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...”

The orientation day had warned applicants that the process would be complex, detailed, invasive and something we would have to work at. And here was the first personification of that thought. Or form ended up running for almost 20 pages and I’m guessing that ours was a lot less complicated than some.

The first question (other than the standard “name”, “age”, “address”, “shoe size”, “favourite breakfast cereal” ones) was “It is our policy to contact previous partners from significant relationships including marriage, civil partnership and co-habitation. Please indicate how many contacts will be needed if this applies and provide contact details.” Now, for us being practically childhood sweethearts (having hooked up while at college) this was a fairly straightforward question to answer. Not so for most of the other couple who proceeded through the process with us. To say that simple question alone was a cause for much angst would be an understatement. Let’s face it, relationships with one’s ex are traditionally a little strained so the thought of inviting them (potentially ALL of them) to comment on your fitness to be a parent isn’t a welcome one.

Welcome to the process...!

From then on in, the form became increasingly like a challenging exam paper. “Why do you want to adopt?”, “What do you think you have to offer a child?” “What experience do you have of caring for children?” “What are your activities and commitments?” “How do you plan to change these to accommodate an adopted child?”

It’s surprising just how much pressure there was to produce the “right” answer when, of course, such certainties were a million miles away from our knowledge and our experience. Oh well, try to be as honest as possible while ensuring that the positive message (spin?) was maintained.

Then there were the medical questions... what should have been a simple list of facts was particularly painful to go through. How would this be viewed by those assessing us? Would it be the fact that threw us out of the system or have little relevance in the end? By this point rationality wasn’t necessarily taking the lead over sheer paranoia!

Most painful of all was having to trail through our IVF treatments again. That was a period of time which we had tried hard to put behind us. To gain some time and distance. But here were were, listing our unsuccessful IVF cycles, detailing the miscarriages and fertility treatments which had led us into the IVF sausage mill in the first place. Question Three Hundred and Forty Seven: Have you accessed any counselling or professional support in relation to...? Too bloomin’ right we had, and God bless our IVF clinic for providing this as part of the ongoing patient support throughout the process. Dragging the whole thing back up again was the last thing we wanted.

But, of course, there was a good reason for that and for the further discussions we eventually had with our social worker about it through our “home study” time. Loss (in all its forms) is a powerful thing and it can lead to irrational emotions. So much of the preparation for adoption is as much about the authorities screening applicants for suitability as ensuring that those applicants have worked through those emotions and learned to deal with them. As one travels along the adoption journey, “loss” in its various psychological definitions and manifestations becomes a recurring theme. And with good reason... but more about that later.

So, after around twenty pages of detailed questioning on every conceivable aspect of our private and public lives our application form was complete. A week or so after we had attended the orientation day we submitted the form to our local children’s services for consideration.

And then we waited... all through the process of becoming approved as prospective adopters the single most frustrating thing was the seeming inefficiency within the system. Of course, the adoption services are being as pared back to the bone as much as any other part of the public sector but it always seemed to us that there were inefficiencies within the system which could have been eliminated with little or no real additional effort.

For example, after we first approached our local authority about adoption and seriously registered our interest there was a wait of four months before the next Introductory Open Evening came around – the first compulsory step along the way. After that it was a wait of another two months before we could attend an Orientation Day. A couple of weeks after that we submitted our formal application form and started a wait of another three months for confirmation of a “screening visit” from a social worker. To top it all, we then missed the next available set of preparation days because by the time (over two months later) they sent out medical reports and paperwork they couldn’t be signed off prior to the preparation day... therefore an additional, unnecessary three months elapsed between screening visit and starting the preparation days. And all of this in a virtual information vacuum.

Frustrating isn’t the word. However, this type of scenario seems to be common with all the adopters and prospective adopters we’ve spoken to. Surely what took almost a year could have been compressed into three, four or five months?

But once again, I’m jumping ahead. Our next step was to prepare to open our home and our lives to the social workers for scrutiny...

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