If today wasn’t going to be stressful enough it was made just that little bit more excruciating with the fact that our social worker, Denise, insisted on talking about the day on a very busy train from London to the Midlands. I’ll talk about adoption with anyone who’ll listen so it wasn’t the subject that bothered me – it was just the environment. Thankfully she gave us a tonne of new reports about the children to read so we managed to keep quiet for a while.
When we arrived at the social services building, we were led into the smallest and hottest room in the world, where Denise, Tom, Tanya and Gloria, the children’s social workers, and me squeezed in and looked through the introduction books Tom and I had made. The panel administrator very kindly went to a massive effort, verging on the farcical, to make a cup of tea that due to the heat none of us wanted actually wanted. But we politely said yes and got even hotter. I’m sure it was some kind of final test. Finally, the panel chair introduced herself, talked us through the process and the questions they were going to ask, and we all duly followed her into the meeting room.
As is becoming a pattern, this was when I started to feel nervous. And I mean nervous. I suddenly had this dread wash over me that they were going to say no – despite all the reassurances the social workers had given us. Conversely, Tom’s nerves started about three days before but he was in zen-like state of calm when panel was actually happening. I’m not sure which I’d prefer.
The panel was made up of three adopters, one social worker, the medical advisor, the panel chair, and panel administrator – it felt positive that there were five of us, so we weren’t quite as outnumbered as we were at the approval panel. They were all very smiley and encouraging, which somehow made my feelings of doom even stronger. It started with the medical advisor talking us through the information she had about the children. What was odd was that she was clearly working from early reports and we’d seen much more recent ones so we actually had to correct some of what she’d said. They then asked Tanya for further updates on the children from when the original report was written. I understand the panel had to get the information but I wish they’d asked our questions first – it really felt like an age before they got to us.
We were asked questions about why we wanted these particular children, about the potential impact on us, about one specific behaviour that had been identified in the report, and about contact arrangements. Similarly to the approval panel we each took the lead on a question with the other one chipping in extra bits as we went along. Before we knew it, we were ushered back in to the furnace of a room while the social workers stayed behind to answer a few further questions.
After about five minutes, the social workers came out and we all had to wait for another ten minutes before the chair came back and asked us back into the room. I genuinely couldn’t read her expression and I clutched Tom’s hand while she got herself organised. It felt like an eternity but she actually very quickly told us that the panel were delighted to approve the match. Yippee!
Of course I immediately cried. I’m worried what the adoption process has done to my tear ducts which previously were pretty much unused. Denise even commented that I now have a reputation for blubbing!
There was a bit of stand-off between the panel chair and Gloria about when the agency decision maker would sign off the panel’s recommendation. Tanya had hoped to give the children as much time as possible to get used to the idea of the adoption but had been told she had to wait for the ADM. It was agreed that the ADM would put this decision to the top of his agenda and it would be rubber stamped early the following week. Phew!
The panel finished with them talking us through why they’d reached their decision and wishing us luck.
Afterwards we took Denise out for some lunch while we waited to go back to the social services building to meet the children’s birth mum (more about that in next week’s blog).
The day ended with a meeting with the children’s nursery key worker. She was great! We looked through their books which had loads of pictures of them playing and having fun. She also gave us some great tips on how to manage their behaviour and the types of things they enjoyed doing.
The day had clearly taken it out of us, as we all slept on the train back to London. Denise was off on holiday the following day and wouldn’t be back until introductions have started so we all had a big hug and said our goodbyes. The next time she sees us we’ll be parents!
Tom and I went to the pub and celebrated with a nice dinner and some wine. We talked through everything we’d learnt and how we were feeling. We were both smiley and feeling warm (and it wasn’t the wine). It was so great to have this next milestone out of the way, knowing that in sixteen days time we were going to meet our children.
A few weeks ago Tom and I had a visit from two social workers who had contacted our social worker, Denise, after reading our profile (link to 6 weeks). They were caring for a brother and sister and thought we might be the right parents for them.
It so happens that this week coincided with a break in my work where I’d planned to give the house a massive spring clean. I cleared out and re-arranged the cupboards in the kitchen, cleared and sorted the shed, fixed some lights that had been broken since before we’d moved in, and generally put the house in order. I then spent the day before Tanya and Gloria arrived slightly messing it up again so I didn’t look like we lived in a show home. Purely by coincidence, we had also booked in our wonderful handyman to finish all the health and safety requirements left over from our first home visit. So the house was looking great.
In the days before the meeting, Tom and I spent some time re-reading the children’s reports trying to get a clearer idea of who they were. All we had to go on so far was the report and a couple of grainy, black and white photocopies of the children’s pictures. But this also gave us the opportunity to think of any questions we would ask Tanya and Gloria.
Denise arrived about an hour before they were due to arrive to help us get prepared and to come up with our game plan. We decided that Tom and I would sit together on one sofa, Denise on an armchair and Tanya & Gloria on the sofa in-between the three of us. That way Tom and I would look united and we’d be able to keep an eye on Denise for any pointers we might need.
Another tactic from Denise was getting Tom to pick up Tanya and Gloria from the station. We live on a main road with our garage and garden at the rear of the house. By picking them up we were ensuring their first view of our house was the garden and not a busy road.
Up until now I was feeling fine but as soon as Tom returned with them I started to feel a bit (read ‘very’) queasy. The enormity of what we were about to do suddenly hit me.
Tanya came across as being very friendly and warm whereas Gloria had a more stern look that actually worried me a bit. But as we all warmed up to each other over a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit it was clear she was really hoping we were right for the children almost as much as we wanted the children to be right for us.
We started by talking through BG’s report. Tanya was great at making her come alive in our minds and gave us lots of really useful information. BG is really into dancing, singing and being a ‘drama queen’. I decided to view that as a positive, what with my theatrical background, as opposed to it being social worker talk for ‘she has tantrums’. Meanwhile Denise was really needling them both to find out as much as she could so we had as clear a picture as possible.
Tom then showed Tanya and Gloria around the house while I got some lunch ready. I had prepared loads of stuff in the morning so we could make our own sandwiches. This worked out very well as one of them was a vegetarian and the other couldn’t have dairy products. The five of us had a really nice lunch and in a different world I would have suggested opening a bottle of wine…
After lunch we talked through LB’s report. Again, Tanya really helped him come alive in our minds and was able to answer all our questions. He is into anything that his older sister’s into and loves playing with her and doing craft activities. Again, I was delighted to hear this and I was able to show Tanya and Gloria the ‘craft drawer’ that I’m slowly building up.
Tanya had clearly done a lot of work with the children and was very fond of them. As well as the nice stuff she told us, she didn’t pull any punches about what had happened in their past, the impact it’s had on them to date, and its potential impact in the future.
We were then given tonnes of photos to look at and an eight minute video of them playing in the foster carer’s garden. They were really cute, and watching them made a huge smile appear on my face. I was aware that I had reached for Tom’s hand and noticed that he was smiling too.
Having been bombarded with questions, it was now Tanya’s opportunity to ask us a few. As is becoming normal, we were asked about boundaries and how we’d implement them, how we’d support the children and their needs, about female role models that would be able to support the children, and how we’d deal with being gay parents. And finally, if we could see them living with us - we certainly could.
At our final prep meeting, we were told that these initial meetings tend to end in one of three ways… The first is that it’s clear one or both parties don’t want to continue and that’s the end of it. The second is that it might be a goer but some more thought needs to be had. The third is that a diary comes out and plans are made for future meetings. I was delighted when Gloria not only got her diary out but called the office to book us in for a provisional panel date! This was followed by a date for introductions and a moving-in date. WTF?! This was suddenly very real and very quick.
I had taken a bit of a gamble with work and had started to wind down my commitments but these new dates had a massive clash with a project Tom was due to work on. It was a concern, as he would obviously miss out on the money but also the possibility of not getting the job when it comes around next time (the joys of a freelancer).
We discovered that part of the speed was due to Tanya & Gloria discovering that the children’s foster carers were going on holiday and ideally the children should be placed before then rather than going into respite care. I should point out that the holiday was booked before the foster carers took on looking after the children and they had tried to get them a passport so they could go with them but were unable to do so.
Thankfully Denise was there to put the brakes on slightly and said we weren’t to make any kind of decision now but should talk to each other over the weekend. Tanya and Gloria agreed this was a good idea and we agreed to chat again by the middle of the following week.
Tom took them back to the station while Denise and I chatted about how things had gone. She was really pleased and said we’d done a great job. It was such a relief. When Tom returned we had a quick de-brief before Denise left us and we headed to the pub at 4pm on a Friday! We had a lot to talk about…
I suspect this week’s #WASO theme was intended for bloggers with the six week school summer holiday stretched out ahead of them. But it got me thinking about what has happened over the last six weeks and what may, or may not, happen in the next six…
The last six weeks have been tumultuous to say the least. There was obviously the Brexit result, which was a shock whichever way you voted. There’s been the political upheaval that ensued, including Labour MPs once again trying to oust Jeremy Corbin as party leader and the arrival of only our second female Prime Minister. There have also been atrocious terror attacks in the US, Iraq, Turkey, France and Germany, that make you wonder what kind of world we’ll be bringing our children up in. Even at the lighter end of the spectrum, the Euro matches in France brought little but misery (except for the fantastic Welsh display), with only Andy Murray’s efforts at Wimbledon introducing a shade of joy to proceedings.
In terms of work, I completed a huge eight-month project with the RSC that’s seen me working with children all over the UK and has been an absolute joy to work on; I started and finished a smaller project of my won that has been way more stressful but also very rewarding; and I’ve started the process of winding down my work commitments in readiness for fatherhood – eek!
I’ve ticked a few things off my #preadoptionbucketlist including an amazing afternoon at the Crystal Maze, a stunning lunch at The Pig in Brockenhurst, and as it was Tom’s birthday a few weeks ago, a delicious Champagne afternoon tea near where we live.
And most importantly, to us at least, we went to Panel and were approved to adopt – hurrah! You can read all about it here.
Today we’re in the New Forest and enjoying doing absolutely nothing. Over the last few days we’ve had lovely dinners, boozy lunches, and long relaxing breakfasts – not that I’m obsessed with food or anything. After I post this, I might go for a walk after breakfast (possible), have a nap after lunch (likely) and a G&T before dinner (definitely). If I’m feeling active I might go for a bike ride but let’s not be silly about things. And while this holiday has definitely been about us enjoying time together before the children arrive, we've continually talked about how they might enjoy a section of a bike-ride we've completed or a paddle in a stream we passed.
So coming up in the next six weeks I have work trips to Edinburgh and Oxford, an annual family camping trip (which again I can't wait to introduce our children to when they're ready), a weekend away in Berlin with Tom (another tick off our #preadoptionbucketlist), and I will be about to start what will (possibly) be my last big work project before the kids arrive.
But the thing that will most be on our minds is finding the children that will make our family. Since panel, we’ve scoured Link Maker and passed profiles we thought might be good matches on to Denise, our social worker, only to realise they are already matched or not quite right for us (or we them). And then, out of the blue, a social worker contacted Denise with a profile of two very cute children. We’re meeting their social worker in two weeks, which is wonderful, terrifying and suddenly very real. So in reality, the next six weeks will mostly be us waiting for emails and phone calls, reading and digesting tonnes of documents and reports, and desperately trying to contain our excitement. We know we’re a long way off and so much can go wrong but these are indeed exciting times.
And who knows, in six weeks’ time we may have a new leader of the Labour party, but I suspect we could be matched and well into parenthood before that 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...