which I followed to the letter – even though they insisted it be written in a word document!!! However, as I mentioned in my first post, I come from a large family and I was struggling to fit everyone on. There was also the question of my sister – or half-sister to be exact. And, I suppose if we’re going to be exact, I should also call my brothers my half-brothers – a title that I would never dream of using when introducing them to anyone or generally talking about them.
I’m the only child of my parents' marriage. My three brothers are from my mum’s first marriage and I grew up with them in the same house after my mum left her first husband and moved in with my dad. It must have been difficult for everyone but my parents and my brothers’ dad dealt with it brilliantly. When my brothers would visit their dad at the weekends I would sometimes go with them. My brothers’ Nan (my mum’s ex-mother-in-law) was my Nan too, and I would visit her all the time. Considering this was the early-eighties it was all very well handled. There were occasional issues between my older brothers and my dad through their adolescent and early adulthood years but they got through it and my nieces and nephews call my dad Granddad without any thought to whose blood is in who. We are a family. End of.
This is all in stark contrast to the relationship I have with my sister. There is a 22 year gap between my parents (no she wasn’t his secretary) and as a consequence my mum is only a few years older than my sister. Again I appreciate this must have been difficult for her at the time, but when I was born she was a woman in her late twenties and a few years later would be a mother herself. Yet it took her until I was nearly 30 before she would even entertain the idea of acknowledging I existed. I did meet her once at my uncle’s funeral but she didn’t want to talk then. That remains until this day the only occasion I met my two nephews who have since gone on to have two children themselves (I have to say I think I’m too young to be a grand-uncle!). I appreciate this is all very easy for me to say, happily living with my parents, but 30 years is a long time. And I suspect that by ignoring me, my sister was somehow getting back at my dad, whom she remained in contact with throughout.
Anyhow, about six years ago my dad became ill (he’s fine now) and he asked for us all to meet up. My Mum and Dad, my sister and her husband, and Tom and I all met for dinner - it was fine (if not very strange) and we meet up now and again at my parents’ house but we don’t call each other or see each other outside of these meetings.
But it got me thinking about how I explain this part of my family to Lorraine. Why hasn’t there been a better reconciliation? Why haven’t I engaged with my nephews and their families? Does it matter? What would happen if I simply scrubbed that line out of my family tree? I won’t do that but I’ve thought about it. I suppose it’s something for Lorraine and me to discuss in the future. Because these answers are going to be so important when our future children start thinking about and asking questions about their birth families. And I need to be able to help them with their answers.
In contrast, Tom’s family tree took us all of about three minutes and looks much neater than mine.
I mentioned last week that I started doing some research into adoption. In this post I’ve listed some of the blogs, books, and forums that have helped us understand the journey we’re on and prepare us (intellectually at least) for what’s to come. I do worry that I’ve possibly read too much, both online and in books, so do be careful that you don’t overwhelm yourself with too much reading.
Blogs - One of the things that’s encouraged me to start this blog is the support and information Tom and I have found through following blogs. Keith from the agency first told me about Sally Donovan’s blog, which led me to The Adoption Social (TAS), which led me to hundreds of others. Each week TAS sends out the best blogs so you can get a real sense of what’s going on in adoptive families. Here are some (among many) of the ones that I really like - Misadventures of an Adoptive Dad, We Are Family, Three Bees and a Honey, Suddenly Mummy and last but not least the musical Gareth Marr.
I follow many of these bloggers on twitter and they have all been happy to answer questions, lend support when needed, or simply 'like' my thoughts - so thank you to all of them!
Books - Every social worker I’ve spoken to has had their own ideas about which books you should read. There’s a book list in the Stage One information pack, another in the Preparation Days information pack, and another on the agency’s website. I have probably read more books on a single topic this year than I did in my three years at university (admittedly I did drama so it’s not that surprising). Anyway, here are my mini reviews on the books…
No Matter What by Sally Donovan – This is a great read. It’s honest and full of hope, joy and sadness. It brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face in equal measure. It was brilliant to hear about an actual adoptive parent’s journey. I found out about the book through Sally’s blog.
The Pink Guide to Adoption by Nicola Hill – The first half outlines the law and how it affects adopting as a gay or lesbian couple. This was very helpful from a practical point of view. The second half is full of case studies of gay and lesbian couples adopting children. This was really helpful to see that it has been done before, and most importantly it has been done successfully. I found this book on the internet when I first started investigating adoption.
The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier – I really struggled with this book. The premise is that babies create a bond with the birth mother in utero and if the child is separated at birth a wound is created that is devastating to the child’s development. Whilst I completely accept that early childhood trauma seriously affects children’s emotional and intellectual development, my issue with the book is that it talks mainly about children being relinquished by birth mothers at the time of birth. From everything I’ve been told about the types of children on the adoption register in the UK, it's incredible rare for a child to be relinquished at birth nowadays that the information seems slightly redundant. There's very little mention of childhood traumas beyond the separation itself. It also mainly talks about a woman taking over the caring role and that men have little to do with this side of things. All in all not that helpful for Tom and me. The second part of the book is more practical, and potentially very helpful, but by this point I couldn’t wait to finish it.
A Child’s Journey Through Placement by Vera Fahlberg – This is a text book for social workers who look after children and young people plain and simple. I haven’t read a book like it since I trained to be a teacher many years ago. However, its plain talking and clear advice have made excellent reading and I would recommend it, as a book to dip in and out of, to anyone who is thinking of adopting. This was recommended to me by Sandra from the agency.
Preparing for Adoption by Julia Davis – This is a straight talking book that outlines the process of adoption and gives clear, practical guidance on how to get started and how to keep going once the children arrive. This was also recommended to me by Sandra from the agency.
The Unofficial Guide to Adoption by Sally Donovan – I have just finished Sally’s second book. Again, this is a really open and honest account of what life has been like for an adoptive parent. I suspect I’ll come back to this book one once we have our children as it is packed full of really useful and practical tips.
If I had to choose a few of the books I'd go for No Matter What and Preparing for Adoption.
Forums - These are a great way to speak directly to other adoptive parents who are either at the same stage as you or have already been there. Sandra at the agency directed us to New Family Social which is specifically set up to support LGBT people who want to adopt. The online forum is brilliant – I have posted a number of questions that have always been replied to quickly and with great thought. They also run events where you can meet up with other families (although at the time of writing we have yet to attend one of these). We have also just joined Adoption UK, recommended to us by the agency, which is basically the same as NFS but available for everyone to join. Again there is access to forums and support, which have been really helpful. For both these forums, like all online communities, you get out of them what you put in so try to keep your profile up to date and check in with what they’re up to.
No doubt you'll find your own research and information to help you make your initial decisions and then to support you when you adopt but this has all been invaluable for Tom and me to make sure we have made the right decision.
In April Tom and I met with Keith for our initial meeting. Keith is a senior practitioner at the agency and is a very earnest middle-aged gentleman. He was the first stereotype of a social worker we’d met - with leather elbow patches on his tweed jacket. He gave us a rundown of the process and then started asking us questions about who we were, our family life, how we thought we might be as parents etc.
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...