Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Chapter 22 – Out and about again: Home-study visits continued

A different journey

Our first day out at Denise's behest had gone well. Our report had been written, handed in and thoroughly discussed at one of our home study meetings. Now we were out and about again... This time we were off to see some parents who had adopted a little girl a few years previously. 

The drive from our suburban surroundings into the equivalent of our area's well heeled stockbroker belt saw the houses we drove past getting larger and larger. Eventually we pulled into a small, countrified cul de sac and knocked on one of the doors. We were ushered in and settled into the living room, admiring a large and well kept garden through the French windows. The obligatory cups of tea were made and we started our chat.

Interpersonal chemistry is a strange and mercurial thing. In this case, however, we agreed that there wasn't really any... The atmosphere was as inert as a whole Periodic Table of Noble Gases. The couple were perfectly nice, polite, helpful, opinionated and so on but the whole thing felt from start to finish like the interview which it clearly was.

I didn't help that this couple's adoption journey seemed to be so very far removed from ours. The wife had known from her teenage years that infertility was very likely and so natural or assisted conception and childbirth hadn't ever been one of their options. Instead, after a short period of "just enjoying being a couple" they had started the process of adoption. But that was a process which had taken over ten years with numerous twists and turns, stops and starts. 

To begin with they had signed up with one of the independent adoption agencies to move towards domestic adoption.  However,  after a year or so of pursuing that process they decided to pull out. A fallow period followed, after which they signed up with a different agency with a view to adopting from abroad from Eastern Europe. For all sorts of reasons this eventually came to naught and, unsurprisingly they decided to have a little time off from the whole adoption thing again. After another fallow year they were ready to re-embark on the adoption journey and applied to our local authority. 

Eventually they were approved and matched with a sibling pair from another local authority somewhere across the country. This match fell apart during the introductions process as previously undisclosed information about the children started to come to light. Finally, a year or so later they adopted a little girl through the neighbouring county. Phew! That was a few years before and the placement had bedded down well, the legal paperwork having been completed a year after their daughter had arrived with them. So at least the circuitous story had a happy ending. 

Given that history, what to ask? Well, we rapidly set aside the unusual twists and turns of their history and concentrated on their experience of linking, matching, introductions and life post placement. It was fascinating to hear the insights of people who had been through the entire process first hand. Several things struck us. They had been very careful with their daughter's Child Permanency Report, trying to look at the facts dispassionately... The lessons of their failed match had clearly weighed very heavily on them the second time around. They took this to the extent of covering all photos of the child in the report with Post-Its until they had largely come to a decision to proceed. They stated that they didn't want a big pair of blue eyes or a gap toothed smile staring out of a page swaying them before they had really considered they facts. This was to be a head decision first and then a heart decision second. 

They spoke in detail about both their introductions periods, voicing strong opinions about the quality of the foster carers they had encountered. Having recently spoken in depth to a foster carer who was clearly deeply committed to therapeutic caring and securing the best long term outcome for their charge it was fascinating to contrast their experience of the less excellent end of the fostering spectrum. Of course it was biased reportage but if only a third of what they were saying was true it must have been very difficult for them.

The things which struck us most were the little things and the unexpected insights into their experience and their daughter's. Her foster carer had lived in a very small, urban flat with no garden and, for various reasons, rarely ventured out. When she arrived in her new surroundings with its large garden and rolling lawn for the first few weeks their daughter wouldn't venture beyond the French windows but would stand nervously staring out at this scary, wide open space. One almost insignificant detail but an insight into the scary unknowns which a two year old transitioning into a forever family must be grappling with in their heads, unable to adequately process or express. That the story (and so many others we have heard since) ended up with a happy ending was hugely encouraging.

One other thing particularly struck us about the discussion. Having been so circumspect about avoiding heart string tugging while reading the CPR they said how deeply affected they were by the "fly-by" visit with their soon to be child prior to matching panel. Our local authority and the neighbouring one are two of the small number who allow the prospective adopters to have some limited access to their matched child prior to intros and placement. These encounters are, of course, very closely controlled and they are something where the welfare of the child remains paramount. 

For most the encounters are held somewhere neutral and there is little or no real  contact between child and potential adopter. Most will not even be aware a "fly-by" has happened. For a very young child, a strange couple might turn up at the foster carers' house for a cuppa and a biscuit one day.  An older child and their foster carer may be playing on the swings in a local park while a couple (and their social worker shaped escort) take a turn around the park. The child, of course, would be oblivious to the fact that these strangers were taking a closer interest in their time on the swings and slide than most. It all sounds a little sordid and our hosts agreed that they felt a little odd and grubby "hanging around the park watching children".

However also conceded that something happened on a very deep level while they watched the child playing and laughing. Emotionally they said they took complete ownership of the child while they were watching her play. She was their child, it was just that no one knew that yet. A chemistry thing happened within them. Completely intangible but nonetheless real and the first foundation of the relationship which they were to build with their soon to be child. Many poo poo this. On the prep course, the trainers said that some other authorities laugh at them for this strange practice. However, in their experience, they said, it does make a difference. Certainly, when we did our own fly-by visit a year or so later, something very special happened in our hearts too.

At the end of the evening we did the obligatory swapping of numbers and emails and had plenty to discuss on the way home. Despite being pretty sure that we wouldn't be hearing from this couple again it was a hugely valuable experience and one to be recommended to any prospective adopters.

Or next visit was rather more straightforward - a morning at a local, charity-run parent and toddlers group which provided a fortnightly opportunity for adoptive parents and foster carers to get together. It was interesting that our main recollection of the morning was just how "normal" all kids seemed. Far from the stereotype of "challenging" kids this was a pretty standard selection of one to four year olds. Sure, to the trained eye there may have been some aggressive or clingy behaviours which were a little way beyond the norm but mostly it was just a group of kids displaying pretty normal toddler characteristics. As we chatted to the parents and helpers there one comment kept coming back at us, "Yes, that's what everyone notices first when they visit here!"


Anonymous said...

Sounds like you learned a lot from your 'interview', even if it lacked chemistry. The problem, I guess, is that no two situations are the same, so drawing conclusions is almost impossible...

AdoptionJourneyBlog said...

It was a really valuable experience and I wouldn't underestimate just how reassuring it was to be able to talk to real adopters about their real experiences - however different they might be from ours.

Similarly talking to the mums and dad's at the adopters group. It was actually insight which we drew upon in many subtle ways while preparing for panel and matching...

Three Pink Diamonds said...

Always interesting to read about other people's experiences. I think that it is great that you are able to talk to so many adopters before you have a child placed with you. This may be a great source of support for you post adoption too.

Suddenly Mummy said...

Your LA seems to do things very differently from ours - interesting to read the different approaches and the impact this has on your journey.