During the approval process Denise, our social worker, asked us to tell her what our ‘house rules’ would be. In the moment of being asked the question we couldn’t think of any and it duly went into our PAR that we would have a house with no rules. That was quickly changed, as that would certainly not be the case! A few weeks later, when we were at panel, one of our questions was about how we would set boundaries and stick to them in a therapeutic way.
I think both Tom and I would naturally be relatively strict parents but we have shifted our thoughts on this through our prep day attendance and discussions with other adopters about therapeutic parenting. And whilst we very much intend to parent therapeutically there are some rules that I think we should at least strive for in order to make our children fully functioning members of society.
Some of these ‘rules’ may not come to fruition until years in the future and that’s OK - if we fail, we fail but surely it’s definitely worth trying…
So nothing too strenuous, but what about when we’re out in public? What’s important out in the big wide world…
All in all, I don’t think any of these are that unreasonable and can be pretty much summed up in one simple statement – ‘be nice’.
Like I say these aren’t things that I’m expecting straightaway, or indeed all of the time, but it’s the point from which Tom and I will start. And of course the children may well have their own ideas about the kind of home they want to live in, and rules that we as a family have created together will hopefully make for a happy and safe place to live.
What house rules do you have? Which rules have you abandoned? Are there are any you didn’t expect?
I would say I am quite reluctant to get involved in conflict. I don’t enjoy it and when I do get into an argument I can feel myself getting hot and my voice speeds up – neither of which engenders a confident or winning appearance. That’s not to say I don’t occasionally argue with Tom, or get into a ‘heated discussion’ with a ‘customer service’ representative on the phone who’s supposed to be helpful, or ask someone to lower the volume on their headphones on public transport – because I do (though I’m working really hard at ignoring the latter). But the point is if there’s a way to avoid getting into these confrontations, I’ll do my best to find it. So when it comes to fight, flight or freeze – my natural instinct is to fly but I am, when necessary, prepared to fight my corner. And as Denise, our social worker, pointed out during assessment it will be necessary to fight our children’s corners too when we need to.
I have seen anecdotal evidence on Twitter, in blogs and in newspapers that accessing services for our children can be an uphill struggle. Parents have constantly to fight for CAMHS referrals, the Adoption Support Fund (ASF), or other therapeutic services on an almost daily basis for months on end (situations where the ‘freeze’ – or stubborn – response might actually be helpful). Similarly, there are lots of stories about teachers and schools not working with parents or children in a therapeutic, positive or supportive way. I should point out that there are also lots of positive experiences of both post-adoption support and education services too – but I suppose it depends on the luck of the draw.
I had my first taste of local authority bureaucracy when, during the assessment process, Denise asked us to find out about local post-adoption support services. I duly contacted our local authority and asked to know about the services that were available to support adopted children. The social worker I spoke to said that as we weren’t one of the authority’s approved couples we would receive no support from them. I knew the placing local authority would fund any services for the first three years but surely it would be the local authority where the child lived that would provide the actual service and all I was looking for was information. He was having none of it. I found myself remembering why we didn’t go with our local authority in the first place and becoming irate with this guy who seemed willfully unable to help.
Somehow I remained calm (as who knew when I’d need to talk to him again in the future) and explained that I would not accept the local authority ignoring my children for the first three years of their placement. I like to think my commanding tone of voice swayed him but, whatever it was, somehow we managed to find an accord and I ended up being placed on a mailing list of events in the borough, receiving a generic list of available services and the promise that I could contact them about specific services when it was confirmed what we needed.
I felt deflated that I hadn’t received a simple answer to what I thought was a simple question but pleased that I’d held my ground and got something out of him. I also felt shocked that even a straightforward request for information was met with such hostility and difficulty. It doesn’t leave me feeling particularly positive for future interactions.
So, when it comes to our future children’s well-being my natural instinct may well have to be ‘fight’ rather than ‘flight’…something I’m not particularly looking forward to but will do regardless, to make sure they get everything they need to help them heal.
What has been your experience of accessing services for your children? What has worked for you?
Thankfully Tom and I are over and done with the approval process so this seemed a good time for me to reflect on the last nine months.
I’ll start with the positives…
From the moment we told our family and friends of our intention to adopt they have been more supportive and caring than we could ever have hoped for. Even aunts & cousins I haven’t seen for years had heard about it from my mum and were truly excited for us. All of this has really helped keep us going when it was feeling stressful. On the downside, at times when nothing much has happened (see below) it’s been a nightmare fielding the expectations of so many people – especially whilst trying to do the same with our own hopes and expectations.
We have the best social worker in the land. Despite making me cry at our first meeting, Tom and I have both grown to respect and cherish Denise and all the hard work she does for us. She’s clearly been there and seen it all and really knows her stuff. What’s extra lovely is I think she feels the same about us. At a meeting last week when we read a child’s report, she had really questioned the child’s social worker to find out everything she could as she felt ‘protective of us’ which almost made me cry again - though this time in a good way.
It’s no surprise that a fabulous social worker would work for a brilliant agency. There have been some ups and downs along the way but on the whole they have been great. Our training days were particularly good and we both feel that they have given us a solid grounding from which to work. We’ve also had sibling training, online safety training, and the promise of post-adoption training too. From our first prep days, we made friends with some other prospective adopters and we’ve enjoyed a few drunken nights together whilst we all wait for our children to join us (not literally, obviously). We’ve always been prepared for what’s coming next in the process and this has helped us enormously.
Of course, as with anything, there are things that are not quite so good…
Denise is actually our second social worker. We were introduced to Lorraine at our agency's office and I immediately took a dislike to her. I don’t know why – I just did. But I thought I’d give her the benefit of the doubt and see how things go. At the end of our first meeting at our house, I decided she might be OK but then she told us she was leaving the agency and we were going to be assigned a new social worker. I was so annoyed at wasting a whole afternoon that would have to be done again with our new social worker. It obviously turned out well but at the time I was not happy and it made me question whether we’d made the right decision about the agency.
By far the most irritating thing about the approval process is quite how long it takes. At the beginning, we’re told that Stage One will only take two months and Stage Two up to four. Whereas in actual fact while you wait for CBS and medical reports to be completed, Stage One can go on for what feels like forever (in our case it was just over four months). Denise has clearly been through these delays before as she knew exactly which forms we should sign with dates set in the past and future (very rarely on the actual day we were signing) in order for the statutory ‘timeline’ to work. If this happens over and again (which it does) why not just tell us Stage One is longer (in order to help manage our expectations) or allow us to progress onto Stage Two if all you're waiting for is a piece of paper to arrive?
But I should point out that I’m aware how lucky we are to have had such a good process. I know of people who have really not gelled with their social worker, whose social workers have repeatedly changed, whose agency is not up to scratch, or who have stayed in Stage One for months and months.
So if you’re about to start the approval process here are my top tips to keep you sane…
How was the approval process for you? What tips would you offer to someone starting the process?
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…
The gap between assessment meetings is getting shorter and shorter and with only one meeting to go we really are getting to the end of the assessment period. Where has the time gone?
On Wednesday we had our penultimate session with Denise, our social worker, and the focus was very much on the types of children we could see ourselves adopting.
As both my parents are Irish (I was born here), Denise has asked whether Tom and I would consider adopting a child from the Irish traveller community. If we thought we could, which we do, she suggested I speak to my parents as there is a history of antagonism between the two communities. I’m unaware of my parents having any kind of bad feeling against travellers, but I’ll check.
We also talked a lot about the types of children, and their specific needs, we felt we could cope with as a couple. We talked about the varying degrees of disabilities and/or learning difficulties, mental health issues, and the types of abuse and/or neglect that children in care might have been subjected to. Although Tom and I have had conversations about this topic, and started to make some decisions, it was really useful to be able to ask Denise questions without feeling judged. Denise gave us the adopter registration form, which will allow us to state our decisions for the matching team, to complete at home ready for the next session.
With this information in mind Denise gave us four profiles of siblings. She made it very clear that these children were unlikely to be available to us but wanted to check that she was thinking along the same lines as us. Two of the profiles were spot on and we would seriously consider them as children who we could care for. And the other two were positive choices but they both required a lot of thinking about and raised more questions than answers.
Tom and I talked later about how far we were willing to stray from the ‘perfect’ family (whatever that is) we’d imagined. It’s tough because we don’t want to seem heartless by saying we won’t take this child because of x and y but at the same time we have to weigh up in our hearts and minds what is right for us too.
We finished up by talking about Fostering to Adopt. This is where a child is placed with an approved adopter but where the child’s placement order has yet to be approved by the court. The benefit is that when (if) the order is approved the child is already with the family that will go to adopt them, reducing the number of moves and increasing their abilities to make good attachments. The downside is the possibility that the foster family start building attachments only for the child to return to the birth family. Also, before the placement order comes through you have far fewer parental rights. Tom and I will need to time to do some research and to really think about how we feel about this in the next few days and weeks. I’ve had some great advice and guidance from the twittersphere which has been invaluable.
Our homework from the last session was to write a Pen Picture (otherwise known as a biography) about who we are and why we want to adopt for the children’s social worker to read. We wrote way too much but thankfully Denise is happy to edit it down for us.
However, our homework from weeks ago is proving very difficult. We’ve been asked to provide a photo of us where we look like dads. We can’t find a single image that we’re both pleased with. Either I think Tom looks great but I’m pulling a face or Tom thinks I look great but he’s squinting. The search continues…
As is now a very positive pattern, we left feeling really good about how things are progressing and the realisation that stage two is very nearly over. And that is a little bit scary but also unbelievably exciting.
On Wednesday I had my individual assessment meeting with Denise, our social worker. Tom had his session a fortnight ago so I knew the basic outline of what to expect but I was a little nervous nonetheless and, oddly enough, rather looking forward to it.
We were together for three hours and twenty minutes which is a really long time to talk about yourself. But I persevered and we covered the following topics…
As it’s a very good place to start, we started at the very beginning and talked about my childhood. For the most part I had a great childhood. We went on holidays to foreign countries, I had a TV in my own room, I enjoyed school (despite a few bullying issues), and I had my brothers to play with. I’ve talked in previous posts about the less happy parts in my childhood and of course we went into this in great detail as I’d suspected.
We talked a lot about my relationship with my mum and dad and how their very different personalities have clearly had an impact on who I am now. It’s so weird having someone point out the characteristics of your parents so clearly in you. The really difficult task was describing my relationship to my mum and dad in five words. I found that virtually impossible but really insightful. We also talked about my brothers and our relationships with each other and why the strength of those relationships is one of the reason we’d like to adopt a sibling group.
We then moved on to the relatively easy task of discussing education and work. The only sticking point in this discussion was, as always, being self-employed. In fact, Denise’s supervisor has requested we devote a whole session to finally sorting out whether two self-employed creative types can be financially stable enough to adopt. When will they accept the answer is yes?!
We then moved on to past relationships. It felt weird talking about people who were, in one way or another, really important in my life, but I haven’t seen, or in some cases even thought about, in years. But it was interesting to re-visit these relationships and think about how they had influenced who I am today.
The final two questions were easy to answer. The first was whether there was anything that I wanted to tell Denise that I didn’t want Tom to know. It was a very simple – no. I can’t believe there’s anything that someone would tell their social worker that they wouldn’t tell their partner.
The second was whether Tom and I were in total agreement about wanting to adopt. Although Tom took longer to come round to the idea of adopting, I knew he was completely on board when we were house-hunting and he rejected one of the houses because the garden was too small and he couldn’t envisage our children running around in it.
All in all it was a really positive session and I know that Denise is totally behind us as we enter the final phase before panel.
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...