We were now aware of 2 people that wanted to help us achieve our goal - adopting children. We received a letter a few days after our phone call with Lea. At last - an official letter from a local authority inviting us to the Prepare to Care course. We spoke more to Lea before the course too, she was kind enough to tell us what to expect, and of course, she made us aware that as it was a course there would be more couples than just us there.
This made us very nervous. The thought of us getting together with, 1) The Local Authority and 2) Other couples who were interested in Adoption was beginning to freak us out. The more we thought about it the more nervous we got, so we were trying NOT to think about it! You may have noticed that my tone may have changed slightly by saying that we were part of a group of people who "were interested in Adoption". By now we had talked to Lea enough to understand that actually, we were no where near the stage of adopting children, we were actually just at the beginning. I am just thankful that, actually, we stuck with it, even after we understood that 3 years in we had to take a step back and look at it more seriously.
The two weeks before the course slipped by. As I say we were nervous, however we had to cling to the thought that whatever happened we would be another step forward after the course. The evening before the course begun arrived, and it was almost like waiting to go into hospital or the dentist for a route canal - We were nervous but would be glad when it was all over. A glass of wine was required, for medicinal reasons of course!
The morning arrived. Funnily enough we both slept ever so well, and felt quite refreshed. As always, Tris left it to me to tell him what to wear, otherwise, he'd have gone in his three piece suit! A casual day I felt, so jeans and jumper would suffice for that December week! Three cups of coffee and 20 Marlboro Lights later (for me!) we were ready to leave. By this point I was a little narky, and just wanted to get to the course with no conversation! We arrived nice and early, which makes a change for us, and registered at reception. Every person that walked past us we wondered if they would be on our course too.
As a side line to this, it is worthwhile pointing out something, yes, I smoke, and yes I have been able to adopt children. Whilst there is no one running round demanding that you stop, you WILL be questioned about it. It is really a question of making an effort, and at the end of the day, what comes first? In terms of the "rules" - Prospective Adopters will not/can not be stopped from adopting, however, being a smoker can limit the possible opportunities that come through at the "Matching Stage" . With the Authority we are with, if you are smoker then you will not be in a position to Adopt a child under the age of 3 (soon to be changed to 5years old). I would imagine that it is the same with other Authorities too as these guidlines are normally "blanketed" around the country. One thing you must not do is lie! Please do not tell them that you don't smoke. These guys are Social Workers, they are programmed to sniff out lies - and you WILL be caught out!!
Anyway, back to our day! We arrived and were asked to take a seat and someone would come and collect us. We saw Lea walk past, and she noticed us, so she said she would take us into the meeting room. She was ever so chatty, and made us loose a bit of our nerves, until we walked through the door to the room. There were 4 people from the Adoption Team there, and 5 other couples in the room. You could sense the tension in the room! It was so thick you could have cut the air with a knife! It was hell on earth!
You could not help but wonder what kind of situation these other couples were in, and of course you assumed that they could not have children! I know, it is a cruel assumption, but I would imagine that anyone who thinks of adoption assumes that this is the case. Not so, as we found out. Of course, there was the other issue about us being the only same sex couple in the room. What would people think of that? Would anyone have a problem with it? Yes, we cared enough about ourselves to wonder!
Firstly, it was time for coffee, as if I needed any more! It was also a good way of getting out of the tense atmosphere! It was difficult to strike up a conversation with the people in the room to begin with, and I think the other couples would agree! So, we had our coffee, and then it was time to begin. Karen, the Team Manager, welcomed us, and thanked us for coming. Thanked US for coming! We wanted to thank her for inviting us! She explained how the 4 days would work, what we would be doing, the visitors that would come in and talk to us, and what we would achieve by being there. Obviously there were a lot of questions flying around, which she was only to happy to answer, however, there were some questions that were a little premature, for example, someone asked how many children there were awaiting adoption in the authority, and how likely this particular couple would be to adopt one!
The first job was to introduce ourselves! I hate this kind of thing! Thankfully, they did it a little differently. They split us up! We were given 5 minutes to chat to the person to our right and find out as much as we could about them and their partner. We would then have to tell the rest of the room all about them. It was a nice and different way to do it. I had to find out more about "Jeff" (not his real name!). He appeared more nervous than I was, and could hardly get his words out. He seemed nice enough, and of course he had to find out about me, and my nerves had me yakking away telling him my life story!
It was nice at the end of this to hear about everyone else, and there was a little humour injected into it. It appeared that people were here or all manner of different reasons. There were two couples there that had had their own children, and were looking into Adoption as a way of passing on what they had learned from having their own children, however, in the main, everyone else was in the same situation as us.
The course itself was very relaxed. All of the Adoption Team were very friendly and chatted to us in a very friendly manner. It took a while, but by the time morning coffee time came everyone wanted to find out more about everyone else. There were two couples that we took to straight away and who we would like to keep in touch with, Ron and Laura (names changed) and John and Karen (names changed). They were lovely, and very friendly and seemed to be a lot like us, there because they really wanted this, and had great humour with us. We felt genuinely relaxed by this point, and we would be spending the next 3 and a quarter days with them!
The course ran, and we had no end of people come in and talk to us, A Birth Mother, An Adopted Child (obvioulsy Adopted in the past!!), A Child Psychologist, the Adoption Team's Senior Practitioner all came in and talked through their positions and experiences with us. It was so interesting, and of course there were questions flying around the room. The main thing that struck me was that had we not been there under these circumstances, it was so interesting that I would have probably asked exactly the same questions.
All the time that these people were coming into talk with us, the Adoption Team were sitting scribbling away on their note pads, taking notes and assessing us! You did feel under the microscope a little, and were minding your p's and q's, and of course, contributing to course content.
The days flew by, and before we knew it it was the end of the first two days of the course. At the end of each day we felt absolutely shattered, but we also felt very relaxed and happy. The weekend was work for us, and we had to wait another week to go back! We wanted to go everyday! Sad or what!!
Each day there was a question and answer session led by Karen, just to see where we were at. Tris asked the question, that begged to be asked! Has the Authority ever had a same sex couple adopt children? Quite a big question, and a damn important one to us! The answer was - No.
I think that we kind of knew this anyway, however, we needed to clarify some details with Karen. It was later that day that she asked if we wanted to talk with her in private, we of course agreed, due to the fact that we wanted to put our minds at ease. We needed to know if being the first same sex couple would hinder our application. Her answer - Yes, of course it would. This was not said in a spiteful or hurtful way. We had to understand that being the first meant just that - we would be the first to be assessed, the first to go through Panel, and if we were lucky, the first to adopt children with them. It all made sense, it may be delayed a little, but only because they had to be 200% sure that all bases were covered, and all the i's were dotted and t's crossed.
Before we knew it it was Thursday again. It was enjoyable getting ready to go to the course that day, to see everyone we had gotten to know. Of course, we also knew that we had two more days to impress the Team to ensure an invite to make our official application to Adopt. The days flew by again, they went too quick, and again, we had more visitors, and role plays to endure!!!
By the Friday it was time to wrap up. At this point Karen was now going to explain the Application process to us, from end to end. This process does differ from Local Authority to Local Authority, however, it is mostly standard with guidelines provided by BAAF - British Association of Adoption and Fostering. Whilst we knew there were a lot of hurdles to cross, we were surprised to hear that once all the forms had been completed we would be required to attend a "Panel". The Panel were a group of 12 people from various parts of the community and City Council. They included, a Birth Mother, an Adopted Child, a Child Psychologist, Kate (who was the Panel's independent advisor), the Panel Chair, as well as other members. They would be given all of your information prior to the meeting and would ask any relevant questions before making a decision on whether or not you could be a Potential Adoptive Parent!
Here are the stages we would be going through with this particular authority:
1) Advised whether we would be invited to make our first application for Adoption. Completing a "form to register interest"
2) Place application with the Team advising that we would like to take our application further.
3) Social Worker would be assigned to us.
4) Social Worker would take us through our assessment, which would last around 8 months.
5) Social Worker to complete Adoption Application forms and submit to Karen for approval.
6) Application submitted to Panel.
7) Attend Panel and answer questions from the Panel.
8) Receive decision from Panel.
If we received a decision from the Panel to approve us as Adoptive Parents they would tell us while we remained in the building. If there were any problems there was a chance that a decision would not be made on that day, and we would be required to provide more information and re-attend the panel.
It all seemed mind numbing to us, and it was also nerve wracking that we could be going through this process.
At last we were getting somewhere! Although, we did not yet know if we would even get that far. Would we be invited to apply?
We were about to find out!