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.
Tom and I have been thinking a lot about names recently. As a gay couple who are adopting there are no traditional conventions to follow when it comes to choosing names – either ours or the children’s.
At the first home visit Lorraine, our social worker who has since left the agency, gave us some homework to complete. This included writing a family tree and a life chronology for each of us, an Eco-map, and a list of local amenities that will be useful when we have children.
I completed the family trees months ago while I was waiting for Stage One to get started. You can read more about that in an earlier blog.
The life chronology is a list of all the major events in our lives. We had to include where we’ve lived, where we went to school, where we’ve worked, who we’ve been in relationships with, and anything else we could think of that would have an impact on who we might be as a parent. It was like writing a really detailed and overly personalised CV. The chronology is used by the social worker as a basis for the questions in the Stage Two interviews. I know some people would feel strange sharing so much information about themselves with a complete stranger but I’ve never had an issue with talking about how I feel or ‘who I am’ so I rather enjoyed the process of thinking about the big events in my life.
The Eco-map is basically a spider-gram that encourages us to think about who we will rely on, both practically and emotionally, when we’re parents. Mostly it was really obvious. Claire, my best friend, who lives about 15 minutes away, is clearly going to be a big part of all our lives and will be on hand with a lasagne should we find ourselves unable to cook*. Our parents, who are older and live a fair distance away, won’t be around for the day-to-day stuff but will always be on the other end of the phone for advice and guidance.
* For some reason, practically every social worker I have spoken to has referred to us needing a friend who will make us lasagne in times of crisis. Oddly enough, Claire and her family have been staying with us for a few days recently while a burst water main is repaired at their house. She offered to make dinner one night and guess what we had – that’s right, lasagne! I knew we were in safe hands.
What was really interesting were the people we didn’t include and some that we did. I’m not going to write who wasn’t included in case they read it here, but the surprise additions were two of our neighbours, a pair of widows in their 70s with a penchant for a bowl of crisps and a strong G&T, whom we met just over a year ago. After spending a couple of really nice evenings with them and talking about the adoption, we honestly think that they’ll be an enormous emotional support and fount of knowledge in the years to come.
Lorraine pointed out that often the people you expect to be there for you aren’t always the ones who are able to do so and vice versa – we shall wait and see.
When we were looking for the new house we were searching with a family in mind. As a result, I think our list of local amenities is strong - the schools are good, there are plenty of parks and open spaces, the local authority have good play groups and a library service that is thriving, the doctors' surgery is great, we’re close to the Thames and other places of interest, and we have everything we could ever think of to give our children the best possible start in life.
Lorraine had suggested we start looking at schools in the area so we can make some potential choices when the need arises. I contacted three of the local primary schools and made arrangements to visit one of them. I had missed the open days for the other two – though one of which put me in touch with the SENCO for a chat, and I’ll keep in touch with them. The school I did go to was amazing! I had tonnes of questions based mainly on what I had read and heard about from other people. The deputy head talked me through their behaviour policies, how they distribute the pupil premium, and told me that there were other adopted children in the school who were being supported and doing very well. I know the ‘best’ school might not be the right school for our children and lots more research will need to be done but for now I know where I’d like to go if I were a child.
Over the course of a month or two, we pulled together all the information and thankfully we now have someone to send it to – a new social worker. Hurrah! We’ve spoken to Denise a couple of times on the phone and will be meeting her to hopefully start Stage Two next month. I’ll tell you all about that when, and if, it happens.
It feels like a long time since my last blog and this one. A manic work schedule, Christmas, norovirus, and New Year (pretty much in that order) have kept me away from my laptop. All that, coupled with a lull in Stage One adoption proceedings, has meant that there’s been little to write about that you’d want to read – trust me you don’t want to hear about our norovirus experience!
However, it has given me a chance to look back on 2015 and to look forward to what’s hopefully going to happen in 2016.
So, 2015… All in all it’s been a really good one. We’ve both been busy with work (for two freelancers that’s nothing short of a miracle), we got the house refurbished and decorated (whilst managing to agree on colours, fabrics and furnishings without too many arguments), it being the year of 40ths (and a surprise wedding) we’ve actually seen way more of our friends this year than we have for ages which has been brilliant, our families are all well and healthy, and we’re happy. Not a bad year in anyone’s book.
All year, at one event or another, I couldn’t help but think that the “next time we do this we might have our children”. Particularly around Christmas and New Year, it’s been difficult not to think about how different life will be this time next year. As a result, Tom and I went away to a posh hotel for Christmas by ourselves telling our families “this might be our last chance to do it” (we had an amazing time and I’m gutted I never agreed to do it sooner), our families have talked about the extra seats we’ll need for Christmas lunch next year (the venue of which has already been agreed upon!), and I’m preparing myself for the fact that Christmas may have to be scaled back from the madness I usually insist on!
So what’s in store for 2016? In a perfect world Tom and I will sail through Stage Two, matching will be a breeze, and we’ll be joined by our children at some point around September. Oh, and World Peace will be achieved by Easter. In reality we’re both very much aware that the hard work starts now as Stage Two hopefully begins very soon alongside so much else to think about…
Work for me is going to be interesting as I’ve elected to take at least the first year off to look after the children. So far I’ve taken on work up until June. I’ll need work beyond that but for how long? I don’t want to take on a project and then have to back out at the last minute and piss off future employers.
The two spare rooms that Tom and I are happily occupying at the moment will have to be redecorated and furnished for two children rather than being used as our office/den/music room/play room (delete as appropriate). This also means that Tom will either have to find somewhere to work outside the house or find a way of working through the noise of two children (and me).
Our friends and family have been getting increasingly excited about the arrival of the children. Quite how they’re going to cope for the rest of the year is going to be interesting and that hasn’t taken into account how excited Tom and I are. I’ve already found myself having to manage people’s expectations about adoption. Like me, before I read books and attended the training days, most people assume bringing up our children will be same as how they bring up theirs. That our children’s behaviours will be the same as their children. Hopefully it won’t be too different but it’s better to start sowing the seeds now just how different it might all potentially be. In fact we gave both our parents a copy of Related by Adoption, by Hedi Argent, as part of their Christmas presents in an effort to make their expectations more realistic.
As with every New Year we’re full of hope for what’s in our future. Fingers crossed that it involves the patter of little feet…
Everyone has told us how important the relationship between you and your social worker is. So I really wanted to like Lorraine, our assigned SW from the agency, and hoped she’d be the type of person that I could connect with and open up to during Stage Two.
Unfortunately we didn’t get off to the greatest start. We’d very briefly met Lorraine when we went to get our DBS forms checked and I left that meeting unsure of how I would get on with her. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was but there was something that I didn’t gel with. She also seemed unsure of which boxes to fill in on the DBS and I worried that she was going to fill it out incorrectly.
The first email she sent us was addressed to Mark & Claire. I understand that the email is a standard one that gets sent out to everyone but surely a quick scan would have seen that glaring error. The email also informed us that she only worked three days a week which again concerned me. What if we needed support on a day she wasn’t in? What if a judge needed a document on a day she wasn’t working?
On the day we arranged for her to come to the house to talk through stage one I had a thorough clean of the house and then, under advice from a friend, slightly messed it up again so we didn’t look like we’d be upset by mess when children arrive.
Thankfully, despite all my misgivings, she’s lovely. She had a really nice manner about her that didn’t seem apparent when we first met. She talked us through the process again, explained about the paperwork we had to prepare for Stage One, asked us a few basic questions but nothing too intrusive, and explained about Stage Two. Brilliantly she also signed us up to a meeting specifically for adoptive parents who want to adopt a sibling group.
We then had a wander around the house carrying out the health and safety check. Lots of my friends are often amazed at the hoops adopters have to jump through before being approved and this was one of the ones they were most amazed at. I have to admit that I agree on this one. Our house doesn’t have any children in it but I felt like I had to justify why there weren’t any cupboard locks etc. Obviously when we are approved we can get the house ready for every H&S possibility but it all felt a bit premature. Thankfully, we did have the foresight, when we had the house refurbished at the start of the year, to install locks on the bathroom doors that can be opened from the outside. Anyway, we have a very minor shopping list of things to get and sort out but nothing that can’t be organised very quickly.
So all in all a great meeting...
...until Lorraine dropped the bombshell that she was leaving the agency in three weeks and a new social worker would be taking over our case.
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...