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.

While, of course, the hoped outcome would be an approval there were other options open to the panel. Denise reassured us that  in most cases an outright rejection was rare. And frankly... if that happened it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. The concerns of the social workers etc should be pretty obvious to all in such a case. More common was some sort of qualified decision or a deferment of a decision pending some issue being sorted out. Again, if that was a likelihood she said that it should be apparent to all parties as a possibility. There would most likely be serious issues of some sort which were not yet addressed or there might be something which flagged a concern for the panel which they wanted to see fully addressed before approval.

Some of our friends from our Preparation Course found themselves in this position. Their teenage daughter was attending, as a day girl, a prestigious private school the other side of the county from her home. This resulted in her mum doing a round trip each day which probably added up to a couple of hours or more. The panel weren't happy that this should be part of a newly adopted child's daily routine... hardly quality time, they pointed out. They wanted this to be addressed before they would be willing to approve the couple onto the adoption register. The couple discussed all this with their daughter and thought about the options... Commuting to school without the help of mum and dad's taxi service, the father taking over the school run and incorporating this into his working routine, moving school to a more local one, spending the weeks as a boarder (coming home for long weekends)...? An accommodation was made which the panel were content with and, after the unexpected delay, they were approved.

As a childless couple working in sectors which were known to be rather more flexible when it came to work life balance and family issues our position was rather more simple. Denise was confident that there were few issues which could cause an impediment to our approval. Past health issues had been a concern for both of us all the way through the process as we were unsure how the panel would view both our previous medical histories. Denise reassured us that all were content that these no longer posed a difficulty and shouldn't prevent us from being approved. Still, we wondered... 

As the morning of the panel arrived that reassurance was something which we were very much clinging on to. We aren't stressy people. To most we probably would have looked like an oasis of calm as we got out of the car in the social services headquarters that morning. However, the background stress was eating away at our nerves and our tummies were a churning mass of butterflies. Well, we thought, here goes nothing!l

As we sat in the waiting room, having been reassured again by Denise that she was confident we would be approved, it was hard not to feel waves of stress rising inside. So much effort and expectation was being funnelled down into this single hour. After Denise had been in the meeting room talking to the panel for what seemed like three days but was really more like twenty minutes, the panel chair came into introduce herself to us and escort us into the room. The next twenty minutes rushed past in a blur. As we expected, the panel asked a few questions around our weakness, dug more deeply into our relationships with the various children in our lives and asked some seemingly general questions around privacy, social media and how we anticipated that having a child would change our lives (well, apart from completely!).

Once everyone seemed to have had their turn we were ushered out only to be joined a few minutes later by Denise. It was interesting to hear her perspective of her discussions with the panel (largely positive) and she was kind enough to comment that the panel had found it hard to find difficult questions to ask us - which seemed to be a good sign. A few minutes later the panel chair came back in to tell us that the panel would be recommending us for approval and invited us back into the meeting room.

We trooped back into the meeting room in a bit of a daze. The panel said some nice things to us and wished us well but, frankly, that few minutes was just a haze. The panel chair explained that the recommendation of the panel would be forwarded to the Local Authority's "Decision Officer" for their approval. This was a senior official who was personally accountable for all panel decisions. They would review the paperwork, the notes of the panel meeting and then take their decision. The chair emphasised that it was possible for the Decision Officer to decide against the panel recommendation should they consider that there were still issues which they felt had not been fully addressed. But, she said, this only happened very rarely. It would be a week or so before the Decision Officer would have the paperwork and make their decision so we should get formal confirmation of our approval in around a couple of weeks.

With that there were smiles and handshakes all round and we trooped out of the room, shaking ever so slightly. We said good bye to Denise (her formal and efficient veneer removed for the first time she gave us each a huge hug, and then a group hug just for good measure) and then we determined to head to the coffee shop across the street from the Social Services building for a nice strong drink (of coffee).

And then the loveliest thing happened... As we got into reception, heading for the front door we saw our friend Juliet, a foster carer, sitting in reception. "Oh," we thought, "She must have a fostering meeting, what a coincidence." We were in such a daze that it didn't register that she was clutching a large bunch of flowers. Seeing us she sprung up and said "Well?" We told her the good news to which she replied, "Of course! I knew they would!" and thrust then bunch of flowers into my wife's hand, following that up by throwing her arms around both of us. Tears ensued...

The previous Sunday at church she had been asking us all about the details of our panel date... When, where and so forth... On the pretext of wanting to pray for us when we were having our panel - which, I'm sure she also did - but behind that she had also been plotting a surprise for us. Wiping the inevitable tears from our eyes we all barrelled out of the building, across the road and into the cafe. It was only about half an hour later when we'd started to calm down a little that the thought occurred to us... "So, what next?"


Average Dad said...'ve passed through the veil.

MarishaandLuanne Castle said...

This made me tear up! Congrats!!!

Sarah Hill said...

It had my eyes welling with tears too. Brought back lots of memories but, having followed your journey, I also feel so happy for you both. Big Congratulations.

Thank you for sharing on The Weekly Adoption Shout Out.

Suddenly Mummy said...

I so enjoy reading your posts - this one really brought back the memories!

Anonymous said...

Popped over to re-read this post after your comment today. It sounds like you were invited back in and congrats were handed out by the Panel themselves. That would have been a nice touch, but sadly didn't happen in our case. What a lovely thought from your friend with the flowers too! I must admit my day ended more brightly when my netball pals all cheered when they heard the outcome...friends just get it don't they?!