We got our place on our four day preparation course for straight after the summer holidays in 2011 and went along to a community centre for four Fridays in a row. Simon went to school each Friday first as the course didn’t start until 9.15am and I headed over straight from school drop off. That first Friday we were incredibly nervous, but also excited as we felt like this was a huge leap forward on our adoption journey. Things have changed now as people tend to do their prep course at the same time as their home study interviews, but back then it was something you had to do before you could be allocated a social worker.
In the letter inviting us to the course it was stated that a brief report would be written by the course leaders that would form part of our assessment and would include feedback from them about our contributions throughout the four days. This meant that Simon and I had an interesting discussion the night before our first sessions that he needed to be careful to not make too many inappropriate jokes and I needed to not talk too much! We were one of five couples and two couples couldn’t come.
I’m not going to write loads about the sessions (mainly because it was so long ago that I can’t remember all that much about it!) but there are a few things that have stayed with me.
A lot of the course was designed in a way to give people worst case scenarios which we found extremely sad. On the first day we were shown a video of a family that had their children removed. Many people choose to adopt as a way to be parents because of difficulties conceiving. This is great as it means that there are many people who are absolutely brilliant parents now who otherwise would not have been, and there are many children who are now in great forever families being loved and cared for forever instead of staying in the care system. It also means that sometimes people coming forward to adopt aren’t totally aware of the backgrounds that these children are coming from. For Simon and I, the video was extremely sad, but sadly not shocking, as we’d both come across similar things through our work backgrounds; for others it was very hard hitting and brought about some really helpful but difficult conversations very early on. Simon and I were the only ones in the group who had birth children living at home, and were also the only ones in the group who had experience of child protection. As the course went on it seemed that any school questions that came up ended up being directed at Simon and any early years/children’s centre type questions came my way. This was slightly tricky but didn’t particularly affect our enjoyment of the course.
The most helpful session for us was when a lady came and spoke to us about the importance of being open about adoption from the start with our adopted children. She herself was adopted but hadn’t found out until her early twenties. She’d grown up in a place where everyone knew everyone and she soon found out that everyone in the village had known she was adopted apart from her. Finding out had changed everything for her and made her question her entire childhood and every teenage relationship she’d had. The shock and betrayel had changed her relationship with her “parents” dramatically and irrepairably. This was so helpful for us, as although we knew it was current policy to not hide adoption from children, it was so clear why by having a real life example in front of us of what happened when you got it wrong.
The sessions we had on ‘parenting skills’ were hard to know how to handle. Before we were parents we had many ideals of how we were going to parent, but the reality of life with three children under four quickly changed that! We were in a room full of people that had all still had their ideals, whilst each day we came straight from the reality of getting three children out of the door on time for school without shouting too much. One of the sessions followed a particularly stressful morning and was called something like ‘acceptable parenting’. We were given lots of cards with different things written on them and asked as a group to lay them on the floor in order going from good parenting through to unacceptable. They said things like, “smacking”, “shouting/raising your voice”, “hugging”, “praising good behaviour”, “criticising in front of friends” etc. One of the cards said “sending your child to school without all the correct equipment” – everyone in the room felt that this was extremely bad parenting and some wanted it putting further down than “smacking”. I decided this probably wasn’t the moment to share that I’d just found Isaac’s harvest contribution in the boot of the car having forgotten to take it into school with him that morning.
The course overall had some helpful parts to it and we really enjoyed the opportunity to meet other couples that were hoping to adopt. We did feel that it may have been more helpful to have a course that was tailored differently for those of us with birth children as we did feel like we were coming at it from a different perspective than the others.
We were asked to feedback and evaluate at the end of each day and then a longer feedback form was given to us at the end of the fourth day. We were as honest as we could be in our feedback but this was difficult as we hadn’t yet had our feedback that would form part of our report so it was tempting to just write, “the course is great, you’re great, we’re learning loads and please let us adopt…….”.
Now all we had to do was wait until a social worker was allocated to us if they had been happy with our contribution to the four days.
The image featured is a letter written by the adopted daughter of one of my friends.