A couple of weeks ago Tom and I ‘accidentally bumped into’ our children for the first time. As far as they were concerned we were two people ‘who worked’ with their social worker who just ‘happened to be in the park’ at the same time as them with a bag of duck feed. For us it was make or break about whether we carried on with the link. I’m glad to say it was one of the happiest moments of my life – one of those fireworks I talked about last week definitely went off in my heart. Even typing this the next morning it still brings a tear to my eye...
We’d travelled up to where we were meeting the night before and stayed in a nice, if not very old fashioned, hotel. I slept remarkably well considering what was happening the next morning - although we did both wake throughout the night having the most bizarre dreams, and in my case a proper jumping up and gasping for breath nightmare. Oh – and trying to close our ears to a couple having very loud and vigorous sex!
We both felt strangely calm as we drove to the park and sat in the café while we waited for Denise, our SW, and Tanya, the children’s SW, to arrive. It was as soon as the social workers did appear that the butterflies in my stomach took off. Every time a woman and two children appeared my heart would flutter until I realised it wasn’t THE children. What if they didn’t like us or, God forbid, we didn’t like them? At exactly 10.45am I glimpsed another woman with two children and I heard Tanya say ‘It’s them’. I could barely breathe while I resisted the urge to turn around and look at them.
They came into the café and bought some drinks, which felt like it took forever, while we all tried to act as naturally as possible. Finally, I heard their foster carer, Fiona, say “Oh look, there’s Tanya”. At this point I was allowed to turn around and see the two cutest and most wonderful children standing in front of us. I could feel my eyes welling up and it took every fibre of my body to hold back the tears of joy and the urge to give them a big hug. I could sense Tom, who was sat behind me, was feeling the same. After a brief chat, Tanya suggested we all go and feed the ducks together.
We walked down to the pond while Tom and I did our best to act ‘normally’. We knew Fiona had been working on the children’s stranger danger which we obviously wanted to respect and encourage. It was so difficult to try and strike the right balance between showing them we were interested and keeping a safe and appropriate distance. When we got to the pond, Fiona said the children could take some duck feed from Tom and me so the four of us knelt by the pond and fed the ducks. It felt like the most natural thing in the world to do (albeit with three people watching us).
We were probably together for about 15 minutes before Tanya said it was time for us to go back to work. I could have stayed all day but the children had nursery and we had to meet with some of the professionals who had worked with them since they’ve been in care. We walked back up the hill whilst having a chat with the children about their favourite colours and what they enjoyed doing. As we waved goodbye and turned away from each other I could feel my eyes wanting to stream with tears but I managed to hold them back. I remained in this state for most the day.
Tom and I drove into the city to the social services building. We were both smiling and excited the whole way there. We kept talking about things we’d noticed about them – their smiles, the way LB runs, how thoughtful and inquisitive BG is.
We met with the BG’s play therapist who gave us an amazing insight into the work she’d done with her so far and the progress she’d made. We made loads of notes and asked tonnes of questions. LB is too young to receive play therapy but we’re hoping it will start when he’s placed with us.
We also spoke with Fiona for about an hour and a half. I was really worried at the start that she didn’t feel we were right for the children as she seemed a little guarded. As we chatted more I think she warmed to us – especially when she heard about the plans we had already made for the children coming to live with us. We asked what the children’s reaction to us had been and, as it should have been, they were slightly nonplussed about meeting two of Tanya’s colleagues.
At the end of the session we had a big hug and outside Fiona told Tanya she thought we were a great match. I am so in awe of the work she does and am aware of how difficult it is going to be for her to say goodbye to the children. Tom and I will be eternally grateful for everything she has done for them.
Unfortunately, the speech therapist and nursery worker were unavailable so we’ve planned to meet them in the next few weeks. I was annoyed when we found this out as we were expecting to see them but actually, I’m not sure we could have processed any more information anyway.
On the way home, a song that was sung at our wedding came on the radio and the tears that had been threatening all day finally burst forth. Not a great thing to happen when you’re driving at 80mph down the motorway.
Somehow we survived the journey and spent the rest of the evening letting our families know how things had gone and booking accommodation for the introductions which are starting at the end of the month.
It was quite the day and we both felt exhausted but unbelievably happy. The day was a huge milestone in Tom’s and my life - one that we’ll never forget – and we’re both so excited about all the rest to come…
Tom and I were on an absolute high when we went to the pub on Friday afternoon after meeting with the children’s social workers. But by the next morning, however, we spent what felt like a really long weekend going back and forth about what we were going to do.
We could definitely imagine the children living with us and being their parents but, and this is a big but, we didn’t feel an instant overwhelming connection to them and this worried us. Logically we knew there shouldn’t be an expectation of ‘love’ based on a photograph but at the same time I think we wanted to feel something more than we were. Mama Cass sang, “Once I believed that when love came to me, it would come with rockets, bells and poetry” and I think that’s what we were expecting.
I think we were also worried by how quickly things were progressing. We’d been told the process from being linked to introductions could take up to four months and we were now talking about taking under two. Although we’ve been waiting for this to happen for around a year it was suddenly very real and about to occur within a couple of months, and it was scary.
We spoke with Denise, our social worker, on Monday morning who told us our feelings were completely normal and she was really pleased we were being honest with her about how we felt. She suggested we take a day or two more to have a think and to chat to our support network.
That was probably the best thing we did. We spoke with our siblings and best friends about how we were feeling and it really sorted our heads out. They talked about how their feelings towards their own children developed over time – some very quickly and some took a little longer – and that’s completely normal. If they felt that about their own birth children, why shouldn’t we feel the same about two children we had yet to meet?
Knowing this, we went back to Denise and told her that we would love to be the children’s parents. Through all this it hadn’t occurred to us that maybe the children’s social workers may not have chosen us. Thankfully they thought we’d be a great match and so we were officially linked.
As Mama Cass’ song carries on, “But with me and you it just started quietly and grew… And it's getting better”. And I suspect, and hope, this will be the same with Tom and me.
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…
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about the ‘house rules’ I’d like to instigate when our future children move in with us. There was a mix of responses ranging from “good plan, be firm” to “you’re living in dream land”.
I talked at length with @frogotter and @tootingmama, two of the people I follow on Twitter who are much further along the adoption route than Tom and me, about which of these rules were realistic, which ones would be lost in time, and which might be worth abandoning right away. It was very positive and ended with the tweet “I'm looking forward to reading your post on rules for parents now! ;-)”.
I’d been thinking a lot about the type of Dad I want to be when our children arrive so I thought it would be a good idea to come up with the rules I want to abide by. I should also point out that the rules in the previous blog were house rules i.e. for Tom and me as well as the children – indeed as @plainlyamess very beautifully tweeted “respect is caught not taught”.
Tom and I rarely argue. When we do it’s usually because we’re hungry or tired (or God forbid both) or because we haven’t heard (or listened to) what the other one has said. So much conflict around the world would be resolved if people just listened to someone else’s point of view. I want to try and listen to everything my children tell me (both verbally and non-verbally) so I can learn to understand what they need of me. I hate it when you see children trying to get their parents’ attention just to be ignored. I’m not suggesting I should allow them to interrupt every conversation I have but I won’t ignore them.
Not everyone is good at everything, and knowing that is a huge lesson in life. I want my children to know that it’s OK to fail at something. It’s liberating and allows you to keep trying at it if you want to.
I’m rubbish at saying sorry. Tom knows this well enough and will be bowled over by my admitting it here but the ability to say sorry is undervalued. If I do something wrong in the bringing up of my children I have to learn to apologise and make it right.
I want my children to know I love them and I will show them this at every possible opportunity. Whether it is simply saying the words, giving them a hug when they need it or have done something wrong, or in some other way that we discover together over time, I hope they know I do.
If I’m calm and polite in my interactions with my children then hopefully, over time, they’ll learn to be the same.
Every parent I have spoken to (adoptive or otherwise) has talked of the need for clear and firm boundaries. If my children know what I expect of them they will know how they ought to behave.
Consistency is the key to keeping the boundaries in place and working. If one day they can go to bed at 10pm but the next day I insist on 7pm they won’t know where they stand. Similarly, Tom and I have to be a united front, both sending out the same message.
Although my children may be the centre of my world they won’t be of the wider population. Behaviour that is acceptable at home may not be in someone else’s house, on public transport, or in a museum. When I was a waiter whilst at university I would despair of children (actually their parents) who were allowed to run around a restaurant while I was carrying hot food and drinks. There will be times when the needs* of people around me may come before those of my children. If they can’t cope in certain situations we’ll try to avoid them until they can. *I don’t consider running around in front of tray of hot food a ‘need’.
However, I will fight for what they do need until my dying breath. Whether this is accessing support from CAMHS or dealing with another child pushing ahead at the park, I will be there for them.
Without being gushy and sickening, Tom and I are a great team and our relationship is really important to both of us. If we aren’t working well together the whole family will suffer. I have no idea how but I really want to make time for us as a couple.
Similarly, as the stay-at-home parent, I want to be able to make time for me.
I want to teach them the skills that will help them grow into fully rounded adults. From cooking and basic DIY (such as changing a plug) to lighting a fire and putting up a tent.
I want to fill their childhood with us with lots of happy memories. Baking a cake, going camping, watching a film together with popcorn and ice-cream. Both big and small things that they can hopefully look back on fondly in the future.
Honesty is the best policy. I want to be honest and open with my children so they feel able to be the same with me. With everything they have been through in their early years it will be even more important that they are able to do this.
I remember when I was a kid a neighbour of ours always promised to take me horse-riding. Every time I saw her she would mention it again and every time it wouldn’t happen. Unbeknownst to me, my Mum would often ask her not to mention it unless it was actually going to happen – which of course it never did. I don’t even remember her name but I remember those broken promises and I pledge here and now not to break one I make to my children.
So quite a list of rules for me to try and live up to. Like the house rules some of these may be easy to achieve and others almost impossible. All I can do for now though is try to meet them and promise not to beat myself up if I don’t.
What rules do you live by as a parent?
During the approval process Denise, our social worker, asked us to tell her what our ‘house rules’ would be. In the moment of being asked the question we couldn’t think of any and it duly went into our PAR that we would have a house with no rules. That was quickly changed, as that would certainly not be the case! A few weeks later, when we were at panel, one of our questions was about how we would set boundaries and stick to them in a therapeutic way.
I think both Tom and I would naturally be relatively strict parents but we have shifted our thoughts on this through our prep day attendance and discussions with other adopters about therapeutic parenting. And whilst we very much intend to parent therapeutically there are some rules that I think we should at least strive for in order to make our children fully functioning members of society.
Some of these ‘rules’ may not come to fruition until years in the future and that’s OK - if we fail, we fail but surely it’s definitely worth trying…
So nothing too strenuous, but what about when we’re out in public? What’s important out in the big wide world…
All in all, I don’t think any of these are that unreasonable and can be pretty much summed up in one simple statement – ‘be nice’.
Like I say these aren’t things that I’m expecting straightaway, or indeed all of the time, but it’s the point from which Tom and I will start. And of course the children may well have their own ideas about the kind of home they want to live in, and rules that we as a family have created together will hopefully make for a happy and safe place to live.
What house rules do you have? Which rules have you abandoned? Are there are any you didn’t expect?
I would say I am quite reluctant to get involved in conflict. I don’t enjoy it and when I do get into an argument I can feel myself getting hot and my voice speeds up – neither of which engenders a confident or winning appearance. That’s not to say I don’t occasionally argue with Tom, or get into a ‘heated discussion’ with a ‘customer service’ representative on the phone who’s supposed to be helpful, or ask someone to lower the volume on their headphones on public transport – because I do (though I’m working really hard at ignoring the latter). But the point is if there’s a way to avoid getting into these confrontations, I’ll do my best to find it. So when it comes to fight, flight or freeze – my natural instinct is to fly but I am, when necessary, prepared to fight my corner. And as Denise, our social worker, pointed out during assessment it will be necessary to fight our children’s corners too when we need to.
I have seen anecdotal evidence on Twitter, in blogs and in newspapers that accessing services for our children can be an uphill struggle. Parents have constantly to fight for CAMHS referrals, the Adoption Support Fund (ASF), or other therapeutic services on an almost daily basis for months on end (situations where the ‘freeze’ – or stubborn – response might actually be helpful). Similarly, there are lots of stories about teachers and schools not working with parents or children in a therapeutic, positive or supportive way. I should point out that there are also lots of positive experiences of both post-adoption support and education services too – but I suppose it depends on the luck of the draw.
I had my first taste of local authority bureaucracy when, during the assessment process, Denise asked us to find out about local post-adoption support services. I duly contacted our local authority and asked to know about the services that were available to support adopted children. The social worker I spoke to said that as we weren’t one of the authority’s approved couples we would receive no support from them. I knew the placing local authority would fund any services for the first three years but surely it would be the local authority where the child lived that would provide the actual service and all I was looking for was information. He was having none of it. I found myself remembering why we didn’t go with our local authority in the first place and becoming irate with this guy who seemed willfully unable to help.
Somehow I remained calm (as who knew when I’d need to talk to him again in the future) and explained that I would not accept the local authority ignoring my children for the first three years of their placement. I like to think my commanding tone of voice swayed him but, whatever it was, somehow we managed to find an accord and I ended up being placed on a mailing list of events in the borough, receiving a generic list of available services and the promise that I could contact them about specific services when it was confirmed what we needed.
I felt deflated that I hadn’t received a simple answer to what I thought was a simple question but pleased that I’d held my ground and got something out of him. I also felt shocked that even a straightforward request for information was met with such hostility and difficulty. It doesn’t leave me feeling particularly positive for future interactions.
So, when it comes to our future children’s well-being my natural instinct may well have to be ‘fight’ rather than ‘flight’…something I’m not particularly looking forward to but will do regardless, to make sure they get everything they need to help them heal.
What has been your experience of accessing services for your children? What has worked for you?
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?
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…
Last week Tom and I finally made it to Panel. Anyone who follows me on twitter will almost certainly know the result so I won’t try and create any tension and just let you know…we were approved! Whoop!
I felt absolutely fine all day – I deliberately made sure I was busy at work – but as soon as I walked in the building a swarm of butterflies let loose in my stomach. We arrived at exactly the same time as our social worker and it didn’t help my nerves that she seemed quite stressed out herself. I suppose her work is being judged almost as much as we are and a lot is at stake. After settling us in the waiting room she was whisked off to talk through the report with the panel.
While we were waiting we bumped into a couple from our final prep day who had just been approved. They looked so relieved and happy but I was finding it difficult to string a sentence together. I kept repeating ‘how was it?’ over and again. They put my mind at ease and I think I remembered to congratulate them but I can’t be sure.
After about ten minutes, a very severe looking woman, flanked by Denise and another, more smiley woman, walked down the corridor and introduced herself as the Panel Chairperson. Once she started speaking to us, it turned out she was rather lovely and she did her very best to put us at ease. She explained the process and told us the questions they were going to ask.
By this point Denise seemed much calmer. This was probably down to the fact that the panel chairperson had informed us that the report was so well written they had struggled to think of any questions for us. This was great to hear and reaffirmed how lucky we are to have Denise as our social worker.
Despite this, they managed to think of four questions for us, which were: what training have we undertaken during the approval process and what had we learnt form it; how would we set boundaries for our children whilst also being therapeutic; why did we want to adopt siblings and how would we manage; and finally how would we cope if our children were ever bullied for having gay parents?
The actual meeting took place in a room that we’d previously had two training sessions in, so we were comfortable in the surroundings, which helped us relax. The panel itself was made up of six women and two men, the vast majority of whom were adoptive parents, plus an administrator and Denise’s supervisor.
The chairperson then asked members of the panel to ask the questions. Without really making a decision to do so, Tom and I each took a turn to answer them, chipping in extra information where necessary. During one of my questions, I forgot a relatively important piece of information and Denise very helpfully reminded me of it.
While we were answering, everyone around the table smiled and nodded enthusiastically, which was lovely of them. I was aware that I was making odd shapes with my hands on the table so I thrust them under the table and played with my wedding ring. I would have sat on my hands but I think that would have looked a bit odd.
We were probably in there for no more than ten minutes but it flew by and suddenly we were being ushered back into the waiting room while they deliberated.
After what felt like an eternity but was probably no more than a couple of minutes, the chairperson, co-chair and Denise came out to tell us their response. Thankfully, she didn’t beat around the bush and was delighted to inform us that we’d been unanimously approved. To date, I’ve not heard of anyone not being unanimously approved but we’re still going to wear it as a badge of honour.
The chairperson explained that their decision was merely a recommendation to the agency decision maker and that we wouldn’t officially be approved for another ten to fourteen days. As unlikely it is that the agency will now say no, it does make me wonder why so much focus is put on the panel – particularly when, according to the invitation letter, you technically don’t actually need to be there. (I can't imagine why you wouldn't want to be, though.) She also asked us to give some further feedback as to how the process could be improved.
We were finally left with Denise and we all had a big hug. She seemed genuinely happy for us and we started talking about the next steps – but that’s for another blog.
Forty-five minutes after arriving, Tom and I walked out into the summer sun, called our parents, Whatsapped our siblings and friends, and went to a lovely Italian restaurant around the corner from the agency to celebrate. All in all, a very positive experience and a wonderful outcome. Phew.
Last week Tom and I read our Prospective Adopters Report (PAR). Ours was a 45 page document that sums up everything we’ve talked about in our assessment meetings with our social worker Denise.
It was a completely surreal experience seeing your life laid out in black and white on paper, and despite everything we read having originally come from our mouths, it was still a surprise. The main question we were asked to think about was whether we recognised the two people outlined in the report. Thankfully we did – with a few edits…
Mostly we asked Denise to clarify a few points where events had been conflated. For instance at my coming out story, Denise had stated that my brother was with me, whereas in actual fact he was in the pub round the corner with Tom and a large G&T at the ready. A minor detail but we all felt it was worth getting things accurate. Other edits were about the language used. Being a writer, Tom obviously has a way with words and asked Denise to slightly change a turn of phrase here and there in order to best tell our story. Overall though, we thought Denise had really got the measure of us and I found it a really positive experience.
We then talked through what our profile on the national adoption register would include. This is the information that the social workers of children in care can access to find potential matches. The form states the type of children we would be able to care for and includes our preferred gender, age, ethnicity, and religion, as well as how many children we’d be willing to accept. This was all fairly straight forward.
The hard part came when we were asked to decide what difficulties in the children’s lives we felt we could cope with. This ranged from severe physical disabilities to mild mobility issues, and from parents with a history of mental health issues to diagnosed illnesses. It’s really tough to say 'yes' to this and 'no' to that but we have to think about what we can definitely cope with, and also with the fact that we want a sibling group and therefore have to consider the effects of ill-health on a sibling. With Denise’s help, we worked through the list and felt positive about our decisions.
Wonderfully, Denise told us that three social workers had sent through profiles of children based on our profile that had been sent out, so we spent some time looking through them. One Denise immediately suggested would not be a good match for us; the second was for a single child; and the third we’ve requested some further information about.
At the end of the session Denise talked us through what to expect when we go to panel. Again she managed to allay any worries we had about it and we’re both really looking forward to it.
We finished up by signing a whole host of forms. The whole thing took three and a half hours and was probably one of the longest sessions, and definitely the most procedural. We were both drained and treated ourselves to a pizza and glass of wine to go over everything that had just happened.
So there we have it - our approval process is almost at an end and at the time of posting this blog we have five days to go until panel. Wish us luck…
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...