Further meetings and the importance of great foster carers

Now that the first meeting had gone well, all was on for our panel to take place to approve the match so that Mac could move in.  While we were waiting for that date, we were sent to meet Mac’s current foster carers, Sue and Mark.  It wasn’t billed as an approval meeting, but it was clear to us that if they didn’t think we were up to the job, approval might well not be forthcoming.

So one afternoon, Mac was sent away to play and we went to visit his foster home and foster parents.  We followed our satnav as it took us to smaller and smaller roads through the New Forest.  Finally we came to a small group of houses in the middle of nowhere – the final one of these was Sue and Mark’s.

I don’t know about you, but I have always thought that certain buildings exude feelings.  When you go into a cathedral or old church, it’s as if you can sense the years of prayer and stillness that have gone on there giving a sense of holiness.  It’s as if the walls have absorbed the feelings.  Well, there was something about Sue and Mark’s house.  The house was modest and tidy, but it felt safe; there was a palpable feeling of the years of love, protection and healing that had gone on in that house as many foster children had passed through their hands.

We immediately liked Sue and Mark.  It was the beginning of a friendship that we value to this day.  We had great conversations about Mac, and for the first time we really felt we were getting useful information about the boy who was to join our lives and what he was really like, rather than the sterile reports written by social workers.  For anyone that finds themselves in this situation, make the most of it.  Prepare a list of the questions you want to ask and get as much information that you can.  A child’s foster carers, and especially very experienced carers like Sue and Mark, will be of huge value to ensure that the placement will be successful.  Don’t be afraid to ask anything.  Remember they will already love that child and will want to make sure that their work is continued into a successful adoption.

Sue and Mark are extremely experienced foster carers.  They are used for some of the more difficult cases – those children that really need some extra care.  Mac was sent to them when his first adoptive placement broke down.  He had been placed with another family with his younger brother with a view to adoption.  However, while the placement worked for his brother, it was not successful for Mac, and the unusual decision was taken to remove Mac and leave his brother (who went on to be adopted into that family). 

So when Mac was taken to Sue and Mark’s you can imagine he was a very unhappy little boy.  It is not exaggerating the situation to say that without Sue and Mark’s love and care (and with a little help from their own family and beautiful golden retriever) Mac would never have been prepared to join a new family  We will always be grateful to them.

There is one thing that Mark said that remained with me and is a piece of wisdom that I share with anyone going through the process of adoption.  As he walked us to our car, he said,

“Macaully won’t be the same little boy for you.  He will change.”

At the time I didn’t really know what he meant.  But over time I began to understand.  Mac did not really let his full personality out with Sue and Mark. He understood that it wasn’t permanent and that he was marking time.  It wasn’t until he was in a home of his own and until he began to feel that it might become something more permanent, that his real personality started to show – the good bits and the naughty bits.  Mark was right, when Mac moved in with us we began the process of finding the real Mac.  We eventually had a very different Mac to the one that lived with them for a year. 

Further meetings

Following these two meetings, we were then sent to the Approval Panel.  This group of people (made up of social workers, experienced adoptive parents, adoptees and medical advisers) looked at our case to formally make the decision that we should be matched with Mac and that he should move in with us with a view to an adoption order being made as soon as it looked as if we were settling down as a new family.

Panels are always nerve-wracking.  But the meeting went well, and we finally knew for sure that Mac would be moving in with us and we would begin our journey together.

The next stage was to make introductions and to ease us into our relationship with Mac as we started to get to know him.

After years of waiting, the next stage of the adoption process starts to move really fast.  The idea is for the child and the new parents to get to know each other before they move in permanently to their new home.  It is a really important part of the attachment process.  The great thing about Sue and Mark is that they had done this countless times and knew just how to make things work to their best. 

So first of all we went round to their house for tea.  We went along ready to play and with a present in hand.  Mac was always a very tactile boy, and it is interesting that he interacted very differently with me and Swee. 

With Swee, he just wanted to really hug her – to sink into her chest like a baby and to be enveloped by her.  He hugged me as well, but was more interested in “rough and tumble” games.  He loved it if I turned him upside down making him squeal with laughter.

We took Mac a small remote controlled dalek as a present.  Sue and Mark’s son shared his passion for Dr. Who with Mac – luckily we liked the programme as well!  We played for hours with that toy and we still have it to this day – somehow it managed to survive the years.

We had a number of other meetings with Mac at his house. Sometimes they were for special occasions, like the Halloween party where we dressed up as witches and wizards, went apple bobbing and ate Halloween food.  But more importantly were the meetings where we just did normal things – taking him for a bike ride, reading with him or helping him with his homework.  Sue and Mark widely knew that we needed to do the mundane things with Mac just as much as the exciting.

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Mac also came to the village a few more times.  First of all he came with Denise again. By this time we had sent Mac a book setting out all the details of the village and his new home – pictures of the family, our pets, the house and his bedroom.  These books are really important to adopted children.  Their carers will go through them many times to get them ready for their move.

The picture of his bedroom made it clear that it was ready for him, but that he would also be able to help us to re-decorate so that it could be just as he wanted it.

However, when Mac came to visit with Denise it was decided that he shouldn’t visit the house at this point as it was important not to overwhelm him.  However, he did want to meet our dogs, Rigby and Peller.  So we all met on the recreation ground again and took the dogs for a walk.  Unfortunately the afternoon turned into one of those late September storms when the heavens opened for hours.  Our social worker was adamant that we could not go to the house, so we ended up walking in the rain.  I lent Mac my coat as his cagoule was not up to the job – it meant that I was thoroughly soaked through to my pants.

Of course, Mac made the ban on visiting the house seem completely unnecessary as he knew exactly where the house was as we walked past it.  As we walked through the village he started to make his first requests:

“When I move in, can I have a pet rat?”

I was keen not to commit, but said we would think about, falling very quickly into “dad mode”.  (When Mac and I talked about this years later, he admitted that he had meant to ask for a hamster!)

At the end of the walk, we went to the local pub (the George, which is now one of Mac’s middle names!) and played pool and ate chips.  We had gone and changed into dry clothes and brought a warm sweatshirt for Mac to change into.  Sue later told me that he slept with that sweatshirt every night.

More meetings followed including a couple of overnight stays at our house.  There are a couple of things that really stand out for me.

First is that you learn quickly from your mistakes. 

On a trip to Marwell Zoo we took him into the gift shop and were keen that he got a gift to remember this special day.  However, we made it too difficult saying to choose anything.  We gave him no parameters and he just had no idea what to do – so he actually became upset and overwhelmed.  My wife is always the sensible one, and realised so narrowed the choice down for him and he chose a soft giraffe cushion that he loved to have to fall asleep with in the car.  For a child that had so little for so long, it was just too much to suddenly offer him anything.

Secondly whenever we came to visit him at Sue and Mark’s he would always be looking out for us.  His bedroom had a small window that looked out to the road – his little face would always be looking out expectantly, hoping that we would come as we said we would, and probably expecting each time we might let him down.  Children like Mac take a long time to trust that you will do what you say.  His overriding experience of adults was that they promised things which didn’t come true – we had to continue to be consistent to prove that we were different and would not let him down.  I’ll never forget the image of that face at the window.

The thing to remember about all of these meetings is that is the start of making memories.  For me, the making of shared memories is the most important thing – good shared memories are so important as part of the bonding process and to remember when times are tough.  You want to be able to have those “do you remember when” conversations with your kids.

One of my favourite memories from that time was again at Marwell Zoo.  As we were about to leave we saw an old man with a fantastic white beard.  I pointed him out to Mac and said,

“Look!  There’s Father Christmas in disguise – he’s come to see if the boys and girls are being good!”

Mac was completely taken in ( and I have to say the man did look remarkably like Father Christmas in casual clothes!).  And this became a great shared memory – one that we would often share over the years.

So meetings and introductions all done, the day drew close for Mac to finally move in.

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