Monday, 3 June 2013

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.

It would be hard to overstate how much, at this moment, the rest of the adoption process seemed like a big black – scary – box. There had been hints during the open evening and the orientation day of how the process was to go. However , to quote Douglas Adams’ description of the Hitch-Hikers’ Guide To The Galaxy much of it seemed to be apocryphal or, at least, wildly inaccurate. And so it turned out to be... Hello “Left Hand”, may I introduce “Right Hand”.

Anyway, a couple of weeks until the visit gave us plenty of time to think about what we were going to say. Too much time as it turned out.

At last the big day arrived and, we’ll call her, “Sandra” arrived at our door. Of course, the house was spick and span – polished and hoovered within an inch of its life – and we ushered her into the front room. To be honest, it’s hard to remember much detail of our conversation with Sandra other than it seemed to cover much of the content which had been included in the application form. Why we wanted to be parents. What we would do as parents and how we would approach it. Our experience of looking after children and so on... There was a little delving back into our family histories and finding out how we ticked as people.

However, what does stick in our minds was the slow motion train-crash feeling as we realise that Sandra might just have her own agenda and prejudices and that these might be strongly colouring her preconceptions of us as people and prospective parents.

Careless talk costs... preconceptions!

It all started with, what to us, seemed to be an almost throwaway comment on how we would be good at setting out routines and boundaries for a child. We had experience of ordering and organising busy lives and felt that this might be helpful as parents. That seemed a reasonable comment to us. After all, we’ve all seen the odd episode of Supernanny and Jo Frost does swear by those routines. We’d even been a bit over-keen and started reading a book about adoption which often referred to how good routines helped adopted children (so used to chaotic and fractured lives) feel secure in adjusting to “forever family” life.

And, hey...! Hadn’t they been banging on in both the Open Evening and Orientation Day about just this very point. And that was when the sickening train-crash feeling seemed to start.

“Oh, so we live strictly rigid and ordered lives do we? Well that’s all very well and good when there’s just the two of you but children are very different and they won’t just fit in with your regime. You will need to be more flexible than that!” “Ermm... not sure that’s exactly what we said... we can be spontaneous and roll with the punches too... we allow for flexibility within our routines...” But, no. Sandra was clearly off on a big hobby horse.

It somehow felt like that moment in a film when the whole thing goes into slow motion as our hero stumbles and lets go of the precious object he is carrying. In graceful and yet fumbling movements he reaches out for it. Once, twice his fingers brush against the tumbling treasure. Momentarily his hand nearly clasps around it but then he watches helpless as it tumbles into the abyss.

Anyway, the moment passed and we moved onto other topics. But, somehow it seemed to overshadow the rest of the meeting. A huge, great, carefully timetabled elephant in the room. By the time that Sandra stood up, shook our hands and disappeared down the drive we were a pair of quivering nervous wrecks. To this day I don’t know whether it’s patently obvious or a great shock but the whole experience had been hugely emotionally draining. We slumped onto the living room sofa quietly mumbling to ourselves until we managed to blurt out, “...need... ...a... ...cup... ...of... ...tea...”

And here were were again, back into the information vacuum. Sandra had said that she would write up a report on the meeting which she would forward to us for reference. On the basis of the report a recommendation would be made on whether we should be considered to attend the next set of four “Preparation Days” which would be held early the following year. Those “Preparation Days” would be the precursor to the more detailed home-study work which would ultimately lead to a recommendation to the Adoption Panel.

But before that was, what seemed to be, an interminable wait. And plenty of room for post mortems and paranoia. So what had we said to Sandra? What had we said that was just plain wrong and would clearly demonstrate what unfit parents we would make? And what about the “incident”? Well, clearly we were out before we were even in!

But still there was nothing to do but wait for the big rejection letter... The mind can do funny things to you...


Sarah Hill said...

You had me hooked, you tell it so well. The awful feeling of inadequacy which I can tell, from reading, is so unnecessary and yet we all have it. The terror of rejection. I look forward to reading more.

Thank you for being part of the Weekly Adoption Shout Out.

AdoptionJourneyBlog said...

Thanks for the kind words, Sarah. Glad you're enjoying it. So glad to have found the WASO and Tha Adoption Social (kudos to our local Post-Approval Support & Training Team for emailing around all their adopters this week to point it out. I'm so enjoying catching up on all the other blogs there too...

theonehandman said...

The social workers job is to makle you feel at ease and to prepare you to adopt, not pick holes. We were told time, and time again to be honest, but there were times where it didn't pay off for us, and that for me, speaks of a lousy social worker.

Suddenly Mummy said...

My initial meeting about adoption left me in tears! And I was an approved foster carer who was already caring for the child I wished to adopt! The questions were challenging, even aggressive (why are you talking about adopting when you said you wanted to foster?), and the pressure of passing this first hurdle caused me to agree to a lot of demands that I regretted later, including agreeing to move house to a different borough, and to giving up fostering for upto two years! I don't know how I thought I'd feed us! My belief is that they deliberately make these first meetings testing just to see how serious you are - a sort of view that if you aren't really that serious then you'll drop out before they've spent too much time/money on you. As the home study progressed and I got to know my social worker (who was superb by the way) all the restrictions and demands were finally dropped. I am moving, but only half a mile away (as my child's birth family have been to my house), and I won't have to even take a one week break from fostering. Such a lot of trauma for nothing! but I've heard other foster carers in my borough tell the same story, and one family even challenged social service's demands in court and overturned every one of them.

Vicki TBB said...

Gosh you've brought back some memories with this post.

I remember the SW at our initial visit knocking over her cup of coffee and I'll never know (though I suspect) if that was to see how bothered we would be about mess/spills etc. That first visit seemed to be a series of little tests and opportunities to trip you up.

Thank you for sharing your experience with the Weekly Adoption Shout Out xbr