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…
Back in October 2015 we started Stage One of the adoption process. We had been told by our agency that it would take around two months. Well, four months later I’m glad to say it’s finally over and the first Stage Two assessment is imminent.
What has taken so long I hear you ask? Well, if you’re sitting comfortably I’ll begin…
One of the first things we completed was the DBS forms as we were told they could take up to eight weeks to be returned. I’ve completed countless DBS checks over the last 15 years and the longest I’ve ever had to wait was about three weeks. When the end of week seven came and went, we got a call from the agency telling us that the Metropolitan Police were taking up to 16 weeks to complete DBS checks. This was a massive blow to our timetable. We were hoping to start Stage Two before Christmas but this was clearly not going to happen. Annoyingly our forms arrived three weeks later but by this stage our social worker didn’t have time to get started before Christmas.
So, we knew that our referees had sent in their references, we’d handed in all our homework, and now our DBS checks were complete so the only thing we needed to finalise was the medicals.
When we had our medical examinations we knew that our GP had picked up on something from one of our family history that would have to be flagged up. We were assured it wasn’t an issue and that it wouldn’t hold anything up (it has since been checked and all is well). What followed was a very slow game of letter tennis. The agency wrote to our GP for some more information. Our GP sent the information. Another question was asked and another letter sent. The bureaucracy of all this was the only time I came anywhere near losing my temper with the process.
Add to all this the fact the agency doctor temporarily ‘misplaced’ our medical examinations meant there was a hold-up in getting everything signed. Finally everyone was happy and the documents were ‘found’ but we had to wait for a final signature from the agency doctor before we could be signed off.
This all happened just before Christmas so we were going to have to wait for everyone to return from the holiday before anything could be done.
I have to admit that I have to take some responsibility for holding things up. I have spent almost the whole of January working away from home which meant scheduling a meeting was very difficult – having said that, had we been offered an earlier date by our SW I would have made sure I was available.
So has it been a disaster having to wait so long? Well, we missed out on a date for our final preparation day but it’s been rescheduled for a date in May. And we missed out on a 12-week volunteering programme with our agency that our old social worker suggested we do due to Tom’s ‘lack of experience’ with younger children. How she came to that conclusion is beyond me as between Tom and me, we have 16 nieces, nephews and godchildren ranging in ages from 2 to 17!
However, I know I was delighted at not having to do the volunteering as I didn’t relish the idea of giving up our Saturday mornings before we really had to. It actually worked out well as Tom’s now helping children with their reading at the local primary school that we hope to send our children to (I know we don’t necessarily need to put the effort in but every little helps).
It seems to me that so much of the waiting was down to box ticking and red tape. All of which I understand needs to happen for the safety of the children in the care system but, like so many other government-led processes, there has to be a smarter and quicker way through.
So all in all not a real disaster - just a lot of frustration and hanging around when we’re itching to get our family started.
But for now Stage One is complete and as of next week we’ll officially be in Stage Two.
For as long as Tom and I have been talking about adopting, we have wanted to adopt a sibling group. I’d like to say that this was a truly altruistic decision but we came to it as we’d been told we were more likely to get younger children if we took on siblings. As the months passed on, we kept being told how much more difficult siblings would be to manage, and that we were highly unlikely to get young children, but oddly our decision didn’t change.
Tom and I both have older siblings and I think, deep down, we knew that we wanted our children to have the same bond and connection with a brother or sister as we do.
As well as lots of homework for Stage One, our old social worker, Lorraine, also suggested we attend a preparation meeting specifically aimed at adopters who wanted to adopt a sibling group. So just before Christmas, Tom and I joined two other couples for a meeting at the agency’s head office to find out about more about it.
The session was led by Brenda, a senior social worker at our agency. She was great – down to earth, didn’t speak in a patronising tone, and really knew her stuff. The first thing we were told is that having two children is way more than double the work.
We were also given a whole new list of books. Those of you who have read previous posts will know this was handy as we’d just finished the last of the books on the previous list from the agency and needed something else to read. What was interesting was that these books weren’t necessarily linked to adoption but were more about parenting in general, and parenting siblings in particular.
We spent the evening working through numerous case studies of adopted siblings. We discussed different behaviours in siblings and potentially how to deal with them, what to look for in the children’s profiles when it comes to the matching process, and strategies for ensuring each child feels equally loved and looked after.
However the main thing we took away from the session was understanding how two children in the same family can have had very different experiences with their birth parents and, as such, may need very different styles of parenting.
Tom and I have spent a long time adapting, in our heads at least, to the idea of therapeutic parenting our future children. And now we have to find different parenting styles for each child. It all makes perfect sense of course but is another shift in the way we think we might parent our children — and another shift from how our friends and families parent theirs. Most of them find the idea of therapeutic parenting slightly odd and pride themselves on parenting their children in a more conventional way.
Nevertheless, all in all it was a really informative session that gave us lots to think about and we took loads of notes but, as always, the proof will be in the actual parenting.
As we’ve come to expect from any social worker who’s talking about adoption, it felt as if Brenda spent a large part of the evening trying to dissuade us all from adopting. And, as always, it didn’t work. In fact as we walked away from the meeting and headed toward a glass of wine, Tom and I were even more committed to creating our family of four.
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...