By the August we were starting to get a little concerned about the time it was taking us. By our logic, we should be going to the Panel by the end of August to be approved; after all it had been 8 months since we lodged our application.
As with everything we seemed to do, it took longer! We heard from one of the couples we were on the Prepare to Care course with, and they told us they had finished their assessment and been approved at Panel - so why were we not at that stage!
Towards the end of our assessment there were two things that we had to discuss, which have had a lasting effect on me, and changed my opinion of the Adoption Process. The first was a little thought for the Birth Parents of a child that we would adopt. There are obviously different stages to Adoption, and we were, hopefully, going to be Adoptive Parents. We needed to understand more about Birth Parents, and their thoughts and feelings. Every child who is placed for Adoption has a different background to another child placed for Adoption. In a number of cases there are problems with Abuse, whether it be Emotional, Physical or Sexual, and in these cases there is an obvious worry for the Child, and an assumption that all children who are adopted a subjected to this kind of Abuse. It is not. Some children may have been neglected by their Birth Family, left alone for weeks on end to take care of themselves and of siblings. (I think this is VERY difficult to understand if you have had a great childhood - as we did). You also have the addiction and effects of Drugs and Alcohol to consider, some children are neglected as a result of this. It may well be that despite all best intentions, there has been trauma in the Birth Parents lives, and their addiction is too strong. They love their children dearly, however, just can not bring themselves to part from their lifestyle, as it is just too difficult.
We had not really thought about this in too much depth before our discussion, however, it is imperative that you remember, the Birth Parents have often become parents in the same way you have, to love and cherish a child, but their lives took a wrong turn somewhere, and it was a one-way road. I have a lot of empathy for Birth Parents now, and whilst I do not understand some of the things that happen to their children whilst in their care, I understand just how difficult it must be for them to have their children take away, no matter the circumstances.
The other discussion we had was to do with contact, and meeting Birth Parents. I was not keen to put myself out there saying I would be happy to meet any Birth Parents. I found it very difficult to say that I would be happy to stand and be "assessed" by them, and their opinion to be easily thrown in my face, living with it for the rest of my life, unable to talk them round. Tris, on the other hand, was very keen to do it, and I can see why. He wanted to be able to say to our future Children that he had met their Birth Parents, and be able to explain what they had said personally. I think after hearing that I became more relaxed with the idea, but I always had small doubt that it would be of benefit to me, that is when I realised it was not about me!! Contact on the other hand, is relatively new. There are a number of different kinds - Direct Contact - This could be with any member of the Birth Family, even Birth Parents, and previous Foster Carers. It is worthwhile mentioning, that this is only done if it is felt that it is of benefit to the Children. It is uncommon in cases of Abuse, but I know of people who have this kind of contact. It is always possible to change the agreements in the future, as, of course, you do not know how it will affect a child in the future, however, it is all done through Social Services, and you do not have to actually say you want it stopped to the Birth Family directly. The other Contact is Letterbox Contact. The name is as it says! Letters, cards, photos etc. A lovely way for a child to know what their Birth Families are up to, that they are well and healthy, and happy. Again, this is only done if it is of benefit to the child/children. It can be changed in the future too, in the same way as the Direct Contact.
I would point out that Contact is not always required; it depends on the individual needs of the child!
Back to the Panel, and our final sections of assessment, as I said in my last posting, our case was slightly different, we were a same sex couple for a start, and the first to go through the Panel process, so it made it slightly harder to make sure everything was A'ok. We know that we should have expected this, and we know we should have been patient, but it is very difficult, and even more difficult when you have been waiting this long already!!
Kelly was always on hand to re-assure us, of course. She was adamant that there were no problems, and again reaffirmed that she was only ensuring that everything was in order so that everything would go ok at Panel.
At this point Kelly reminded us also of something she had explained when we commenced our assessment. Kelly was only with us to get us through Panel, and as soon as this part of the process was completed she would be handing our case back to the Local Authority for another Social Worker to take over. We hadn't forgotten about this, but her telling us again seemed to make it more real, and the more we thought about it the more we were concerned about it. We had grown attached to Kelly, and at this point did not really like the thought of someone who did not know us taking over at the second trickiest stage of the process. It felt unfortunate at that point, but inevitably, it would happen at some stage.
By October we were resigned to the fact that we would never get to Panel. We hadn't given up, we just felt that the longer it went on, the more information was required to get us through. Then late in the October Kelly rang to let us know that she would be emailing our Prospective Adopters Report over to us. (Previously Form F). She had now put all of the information of nearly the last year into the report, and we now had to read through it, scrutinise it, and send it back to her. If there was anything in the report we disagreed with we could amend it, however, if Kelly thought that we had changed something that she did not think quite right, then she would have to include a note on that section to say that we disagreed with her description or interpretation of the statement.
We were very lucky, there were only two parts we disagreed with and these were to do with Tris. 1) Tris is obese 2) Tris is balding! Of course, I fell about the floor laughing! Tris, on the other hand, did not find it quite so funny! It took a little while to reword that section, and thankfully Kelly agreed that our wording was better! To confirm the facts: Tris is not obese, he is simply stocky, and he is not balding, he is thinning! (Hope that makes you feel better Tris!!)
So, that was that done. Kelly said she would ring us with a Panel Date once she had booked it, and until then, we were done! Wow, what were we going to do with our time now that Kelly was not there each week! We were still busy doing up the house, so maybe now was the time to focus on that and get the bigger jobs finished! That we did!
Kelly rang us within the week to tell us that our date was in November, however, if there were any cases that required urgent attention on that date, we may be kicked off to the next one. We thought that chances of that were slim, but unfortunately, we were wrong! The Panel has one priority, and that is if there is a child who has been matched to potential parents, the Panel as a matter of urgency views their case, and prospective adopters are put on the back burner. We understood this, and decided it was not a negative, it was a positive, as a child was being given a permanent home with new parents, who were in the same position as us.
We were a little dismayed, but a light was at the end of the tunnel, as the new date was set for December. We were quite high up on the list, but there was always the chance! Thankfully, as the date came closer we were not kicked off the list. Our nerves were growing, not for any other reason; apart from this is the stage we had been working towards for the last year!
As I said previously, we had been told that a new Social Worker was going to be allocated to us. Just before we went to Panel we were told whom it would be. We were going to be allocated a nearly qualifies Student Social Worker called Sally. Sally was on a 6 months placement with our Local Authority, and would be coming on boards to work with us, and do other parts of her training. She would be our Family Finder and would work to try and match us with a child/children if, or when we were approved. We were a little disappointed. We were hoping for a Social Worker that we knew from the Local Authority, and hoped that they would have the relevant experience. Kelly told us not to worry too much, whilst Sally was a Student Social Worker, Kelly knew her very well, and said she supported the Local Authority's decision of allocation. We trusted Kelly, but were still a little concerned!
Sally would be with Kelly and us on Panel Day, and that would be the first time we would meet her. Kelly would meet with her beforehand and discuss our assessment etc, and after Panel we would have a meeting with Kelly, Sally and Sally's Supervisor from the Local Authority. We were relieved to hear that Sally was not being left to just get on with it, and that someone would supervise her work!
So, all of that sorted, we just had to wait until the day that we were off to Panel. After all the hard work and roller coaster ride we had had, this was the decision that would more than likely affect the rest of our lives....
The short wait continued............