Sunday, 28 April 2013

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.

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