Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Chapter 27 – Adoption Panel Day

The big day

And so the big day finally arrived... We had been doing a bit of preparation over the weekend before our panel date. Reading back through reports, checking out what the social workers considered to be our strengths and weaknesses as individuals, as a couple and as prospective parents for an adopted child. We thought through a few possible questions and how we might respond and then discussed how we might try to box and cox between each other when speaking to the panel. We were aware that we should ensure that both of us had a good chance to speak, that we shouldn't cut across each other or hog the conversation... We set out strategies and game plans.

Then it struck us just how odd it was that we were working out such definitive strategies for an experience for which we had absolutely no precedent in our lives to date. Just how would the meeting go? Sure, Denise had talked us through the format. We would arrive at the social services building at the appointed time and Denise would meet us and take us to a waiting room. Once the panel had a short time to discuss our case they would invite Denise in to discuss the case in more detail and to hear her recommendations. This should take around half an hour - give or take... After a further short discussion we would be invited in and the panel would ask us a few questions. After we returned to our waiting room the panel would make a final decision and... that would be that. Maybe.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Chapter 26: Paperwork and panels

Full disclosure...

Home Study is a pretty intensive process and there is a lot of work to get through. The paperwork which is sent to panel is pretty extensive (I do wonder just how much of it actually gets read - but still, it's there on file to prove that the Social Services have properly covered all the bases should anything go wrong...). But panel is the huge looming target towards which you are inexorably heading. The crunch day...

In good old X-Factor results programme style, therefore, perhaps I should artificially build up the tension a bit before I tell you about the day itself and the outcome. So... (Adopts Ant and Dec Geordie accent). The winner is... Dum dum dum... Dum dum dum...

Well, to fill in the time, perhaps it would be useful to look at just what goes to panel and who, in the case of our Local Authority, they are...

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Chapter 25 – The Home Straight: Home-study visits continued

Welcome to our humble abode... 

Our panel date was only a few weeks away and all our discussions with Denise over the time since filling in the matching matrix had concentrated on dotting "T's" and crossing "I's". Or at least that is what it felt like. 

Every day or so my wife would get a call or a text, "So, was it your parents who were freedom fighters in the Guatemalan civil war and Derek's who ran away to join the circus?" "No, it's the other way round. Oh, and by the way, my husband's name isn't Derek!" It's the type of detail that you'd think might have stuck... And so it continued. You had to admire Denise's commitment to getting the details and the flavour right.

Still, it wasn't a surprise that when Denise emailed us her report on us to proof read there were still a lot of mix ups and little errors. Still, that is what proof reading is for, I suppose. 

Monday, 7 October 2013

Chapter 24 – Entering the (Matching) Matrix: Home-study visits continued

The final(ish) furlong

Have you ever wanted to feel like a really callous, heartless heel? Ever wanted to prove to yourself that you don't have a shred of compassion and common decency hidden anywhere in the deepest recesses of your soul? Then I suggest that you apply to become an adopter. 

"Hang on a minute," I hear you saying, " What about all this therapeutic parenting business and all this playful, accepting, caring, empathic stuff you've been banging on about? What about giving a young life a new start in a forever family? What about all the noble, rewarding stuff?" 

Well yes, of course... All that stuff is true and I didn't say you actually were a complete heel. I just asked if you wanted to feel  like one.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Chapter 23 – Cross References: Home-study visits continued


In the workplace it is pretty normal to expect to be appraised on a regular basis. The current fashion for 360 degree feedback means that we're regularly asking all and sundry to comment on us as workers and as people. Conducting a 360 degree feedback appraisal among your family and friends is somewhat rarer. Doubly so when you are really not supposed to have any clues about what they have said about you.

And so here we are at this stage of the process. The bit where our family and friends spill the dirt about how rubbish we'll be as parents. Erm... sorry, I mean provide extra colour about us as a couple and how we are likely to be as parents... 

I've already talked in a previous chapter of this story about the twists and turns we experienced in choosing our referees. The choosing in itself is a particularly stressful process, full of scope to second guess yourself and indulge in conspiracy theories about that your family and friends really think about you. The most striking thing was, given that the number of family members you could nominate was strictly limited, just how hard it was to think up six or eight nominees to be referees.

We're lucky that, being regular members of a church community, we've got a wide range of friends. Still, which of them are qualified to comment on us as people and parents? Despite this large community, your intimate friends - those who really know you - are actually a select bunch. Those whom you would trust to give the best impression to a stranger assessing you for the most important selection process in your life is an even more select group. So despite a pretty huge number of potential people to choose from the decision to plump for just six was agonisingly hard. Once again, it's another part of the process where the stakes seem to be so incredibly high and the pressure to make the right decision (whatever that might be) weighs heavily on your shoulders.

And so we're back in cape-swishing, moustache-twirling melodrama once again. But that's the reality of the adoption process. The self imposed and process imposed pressures seem so very, very great from inside looking out. Wood for the trees, I know... But the ability to see things that clearly while going through assessment is a rare gift. It's surprising just how often you end up feeling like that silent movie heroine; struggling, tied to the railway tracks, waiting for someone to rescue you while the system stands there laughing and rubbing its hands.

Anyway, office dragon shaped blips notwithstanding, we had made our choices of referee and now it was Denise's turn to make some choices... Which three of our referees would she interview? Well, one of our referees had moved to Brussels for work a few months before and there was no way that the travel budget was going to run to a ride on the Eurostar! So that narrowed the field down. My wife's parents were a no brainer choice and they lived in the same town as Denise so that helped with the mileage claims too! Our best friends, Issy's parents, seemed like a good choice as they could comment first hand on how we had performed in our favourite Uncle and Aunt duties. We would have liked to have nominated my wife's brother and wife as we were godparents to their now teenage boy but that would have hit the travel budget again so that just left two equally qualified referees... The process of choosing between them wasn't quite eenie-meenie-miney-mo but it wasn't far off... So, the team sheet was as follows... Mum and Dad, Issy's parents and Dick and Katie (an older couple we'd known for nigh on fifteen years). On this occasion our remaining referees, Michael and Suzie, would need to sit it out on the subs' bench.

We agreed to phone the victims that afternoon to warn them that they should expect a call from Denise to set up a mutually convenient time for a chat. And so the principle of best-laid-plans struck again. It turned out that Dick and Katie were off the following week for a grand tour of relative visiting in the States. They'd be gone for about 6 weeks - perfectly matching the time left in Denise's diary for doing the visits and writing up the reports. 

So Dick and Katie were shown the red card and Michael and Suzie were told to get warming up on the touch line. The interviews went ahead and Denise started writing up summaries of her conversations. And we, of course, plugged each of the interviewees for information on what had been said.

We weren't meant to see the written reports which our referees had sent in a few months earlier. These were never shared as we prepared for panel. Neither were the reports on the interviews. However, some of our friends did send us copies of what they had written about us. Fortunately it was all pretty glowing stuff and followed a standard questionnaire format aimed at drawing out the apposite facts about is (along with a few which raised a smile or an eyebrow). There were a number which were pretty predictable. How were we as a couple? How much had they seen of us interacting with children? What did they know about why we wanted to adopt? How much did we seem to have really prepared ourselves mentally for the changes parenthood would bring? How did they think we'd cope with kids? What did they think we'd find hardest about the transition?

Then there were the questions about our criminal records. Were they aware of any? Personally, I'd have to plead guilty to an Emerson Lake and Palmer LP and ask for several Status Quo singles to be taken into consideration! There were questions about whether there was any reason why we'd pose a risk to children... Well, I suppose they DO have to ask...

In parallel with this, Denise was data gathering from other sources... She visited the nursery where my wife was volunteering to interview the senior staff, she interviewed the leaders of the crèche at church and she contacted our employers (to check that we were who we really were and that we did actually have jobs, I suppose...).

We now had our panel date and from here on in a lot of our interactions with Denise seemed to concentrate on fact checking as she started writing up all her final reports. However, there was one more big discussion to have...

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Chapter 22 – Out and about again: Home-study visits continued

A different journey

Our first day out at Denise's behest had gone well. Our report had been written, handed in and thoroughly discussed at one of our home study meetings. Now we were out and about again... This time we were off to see some parents who had adopted a little girl a few years previously. 

The drive from our suburban surroundings into the equivalent of our area's well heeled stockbroker belt saw the houses we drove past getting larger and larger. Eventually we pulled into a small, countrified cul de sac and knocked on one of the doors. We were ushered in and settled into the living room, admiring a large and well kept garden through the French windows. The obligatory cups of tea were made and we started our chat.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Chapter 21 – Out and about: Home-study visits continued...

Didn't we have a luvverly time...

Our home-study with Denise wasnt all Earl Grey tea and nice biscuits in the living room. No, we even got to go out on school trips! How exciting! Part of the process was to get out there and actually meet some people with first hand experience of what adoption was all about. An opportunity to quiz them on all the stuff that the manuals and the training materials dont tell you. Denise said that she had arranged three trips out for us. A visit to a foster carer, a visit to a pair of adoptive parents and a special mums and toddlers group for adopted children which was run by a local charity and which worked closely with the Children's Services team in our Local Authority.

It would give us an opportunity to chat to some people who had been through the process before and ask any questions we might have. Our side of the deal was that we would need to write up a report on each visit, setting out what happened and our thoughts about what we discussed. Of course, we also assumed that the flip side was that our hosts would also be writing their own little reports on us. So there was pressure to make a good impression. Some homework was clearly needed in advance of each visit and a long list of deeply insightful questions was drawn up.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Chapter 20 – Play up and play the game: Home-study visits continued

Jolly Hockey Sticks!

When it comes down it this adoption larks one great big game. Now dont get me wrong, Im not trivialising it in the slightest. Its a deadly serious and life-changing game. However, the process by which one enters into the world of adoption is a game. And like any game it has its own rules. It has its own skills and techniques. It has areas where you can you can cut corners and other areas where you just have to buckle down and play the game.

To say that there are a few hoops to jump through along the road to adopting would be the grossest of understatements. Sometimes the whole thing seemed like one great big, ever-changing hoop. I can understand it. For any organisation the personal and corporate responsibility for the outcome of decisions and actions is a heavy weight to bear. Thats heavy enough when the decisions are over some corporate investment portfolio or a business proposition. But social workers are literally playing with peoples lives. They have to get their decisions as right as possible because when they go wrong they can go disastrously wrong. The errors which social services make can literally be matters of life and death. Just look at the case of "Baby P".

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Chapter 19 – Lots of homework and a reunion: Home-study visits continued

Here we are again!

That the home-study was intense and draining was a given. It also seemed a little random as time went on. Denise had pretty much got a handle on what we were like as individuals and as a couple. Once again we continued our over-riding policy of balancing openness with discretion. Cooperation with circumspection.

There were a lot of forms and formulas which needed to be filled in. All of these would be retained to form part of the Adoption Panel’s briefing pack on us. We kept our own copies and they eventually filled an A4 lever arch file pretty much to capacity. They seemed to range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

We spent a happy hour while Denise walked around our house filling in a detailed Health and Safety questionnaire which seemed to run to about a hundred pages. Luckily we’re not affluent enough to have a swimming pool in the back garden and we don’t own any pets which are required to be registered under the Dangerous Dogs Act (not even a slightly tetchy gerbil) so that saved at least three or four pages. We did confirm which way up we put the cutlery in the dishwasher and promised to see to the strings on the Venetian blinds though.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Chapter 18 – Childhood memories: Home-study visits continued

Yeah Baby!

“For the first time in my life I’m a complete ‘babe magnet’!” Denise looked perplexed. This probably wasn’t the response which she had expected when she turned to me and asked “So, how are you enjoying helping out at the crèche?” My other half was suppressing giggles but she knew that it was a totally true statement. I was a bona fide, 100% “babe magnet”. I fixed Denise with a confident stare and said, “Yup! It turns out that if you’re less than two years old I’m completely irresistible.”

The last two or three weeks I’d been in the enviable position of having several toddlers almost fighting over my attention. Sam was just over eighteen months old and he didn’t like being left by his mummy. The only way to stop him crying the place down (the ONLY WAY!!!) was for me to cuddle him and introduce him to all the animals painted on the walls around the room. Similarly Mark, barely one yet, had declared that my the crook of my left arm was the cradle which he required for his morning nap. No other would do. This left Chewitel (between two and a half and three) and Isobel (only just under two) in an awkward position. I recall one Sunday morning sitting in the creche room with Sam in one arm and Mark in the other while both Chewitel and Izzy were trying to climb onto my lap too. My lap’s just not that big. There was a good thing to be had here and it was already being hogged by the youngsters. To be fair they had their reasons. Izzy was the daughter of some really good friends (and in fact a pair of our referees). She was practically a favourite niece and had expectations to be fulfilled. Chewitel was a needy little boy. Overly inward and reluctant to communicate his needs, verbally or otherwise. He always looked ashamed of himself and took out anger and possessiveness on the children around him in a pushy, aggressive manner. Some of this was purely normal toddler behaviour but somehow it seemed amplified.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Chapter 17 – Questions, questions – Exploring Attachment: Home-study visits continued

Frank Gorshin as "The Riddler"

Dib dib dib!

So we’d survived two home-study sessions with Denise and we were all starting to get the measure of each other. And before the next session there was a small matter of seeing whether I could pick up some additional experience of working with children in a formal setting. Sunday League football was out of the question even though there was a local sports field not far off where there were regular kids training sessions every Sunday morning. For us, Sunday mornings were reserved for church and, let’s face it, doing an alternative kids’ activity on Sunday morning simply displaced one childcare opportunity with another. That left me no further forward.

Since we were hoping to be placed, eventually, with a pre-school or kindergarten aged child Beavers seemed to be the obvious door to push on. A quick Google showed that there were three Beaver troops in the area. Excellent, plenty of scope for getting involved in the 8 months or so running up to panel. Or so I thought.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Chapter 16 – Friends: the second home-study visit


It was a week or so after our first meeting with Denise, the Earl Grey was brewing nicely in the pot and some Duchy Originals were arranged on a plate saying, “Eat me, eat me...”. We were ready to resume trawling through our pasts for Denise’s benefit.

It’s strange dredging through past memories and mining them for significance. It’s not something which we generally do. We certainly don’t do it in chronological order. One of the exercises which we had done on our Prep Days was to think through the key developmental moments from our personal histories and chart them on a time-line. Alongside each event we had to indicate whether it was an “Up” arrow or a “Down” arrow. Looking back over what I consider to be a broadly happy childhood it was fascinating to see how many arrows were pointing downwards rather than upwards. It seemed that happiness and contentment were a continuum which was punctuated by traumas of different types. I suppose I should be glad that it wasn’t the other way around!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Chapter 15 – Getting to know you: the first home-study visit

Bumps in the road

It was only a week or so later (a completely interminable and dragging week or so later) that we received a letter informing us that “Denise”, our social worker would phone us soon to arrange a mutually convenient date for our first home study visit. We didn’t have long to wait as just the next day the mobile rang while my wife was at work. However, it wasn’t quite the call we were expecting. There was a tetchy voice on the other end of the phone. The tone would have been completely passive aggressive except that there was no passivity about it. “I’ve been looking at your referee list and it’s just completely unacceptable. Didn’t you even read the guidance?”

Yes, of course we had and, indeed, we’d got clarification from Maureen and Doreen at the Prep Days, including asking them to tell us if the mix of people that we’d put down seemed reasonable. We’d even checked whether it was OK to include James and Emma, our closest friends, who had just moved to Brussels. They were on the end of the phone and would be popping back regularly to see family – so that was fine, we were told.

“You’ve got too many family members. You can’t have more than two. You’ll need to drop one of them. And one of these referees lives in Belgium. You can’t expect the council to send people overseas to visit people. What were you thinking? Didn’t you read the guidance? You’ll have to give me alternative referees right now.”

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Chapter 14 – Sorry Sir, my dog ate it – The Final Preparation Day

Moving on...

I must confess that the fourth Preparation Day is, ironically, the one of which I have the least vivid memories. Perhaps it was the fact that most of the day was taken up with what seemed like really dry information about the administrative and legal process. There were some more brief discussions around how to apply the PACE principles in practice but most of it was process.

What happened when, who had legal responsibility for what, what steps would be taken by whom to cross which hurdle... I’ve spent a good proportion of my working life in the public sector so I’m no stranger to the importance of bureaucracy. But even for me the content was dry, opaque and distant. Goodness knows how those with a lower red-tape tolerance threshold were coping.

But that was still to come. To celebrate the last of the Prep Days we were early. Stupidly early. All of the regular snarl ups and bottle necks that we left plenty of time to negotiate had been flowing like quicksilver. Jane and John had seemingly had a similarly blessed journey as they were already sitting in the meeting room when we arrived.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Name Game - a response to The Guardian's article "What's in a name?"

An aside...

This week an article in the Guardian by Fraser McAlpine has been causing something of a stir in the adoption blogosphere. From my own reading of the article it seems to be a grossly misinformed, poorly argued and shoddy piece of journalism. Which is a shame because, ironically, I happen to agree with the main premise which Mr McAlpine is slowly edging towards.

Names are important. Identity is important. You meddle with it at your peril and only with very good reason.

The article concludes... “Can't we just give the children new names?

Unless there's an issue of security, in which case identity takes second place to personal safety, the answer to that question should most often be no. And the reason is simple: an adopted child should never grow up ashamed of where they came from. Otherwise there's a risk that they will develop void people of their own, and that's a competition all parents can well do without.”

Hear hear, well said that man. Unfortunately in getting to that conclusion Mr McAlpine manages to misrepresent both adoptive parents and the adoption preparation process. And insult adopters and social workers into the process. This is from someone who, apparently, is a member of an Adoption Panel. For the uninitiated, the Adoption Panel is the semi independent body within an adoption agency or local authority which takes decisions on who should and should not be approved to join the the adoption register and what adoption placements should and should not be approved.

He should know better.

Chapter 13 – Adoption Trek: First Contact – The Third Preparation Day Pt 2

Hey there, wait a minute Mr Postman

In the afternoon session on the third Prep Day we started to broach the thorny subject of “contact”. The group seemed to go into the discussions rather polarised in their attitudes. For us, the idea of an open adoption had been liberating when it was first mentioned at the Open Evening and Orientation Day. Rather that sort of honesty rather than having a deep, dark, dirty secret hanging over the family. The sort of thing that Auntie Agatha would let slip over Christmas dinner during the teenage years. Light blue touch paper... Was it something that we were actively looking forward to? No. Of course there would be baggage which went with that and we’d just have to deal with those downs if we were to enjoy the upside.

For others they clearly hadn’t reached that point. They were still openly horrified at the idea of spending time and energy on the evil birth parents for time immemorial. After all, they were sufficiently bad people that they had their child taken away in the first place... And what about all those neglect and abuse horror stories? We shouldn’t be worrying about how they felt. Did I mention before that our group was a little feisty and had some strong opinions they weren’t afraid to voice?

So there was clearly an uphill struggle for Maureen and Doreen to get the rest of the group at least partly onside.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Chapter 12 – Matchmaker, matchmaker – The Third Prep Day Pt 1

The third Preparation Day, we were told, was going to focus on the actual process of adoption itself; how we would be assessed through the coming months, adoption panel, how children were selected for particular prospective adopters, introductions and settling in, ongoing contact with the birth parents. So not too much to cover in two three hour sessions. 

By now the group was beginning to be a group of friends who we were looking forward to meeting again. It was clear that there were some with whom we had begun to click more than others (and some whose façade we couldn’t seem to break through and not for want of trying). But, that’s the same in any random group of people who are brought together by mutual interest of circumstance – whether at work or in a club. And still there was a little feeling of “us against the system” to bind our group together.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Chapter 11 – The Second Preparation Day Pt 2 - The Curious Incident of the Playfully Accepting Empath In The Afternoon.

I know my P(L)ACE!

We returned from our lunch break ready and raring for more. The afternoon session started by introducing a concept which will become familiar to all preparing for adoption... PACE.

Playful – Accepting – Curious – Empathic

Now some people prefer to refer to this as PLACE rather than PACE – the L standing for Loving. Our trainer, Maureen pointed out that since “Loving” ought to be a given in any case and in any circumstance then it didn’t count... so PACE it was.

There’s no way in which I can do justice to the elegance of the PACE concept (and the whole of Dyadic Development Psychotherapy, of which it’s a guiding principle) in the space available here. Safe to say, though, there’s plenty of literature out there to draw on and both Caroline Archer and Dan Hughes are not a bad place to start. All the books mentioned in the previous blog use this as a foundation to their approach.

One has to admire the elegance of the technique in teasing out vital information from a confused child unwilling or incapable of expressing how they feel or grappling with the reasons for those confused and fractured feelings.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Chapter 10 – Introducing Attachment and Loss – The Second Preparation Day Pt 1

Back for more...
The second preparation day arrived and, after our early morning cross country rally, so did we... on time... just! The first Prep day had been pretty exhausting but, as this day was due to concentrate more deeply on the journey of the child in the run up to adoption we were ready to be put through the emotional wringer. We weren’t far wrong.

To begin with the trainers, Maureen and Doreen, helped us build up the bricks in the strong foundation which children need to develop securely. This was done both figuratively and literally as we sought out hankie boxes which had been covered, Blue Peter-style, in wrapping paper and carried words such as: affection, shelter, warmth, clothing, praise, love, nurture, comfort, food, security, safety... And then came the opportunity to have that wall come tumbling down.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Chapter 9 – It’s all about ME!!!!!! – The First Preparation Day Pt 2

Who watches the watchers?

So, the introductions had been made and the ice breakers had been broken out. It was time to get into the programme in detail.

Now, at this point perhaps it would be interesting to muse a little on personal dynamics and group sessions. Having been around the corporate world for some time in our jobs we were both used to these – the concepts of formin’, stormin’, normin’, performin, and so on. We were also savvy to how group exercises work. The trainers invariably stress that you should just be yourself and relax. After all, no one is assessing every word you say or every thing you do.


Monday, 10 June 2013

Chapter 8 - The Preparation Days Pt 1: First day at school;

And MORE delays!

It was the first week in February and, frankly, we were getting a bit nervous. Wasn’t the first Preparation Day supposed to be some time in mid-February? Shouldn’t we have heard something by now? A quick phone call to the office was in order.

Yes, our paperwork had been sent off a couple of weeks ago. Yes, they would have expected to have had sign off by now. No, they hadn’t heard back from the Medical Advisor. Check with his office? Why yes, certainly...

Later that afternoon we got a phone call.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Chapter 7 – Marks out of 10; receiving the initial screening report

Shock horror!!!

Working many miles apart it was only on the very odd occasion that we ended up following each other up the road and pulling into the drive together. The day that we received Sandra’s report was one of those rare days – and a good job too as when we read her report both of us were pretty much fuming.

Lying at the top of a deep pile of the regular bills and junk mail was an ominous looking manilla envelope bearing a now familiar franking. We ripped the flap open in a mixture of eagerness and trepidation. A quick scan confirmed our worst fears. “The incident” did seem to have coloured all of her perceptions of us as a couple. The portrait which was painted in the report seemed at best a caricature and, at worst, a wildly inaccurate expressionist mess. We were clearly a buttoned up and anal-retentive pairing whose lives were ruled and regimented by our strict routines. This was a flag which would need to be explored in much more detail during any home-study period to ensure that this would not hamper our ability to adapt to life with a child. Great!

Chapter 6 - Come on in; opening our home for the first time – The Screening Visit

So finally, after submitting our own little version of War and Peace we got a letter from our local Children’s Services team. We had passed through the first hoop. In a few weeks time we would be visited in our home by a social worker who would make an assessment of our suitability to progress through the adoption process. I think that this was the first time that it really hit home that we were now in the fully-fledged process. And of course that brought mixed emotions. We were both relieved and delighted that we were through to the next stage. Of course, with that came an increased level of pressure.

Right, we were through the first heat – now each match was a crucial one in this knock-out tournament with our family as the ultimate prize... yes, unrealistically melodramatic, of course. However, up until that point we’d felt that we were just pushing at doors; finding out. Now there was the real prospect that, having had the prize dangled before our eyes, it could be snatched away at any moment.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Chapter 5 – Applying... Filling in "The Form"

Into the process – in triplicate!

Having endured the various orientation and familiarisation sessions, and despite the best efforts of the social services to put us off, our minds were made up. Adoption it was. We were “In”. Or at least we were willing to let a bunch of strangers decide whether we were “in” or “out” or “loitering around on the front porch” (as some of our friends ended up being).

At the end of the Orientation Day we picked up a copy of the “Initial information form” and settled down in front of the computer to fill it in. Now bearing in mind that I’ve spent a lifetime working in the public sector you’d think that a bit of form filling would be a piece of cake. However, faced with the form my first thoughts were less, “Let’s get stuck into this.” and more”Blimey! Perhaps now’s a good time for some light relief... like filling in my income tax form...”

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Chapter 4 – The first meetings: Dis-Orientation Day

Entering information overload

Having survived the Open Evening we were keen to put our names down for the next stage of the process; a full day course which would look more deeply into the journey that adopters and adopted children take. Of course, that meant another frustrating wait for the Orientation Day. Inevitably the next one wasn’t until a few months hence.

When the day finally came we sat in another hall which had clearly been decorated in a job lot with the class rooms at the local comprehensive. Cosy and welcoming it was not. This time the previous roomful had been winnowed down to about 30 or 40 people. Sitting in a couple of rough circles it was difficult to work out what was to come next. As it turned out... largely more of the same.

The overall agenda for the day seemed to be the Open Evening writ large. Of course, that gave even more scope for horror stories. Tales of the types of neglect and abuse which looked after children may have suffered followed. Again, the odd face around the room seemed to grow increasingly pale with the descriptions. This was followed by a talk on the types of challenge which an adoptive parent might face over the years of caring for and healing a potentially damaged little soul. By now some of the people sitting around the room were letting out little gulps and shifting uncomfortably in their seats. I’m sure I heard the odd whimper...

Chapter 3 – Starting out and the "Open Evening"

Horror stories and inspiration

So having decided that adoption was something which we were now seriously looking into there remained the question of... how? And who? And what? And where...? A couple of evenings’ Googling led us to the Children’s Services page of our local authority’s website. And here began something which we came to see as a repeating theme over the following few years. There was certainly lots of info on the website although none of it seemed geared towards answering the basic questions of a keen young couple keen to follow the adoption route. What there was seemed to be, at best, tangential to our basic questions and, at worst, downright misleading and contradictory.

Over some time we’ve spoken to couples who have gone through (or are going through) the adoption process within our own area, through local authorities in other parts of the country and with national agencies. One theme seems to recur far too often. That for most of the process they’ve got little idea what’s going on, that when they DO think they know what’s going on their understanding is subtly (or indeed, wildly) wrong and that the social workers and support staff they talk to have no more of a definitive view of the process...

OK, I should step back and caveat that dismissive statement... All that being true, we do hold our own authority in the highest regard and applaud the difficult and complex job that they do with increasingly limited resources. The social workers themselves are unsung heroes and we wouldn’t have swapped “Denise”, our social worker, for all the world.

It’s just that there didn’t seem to be any consistency in the process or its application. What were described to us as hard-and-fast rules seemed to be flouted in the case of other couples. What was described by one social worker as an absolutely necessary part of the process was skipped over in practice. In the end it all worked out and muddled through but the inefficiencies in the system were constantly frustrating – particularly for two people for whom efficient management was part of the fabric of their working lives. Still, we got there in the end.

After much increasingly tortuous web-surfing we decided it would simply be better just to ring up our local authority and hang onto the phone until we got hold of a real person who could answer our basic questions... like how do we actually apply to adopt.

And then came the first of a number of frustrating waiting periods. It turned out that we’d just missed the most recent “adoption open evening” - information evenings for prospective adopters just starting out on the journey. Not to worry, there’d be another one in two or three months. Great. Still, our names were on the list and we had finally placed our feet on the first rung of the ladder.

When the open evening finally came around we sat in a hall with about a hundred or so other prospective adopters. All fresh faced and hopeful. And then the horror stories started... To say that the content of the evening could be described to have been a bit on the dour side would be an understatement.

First we heard how difficult the journey into adoption can be. We were warned about the terrible problems that many looked-after kids carry from their birth families into their adopted ones. We were given an insight into the lives of the birth parents whose children are taken into care. We were told that the process of being approved would be long, hard and invasive. As the evening progressed those brightly scrubbed faced around the room started to become paler and paler.

Of course, there was talk about how rewarding it is giving a child from a difficult background a new start but somehow it all seemed rather overshadowed.

An open or shut case...

For me, personally, the most enlightening element of the evening was the description of the “open adoption” process – the fact that parents are encouraged to be open with their adopted children about the realities of their history; to integrate this into the child’s personal history and their understanding of their own identity. For us this was a relief as it seemed to answer the concerns seeded in our minds by the difficult adoptions which we had come across in the past. Where crises had arisen it had been an artefact of the old, closed style of adoption – a sudden realisation in mid teens that many of the givens within the child’s life had been either subtly massaged or were founded on, well let’s call a spade a spade, a lie. Emotional meltdowns and general family trauma then ensued... We had both seen that happen on one occasion - in a truly Eastenders Christmas Episode manner. Yikes!

On the other hand, the “open adoption” route seemed positively enlightened to us. Clearly not to all. As the idea of life-story work, regular contact with birth parents, siblings and other birth family members was outlined the last remaining vestiges of colour drained from several faces around the room...

But not from ours. Chatting straight afterwards we both realised that we had shared the same feeling all the way through evening. An inner dialogue which said, “Yes, I can do this.” “Yes, I can buy into this.” “It’s not gonna be easy but... Yes, this is right for me.” While others sloped off, tails visibly between their legs (presumably straight to the nearest hostelry for a stiff recuperative), we took the opportunity to chat to the social workers, pick up literature and find out how we could apply for the next stage of the process.

Chapter 2 – Deciding to start the process

And they're off!

As hinted in the first blog, we had always wanted kids – our plan of attack for life was the typical 2.4 children, dog and suburban idyll. So much for plans. After several years at the mercy of the fertility sausage machine we had wanted some time off. Some time just to be us again. And so we did for a few years.

But the desire for kids was still there and at one point a couple of years ago we both realised, pretty much independently, that it was time to do something about it. Adoption seemed like the obvious – read only – way forward and I think that we were both a little surprised at the other’s positive response when the topic was first broached.

We’re both pretty sensible types and so neither of us were making the decision with an unrealistically romantic view of adoption... “Oooh, we’ll get a wuvverly wittle baby and everything will be wuvverly!!!” No, we had a pretty good idea of the pool from which looked-after kids are drawn and the baggage that they might take along for the ride. In fact, a throwaway comment from my mum many years before came flooding back. “Hmm, adopting a child. You’re just taking on board all of someone else’s problems.”

Harsh, but to some extent true. Well, at least you’re certainly signing up for potential issues not of your own making. We’d both also independently come across cases of the “traditional” closed adoption which had gone wrong in the terrible teenage years – in one case in a truly “Eastenders” fashion.

Chapter 1 – Where we are and how we got here

Excuses, excuses

So what do we know. Well, nothing more than anyone else who has passed through the process of preparing for adoption – so much like someone blindfolded and feeling their way around some strange terrain. There’s no room for pontificating here (and certainly no claims on authority other than the insight that comes from experiencing something first hand). However, we hope that this series of semi-random jottings either strikes a chord with those who have similarly navigated the rocks and shallows of adopting or provides some comfort and reassurance for those embarking on it.

Headline – no, it’s not just you. It is just as frustrating and bewildering as it seems to be. Just as contradictory, just as inconsistent, just as confusing, just as emotional but, ultimately, just as rewarding.

Personally, I blame a dear, dear friend of ours. It was probably just a throwaway comment based on the fact that she knows that I enjoy creative writing. “You should write a blog about it all!” I dismissed it at first, thinking “What the heck do I know?” Well, just about as much and as little as anyone else. But somehow it stuck. The idea burrowed away into the subconscious and kept niggling away when I least expected it.