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?
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.
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.
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...