Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Chapter 27 – Adoption Panel Day

The big day

And so the big day finally arrived... We had been doing a bit of preparation over the weekend before our panel date. Reading back through reports, checking out what the social workers considered to be our strengths and weaknesses as individuals, as a couple and as prospective parents for an adopted child. We thought through a few possible questions and how we might respond and then discussed how we might try to box and cox between each other when speaking to the panel. We were aware that we should ensure that both of us had a good chance to speak, that we shouldn't cut across each other or hog the conversation... We set out strategies and game plans.

Then it struck us just how odd it was that we were working out such definitive strategies for an experience for which we had absolutely no precedent in our lives to date. Just how would the meeting go? Sure, Denise had talked us through the format. We would arrive at the social services building at the appointed time and Denise would meet us and take us to a waiting room. Once the panel had a short time to discuss our case they would invite Denise in to discuss the case in more detail and to hear her recommendations. This should take around half an hour - give or take... After a further short discussion we would be invited in and the panel would ask us a few questions. After we returned to our waiting room the panel would make a final decision and... that would be that. Maybe.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Chapter 26: Paperwork and panels

Full disclosure...

Home Study is a pretty intensive process and there is a lot of work to get through. The paperwork which is sent to panel is pretty extensive (I do wonder just how much of it actually gets read - but still, it's there on file to prove that the Social Services have properly covered all the bases should anything go wrong...). But panel is the huge looming target towards which you are inexorably heading. The crunch day...

In good old X-Factor results programme style, therefore, perhaps I should artificially build up the tension a bit before I tell you about the day itself and the outcome. So... (Adopts Ant and Dec Geordie accent). The winner is... Dum dum dum... Dum dum dum...

Well, to fill in the time, perhaps it would be useful to look at just what goes to panel and who, in the case of our Local Authority, they are...

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Chapter 25 – The Home Straight: Home-study visits continued

Welcome to our humble abode... 

Our panel date was only a few weeks away and all our discussions with Denise over the time since filling in the matching matrix had concentrated on dotting "T's" and crossing "I's". Or at least that is what it felt like. 

Every day or so my wife would get a call or a text, "So, was it your parents who were freedom fighters in the Guatemalan civil war and Derek's who ran away to join the circus?" "No, it's the other way round. Oh, and by the way, my husband's name isn't Derek!" It's the type of detail that you'd think might have stuck... And so it continued. You had to admire Denise's commitment to getting the details and the flavour right.

Still, it wasn't a surprise that when Denise emailed us her report on us to proof read there were still a lot of mix ups and little errors. Still, that is what proof reading is for, I suppose. 

Monday, 7 October 2013

Chapter 24 – Entering the (Matching) Matrix: Home-study visits continued

The final(ish) furlong

Have you ever wanted to feel like a really callous, heartless heel? Ever wanted to prove to yourself that you don't have a shred of compassion and common decency hidden anywhere in the deepest recesses of your soul? Then I suggest that you apply to become an adopter. 

"Hang on a minute," I hear you saying, " What about all this therapeutic parenting business and all this playful, accepting, caring, empathic stuff you've been banging on about? What about giving a young life a new start in a forever family? What about all the noble, rewarding stuff?" 

Well yes, of course... All that stuff is true and I didn't say you actually were a complete heel. I just asked if you wanted to feel  like one.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Chapter 23 – Cross References: Home-study visits continued


In the workplace it is pretty normal to expect to be appraised on a regular basis. The current fashion for 360 degree feedback means that we're regularly asking all and sundry to comment on us as workers and as people. Conducting a 360 degree feedback appraisal among your family and friends is somewhat rarer. Doubly so when you are really not supposed to have any clues about what they have said about you.

And so here we are at this stage of the process. The bit where our family and friends spill the dirt about how rubbish we'll be as parents. Erm... sorry, I mean provide extra colour about us as a couple and how we are likely to be as parents... 

I've already talked in a previous chapter of this story about the twists and turns we experienced in choosing our referees. The choosing in itself is a particularly stressful process, full of scope to second guess yourself and indulge in conspiracy theories about that your family and friends really think about you. The most striking thing was, given that the number of family members you could nominate was strictly limited, just how hard it was to think up six or eight nominees to be referees.

We're lucky that, being regular members of a church community, we've got a wide range of friends. Still, which of them are qualified to comment on us as people and parents? Despite this large community, your intimate friends - those who really know you - are actually a select bunch. Those whom you would trust to give the best impression to a stranger assessing you for the most important selection process in your life is an even more select group. So despite a pretty huge number of potential people to choose from the decision to plump for just six was agonisingly hard. Once again, it's another part of the process where the stakes seem to be so incredibly high and the pressure to make the right decision (whatever that might be) weighs heavily on your shoulders.

And so we're back in cape-swishing, moustache-twirling melodrama once again. But that's the reality of the adoption process. The self imposed and process imposed pressures seem so very, very great from inside looking out. Wood for the trees, I know... But the ability to see things that clearly while going through assessment is a rare gift. It's surprising just how often you end up feeling like that silent movie heroine; struggling, tied to the railway tracks, waiting for someone to rescue you while the system stands there laughing and rubbing its hands.

Anyway, office dragon shaped blips notwithstanding, we had made our choices of referee and now it was Denise's turn to make some choices... Which three of our referees would she interview? Well, one of our referees had moved to Brussels for work a few months before and there was no way that the travel budget was going to run to a ride on the Eurostar! So that narrowed the field down. My wife's parents were a no brainer choice and they lived in the same town as Denise so that helped with the mileage claims too! Our best friends, Issy's parents, seemed like a good choice as they could comment first hand on how we had performed in our favourite Uncle and Aunt duties. We would have liked to have nominated my wife's brother and wife as we were godparents to their now teenage boy but that would have hit the travel budget again so that just left two equally qualified referees... The process of choosing between them wasn't quite eenie-meenie-miney-mo but it wasn't far off... So, the team sheet was as follows... Mum and Dad, Issy's parents and Dick and Katie (an older couple we'd known for nigh on fifteen years). On this occasion our remaining referees, Michael and Suzie, would need to sit it out on the subs' bench.

We agreed to phone the victims that afternoon to warn them that they should expect a call from Denise to set up a mutually convenient time for a chat. And so the principle of best-laid-plans struck again. It turned out that Dick and Katie were off the following week for a grand tour of relative visiting in the States. They'd be gone for about 6 weeks - perfectly matching the time left in Denise's diary for doing the visits and writing up the reports. 

So Dick and Katie were shown the red card and Michael and Suzie were told to get warming up on the touch line. The interviews went ahead and Denise started writing up summaries of her conversations. And we, of course, plugged each of the interviewees for information on what had been said.

We weren't meant to see the written reports which our referees had sent in a few months earlier. These were never shared as we prepared for panel. Neither were the reports on the interviews. However, some of our friends did send us copies of what they had written about us. Fortunately it was all pretty glowing stuff and followed a standard questionnaire format aimed at drawing out the apposite facts about is (along with a few which raised a smile or an eyebrow). There were a number which were pretty predictable. How were we as a couple? How much had they seen of us interacting with children? What did they know about why we wanted to adopt? How much did we seem to have really prepared ourselves mentally for the changes parenthood would bring? How did they think we'd cope with kids? What did they think we'd find hardest about the transition?

Then there were the questions about our criminal records. Were they aware of any? Personally, I'd have to plead guilty to an Emerson Lake and Palmer LP and ask for several Status Quo singles to be taken into consideration! There were questions about whether there was any reason why we'd pose a risk to children... Well, I suppose they DO have to ask...

In parallel with this, Denise was data gathering from other sources... She visited the nursery where my wife was volunteering to interview the senior staff, she interviewed the leaders of the crèche at church and she contacted our employers (to check that we were who we really were and that we did actually have jobs, I suppose...).

We now had our panel date and from here on in a lot of our interactions with Denise seemed to concentrate on fact checking as she started writing up all her final reports. However, there was one more big discussion to have...