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?
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.
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.
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...