Thursday, 12 September 2013
Chapter 21 – Out and about: Home-study visits continued...
Our home-study with Denise wasn’t 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 don’t 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.
First up was the Foster Carer and it was with some nervousness that we rang on a stranger’s doorbell one evening a few weeks later. We needn’t have worried. The door was opened by a welcoming woman a few years younger than us. She seemed to give out, simultaneously, an air of flusteredness, efficiency and motherliness. Not a bad combination for a foster mum about to be quizzed on her private business by a couple of strangers. The house itself also seemed to give off a similar air – not surprising since, alongside the foster carer and her partner the house was home to a couple of teenagers and, currently, two sibling fostered toddlers. Not to worry, she said, the tiddlers were in bed and well asleep and her two would be in later after some after school activity.
We settled down to a nice cuppa and our list of questions. Of course, things were a bit awkward to begin with. It was probably heightened by the fact that she knew that we would be writing a report on our visit which would be given to Denise and that she would be returning the complement and writing a report on us. However, despite the awkwardness of the situation we all soon relaxed into it and before long we were chatting away like we'd known each other forever!
Having been fostering for several years she was onto her umpteenth set of children (siblings being something of a specialism for her). It was great to see how things worked from her side of the fence. She described the potential suddenness and uncertainties when a social worker fetched up on her doorstep with a new challenge for her. And quite often it was that abrupt with just the luxury of a warning phone call to let her know what was afoot.
It went like this... She was between placements, she accepted siblings, this pair had been removed from mum that afternoon and a safe and comfortable bed was needed for that very night. Whether it was actually for that night or for the next three years had varied from case to case and couldn’t necessarily be predicted from the outset. These are the types of uncertainties which looked-after kids and, by extension, our adopted children experience along their journeys. And that’s irrespective of questions of whether there had been abuse or neglect; irrespective of whether those children would end up going back to birth parents, be placed for adoption or end up in long-term fostering. So many questions, so many uncertainties!
We talked about finding out about the baggage which a fostered child carried with them. This led to a discussion of the therapeutic role which she had played with "her" children. The slow and painful process of starting to help rebuild a little life. The chat was, unsurprisingly, intense. There was no other way you could approach that kind of discussion. As she told us the anonymised stories of some of her charges we could both feel ourselves starting to well up on several occasions.
It was fascinating to hear her describe her conflicted emotions on "Handover Day". The knowledge that this child was going to what all hoped would be a best of all possible futures while still feeling the bereavement of "losing a child". For once we could see that this seemingly melodramatic way of describing the process wasn't hyperbole but deeply felt emotion. We have a good friend who is a foster career, albeit within a neighbouring county. The previous year we had watched her prepare the little girl who had been with her for two and a half years for adoption. The loss which she felt when the child moved on could only be described as being akin to a bereavement. We watched her try to rationalise it all, try to be strong for the rest of her (equally devastated) family and try to cope. At that moment we had vowed to ourselves that, should we ever be on the other end of an adoption handover, we would do whatever we could to be sympathetic to what our foster carers were going through.
We talked at length about the mechanics of the introductions and handover process and it was fascinating to put a personal perspective on the theory which we had read about previously in our Prep Day literature. Doubly so to hear a foster carer's perspective on it.
It's something I've said it before (and I suspect that I'll say it again) but I've got no idea how foster carers pour their love and lives into a hurting child and then release them,to a new set of adults. It's certainly not something which we're called to at this point. Chatting in the car on the way home we agreed just how lovely this foster carer was. We hoped and prayed that if and when we got our own foster carer they'd be as nice as she was.