Our adoption story – references references references 

Having said goodbye (rather abruptly) to our first social worker, it took a little time for someone else to become available. We eventually had the first visit arranged for after Easter and met the lovely (let’s call her L). In our first session she outlined everything that would need to happen in order to get us to panel. We were having to start again from scratch as our previous SW had failed to take any legible notes or work to the correct criteria. The priority was to get our references and police checks sorted out as these can be slow and so can sometimes seriously slow down the process (not sure it could have been going any slower really). 

L told us that we would need references from every place we had ever worked with children or vulnerable adults. From about the age of 12 I had been babysitting/childminding, worked with disabled young adults, taught piano and violin to at least 20 different children, worked in 5 children’s centres, volunteered in church youth and children’s groups (4 different churches) etc etc – the list goes on and on. Simon had done a similar amount of work with children and so getting all the references was a seriously daunting prospect. 

Some of the people I’d worked for were easy to get hold of and were extremely happy to provide us with a reference. In terms of my teaching, this was trickier as I have an appalling memory and just couldn’t remember half the people I’d taught. We wanted to be totally honest as if we missed anything and it came out later it could be misinterpreted as us trying to hide something. When people received the reference requests it was slightly hard as they were just written to asking to provide a reference with no indication of what to say and no specific questions to answer. Fortunately it was all fine and everyone said nice things (or at least that’s what we assume anyway as we weren’t told of any problems!). 

Simon’s were reasonably straightforward for the most part but had one that just ended up being a little ridiculous. As a student Simon had worked for a nursery agency (picture Simon (age 19) on his own with 6 babies and lots of stinky nappies – amazing he went on to have children really after that introduction! The agency he’d worked for had since closed down. Because he had stated that this was somewhere he’d worked, the LA really needed a reference from him otherwise it would count as a gap which is not good. Simon ended up asking his parents to go and see the building that the agency had been based in – a large office block. The building was closed and under re-construction so at the point when Simon sent our SW a google map photo of the building with a map reference and the details of the builders doing the construction work they finally caved and said he didn’t need to provide a reference for that job! 

We were also asked to provide 3 referees that could be interviewed and fill in more extended question sheets. One had to be a family member and the others had to know both me and Simon well and us as a family. We had lots of very lovely friends so deciding who to ask felt a little tricky as we didn’t want to offend anyone by not asking them, but also felt like it could be a time consuming exercise and wanted to make sure we didn’t put pressure on anyone who would find it stressful. It also needed to be people that were totally behind us and totally supportive of our decision to adopt. In the end it wasn’t such a hard decision and we remain totally grateful to the people who gave up their time for us and were part of our adoption journey. We know some of the questions were pretty difficult to answer. One of the questions was “How do Kate and Simon keep children safe?”  For one of our referees this was a slightly awkward question as the year before we’d taken their children on holiday with us for a week and managed to lose one of them. Fortunately they were found reasonably quickly but I’ve no idea how they managed to answer this question with straight faces! Thanks again lovely friends.

With all the checks and references taken up we felt that for a while we were possibly the safest people in our city to take care of children. These references then formed part of our report that went to panel. This was by no means the end of endless form filling…


Our adoption journey – social worker issues

We finished our preparation course at the beginning of October and then everything went quiet. Once again we had the ‘how much do we chase them’ dilemma. Towards the end of November we contacted the adoption team to ask what we should expect to happen next. Having met up with other couples on our course when it finished and kept in touch, we knew that some had been allocated social workers and some had been refused already. We just hadn’t heard anything so didn’t know what to think. 

Early in the new year we were allocated a social worker (SW) and met her for the first time towards the end of January. In the first session she went through the rest of the process with us which was helpful for us to have a clear idea of what would be happening for the next few months. She explained that we would meet every couple of weeks and in between each session we would have homework to do. 

The first couple of sessions went well and we had fun trying to draw our family trees and contacting various family members to make sure we had everyone’s date of birth/death correct! As Christians our faith is interwoven throughout all that we do and so this came up very early on in discussions. It was clear reasonably early on that this was becoming an issue for our SW. On the week that we discussed our ‘values’ we spoke about how we felt it was important to ‘put others first’ and this was something we talked to our children about. Our SW had a massive issue with this and just couldn’t cope with it as a concept. The rest of that session was spent listening to some really difficult issues that she had in her past and it became scarily clear to us that our faith was going to be a massive barrier between us and her sending us to panel. 

That night we nervously prayed about it and felt extremely confused. Up until that point we’d been really clear that we wanted to adopt and that we were doing something that felt right and for the second time (the first being the weight issue) we wondered if we weren’t going to be allowed. We knew other Christians that had successfully adopted and we hadn’t even got as far as discussing the really ‘meaty issues’ that we know had been tricky for other people. We contacted a few close friends and asked them to pray for us and give us wisdom about what to do next. 

We were somewhat nervous waiting for our next appointment. We were halfway through our home study by this point and really didn’t know how the next meeting was going to go. As usual for these sessions, Simon and I had both taken time off work and as this next session was first thing in the morning after we’d done the school run we were both home when she arrived and hadn’t had to rush in from somewhere else. I answered the door and could tell immediately something wasn’t quite right. Our usual smartly dressed, hair straightened official looking SW wasn’t there and was replaced by an extremely nervous looking, jean clad, frizzy haired woman. I almost didn’t recognise her as the woman we’d been meeting with for the last few months but recovered quickly and invited her in. She quickly said that she didn’t have time to come in but had just wanted to pop by and let us know that she didn’t want to be a social worker any more as she felt like it wasn’t the right job for her. She then turned round, got into her car and drove off, and that was that.

Our adoption story – be prepared…

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. 

Our adoption journey – too fat to adopt? 

Now here’s a tricky subject that people don’t like to talk about. I’ve been back and forward a few times trying to decide if this is something I want to write about or not. It’s very personal, obviously, and not necessarily something I want to talk about lots, however it’s another one that has various myths surrounding it and certainly something I was seriously concerned about at the start of our adoption process so thought I’d give you a bit of honesty on the subject.

I have been overweight most of my life and at some points been considerably larger than others but have so far never had any health problems that relate to this. I was so terrified of the subject of my weight coming up that I decided to tackle it head on right at the start. So, in that first slightly awkward visit before any assessment had begun I asked what their policy on weight and adoption was. As soon as I asked, I saw a look of relief briefly cross the face of the social worker. It must be a terribly difficult subject for them to bring up and so I probably helped her by asking. I do however wonder if I shot myself in the foot a bit though. Once I’d brought it up she asked me to go for an early medical before we could proceed. This is when I start to get frustrated. There is a reason for weight being an issue and that is because it is important that adopters are healthy. Where possible, the system is set up to avoid disruption for children once they’ve been placed (for very good reasons) but this does seem to bring rules that lack common sense sometimes. I know of a few people that would have loved to adopt (and would make amazing adoptive parents) that have been refused because of a variety of reasons, past mental health issues, the taking of anti-depressants from previous PND, long term conditions to name a few. It is sad that there are sometimes blanket rules that don’t look at the individuals or for other ways forward, and so deny some children a forever home with great people.

The weight issue is one that frustrates me purely because it feels like discrimination which I can’t stand. If you smoke, drink heavily or do no exercise (known huge risk factors for early death) you should declare it, but I know some adopters choose not to and hide it well. With obesity you have no choice – you can’t hide it. I’ve never drunk much, not smoked since a bit of teenage dabbling and at the time was cycling 50 miles a week for work as well as regularly walking, jogging and attending exercise classes (those were the days!). I know of other people who were heavier than me that didn’t get asked to go on an early medical (interestingly men, but this may be coincidence) and I also know that they are not allowed to discriminate based on weight. If found to have any weight related illnesses then this would have been an issue.

Despite knowing all this I was still extremely worried about the medical. I had it with my GP and the paperwork was then sent to the social care paediatrician. It took our GP six months to send off the paperwork (with a lot of chasing) and then it took three months for feedback from the paediatrician. I was asked to get down to a certain BMI and told I would be re-weighed in a year. The irony was that in the nine months we’d been delayed I was already well below the BMI they’d requested as I’d been trying hard to lose weight for a while. We weren’t allowed to go to panel within that year so because of that early medical (remembering they’re not allowed to discriminate based on weight alone) we were going to be delayed for a minimum of 21 months. This was extremely difficult for us as we were desperate to get on and grow our family as soon as possible. We did however have a sense of peace through it all that delays would never change who the child/children we were to adopt were, as God knew what our family was to look like. This didn’t take away the frustration and anger at the disfunctional system but did help considerably whilst we were waiting.

When we went for our second medical just over a year later, we went together. It took almost an hour each and our GP found the whole thing hilarious. The reason why he had to measure Simon’s hips (having already done chest and waist) was a mystery to us all but had us all laughing nonetheless. No x-Rays were done and no bloods were taken and so our GP found the whole thing mystifying as he said there was very little that could be diagnosed or predicted from the kind of checks he was doing. Another issue, which we laugh about now, is that due to the impending medicals (and therefore access to our medical notes) we were both terrified of going to the Dr for anything that year just in case it reduced our adoption chances! Simon had a dodgy hamstring that gave him pain on and off for a year but didn’t get a physio referal until after we’d adopted. I held back on carpal tunnel surgery until recently which with the benefit of hindsight would have been significantly less complicated to have had a few years ago. This is another symptom of the powerlessness we felt whilst going through the assessment process.

Thankfully it turned out I wasn’t too fat to adopt, and despite the fact that I put on weight after our first child was placed with us (lack of time to exercise and major sleep deprivation being the main causes, but I’ll write about that another time), the second time we went through the process weight didn’t even come up as an issue (and I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up this time).

Our adoption journey – “Who do you want to adopt?”

I will never erase from my head the scene of four little tearstained faces sat clutching four black bin bags when I arrived in my office that day. I shared an office with some of the social work team and early that morning they’d had to quickly remove some children from a dangerous situation and were desperately trying to find them an emergency foster placement. (Please note that this was a highly unusual situation and children are rarely removed as such a last minute decision but it does happen). Foster carers are almost always in short supply and finding an emergency placement for four children together was likely to be extremely difficult, if not impossible. As the day went on, whilst they were playing in one of the playrooms together, various social workers were ringing round everyone they could think of on their books to try and find them somewhere for a few nights. By the time I got back around lunchtime, they’d found a place for the younger two but nothing for the older two and were still reluctant to split them up. I went off on my next visit feeling distraught about these children being split up whilst they were already so stressed, and formulated a plan whilst driving back to the office. Both Simon and I worked for the Local Authority and had up to date CRBs, we had space if we moved our 3 into one room – perfect (just the tiny point that we weren’t registered foster carers). When I got back to the office they had moved on to ringing out of area so I put my suggestion to the lead SW. Fortunately she didn’t think I was totally crazy and I think she was pretty desperate at this point too. Just as I started to slightly freak out that I may actually end up taking them home, a foster placement was found in a neighbouring LA. I have to admit to feeling a little disappointed initially, and then very quickly followed relief – mainly for them and a little bit for us too.

This incident was before we started the adoption process but it did teach me some lessons and still stays with me now. I learnt that whatever we decided in terms of adoption/fostering we needed to continually think carefully about what would work for our children we already had. Bringing four children home (four extremely distraught children) without any warning, and asking our young birth children to give up their rooms and their beds would not have been a wise thing to do and certainly wouldn’t have been a great start to our adoption/fostering journey. They’re great kids and would have happily gone along with it but it wasn’t wise. The other huge lesson I had previously been aware of but hadn’t really hit home, was that there were children out there that were extremely hard to find homes for. From that moment I knew that I wanted us to adopt ‘hard to place’ children. Children that no one else wanted. Siblings, older children, disabled children, non-white children, at that point we were still open to anything, but that day and the image of those children marked a change in my thinking about adoption. 

We were also open to fostering rather than adoption (we had in fact started to be assessed for fostering a few years earlier but falling pregnant put a hold on that). When we enquired about adoption and fostering the second time, we were told we had decide between the two as they were two separate processes and we couldn’t do them both. We felt that God was really speaking to us about ‘permanence’ and felt that for us, and our birth children, the knowledge that the child placed with us was here to stay would be the best thing for us all (unfortunately it’s not quite as simple as that but we didn’t know that when we were making that decision!). 

We certainly don’t feel that the door is shut on fostering for us but let’s keep that quiet for now….

Later on in the assessment process we looked in much more detail at the kind of child/children we were willing to adopt (the dreaded ‘tick list’ I’ll tell you about in a later blog), but at this stage of the process we said that we were hoping to adopt a sibling group and were very open to children with disabilities or additional needs. At that point we were still reasonably naïve and didn’t know how the process worked for finding children so were keeping our options very open. The only thing we were definite on was that it needed to be a sibling group….

Our adoption journey – “Why do you want to adopt?”

Why do you want to adopt?

Despite knowing that this question was going to be one of the first questions we’d be asked (and a question we still frequently get asked) we hadn’t managed to come up with a pre-prepared answer. The truth of the matter is, our answer to this question is:

“Why not?”

 We’d never really considered it as something we wouldn’t do, we’d always just known it was something we wanted to do and couldn’t remember feeling any differently about it. Unfortunately this probably wasn’t enough of an answer for those probing social workers. This meant we really did need to come up with something else that was more of a coherent reason. It’s a bit like when you go for a job interview and they ask you “Why do you want this job?”. What you really want to say is:

“Cause I need the money to pay the rent/mortgage etc and whilst I really wish I didn’t have to work, life isn’t like that and so please please give me this job so I don’t have to fill in any more application forms…” 

But what you actually say is:

“The skills and strengths I have really fit with the job description and I’ve always wanted to work for this firm as I really admire all that you do and am sure I can be an asset to you” or something along those lines anyway. This of course may be true but just not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind or the most obvious answer for you. 

The other reason was that we were pretty sure that this was what God wanted us to do as a family. As Christians we believe that we are ‘adopted’ by God and so adoption is a normal part of being a family. We also believe that we’re asked to look after the vulnerable and the hurting and what better way of doing this is there than adoption, which is taking in the most vulnerable children in our society and offering them life long stability, care and love? We’d heard a few scare stories about people being refused for adoption for their Christian beliefs and so at this early stage we didn’t want to scare them off yet we still needed to answer the question truthfully and carefully (I’m planning on blogging about the reality of Christians adopting/being refused at another time as a few high profile cases have slightly skewed a lot of people’s views on Christians being allowed to adopt).

In the end we said that we loved being parents and felt that we were blessed with a stable, happy home life and financial security and so we’d love to have the opportunity to share that with more children if we could. I’m pretty sure we also said a load of other stuff to try and fill it out but that was the basis of it anyway.

Now the next question, “What type of child/children do you want to adopt?” – that one was much easier to answer…..

Our adoption journey – communication issues

Our first visit from the social work team involved answering a set of 20 questions and a tour of our house. It became clear very quickly as we started working our way through the questions that our local authority were not accustomed to people adopting who already had birth children. Apart from the inevitable “why do you want to adopt?” question (see next blog), many of them were based around how our lives would need to change to adapt to becoming parents. It made the whole interview feel a little strange as they still asked the questions but we couldn’t really answer many of them as they weren’t relevant to our situation. 

After the awkward 20 questions it was time to show them round the house. Our extension was still reasonably recently finished so we loved showing it off – particularly as it was tidy and sparkling for once (dog poo aside). At that time, York tried hard to adhere to their policy of ‘every child in the house needs their own bedroom’. With the extension we had five bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs that we used as a playroom. We were really keen to adopt siblings at that point and so would be using the downstairs bedroom unless the local authority would allow a couple of the children to share a room. Our downstairs bedroom also had an ensuite wet room which we explained would be brilliant if we adopted an older child with disabilities or for in the future if needed. We talked extensively about the fact that our three children were very happy to move bedrooms as needed and everyone was very flexible. Who slept where in the end was dependant on the needs of the children we hoped to adopt. 

The social workers (SW) were clearly impressed with the house and were complimentary of everything which was encouraging. As they left, Simon and I felt it was a really positive visit and despite some of the irrelevant questions we felt confident that we’d be recommended to go on a preparation course as soon as a space became available. 

After each visit we received a write up from the SW which would form part of the paperwork that would accompany us for the rest of our adoption journey. When these notes came, we were allowed to correct any incorrect factual information, but anything that was seen as opinion or comment from the SW we had to leave as it was. This first write up we received was an important lesson on trying hard to communicate as clearly as possible. In this case it was a lovely, positive and complimentary report (no mention of dog poo!) which was really encouraging for us. It did however have a paragraph at the bottom that was difficult reading and we felt that we’d been completely misunderstood. It went something like this:

“Kate and Simon have a beautiful house and the extension has created some lovely extra space that will accommodate up to two extra children in their home. We are concerned however that their intention is to keep the adopted child in the downstairs room away from the rest of the family. It is vital that whoever prepares them for adoption does some work around including the adopted child/children fully in family life and not separating them off”. 

This brief statement highlighted for us how difficult it is for strangers to assess families for children. They didn’t know us at all, and could only get their opinions of us from how we expressed ourselves. Fortunately the system is set up in such a way that a significant amount of time is spent with your allocated SW and they do get to know you pretty well, but being so misunderstood at such an early stage of the process left us feeling distinctly uneasy.