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).

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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. 

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.

Our adoption story – how it all began

I’ve been meaning to write a book about our adoption journey and had various ideas, but it all felt a bit daunting so I figured I’d start with a blog and see how it goes. I’m going to start at the beginning (well near the beginning) so this little story happened nearly 6 years ago.

Simon and I had always planned on adopting or fostering and neither of us can remember when we first realised we both wanted to, but seemed to always know this was God’s plan for our family. We thought we may adopt/foster before having our own children but God had other plans and so we were blessed with three very amazing birth children.

We’d heard from lots of people that ‘they’ (social workers) won’t consider you until your youngest child is 5 so after various phone calls to different agencies when Isaac was about 2 we discovered this was true. We put adoption on the shelf for a little while and got on with our busy lives. The idea of adoption just wouldn’t go away and so we used the time to extend our house ready for any more children we might have.

Around Isaac’s fifth birthday we made the phone call to say we were interested in adoption. We were asked to attend an information evening and so arranged a babysitter and excitedly trekked out on a very snowy winter evening. A barefooted social worker came to the door after we’d been knocking for a few minutes and informed us that the meeting had been cancelled and we’d obviously missed the phone message. Feeling seriously deflated we took the advantage of a rare night out and went out for a drink and a child free evening to chat about who the child might be we were to adopt. Were they born yet? Were they a boy or a girl? Was it to be one, two, three, four children? Disabled, disturbed? Old, young? White, black, Asian? Little did we know we were at the beginning of a long three year rollercoaster of a journey.