Our adoption story – the ‘what kind of child’ tick box.

When Simon and I discussed what kind of child we wanted to adopt, the basis to every discussion was always, a child that no one else wanted. We never really got further than that. We had no particularly strong feelings about whether it should be 2 boys, 2 girls or 1 of each. We didn’t mind what age they were, and we really had no ideas about particular disabilities or special needs. We knew we wanted to adopt 2 children and it was recommended that because of the age of our youngest child at the time (8), we should be looking to adopt under 5s. We were told though, that adopting children with disabilities had different ‘rules’ and we may be considered for any age child, depending on the disability. This really didn’t narrow our options down. 

In order for our social worker to successfully match us with the right children, she needed as much information as possible about the ‘type’ of child we were interested in. Time to bring out the ‘tick box’ list. It seemed like the strangest and most unfair way of categorising children, and made us feel horribly uncomfortable, but it turned out to be an extremely useful way of bringing out discussion between us and narrowing things down a little (almost as if the person that devised it, knew what they were doing!). 

In thinking about adopting older children, it was pretty likely that they would have experienced some, if not a lot, of trauma in their lives. In all our discussions about ‘matching’, it wasn’t just me and Simon that we were trying to match to, it was also our birth children. At this point we began to start to say ‘no’ to certain things which felt so so hard, but was the right decision for our family and our social worker was brilliant at supporting us through the process. 

Even after the tick list process, we had still left our options hugely open and were leaving our SW with an enormous task if we were successful at panel. The decision was made for us to go to panel requesting to adopt 1-2 children of any age. 

And so, 2 years and 6 months after we’d started the process, our paperwork was ready!

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Our adoption story – birth children interviews

Part of our social worker’s job was the important task of figuring out whether or not our birth children were ready for us to adopt. We had been talking about adoption to the children for a long time and so it wasn’t something we had to suddenly prepare for. They all had adopted or fostered children in their classes at some point during our assessment process and so knew a little about adoption from the child’s point of view. We were given various books by our social worker to give them to read and read with them, but none of them were particularly helpful (one day we’ll try and write our own!). One of them helpfully told the story of a family who adopted an older child who went on to bully and traumatise the younger birth children. Now, although things like this do happen, it’s not something we particularly needed to worry about as we were looking at adopting younger children than our own. With the benefit of hindsight we should have read the books ourselves first…

Our SW wanted to interview the children individually and so in order to prepare them for this she wanted to try and get to know them a little first. She suggested playing a game with them would be a helpful way to do this. The prospect of this terrified me as we play a lot of games and at that particular stage of life it was rare for them to end without some kind of argument. We chatted with them about what game would be best, and least likely to end in tears. Monopoly – no way; Jenga – “you nudged the table” – no way; etc etc. In the end they opted for Frustration, which thankfully was relatively quick to play and didn’t generally end too badly. 

Apart from the “their very competitive aren’t they” comment, it went well and she agreed to come back the following week for their individual interviews. 

The following week, we all sat in the lounge whilst our SW took them one at a time into the kitchen to chat to them. We still to this day don’t really know what was said in that room, but for the most part it clearly went well as there were no major issues from it. We’d tried really hard to not “prep” them and not tell them what to say if she asked certain things, as we were pretty sure it’d be obvious if we had, but it was definitely strange having her chat to them without us knowing what they might say and how much we felt was riding on their answers!

The children’s interviews saw the end of our assessment process and so we were ready to go to panel once the final few references were back. We still needed to do the “what kind of child” tick box session, but no more personal questions or assessments were needed. It had taken us 2.5 years to get to this point, so the looming panel date felt hugely monumental….

Our adoption story – home study

The main set of paperwork that was to go to the panel of people that would make the decision about our adoption future is called a PAR (Prospective Adopters Report). This includes a huge amount of information that is supposed to give anyone that reads it a really clear picture of who we are as a family and as individuals. Over a series of interviews, lasting anywhere from 1-3 hours, our social worker questioned us on every aspect of our lives, from babyhood to now. We had to describe how we celebrated, how we mourned, what our work ethic was, what our parents’ work ethic was, what our parents’ parents’ work ethic was (they really like the work ethic thing). 

There was a definite need throughout the assessment process to establish not just who we are as people and parents, but what experiences we might have had that would help us empathise with any children we may adopt. I’d had various things happen through my teenage years that meant I could show a clear understanding and empathy (although on a very different scale) of some of the issues an adopted child may struggle with. Once she’d been reassured that I’d had a period of counselling (10 years earlier) to work through any issues I’d had, our SW was happy to not discuss them further. Simon’s childhood and teenage years were pretty uneventful and it was almost amusing (in a slightly sad way) how relieved our SW was when Simon mentioned his brother had suffered with leukaemia as a teenager. Our SW hung on to this one event as being monumental in Simon’s development as an emotionally rounded adult and seemed slightly disappointed when he told her that his brother has been well for years now and, although it was obviously difficult at the time, Simon didn’t have any lasting trauma from that time in his life despite never having received counselling. 

Emotional stability is of course hugely vital for the whole family, and particularly for any children who’ve experienced any kind of trauma – I do wonder if a more formal assessment of mental health would be helpful although I’ve no idea what that could look like and I’d hate to make the process any longer than it already was. I also suggested at the time that counselling could be offered for all people going through the adoption process alongside the assessment as, although not necessary for all, there were times it felt extremely strange talking so deeply and intimately with a SW rather than someone qualified as a counsellor! 

Before our PAR could be completed, each of our birth children needed to be interviewed – but that’s for next time. 

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 story – first impressions matter

The first time we went through the adoption process, Simon and I found everything pretty nerve wracking as we were relying on strangers to make decisions about our future. We felt totally pressured to not put a foot wrong. Every step of the way we knew we were being judged by people that didn’t know us. When our paperwork went missing for around six months it was tricky to know when to chase things up, when to be pushy and when to be patient. We feared that if we were too pushy or demanding they’d decide we were the wrong ‘type’ of people. Throughout the process the power felt like it was entirely with the social workers and we felt powerless in it all. (We had a very different experience the second time round which if I keep blogging I may get to!).  Around 9 months after our first enquiry we had our first home visit from the social work team – it may be interesting to know that this is now the length of time that social workers have to get adopters to their approval panel (no such rules existed when we were applying). Having waited so long, this visit felt monumental and life changing. We were desperate for everything to be perfect and knew how much first impressions mattered.

Simon and I were both working at this point and both had difficult meetings that morning so were very pushed for time.  We rushed home during our lunch break to meet the social workers. Simon beat me home and they were early (the one and only time this ever happened) so they were waiting on the doorstep for him. Those that know us well know that our house is alwas busy, as are we, so it always looks well lived in (polite for messy). The week before the visit we had been tidying tidying tidying and the house was spotless (or as spotless as it’s ever been anyway). Simon let them into the house where they were greeted enthusiastically by our lively Border Terrier, Bramley. He (Simon, not the dog) got them a hot drink whilst they were waiting for me to arrive. Simon took a cup of tea over to one of the social workers and noticed a poo on the floor right next to her foot (accidents from Bramley were extremely rare). He then had the dilemma of leaving it and hoping she wouldn’t notice but risking her treading in it, or picking it up subtly, or his chosen action – mumbling something about it being the dog’s welcome gift and removing it swiftly.