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?
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.
Today is my 14th blog about our journey to becoming adoptive dads but it’s the first one to be in ‘real-time’. From now on my updates will be in the moment. Well, kind of - they’ll be delayed by a few days while I write them, edit them, and agonise whether they’re any good. I should also point out that this blog is a long one, so get comfortable…
So we’ve finally met our new social worker, Denise, and completed our first Stage Two meeting. Denise announced that she had a form we had to fill in that would officially start Stage Two proceedings and that at the end of the meeting she would decide to either leave the form with us to complete and we’d carry on the process - or she wouldn’t. If that happened that would be the end of our adoption journey with our agency. Righto!
Denise followed this by explaining she wasn’t going to pussyfoot around any issues and would be forthright with us throughout the whole process. She looked like she meant it too.
Both these announcements were enough to make me feel like I wanted to be sick. I wasn’t but it set quite a combative tone for the rest of the meeting.
It all started off easily enough with Denise going through our family trees, chronologies and eco-map. Tom went first and explained who particular people were on his family tree, discussed his relationships with his family, explained how he’d got into his line of work, and answered a whole host of questions about education, finance (more of this later), and a lot, lot more. The type of questions that need a bit of thought but nothing too strenuous.
Then it was my turn. In a earlier post I explain my ‘complicated’ family tree and gosh did it confuse Denise. Being inside my family I don’t think it’s that difficult to understand that I have three half brothers that I grew up who, to all intents and purposes, are my brothers. And I have a half sister whom I barely know. But this had Denise’s knickers in a twist as she tried to work out the relationships between various people. She was particularly perplexed by the story of how my parents met and asked me to ask them to get clarification on it* as she was unsure of their story (which is theirs so I won’t share it here).
*I have since asked them about their first meeting and it’s as brilliant as I thought it was and I was right. Take that Denise! I realise by not telling the story it sounds sordid somehow - I promise it isn’t. It’s actually very sweet – although no daughter of mine will ever meet her future husband in that way!
What I will share is why I cried. When I was 12 my mum suffered a devastating breakdown. This was triggered by the next brother up from me (the youngest from her first marriage) moving out of our family home. However, the root cause of the depression was my mum’s experiences growing up in a children’s home in the Republic of Ireland in the 1950s which she had kept hidden from us all until this moment. All this, mixed with a large helping of Catholic guilt, has meant she’d always felt she was a bad mother to us all and had let us down (my brother moving out was the straw that broke the camel’s back). It doesn’t matter how hard we try to prove to her this isn’t the case (the happy and successful lives my three brothers and I lead did not come about by accident) she still feels like she’s failed us.
My mum is actually convinced that her depression will somehow go against us as part of the approval process but, perversely, I’ve always had the feeling the social workers I’ve spoken to have been rather pleased there’s a bit of trauma in my background that I’ve overcome.
Anyway, I felt, wrongly or rightly, that Denise was somehow attacking my mum’s honour with questions about how she met my dad, her childhood, how she interacted with my brothers and me etc. And it bothered me. And as I defended my mum’s character I felt my hand reach for Tom’s leg, my cheeks get hot, my lips tremble, and then tears streaming down my face as my voice cracked. WTF?
I rarely cry. If you don’t count weeping at weddings or sniffling whilst watching a soppy move or the latest John Lewis Christmas advert (and let’s not for the moment) Tom has only seen me properly cry about three times in nearly 13 years. This is not to say I’m emotionally devoid of feeling – I am very in touch with my feelings – I just very rarely cry.
Another moment that made me bite my tongue was when Denise was talking about my first teaching job when I left university. She seemed to suggest that the only reason I got my job was that the school I applied to was so terrible (it really was) that no one else applied for the job. She seemed baffled that I could get a job at a school having just finished university. I was livid. And confused. What was she saying about me? Did she think I was unemployable after meeting me for an hour? It turns out she had misunderstood my chronology. My job title after I left after seven years was the head of a department. She thought I’d started straight out of university as a head of department, rather than as a class teacher, which explains her confusion – if not her rudeness.
Whilst talking to her I knew I was saying the right things – in as much as I was talking slowly and thinking about what I was saying. Unlike our first meeting with a social worker back in August. However, I was too aware of my body language. Should I cross my legs, lean back, lean forward, clutch my cup to my chest or put it down? I must have look deranged as I shifted from one position to the next thinking about the signals I was sending.
The final irksome moment was our finances which for obvious reasons I’m not going to divulge on a public blog. Suffice to say Denise felt that two self-employed creative types may not have the resources to bring up two children. We assured her we did and will spend the next few weeks proving that fact. It got me thinking though – is adoption only available to the rich? That can’t be the case surely. This will be the basis of a future blog so I’ll say no more on this topic for the moment.
We eventually got to our eco-map. Denise went through each person with a fine-tooth comb and talked about how they might support us. She felt that we might need more people in our immediate locality but she was generally positive about it. Thankfully, most of Tom’s school friends live relatively close to us and it’s just a matter of adding them to the eco-map.
Throughout the whole session Denise looked like she was drowning in a sea of paperwork. I had to stop myself from going to my desk to get her a stapler and putting her files in order. We knew from the couple of phone calls with her that was probably scatty but this really took the biscuit. For someone who is as freakishly organised as I am she is possibly my worst nightmare. Anyway, I’ve already decided that when this is all over I am going to buy her a stapler to say thank you.
We finished up by having a walk around the house where we talked more like people getting to know one another. She asked us about the books on our shelves, pictures on walls, where our bathroom tiles came from, and whether we had a gardener (I’ll admit it - we do). I’m pleased we did this as I think it showed her a bit more of who we are and equally who she was. I really wish we’d done this first as I think it would have put us all at ease and put her questions into a better framework.
Before Denise left she thankfully handed over the Stage Two application form (HURRAH!) and we set some dates for the following meetings plus a provisional date for our panel (AGHHH!).
When she did leave, Tom and I had a spot of lunch and talked through everything that had just happened. We both felt drained and poor Tom had to go to his first volunteering session at the local primary school. I meanwhile went for a long run to clear my head. When we both got back we opened a bottle of wine and talked some more.
So we’ve finally met our new social worker and it only took three and a quarter hours for us to decide that we like her. In that time I went from disliking her intensely, crying in front of her, drinking a lot of coffee, liking her, disliking her again, and finally making up with her. By the time she left I was exhausted but I genuinely feel like she is someone who is on our side and is going to fight our corner every step of the way. You can’t really ask for more…
NB. She phoned the next day to check I was OK – nice!
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...