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.

At the end of our previous visit Denise had handed us a deceptively innocuous looking form. About three or four pages long it was mostly a multiple choice, tick box exercise. She said that we should look through it carefully the in the run up to the next meeting and think about how we would want to fill it in. We'd then work through it question by question in the following session.

This was the "Matching Matrix". And it would be one of the most difficult parts of the process for us. Now, put away your Raybans and black leather trench coats, it's not that Matrix. This one is much scarier! This was the single document which would most profoundly affect what our child would be like, who they would be and potentially how long before they would join our family. No pressure then...

The Matching Matrix is the document which authority and agency family finders use to decide whether a particular set of parents should be considered for matching against any child. It sets out in great detail the particular Yes, No and Maybes about the type of child you are willing to accept as adoptive parents. "So what?" I hear you say, "You have to jot down a few particulars about the child you want... Blue eyes or brown eyes, black hair, blonde hair or ginger? What's the big deal?" Well, you'll be able to keep saying that for the first page or so and then it gets hard. Properly hard...

Adopted kids can bring with them a range of experiences and characteristics that most natural parents can barely dream of and certainly wouldn't wish on their own children. Neglect, abuse, injuries, medical and psychological conditions... Then there's the known and unknown genetic factors which will play into their little lives... The question is, what can you deal with? What are you willing to deal with.

And of course, on a slightly more trivial level it has an effect on how long you may have to wait to be matched. If you're willing to accept anything then the field of children is wide open, if your child absolutely must be a blonde haired, hazel eyed little girl of between 18 and 24 months with no developmental delay issues, no history of abuse or neglect and a cute, turned up nose... Well, you may just have to wait a while for that particular combination to come up and even then you might turn out to be third best match...

We'd discussed this sort of stuff in, we thought, quite a bit of detail. For us the headline was, and remained, that we wanted to bring up a child who had a good prospect of becoming a functioning, independent adult. We also wanted a child of up to 4 years old. We liked the idea of having a clear year or more to build ourselves as a family before things like school got in the way. Oh, and we were happy to adopt up to two children so siblings were in but equally we wouldn't say an absolute "No" to one child. Beyond that we were pretty easy on the details. So that made page 1 fairly easy.

That was genuinely the easy part... Gender, Age, Physical qualities, Number of children...

On the second page things started to get a little more difficult. Would we be willing to accept a child with slight, significant, severe developmental delay. Denise noted that most adopted children did show some developmental delay but that this could often be caught up over time when in a stable, supportive, therapeutic adoption placement. Fine. What about medical issues. Well, we'd both experienced a number of medical issues so they're don't hold a fear for us. Various boxes were ticked - hole in the heart, diabetes, cleft palate, hearing difficulties and so on. Others were considered a no no, particularly those which would require ongoing intervention and caring right into adulthood. Once again our touchstone was the ability to become an independent adult.

We took the same approach to mental and psychological conditions. Some were "in", some were "out". Again we'd had some first hand experience of friends with mental illness and we knew that some we could cope with, some we could not. Or at least we didn't want to volunteer for a strong risk of those conditions becoming part of our family life.

We knew that we were making the right decisions. We knew that we had to be dispassionate and make decisions which would be the best for our family but, by goodness, did we feel awful every time a tick went into the "No" box. We are both compassionate people at heart and to be actively saying to a hypothetical child, "No, we don't want to be compassionate to you!" Was hard. So back to my initial question. Want to feel like a heel?  Fill in one of these forms.

Denise was great, though, and very supportive throughout the process. She reassured us that we were doing the right thing in setting out where our limits lay. To lie about this would only be damaging to us, to our relationship and to the child in the long run. Some people were called to look after very severely a disabled or handicapped children, she said. But they were a particular and special breed. It wasn't a reflection on us and we shouldn't feel guilty if that wasn't our particular calling. 

Still felt awful though. And that was before we had got to the really difficult stuff... Neglect, abuse, sexual abuse, severe degrees of physical and mental handicap and so on...

Eventually the form was completed and we felt, more or less, content with our choices. 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, unbeknownst to all three of us, there was,still one more discussion to have...

7 comments:

saveeverystep said...

Talk about a cliffhanger! We still have this joy to come, although our adoption pre course did good job of making us aware of just how brutal a process this can be for everyone. I am sure it's equally hard for social workers to have to tick and cross the boxes next to each of the wonderful, compassionate families who want to adopt the children they have to place, but who aren't just quite right....After all, we're dealing with people's lives both ends here. It wouldn't be right somehow if it wasn't tortuous!!

Three Pink Diamonds said...

I remember feeling the same as you did when we were handed our matching form. The worry that we would be judged for saying no to children who had experienced various things or had various illnesses.

I had my head in the clouds and thought I could handle pretty much anything, my husband however had his head screwed on and answered honestly about what we could realistically manage and like your social worker ours was understanding and certainly didn't push us into any decisions we were not comfortable with.

Suddenly Mummy said...

I remember being mortified when I saw an example of the matching form, and so very grateful that I didn't have to fill it in! It's something that lurks unpleasantly in the back of my mind whenever someone asks me if I'd consider adopting again.

dontwelookalike.com said...

What, what? This is a really thought-provoking post. But you left me hanging . . . .

DrSpouse said...

Our social worker said she worked with a couple where the husband said "I think it's yes to rape, and no to incest. And I never thought that would be a sentence I'd utter"

ebrookslivingston said...

One part of the forms we had to fill out that was really challenging for us was the amount of substance abuse any given expectant mother might have disclosed--we're hoping to adopt a newborn in the U.S. It broke it down to initial, first trimester, and ongoing, and further into different types of substances. One could be open to matching with an expectant parent who reported using alcohol throughout her pregnancy or initially (until she found out she was pregnant). One could be open to marijuana use and closed to meth use. We had to Google some of the effects of these drugs - or potential effects - at any given point. Completely unprepared by that little 3-inch section of boxes to check!

AdoptionJourneyBlog said...

It was a bizarre conversation and, as some have said, we said phrases we never dreamed we would say.

I guess I should also warn folks... The cliff hanger OS much less 24 style, Jack Bauer hanging off a skyscraper with one hand on the nuclear trigger and much more Homer Simpson slapping his head and saying "D'oh!"