Monday, 22 July 2013
Chapter 15 – Getting to know you: the first home-study visit
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.”
“Well, you’ll need to do it as soon as possible and get back to me on Monday at the latest with the new names or it will cause all sorts of delays.” With that the conversation abruptly ended. When she phoned me a few minutes later it was clear that she was properly shaken by the whole thing. We just weren’t sure what to do now. After a few moments stunned silence a thought occurred. It was too late in the day to do anything now. We’d phone Denise first thing the following morning.
Morning meetings at work were hastily rearranged, colleagues were warned that we’d be in late and we prepared to put the plan into action. Thankfully when we rang the office the following morning a different voice answered the phone and we were soon put through to Denise. This was the polar opposite to the previous conversation. When we said that we would like to set up a time to meet as soon as possible and outlined what had happened she was calm and reassuring. She said that there wasn’t a problem and that things could be ironed out easily. Even her question, “Oh... Did you speak to... erm... Mildred in the office? Hmm... Ah...” was a reassurance. Clearly this wasn’t the first time that some traumatised prospective adopters had been talked down off the ledge after a call from the resident office harridan. Besides, she reassured us, she wouldn’t be starting referee interviews for weeks yet. There was plenty of time to sort all this out. We weren’t to worry.
In offices and doctors’ surgeries up and down the land there are, secreted at strategic points where they’re equipped to wreak the most havoc, administrators like Mildred. People for whom a small taste of power has pushed their egos to a point where Atilla The Hun would say, “Ooh, steady on!”. Mildred was clearly one of these and we were simply the latest unfortunate couple to fall victim to her under-developed social skills.
When Denise arrived at our house the following week we were reassured further. Our immediate conclusion was that she was absolutely lovely while seeming to be experienced and really on top of things. We had a feeling that this was someone we were going to really enjoy working with. That indeed proved to be the case. We soon discovered a shared love of Earl Grey tea and a weakness for nice biscuits, which was bound to set things off on a good footing.
We quickly settled into a general getting to know you session. Denise outlined what her plans were for the next few meetings and gave an overview of how the next few months ought to go. We briefly discussed the referees issue and Denise explained that, strictly, there could only be two family members included within our list of referees. She suggested that we think about possible alternatives but that we ask those who were “demoted” to write in with their thoughts along the lines of the questionnaire which would be sent to the referees on the list. Keeping our overseas friends wasn’t a problem but it was unlikely that they would be one of the couples chosen for a more in-depth interview – unless it could be made to coincide with a visit to the UK. Again, they’d be asked for their comments in writing. Well, that all seemed sensible.
For the rest of the afternoon we continued chatting about our respective backgrounds (and in particular our childhoods) while Denise scribbled copious notes. After almost three hours we’d barely got to the teenage years and Denise suggested that we start to wrap up the session. Diaries were consulted and a series of meetings were arranged on a roughly fortnightly basis. Finally, Denise set us some homework to be getting on with – developing an “eco-map”. This would set out a network of our key relationships and friendships with information on they might provide support once we were finally approved. She also asked us how we planned to get more formal experience of looking after children in the months before Adoption Panel. We should have a think and make some suggestions at the next meeting.
Once again we were pretty emotionally drained. For all Denise’s pleasant and reassuring manner it had been an intense afternoon. What we needed was another nice hot cup of Earl Grey tea!