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.
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….