The Adoption Process
The adoption process is not an easy route, and what is now over twenty years ago, was even more difficult. It would be easy here to criticise social workers – actually I have a great deal of respect for many social workers and the extraordinarily hard job that they do. However, it is fair to say that we were let down badly by one of ours on a number of occasions.
I’m sure the process is designed to put you off the idea of adopting. There is a great deal of sense in that in many cases. The children that are available for adoption rarely come to you with no issues. Almost all of them will have suffered some form of abuse, even if that is only down to neglect and the fact that there birth parents are not able to look after them sufficiently. The situation is very different to the first half of the twentieth century before effective birth control when there were many more babies given up for adoption due to the stigma of being an unmarried mother. And if you do adopt a baby, it may well be suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome, or effects of drug abuse during pregnancy, which can have a profound effect on their future development.
The first issue that you will be asked to consider is if you are emotionally ready to adopt. For most people, adoption will not have been the original plan to have children. Nowadays many couples will have also tried fertility treatment before they consider adoption. All of this will have taken an emotional toll on the couple, and it is very important to come to terms with all of that – to mourn the fact that you will not have your own biological children – before you can be ready to help and love an adopted child. Actually, working the through that sense of loss that you will have experienced is useful to help empathise with the sense of loss that your adopted child will have. All adopted children have experienced loss, even if it is just being taken away from the birth family.
The approval process will explore all aspects of your lives as individuals and couples. It will look at past relationships, how your relationship works now, what experience you have of being with children, what support you have around you to help with this life-changing decision. You have to be prepared that the process will be incredibly intrusive and to just go with it. It is a hard time to go through, as you will be acutely aware that the social worker asking you questions will be writing a report at the end of all of this and deciding whether to recommend you or not. The process also is trying to ensure that potential abusers are weeded out of the system – it is a sad truth that adoption and fostering is an attractive way for abusers to get access to children.
So, after going along to an introductory presentation and filling out a number of long forms about ourselves, we had our first meeting with our designated social worker, who almost at the beginning of the conversation announced that we would be very unlikely to be approved for adoption as we were too overweight, and despite any positive aspects about what we were able to offer would never be considered. We were encouraged to take some months to lose weight before we then continued with the process.
A few months later, we had ticked the box of losing a considerable amount of weight – enough for the agency to start the process proper. The next nine months consisted of many meetings with our social worker – both as a couple and individually. We went on training days with other prospective couples. References were written for us from family, friends and their children. We considered the number and age and sex of children we would consider. Finally a report was written and we were taken to Panel for approval.
The Panel process was gruelling and intimidating. A group of six or seven people are there to question you and your social workers before they decide to recommend you or not as potential adopters. In that meeting you just want to make the best impression in a short time and to ensure that the Panel really gets to know you and your motivations. Despite the stress I was amazed how eloquent Swee and I were able to be.
Following the Panel meeting we then had to wait some weeks before we knew whether we had been successful or not. The news finally came by phone call as we were standing in front of a waterfall in Norway while we were on a cruise of the Fjords! We had been approved to adopt one or two children up to the age of eight. That was it – our lives could now move forward again.
The Matching Process
There is a huge sense of relief once you have been approved as adoptive parents. It is a very bizarre and liminal time – standing on the edge of becoming a family at last, but not really sure when that will be. Once you have been approved, then your details will be considered every time there is a child that needs adopting by your agency – in our case Hampshire County Council. There is no way of knowing how long this stage will take. As we had made the decision to take an older child, it was a fair assumption that we might not have to wait too long as fewer people are willing to consider older children.
However, the months went by and there was no news. We had been considered a number of time, but for various reasons we had come second to other couples. It always seems hard to believe that you are not matched more quickly. The news is always full of stories that there are not enough parents for the available children – but the truth is that counties like Hampshire tend to have more potential adoptive parents that available children.
After a few months, your details are shared with other agencies. There are also other ways for matching to occur. Sometimes there are evenings where the details of children are shared at an “open evening” with the relevant social workers. It is a bit like a bizarre form of speed dating where you go around to the various agencies and see what they have on offer.
There is also a magazine called “Children who wait” which publishes pictures and details of children who have been difficult to place – normally due to complex needs, because they are part of large sibling group, due to their ethnic mix or due to their age. Swee and I used to read this publications every month. We would read it separately and highlight any children that we might consider finding out more about. If we agreed then we would contact the relevant agency to get more details. One day, about a year or so after approval, I remember clearly seeing a picture of an seven year old boy – he looked very happy swinging on a swing with wellies on his feet that were far to large for him. His name was Mac.
Soon after we had a review meeting with our social workers to consider why we were not being matched and to see if there was anything that we needed to consider changing. Our social worker came along with her manager, as it turned out a number of mistakes had been made in our case – we had not been put onto the national register as promised, and our social worker had written our details incorrectly so that the children we were being considered for was hopelessly narrow.
I can still remember now the upset and frustration I felt – we had reached the point where we were we were about to give up on the idea of adoption and try to move on with our lives and it turns our the agency had messed up our case. All I wanted was to get those people out of my house – but before they left the manager mentioned that she had the details of a boy that she thought was perfect for us, and hoped we would consider him. We agreed that she would leave the details and we would consider them and get back to her.
After they left, we were exhausted emotionally. We really didn’t know if we could carry on with this process any longer. Maybe it was time to accept that we were not going to have children – we would fill our house with dogs and cats instead and make the most of our nephews, nieces and godchildren. We would look to enjoy our lives and move on from the dream of having a family.
The next day we opened the details that had been left with us – of course the details were for Mac. The more we read about him, the more we felt he was ideal for us. The more we read about the difficult start he had, the more we were sure that we would be able to help him. The more we read and the more we looked at his picture, the more we could imagine him as our son. We rang the agency, and the process started.
There is one thing I remember clearly from our matching panel that was very significant for me. It was very clear that we were Mac’s last chance to have a family of his own and to be adopted and I remember being asked how I felt about it. The answer was simple – Mac was our last chance to be parents – we were in exactly the same position. It seemed so clear to me and to Swee that this really was meant to be – we were somehow destined to be Mac’s parents and it was something we couldn’t wait to do.
After all of this time we had found our son – we had found Mac.