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?
We’ve had a couple of second meetings recently. The first was when Tom and I met up with a couple of people from our Stage One preparation day for a drink. It was a really nice evening and was great to share our experiences of the process so far. Interestingly, we’re all at very different places with one being approved to adopt, another waiting for DBS certificates to be able to finish Stage One (if I felt the process was taking a long time, I can’t imagine how frustrated they must be feeling), and us in Stage Two. At the end of the evening (and after more bottles of wine than is sensible midweek) we made tentative plans to meet again in a few months. It felt like the start of our very own ‘NCT’ group.
Our second second meeting was with Denise, our social worker. After the last session I was prepared for anything and everything but fortunately that wasn’t necessary. The meeting was at the agency’s offices which I thought would be a bit grim but were actually very relaxed – it turns out Denise makes a great cup of tea which always helps (although she was a bit slow in offering the large box of biscuits that sat between us).
Denise, once again, kicked off the session by reminding us of the types of children we’re likely to be matched with and asked if we were ready for the challenges they might bring. Just like last time we assured her we were. I suspect this is going to be a regular exchange between us. We then spent some time looking at the types of children that are waiting to be placed in recent editions of the Adoption UK magazine.
This was a really useful exercise as it helped focus Tom and my thoughts on the types of children we feel we could offer a home to. As we’re committed to adopting a sibling group we don’t think it appropriate for us to take on a child with severe physical disabilities, which would mean our focus would naturally have to be on one of the children more than the other – not an ideal situation in any sibling group let alone with an adopted pair. However, we did think that a child with some form of developmental delay would be something we could cope with. As all our siblings have a child of each sex, it would be nice to have one of each too but gender isn’t really an issue for us. All of this is very fluid and will change as we go through the process but it’s good to be having the discussion.
We re-visited the eco-map but today looked at the people we offered support to and how they might cope when we were suddenly the parents to two children. This was interesting to think about as most of the people in our support network are either immediate family or our friends (most of whom have children themselves) and so the support has always been reciprocal and hopefully will continue to be so.
Tom and I mentioned that we’d met some of our prep group the night before and Denise was really pleased about this. We all agreed that they would be potential support for us (and vice versa) in the future. It turns out Denise knew I’d organised the contact list through speaking to the social workers that ran our prep days. I wonder what else she’s been told…
The conversation that took up most of the session was about stressful situations and how we deal with them. For me the big one is my mum’s mental health issues, which came up in the first session with Denise.
My mum’s periods of depression are sporadic, with her thankfully having far more ups than downs. In fact it’s so well managed nowadays, through a combination of medication, self-care, and counselling, that it’s a shock when it reappears. It is sometimes possible to predict when it’s coming though - the main crunch time being New Year’s Eve which is emotional for many people, but it’s also the night she finally escaped her life in Ireland and arrived in the UK, and it’s also the night (26 years later) she found out that I was gay.
Denise was interested in how I was affected by this and how I dealt with it. If anything I would say it’s made me a stronger person and far more in touch with my feelings (not in a new age hippie way). From the age of 11, when my mum’s illness was at its worst, I had to act as carer from when I got home from school until my dad came home from work. This meant cleaning, shopping, cooking – all things that I can manage very well now and actually are skills that all children should have. Thankfully, I also had my older brothers (who by this point had moved out) who supported me and made sure I was OK. There were also some great friends of my mum’s who were there for us and to whom I will be eternally grateful.
Nowadays, it’s Tom, my brothers and my friends that I turn when I need support - usually it’s just a frustrated rant that gets everything off my chest. When things are really bad with my mum it usually falls to my older brother who lives the closest to support and help her. But we all chip in when we can.
I’ve witnessed first-hand what bottling up feelings and emotions can do to a person, and the devastation caused when these feelings are released, so I’ve always been able to talk about my emotions, share my thoughts (this blog is testament to that), and if I ever feel a bit down I acknowledge those feelings and respond to them.
Throughout this conversation, Denise was frantically scribbling notes and at the end she summed up an hour’s worth of talking into one succinct sentence – “I get from what you’re saying is that you don’t feel responsible for your mum, but you love, care and look after her as any son would do”. I was amazed. Despite Denise’s slightly shambolic approach to paperwork, she picked up on tiny details from our conversation and understood my relationship with my mum completely. And phrasing it that way that was a revelation. It felt liberating to hear it said out loud in such a manner. And exhausting. But at least I didn’t cry this time.
We finished up with Denise giving us some homework. We have a piece of writing about the area we live in to complete, a couple of topics from the session to think about further, some more books to read (how there can still be books on adoption we haven’t read yet is beyond me), and we have to take a picture of us both that makes us look like a pair of dads.
All in all, two really positive meetings. I’m already looking forward to the next ones…
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.
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...