Friday, 17 April 2009
About 5 years ago my partner and I talked at length about what we may like to do in the future. One thing I had never wanted as a teenager and young adult was kids. I am not too sure why, it may well have been that because I was gay, I had talked myself out of having them, because it was never going to happen. After much discussion we both wondered if it would ever be possible for a gay couple to Foster children, or indeed, was there anything stopping us from approaching a fostering agency to see if we could foster.
At the time we lived in Republic of Ireland, and as such lived in a staunchly old fashioned and deeply religous area. We thought that the chances of us being considered were very slim, and funnily enough, we were kind of right in that respect. We went along to the local authority and their Children's Services department and met with a lady there. From the off, we could tell that there was going to be an issue about this, and she only confirmed this view by telling us that we would be required to have people agree with us becoming Foster Carers - these people being local clergy (ALARM BELLS!!), Doctor, Nurse, Business People, etc. The big metal barrier came down and that was it for us - we were blocked out of that particular avenue - or were we?
At work, our workmates were well behind us, and what we were doing. Even our Medical Advisor at work, who was a Senior Nurse, was totally behind us, but agreed that at that point in time, it would be more or less impossible for us to get agreement, especially with the local Clergy.
About 6 months later, living with the Euro for too long, we decided that we would be unable to afford living in Ireland, as costs had increased, but salaries had not! So, we decided to move back home, and back to our families. We moved back in September 2003, and funnily enough, it was the best thing we ever did. We saw our families a lot more, and were able to afford to do a lot more things, including buying our own house. I had a fantastic job, earning more money than I ever had and loved it even more than just the money. Tris also had a fantastic job in London, and was looking to move to an even better paid job. We had everything, money, home, cats etc, but yet again there was something missing.
In January 2004 Tris was travelling home in the car when an advert came on the radio looking for Foster Carers URGENTLY! As is well documented, even in the press today, there are not enough Foster and Adoptive Parents registered for the number of children in the British Care System, and in our area especially, one of the nearby cities actually has the highest number of children in the country in their care system. Of course, we thought, would we just end up in the same position as before, or would we be taken seriously this time? Worrying, we made a phone call to the number advertised on the radio and crossed our fingers.
Tris made the call. I am a little telephone-aphobic! I listened intently as he spoke to this "person" on the end of the phone, was he flirting with them? Sounded like it! Cheek! I shouldn't have worried, what I forgot is that when it comes to stuff like this, Tris does not worry quite so much and definitely does not show it when he is talking about it! What I was also about to find out was that he was pretty much excited about this phone call, and what the person on the other end of the phone was telling him!
The person on the other end of the phone was actually gay, and he was so excited that a gay couple had rung up as a result of his advert! He explained that there had been changes to UK law, and this meant that Fostering and Adoption was now open to anyone. Being open to anyone, of course, does not mean that they are going to turn up the next day with two kids in tow - there is much more to it than that! The first thing that would happen would be that our contact details would be given to one of their Independent Social Workers. This being due to the fact that they were a Private Fostering Agency and did not have their own Social Workers. The Social Worker would ring us up to make an appointment for an initial visit. This visit would assess how serious we were about Fostering, and of course, if from the visit if we would be deemed suitable to proceed further. From then, they would confirm their thoughts in writing, and we would take it from there.
FANTASTIC!!! We were being taken seriously!! Yippee!
We went about our day to day business for a few days, and then arrived home one eveing to an answer phone message from a lady, we will call her Kelly. She was the Social Worker we had been assigned for our initial visit. Could we give her a call back to arrange for an appointment to come and visit us. Could we - would we - bloody right we would - within 2 minutes of listening to the message!!! We rang her back, and made the appointment. Because we had spoken to someone before about Fostering, we were, even after the phone call, still very wary of the process, and whether we would be considered for it.
Our appointment was a few days away, we were anxious, but felt we knew what we wanted, so let's see how far we can go.
Thursday, 16 April 2009
The evening of the meeting arrived. We had not lived in our house for too long, and had bought it to do up over a period of time. I made a conscious effort to make sure that it was clean and tidy, but because we had not been there too long, I was adamant that the Social Worker would be told in no uncertain terms that the state of the place was only temporary! My fear of her thinking children could not live in a house in need of repair frightened the hell out of me!
The knock at the door, and I peek out of the blinds to catch a shot of the dreaded Social Worker! Having never met one, it was difficult to know what to expect, although, I had visions of some style of hippy walking in. I could not have been more wrong if I wanted to have been! In walked Kelly, a very laid back and chatty lady, probably in her early 50's.
She made us feel comfortable right from the word go. Kelly explained the agenda of the meeting, the kinds of questions she would ask, and explained that she would be making notes as she went. First job was to offer her a cup of tea! I went to do that, trying to stop my hands from shaking as I put the sugar and milk in, and Tris chatted away to her about this and that. Turns out she was quite local herself, she had been a Social Worker for quite a while, we are talking more than 15 years! She has even been an Adoption Team Manager at one point, and was now a lecturer at a BIG University and in her spare time liked to keep her hand in independently for a few of the local agencies - surely she would know what she was talking about then - yes, and thank you!
To begin with there were the formal questions like name, address, date of birth's, occupations, did we drink, did we smoke, did we have experience with children. Then we got down to the nitty gritty, she asked us a lot of deep and meaningful questions about our own childhoods, our families, siblings, school etc. All the while Kelly is writing like a woman possessed, and we are hoping and praying that she is getting all of this down, and in the right order!
The more questions she asked, the more she told us too. She told us how there were sometimes too many children under the Local Authority Umbrella who they could not even find Foster Carers for, and therefore there were independent Agencies and Charities, just like TACT who were contracted to help. She also told us that one of us would probably have to give up work, as having Foster Children meant that any age range could be placed with us, however, to justify giving up work there was a payment made when you had children placed with you, although, this should not and can not be depended upon as a "living" as if you do not have children with you, you don't get paid!
It was a very interesting meeting, and one that answered a lot of our questions, including the big one....... Can same sex couples Foster children? The answer - YES! Wow - she went on to say that there were BIG changes coming through with a new Children's Act in 2002, which meant that ANYONE can Foster and Adopt. There would be a number of steps for us to take including courses, training etc, however it was possible.
She also had an obvious question for us........ Why did we want to Foster Children? Our answer - We wanted to have children! Looking back, that was such a selfish answer to give, but, apparently, quite a popular one, as there was no shock or surprise given back.
Looking into this now, it is important to understand that Fostering is not like looking after someones pets. It is a really big responsibility, obviously, and not one to be entered into lightly in my opinion. It could be the case that you have experience of a niece or nephew who is a toddler, and you get a phone call form your link worker telling you that they have three teenagers looking for weekend respite! You need to be aware of all of this!
So, the meeting lasted a good few hours, although, it felt like it passed in a flash, as we felt so comfortable giving her all the information about our pasts. The meeting came to an end, and Kelly explained the next steps. She would take all the information home with her and type it all up into a formal report which we would receive a copy of, and would receive in a few days. It would also have her recommendation on it, and it would advise us if they would be interested in taking our application further. Good News, we hoped!
The next few days went by with the obvious checking of the post every day - even the next morning! Then on the Friday morning the post arrived, and there it was, what we had been waiting for!
It was Tris who opened it, as I just couldn't handle the thought of rejection. A big smile appeared after he read the 3 pages. Some of the information about us she had misunderstood, but in the main, she had us spot on!
Her recommendation - We should be invited onto the Prepare to Foster course with a view to taking our application further! Yippee!!! We read on a little more - "However" - uh oh! "I would also recommend that Scott & Tris also look into the prospect of Adoption, rather than Fostering, as I could foresee problems when children were reunited with their families, or placed into an Adoptive Placement" - OH MY GOD!!! Is she saying we can Adopt Children - yes she is!!!
So, what ever is going to be thrown at us next?!
That is another Story!
Tuesday, 14 April 2009
1) It could not be possible for a same sex couple to Adopt Children, surely! As it was at that point in time, there was no talk of Civil Partnerships and to be honest, Tris and I did not fancy the "Sun" newspaper camped on our doorstep! Yes, we had, at one point, considered surrogacy, but the costs and the uncertainty of it all did not appeal to either of us.
2) It is highly unlikely that any Birth Parent would consider allowing their child to be adopted by a same sex couple. I will not hide the fact that Tris and I are well aware of specific stories in the press about same sex Couples who had sexually abused children. We deeply felt that people who did not know us that well would worry that that could be us.
3) How could you raise a child with same sex parents?
Those are three of the questions that we asked ourselves, and it really worried us, hence the reason we had NEVER even considered Adoption. The letter seemed genuinely sincere, so what should we do?
Well, we had a long long chat about it between us. In fact it was not just the one conversation, we must have had at least 8 conversations. Kelly had a point when she said that we would find it difficult handing back children after fostering. I am not too sure whether we had even thought about handing children back before that. Looking back, I can not believe we did not think about it before this, and it worried me. It worried me because, would I be selfish in feeling like this? How long would it take to come to terms with a child moving on? What if the Adoption route did not work? Would we be able to go back to Adoption? I suppose only I could answer this, but what if we took in our first Foster Child/Children and the left and it left me devastated - would it be worth it?
At this point, Tris felt the same. He could not help but wonder how he would deal with this situation, and I felt much better, as at least I was not the only one feeling like this. So, what was next? Should we see what was around? Should we ring someone? Should we go ahead with Fostering?
As if fate took over a few days later and it was Adoption Week, Adoption Week 2003 to be precise. Tris was driving home from the Train Station and was listening to one of the local radio stations. Low and behold there was an advert on before the news and it was an interview with a Social Worker from one of the local authorities. She was explaining how they never had enough Adopters and were currently recruiting, they would consider anyone, single, married, gay, straight, as long as they were over the age of 18. She gave the number and Tris saved it into his mobile.
I got home at around 6pm and Tris told me what he had heard. I am not a great believer in fate, although, I have to say a lot of things do happen for a reason, and this seemed to be one of those things! We both agreed that we had nothing to loose by calling the number, and even if it did not work out, we had tried.
The next day Tris called the number. The lady appeared quite keen, in fact, she asked if we had any problem with her doing an initial visit that evening! Wow, that was quick, and if she was coming to visit that quickly, could this be the right thing to do? Tris rung me to check I was ok with this, of course it made me a little nervous, but I was not going to say no!
So, at about 7pm that evening the door knocked. Feeling a little less nervous this time, I answered it and showed the Social Worker, Lucy, into the lounge. Tris kept her busy while I made the tea - no shaky hand this time!
This meeting was a lot less formal. It was explained to us that we would be invited to a welcome meeting, and there it would be explained all about the Adoption Process, if, after that, we were still interested then we would be invited to a Prepare to Adopt course. Wow, so she was telling us that all it would take would be for us to go to a few meetings and then we could adopt!
I CAN NOT BELIEVE THAT THIS IS WHAT WE WERE TOLD, BUT WE WERE!
We were lead to believe that it could take about 8 weeks until we couuld adopt. Naive? Stupid? Yes, we were both. We had done no homework on timescales, or the actual process of Adoption! We believed what Lucy had told us as that is all that we knew. Financially we could not afford to sign up to all of the Adoption Literature, so how were we to know? Well, to be fair, if you are going to go into Adoption then you really need to open your eyes, and understand the process and children that come with the process. We waited on the waiting list of this particular authority (no names mentioned!) for 2 YEARS - 2 years we waited to hear about the Prepare to Adopt Course. Looking back we can not believe how stupid we were, and how patient we were! We waited so long...............
So, what was next, were they all going to be like this? Was it because we were same sex? Who knows, and to be honest, we were probably too scared to ask the question. Was there going to be anything that we could do? Actually, yes, there was. Two years to the day, almost, and Tris was in the same situation, driving home from the train station in the car, and again listening to the radio. It was another station this time. Bizarrely, I had heard the same advert the day before, and mentioned it, but was it all really worth it, and could I be bothered going through anymore?
Monday, 13 April 2009
So, Adoption week 2005 comes round, two years since an initial enquiry about Adoption. You will have seen it yourself too, in Adoption week, normally in November, there is so much awareness of it, but it appears to be just for that week - any other time of the year, unless you are heavily involved, you do not really think about it. So, another advert heard on the radio, and another number to ring.
It is worthwhile pointing out at this point, that we were very very wet behind the ears where our enquiries were concerned. We honestly did not have a clue about anything, all we knew was that we really wanted to have our own children. We had even discussed the age range, the number of children, etc, so we probably just had the vision, not realising exactly what we had to do to get it!
Tris, again, rang the number (phone-aphobe!!) and spoke to a lady on the phone, we will cal her Lea. Lea was very helpful and very interested, but to be fair at this point Tris and I were just going through the motions. I think our interest had wained a little. Anyway, Lea took all of our details and arranged to come out and see us later on that week. This time there were no nerves, and to be honest, we wondered how long we would have to wait until we got the knock back this time!
So, an uneventful week passed, and Lea was here doing our "initial visit". No pen, no notepad, just the three of us and a cup of tea. It was looking quite dodgy, however, as Lea explained, all agencies are different, and their process, whilst achieving the same result, may differ slightly, however, we could be assured of the fact that there would never be any problem with the fact that we were a same sex couple.
At that point we were 8 weeks away from the new Adoption Laws becoming live, "The Adoption & Children Act 2002". (2002 is the year it was approved, but it did not come into force until 2006) The changes to the legislation meant that from the live date unmarried couples and same sex couples would be able to jointly adopt children, where as previously only one of the partners would be able to. (You can view details of this and more of the new legislation at: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/publications/childrenactreport/)
This was news that we had not even heard about, so we knew at that point that we did not have a clue what we were embarking on with this. Lea, thankfully, brought us down to earth with a big bump. She explained that there were more than a few stages to go through until we could even be considered to adopt any children.
Lea stayed for around two and a half hours, and in that time Tris really took to her, unfortunately, I could not in that time. I found myself being very defensive and trying to tell her what she wanted to hear - which was a wrong move - and one that sticks in my head to this day! I think i was just sitting waiting on a knock back, it really was nothing against her.
Lea asked us how we felt about Paedophiles. Seems like a straight forward question, or so I thought. I answered the question by saying I thought they should all be lined up in a row and shot! I am sure reading this you will either agree with this statement, or you will totally disagree, or you may even think that people like this are ill. Either way, we all have our opinion, it just so happens that in this situation, I answered it with my honest opiniot! Lea, bless her, explained that comments like that would not go down too well if we ended up adopting a child who had been sexually abused by a family member! Oops!!!!
So, I answered a question wrong, big deal. It was my opinion, but it just proved to me that I needed to start doing my research. I needed to find out more about the process, the kind of children in the care system etc. It was a must if my gob was going to keep me out of bother!!
Anyway, Lea explained that there was a "Prepare to Care" course being run in three weeks time and that she would have to discuss us with her Team Manager. She would ring us over the next few days to let us know if we were going to be invited to attend, and then of course we would receive something in writing for the purpose of getting time off etc if we needed it.
This threw up another little problem. Tris had been in his job for 2 years, and whilst he is very open about his sexuality and our relationship, he was never able to come out at work. He works in London, however, the industry he is in is old fashioned, and 100% safety related. He deals with hundreds of peoples lives every day, and was involved in the 7/7 tragedies and the clear up. He could not afford to take the risk of coming out at work and then his colleagues taking risks and taking Tris's mind off the job, after all he could end up killing hundreds of people at the touch of a button. Tris now had to seriously consider how serious he was about the Adoption Process.
Lea rung us the next day. She had spoken to her Manager, we will call her Karen, and Karen was very keen to get us on the Prepare to Care course. We were officially invited! Tris now had to get some time off, and decided to speak to his Boss, and tell him all about the possibilities of us Adopting. On the other hand, I had already told my Boss, and he was keen to help in anyway he could.
So, we were now on our way, weren't we?
Sunday, 12 April 2009
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!
Saturday, 11 April 2009
At the beginning of the four days Karen told us that the four days were about gauging our level of understanding of Adoption, and our suitability to be assessed through the Authority. We would be advised not more than 2 weeks after the end of the course whether or not we would be invited to apply. It was a very tense moment at the end of the course, as we really wanted to know there and then whether or not we could apply. I think Karen must have sensed this from us, in fact, she really made an exception for our group by telling us that all 12 of us would be invited to make applications. YES! Excellent, we all jumped for joy. Some had a few tears, understandably, but on the whole it was just relief. We would still receive a letter confirming all of the details and it would include the initial application form.
Karen also explained that we should try and complete and send back the application as soon as possible, so that the process could begin. This was all excellent news, and there was no "buts" or "howevers" - it was simple, she explained it, we were all through to the next stage (Sounds like an X-Factor Blog!!) and we really could not be any happier or relieved about it! All that was left to do now was swap contact details with everyone on the course, and get off home. (It should have been the pub really, but we'd gotten this far, we didn't want to give the wrong impression!!)
About a week past before we received the details confirming what we had been told on the course. It was a big relief to have it in writing. As well as a letter confirming our invitation to apply, there was an application form and a laminated certificate confirming our attendance on the course and our suitability. That was a nice touch, the more we had telling us that we were welcome the more confident we got.
I would say that you shouldn't get too confident at any stage, but a little amount will help to get through. You really need it at stages throughout the process. We never assumed that we would ever be successful, but we needed that confidence to get through. Sometimes it did wain, and we had to perk ourselves back up, but there is always someone on hand to help you do that, and of course, if your family are 100% behind you, then you can get help there.
I have not really mentioned much about the support we received from our Friends and Family, so now is the time for them to take centre stage!
Parents are the funniest thing in the world. Both sets of parents are separated/divorced. Both Mums are in relationships, but funnily enough neither of our Dads are in relationships, they are both single. We both had very different experiences of coming out. Tris is a very confident person, and has always known he was gay, since he can remember. He was so confident that his family would accept him that he took his Mum out for dinner to tell her. It did not go too well! If I were writing a book, then I would include some of the details, but this is not really the place! The end result was that he ended up moving away, and the "gay issue" was never spoken about again for a long time. I think he ended up in the Restaurant on his own. His Dad was "ok" about it, although, I don't think they went into details about it.
My Mum was reasonably ok about it. It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to tell anyone, as I was a lot less sure of myself and had very little confidence. My Mum made a point of telling me to be careful and safe, and if I ever need to, to talk to someone I could trust. My Dad was another story, unfortunately we did not speak for a few months, and when we eventually did it was very difficult to hold any kind of conversation. Even 13 years on we don't talk about it, although, he accepts who Tris is.
To say that Tris's Mum and I did not really get on to start with is an understatement, in fact, she would not even look at me, never mind talk to me. It took a good year before we were even on speaking terms.
When it came to telling our Parents about our plans to Adopt, we definitely expected a similar reaction to our coming out. Surprisingly, their reaction was excellent! Of course, they had their doubts, we all did, but they were actually very keen on us adopting.
We only had one bad reaction from a friend. Well, she obviously was not a real friend. We had spoken to her at length about it, and she even offered to be one of our referees, however, when it came to it she was not able to do it. She would never explain why, and it was evident that as she did not want to tell us why, that we could not even consider her remaining as our friend. It was not for any daft reasons, we were totally justified in not remaining in that particular friendship.
There is only one drawback to telling all of your friends and family that you are considering adoption - the constant questioning, "Any news?" "Where are you at?" "What's the next steps". When this is 24/7 it does become quite annoying. Please do not think that I am ungrateful for the support, I am certainly not, it is just that when it is literally 24/7 from all sides, and there is no news to give, you can be frustrated by it all!
With the one exception in the friend stakes, everyone reacted in the way we hoped. We had two couples who were very supportive of it. It was fantastic as we went through the process to be able to talk about our ups and downs over a bottle of wine or two, and eventually the champagne corks were popped and there was another leg to go!
So, we were okay with everything, the Local Authority was ok with it, our Friends and Family were ok with it, our Work and Workmates were ok with it, it was time to officially apply.
Friday, 10 April 2009
So, with Christmas over for another year, our thoughts turned back to Adoption, and the year ahead. We really did not know what to expect, how long it would take, and as always, what the end result would be. We were nervous about it all, but it was a different kind of nervous. Possibly because we knew that at the least it was going to take us 8 months, as Karen had said, and there was no real point in being nervous for the full 8 months!
It was a good 4 weeks before we started to wonder what was going on. We had heard nothing from Karen, or anyone else from the Authority, and we were starting to worry that we had either been forgotten about or there had been a mistake made! Maybe there was an element of paranoia on our part, but who could blame us after the length of time we had waited!
By the end of January we decided to ring the Authority to find out what was going on, and how long we were going to have to wait! We rang and spoke to Lea, and she said to leave it with her, and she would find out what was going on. A short while later a very apologetic Lea rang to let us know that Karen did have our application, but it had been put at the bottom of a very large pile of papers! Did they not realise how long we had been waiting already!!!!!!!! Grrrrrr!
We were about to get a surprise! (Another one!) Lea rang us a day or so later to let us know the progress with our application. She said that we had been appointed a Social Worker for our assessments, and that she would be calling us in the next day or so to make an appointment to see us. That seemed like an excellent plan to us. Lea said that Karen would put this and the details of the Social Worker in writing to us in the post so that we had it in writing. Excellent. We asked Lea who our Social Worker was, due to the fact that we had started to get to know the Team, and she told us that they had actually contracted an Independent Social Worker, due to the intricacies of our case. The Social Worker appointed had a vast amount of experience in Social Work, and it would certainly benefit us to have her on board. The Social Workers name. . . . . . . . It was Kelly! If you have read the earlier sections, then you will know that we already knew Kelly from our Fostering Enquiries! Wow, how fantastic that we did not have to sit and explain our situation again to her, even though it had been more than a year since we had met her, we were sure that she would remember us. We were now quite pleased.
The letter arrived, with an apology for taking too long, but they had had to organise the funding for the Assessment, to ensure that we would not have any problems in the future. Had it all been explained to us earlier, then we would have been happier with it, however, undeterred, we moved on.
A few days later Kelly rang to make her appointment. She did remember us, but of course, we remembered more about her than she remembered about us, which is no real surprise, she must see hundreds of people each year! Still, we had a good start, as there was not going to be any awkwardness with her, we had done all of that previously. She arranged to come and see us the next week. She told us that she was currently doing a lot of Lecturing, and that she would only be able to come and see us on specific days and at specific times. Of course, we were kind of in the same boat, as we had to still go to work and fulfill our own obligations, however, we still needed to be a little flexible!
At the point Kelly started her assessment with us we started some very intense building work in the house. What a time to start it! The house was constantly dusty, upside down, and the work that we were having done actually meant that half of the house was roofless and wall less! Not the best start for us! It did not worry Kelly though, as she did remember that the house was a bit of a wreck from her last visit.
The first meeting day arrived, and we both had to finish work early to get home and organised. Kelly arrived at 4pm, and it was lovely to see her again. After making the obligatory cup of tea we got down to business. She told us exactly what would happen throughout the assessment process, and some of the areas we would be covering. These included, Our relationship, our childhoods, our finances, our feeling on the types of children we thought we could care for, our support network, etc etc. The list was endless, and seemed to cover everything you could imagine.
However, this was the first meeting, and it was our time to talk about us. It was time to talk about our, then, 8 year relationship, how we had met, when we moved in together, how many arguments we had had, if either of us had ever been unfaithful, our future plans, our relationships with our families, and of course our "in-laws", no end of things, and it was quite nice to be able to talk about us.
As with the smoking issue, there is no point in trying to hide anything from these guys. One thing we caught onto half way through the assessment process was that Kelly had a knack of asking the same questions four times without us realising, to ensure we were giving the same answers! Again, don't try and hide anything or lie, it just won't work. We told Kelly that we had sussed her out, and she openly agreed that she does this, it is part of the process, and it can help her to make her decision on whether she thinks we would be suitable, as she has a say in whether we should go further! She gave us an example:
She once assessed a couple a few years before us. The assessment was going well, and it seemed there was nothing wrong until they got onto the subject of fertility. This is a question that will take a good two sessions to discuss, as it is one of the most important factors that they need to ensure that any Adopter has come to terms with. It was quite obvious to Kelly that this particular lady had not come to terms with, although, the lady was adamant that she had comes to terms with the fact that she could not have her own children. It worried Kelly, she thought that something was not quite right. She referred it to her Manager and they discussed it at great length. The unfortunate thing was that they could not prove anything, and there was nothing else that cropped up that caused any concern.
They had no choice but to let the application got through to the Panel stage, and of course, if there were any problems they would be brought up in the Panel Meeting. Apparently there were a few issues, and the lady in question got rather defensive with the panel, however, this was put down to nerves. The Panel did approve them as Prospective Adopters, and the couple did go onto Adopt two children. With Adoption these days, children may still have contact with their birth family, if it is of benefit to the child/children. In this case "Direct Contact" (face to face meetings with children) was put in place with some of the birth family, the lady in question could not deal with it, and it ended up that after the Adoption Order was granted the couple disappeared with the children - never to be seen again. May not seem like a big deal to some, however Kelly was right, there was something not right, and whilst it was questioned it was not deemed to be too "risky".
Even for a same sex couple, there are lots of questions surrounding your "Infertility" - it may seem obvious that it is impossible, especially for a male same sex couple, but it is still an area that comes with a lot of questions. Obviously, and as I have mentioned before, there are surrogacy options, but Tris and I felt that this option is VERY uncertain, and costly!
Anyway, that area was to be discussed in the future, for now, we had talked for three hours about ourselves, and that was good fun, and brought back a lot of memories we have about our earlier relationship. It was also draining emotionally. We don't know why, but it was! I think because you are literally re-living your past emotions, and coming to terms with any issues you had.
The start of at least 8 months of these meetings, and homework too! Our first bit of homework was to write about our childhood. All of the good, the bad and the ugly! Kelly would be back in two weeks, so she left us to it.
Time to open a bottle of wine, and celebrate the start of the next stage, surely we were on our way now?
Thursday, 9 April 2009
We had now had our first meeting with Kelly, and it had gone well. We wondered how it was going to take too long, as it seemed to be quite an easy process, to us! Again, we were a little naive, we should not have really judged our first meeting as the way it would go every time! We had organised with Kelly the next few meetings, and we had to organise finishing work early for a few of them. Thankfully, as we had been very honest with our Employers, it was very easy to get, and the team that I managed were very understanding and keen to help.
I think it is worth giving our Employers a quick mention too. Whether it was a heterosexual couple or a same sex couple adopting, you are still entitled to the same benefits. I don't suppose it is very much different from a normal pregnancy. In my case, my Employer had their own statement on Pregnancy and Adoption, and it was not the best. All I would be able to claim if I took 6 months Adoption Leave would have been statutory benefit which I think was £117.50 per week. Not a lot really in the grand scheme of things, however, being in Retail, it is only to be expected.
Tris on the other hand was very lucky his employers Adoption and Pregnancy statements both gave 6 months full paid! Very lucky indeed. As I say, we were both very lucky, as both of our direct Managers were very understanding at this point, even though we could give them no guarantees back then, because we did not know ourselves, however, if we were lucky enough we would need to be asking for time off at some point for the children.
Anyway, back to Kelly and her visits. Each and every one that we had made us a little nervous, but we also felt one step closer every time the sessions finished. It would be impossible to write down all of the topics we covered, but as always, it was just like talking to an old friend! There were the obvious things like:
1) Childhood - A long and in-depth look at how we were brought up, our relationships with peers/siblings/teachers/parents etc.
2) School - What we achieved, were we bullied, did we enjoy it.
3) Family - How our relationships were with the family and in-laws, Sibling relationships in Adulthood, what their opinions on us Adopting were.
4) Work - What we did, where we did it, our work relationships.
5) Sexuality - When we came out, how we did it, peoples reactions, how confident we were about our sexualities, how did we mend any relationships that had a problem with sexuality?
6) Relationship - Quite a big one, and one that was covered again and again, probably to ensure we answered all of the questions the same! It was about us after all, and Kelly needed to check we were the people we said we were!
7) Infertility - Ok, this one will sound weird, but actually, we both had to explain to Kelly how we had come to terms with our Infertility. When Kelly first asked this question we were perplexed and confused. How could a gay man be infertile without even checking if he actually was! Well, after she explained it we understood it - you have to be committed to Adoption, and not turn round half way through and think - maybe we could try surrogacy! So, this was a big big question, one that is asked of all applicants, whether gay or straight. It was also one that made us think long and hard about what we were doing!
There was one item that cropped up that caused a lot of soul searching for Tris, and quite a heated debate for us both, in front of Kelly! Tris and I had had a Commitment Ceremony with our friends and family on 10th May 2003. We signed the London Partnership Register and had a fantastic reception in a 5 star Hotel close to our family home in Norfolk. At that point in time, it was being considered that if "gay marriage" was ever made legal that the Partnership Ceremony would automatically become the marriage, with no further work to be done. Unfortunately Ken Livingston fell out with Tony Blair, and it was not included in the roll out when Civil Partnerships were born.
Not a problem, we'd have to do it all again, before we had any children. This in turn would include our ability to change our surname without having to do it by Deed Poll. Kelly asked the question, "What will your surname be?"
The words "hornets, nest and opened" spring to mind. Three hours later we were still debating why we should both change our names. I was quite prepared to change my name to that of Tris's family surname; however, he was not prepared to do anything with his. I was telling Kelly this, and rightly, she said, why should I change my name to Tris's? He should be prepared to compromise (not something he does very easily!), and to accept that as we are two males, neither of us should give up our identity. It was then that she got to the bottom of it!
Tris was indeed trying to maintain his identity in full, did not think he should change it and did not want to. However, under the circumstances, there was something else not quite right. Kelly put it to Tris that he considered himself the carrier of the family name, and as such felt obliged to keep the name going. What he had not considered was that Adopting a child, also meant that the children need to feel fully part of their new family - which includes a surname that has something to do with both their new parents. Obviously, as Civil Partnerships are not identical to marriages, everything was going to be different, so we discussed being different. Different is a double-barrelled name, and this started another unfortunate debate about double-barrelled names being too pretentious!! It took a few weeks for Tris to come round to it all, and a lot of debating once Kelly had gone! In fact, I think I remember being told by Tris that I was going against him at one point - I wasn't, I was just trying to make him realise that I had an identity too, and if I could I would like our children to have both our names.
Those are just some of the things we were asked, and I would need to go to our Prospective Adopters Report to see more (If you need further info, then contact me and I will be happy to hunt it out for you!).
Back at the beginning we were told our assessment would take 8 months, so that would have taken us to September. By September we were not any further on than we had been 2 months earlier! We were now getting a little worried, and spoke to Kelly about this. Again, she explained that there were no problems; she was really just trying to cover everything she could to ensure absolute clarity when we did eventually get to Panel. She promised us that it would only take a few more visits and we would be there. Previous to that, we daren't ask, as we thought that we might have been being a little paranoid - AGAIN!!!
So, only a few more visits, we were nearly there then?
Wednesday, 8 April 2009
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............
Tuesday, 7 April 2009
The date was set for Monday 18th December 2006. A date that will always stick in my head, for more than one reason, which I will explain later. A few days before we could think of nothing else, we were nervous, and we knew that whilst Kelly would have said if there were any issues likely to make them decide against approving us as Prospective Adopters, there was still that niggly feeling in the back of our heads, and of course, after having such a wait to get to this stage, our anxieties were back, with a passion!!
On the Sunday we were both not at work, so we did our usual "child free" thing of having a lay in, and a relaxing day, just doing a bit of house work. We were still doing quite major renovations at this point, and whilst we knew it had to be done, we were in no real mood to get on with it. The phone rang most of the day, people wanting to know how we felt and to wish us well for the Monday. It was not really helping matters, as it made us think about it all the more, still, at least we were getting the support.
We decided on a peaceful meal that evening and a nice bottle of wine, not to get plastered, just to settle ourselves, for what may have been a long night without a little lubrication to help us drop off! An early night too, we were in bed for 10pm, which for us was early!
As always Tris was up first the next day, about 7am. I, on the other hand, had the feeling of, if I am sleeping, I am not thinking about it. There were 2 things going on that day, one was us going to Panel, and the other was one of our closest friends going in to Hospital to be induced after she was past her due date for her second child, and our second God Child! It was going to be a long day! I felt it best to get lay in and get up an hour before we had to leave for Panel! It was not until 12noon, so that suited me!
It did not, however, suit Tris! He was banging and clanging about so that I could not sleep, so I was better to get up. We had to then decide what to wear. Tris wanted to go Business Dress, but I thought it better to go Smart/Casual, and of course, as Tris has no fashion sense, it was my decision. As much as it is an important day, it was not the kind of day that you wanted to feel trussed up like a prized turkey, waiting on slaughter. If we were going to be slaughtered, I wanted to be comfy!!
So, all dressed, lots of coffee, and a number of ciggies more than I would normally have smoked, we left off. We had to drive about 20 miles to Panel, and I drove. I always drive when I want to get somewhere quickly. For two reasons, 1) It always seems to be too slow when someone else is driving you somewhere you don't really wish to go, but still want to get there quick, so you are not late and 2) I wanted to keep my mind of it all by driving and listening to the radio. I like quiet when I am worried, Tris likes to yak about it! I just wanted to get there, by listening to the radio, and a little bit of speed at my foot!
The Panel was held where we had our first course with the Local Authority. That put us at ease a little, remembering the time, almost a year to the day, since we enjoyed meeting other people, and of course, deciding Adoption was definitely for us. As we walked in we recognised 3 faces coming out. It was a couple who had been on the same course as us, and they had just been to Panel with their Social Worker, Linda. We could tell by their faces they had been approved! We wished them congratulations, and told them we would let them know what happened! They explained it was not as bad as they thought it would have been, so we relaxed a little more on hearing that news.
So, in we went. Kelly was already there, and was waiting at the door for us. As we drove in we spotted another lady getting out of a car, and I did comment to Tris what a grump she looked! Turns out that this was Sally! Oops! Not a great first impression! Kelly explained that Sally was only here to see how we got on, and how Panel went, so she had a bit more back ground for family finding for us, but that she would not be saying very much, as she had not officially taken over the case as yet. That was fine with us, as we did not really want to have to worry about someone else today of all days!
On Panel days, they set aside a room for all Prospective Adopters to relax in. We called it the Green Room, basically, because it did feel like where a Showbiz type would relax before going on stage. That is what it felt like we were about to do. Kelly, Sally, Tris and I sat and drunk more coffee or tea, and of course there were the homemade cookies the kitchen had baked which Tris troughed into!! After 10 minutes or so, the Chair of the Panel came into the room. My stomach turned... they were ready for us! She sat down, and was very nice and friendly. She told us that there were 12 people, including herself, on the Panel today, and that they had their questions ready for us. She tried putting us at our ease by telling us that everyone gets nervous by the Panel, but we would be fine. Kelly nodded at us to acknowledge this, and try and relax - Impossible! We were bricking it!
We walked, what seemed to be miles, to get to the room at the other end of the corridor, and entered the room. We were asked to sit at the chairs set our for us. Tris and I in the middle, and Kelly to my side, and Sally to Tris's side. They went round the table to introduce themselves and tell us who they were and what they did. There was an Educational Psychologist, the Authorities Service Manager, and a whole list of others I am unable to remember, not because I have forgotten, but most likely because I was listening to my stomach churning rather than what they were saying!
The Chair then went on to ask from the end of the table if they had any questions, and to then continue round the table until the end. The Panel seemed to be split in some way, more Men on one side, and more Women on the other. Not too sure if this was done on purpose or not, but it did not bode well for us. The first few men did not have anything to ask, and then we got to man number 3. He begun by asking Tris, "As a same sex couple you will be expected to Champion your child or children to the endth degree. How do you expect to do this if you are unable to tell your work colleagues that you are gay?" - Bam - Strike One! This was totally unexpected. Tris started to try and answer, unfortunately, one of Tris's major flaws is that when he is nervous he looses his track and waffles on. He did this, for about 10 minutes! In the end I could see that the Panel were getting bored, and that Kelly was wriggling in her seat! I interrupted a little, and I was not going to be messed with. It was an appropriate question, but one that was a little below the belt. I made the simple statement - "If you were travelling on a plane, and the Air Traffic Controller was a person who was different in an industry where "different" does not fit, how would you feel if the Controller was set up by a Colleague to make a mistake, costing lives?" Maybe not the best answer, but if fitted the question, and we moved on.
Normally a Panel session would last around 20 minutes. Ours lasted for 1 hour 20 minutes. We were asked all manner of questions, and there were statements made, indeed by one gentleman, the Service Manager, that it would be unlikely for us to be able to have a child from that particular Local Authority, and how did this make us feel. This was tantamount to being homophobic, and one statement that Kelly took great offence to. This was her queue to now get more wound up than she already was! She layed into him, in no uncertain terms, and told him that it was an inappropriate comment to make.
The rest of it is such a blur. There was so many questions they asked, and I cant remember them all, as I was in such a state, but trying my best not to get defensive and upset in front of the Panel. They asked us to leave while they made our decision. The Chair would come out and tell us in a few minutes what the decision would be, but until then Kelly and Sally should stay and wrap up.
Tris and I walked back to the Green Room, and as soon as that door closed I exploded! So did Tris. We were both very angry that we had been made to question our whole lives in front of complete strangers, and had been asked questions that we were unprepared for. A few minutes later Kelly and Sally came back. Kelly was seething. She could not believe the way we had been treated, and said that she had never in all of her years as a Social Worker seen anyone treated this way. We were kind of pleased to hear it! What she did ask us to remember though, was that we were the first Same Sex couple to go through this, and if anything the feedback would be used for next time. That did not make us feel much better though! I broke down into tears, and Kelly came and hugged me. I thought that our chance was blown.
About ten minutes after we left, we had a knock at the door, and the Panel Chair entered the room, she was about to reveal the decision that would change our lives forever............
Monday, 6 April 2009
She went on to say that whilst the interview had been tricky that they had come to a decision, and the decision was that Panel thought we would make fantastic Adoptive Parents, and that we had been approved as Prospective Adopters!!!!!!!!
WE HAD MADE IT!!!!!!!
There were so many thoughts running through our head in the time we had left the interview and then the moment she said those words. I thought that we did not stand a snowballs chance in hell, but we had proved to ourselves that we could, and that we would!
Kelly and Sally both appeared delighted, and Kelly gave us huge hugs. There were tears, from both of us this time!!
The Panel Chair explained that their approval would be sanctioned/overruled by the Agency Decision Maker in a few days time, and from that we would receive written confirmation from them with the Decision Makers final decision and any points that would be written into our status, for example, the age of child we could adopt, etc etc.
So that was it, all of this time and we were finally Prospective Adopters.
We should have felt delighted and on cloud 9, but we didn't. We felt empty, angry and most of all, hurt. How could anyone ask those questions of us, and think that we would never have the guts to stick up for our children? Well, looking back the answer is simple. They did not know us, and in reality we were viewed as information on a piece of paper. These guys were professionals, they knew there stuff, but I still think they were a little mean.
We should have gone home and celebrated! Instead, we went to HomeBase, and bought a new door we needed for the Lounge! When we got home we had a cup of tea. We were pleased, don't get me wrong, but we were very deflated. We just could not bring ourselves to feel how we imagined we would feel.
We had previously decided not to ring the family and tell them instead, we would go and visit, so that afternoon we drove the 60 miles to Tris's parents to break the news. They were delighted for us and of course wanted to know the next steps!
Well, as such there were no "next steps". Once Approved it is suggested that you take at least 4 weeks to let it all sink in and get over the assessment process, before you start the matching process. As we had Christmas coming up, it fitted in just fine. Kelly told us that as we had now been approved she would be handing us over to Sally, and her Supervisor, as Sally was a Student Social Worker. She would organise a meeting for the 5 of us in the middle of January and do the handover then.
So we now had our decision, and of course Christmas round the corner. We would be on our own again this Christmas, but potentially, next year we could have a child with us! Wow - what a thought.......
I had sent a text to my dearest friend to give me a ring so I could tell her what had happened. She was 9 and a half months pregnant, and I knew that she had to go into hospital that day as a precaution, as she had had a lot of problems through her pregnancy. The baby had been on it's way several times, including once when the four of us had been to a Robbie Williams concert (!!) and now, it did not want to go anywhere!!
We were at Tris's Dads, and my phone rang, it was a recorded message saying that Neeve wanted me to call her on the following number in the hospital. I immediately rang, and she said she was fine, and wanted to know all about it. I spent the next 45 minutes telling her all about what had happened that day, and of course the outcome. She was delighted, as was Garry, her partner.
Neeve had told me before going into Hospital that she thought they would try and induce her, but they had done that with her other child, and nothing happened, so she was sure that it would be the same this time. I asked Neeve how she was going, and she said, yes, it was all going fine. Baby just having her bottle now!!!!!!!!!! WHAT?!?!??!!
Neeve had been admitted at 9am, been induced at 10am, and had gone through a relatively easy labour. At 6pm her waters broke and by 7pm she had had a big girl at 8lb 9oz! Wow!!! She was on the phone to me an hour later!
Once she had told me all about that a photo picture appeared on my phone, of my second god daughter, born on the same day we found out we were going to become parents, 18th December 2006........... You don't have much better days than that..........................
Sunday, 5 April 2009
Regardless, we had to move on. The decision had been made, and we had to accept that some members of the Panel wanted to ask questions, and some didn't.
It was Christmas Eve and I remember decorating our Christmas Tree, and it seemed to dawn on me, actually, this was the most exciting time of our lives. It was just a shame that it had taken this long for me to realise it!
Christmas came and went, as did New Year, and all we could talk about was that this time next year, we may be a family. We were very excited, but at the same time, because of our experience so far, we were expecting to wait a long time. Kelly rung as after New Year to organise a hand over meeting with Sally and her Supervisor, Steve. She would be coming the second week of January to have the meeting, and from then on we would need to contact Sally directly, and Kelly would not longer be involved in our case. It was saddening to hear that officially, but we knew that Kelly had done her job, and it was time for us and her to move on.
Now that we had gone through the Assessment process we were actually pretty relaxed about the next steps! For a change we did not panic about the meeting, and I did not feel the same need to clean the tops of the kitchen cupboards! We just went with the flow.
By the time the meeting arrived, we were actually looking forward to moving on and getting on our family finding way. We knew in our heads what we wanted, a little girl between the age of 3 and 8 - and as such that was panel had approved us for.
Kelly, Sally and Steve arrived to do the handover, and we were very excited about it. We did wonder if they would have anything for us, in terms of details of any children, but alas they did not! It was also not quite a month since Panel, so we were not too disappointed, but we did want to get on! The meeting went smoothly, and Kelly was so upbeat about Sally and Steve being successful in finding us the child that would become a part of our family.
It was soon time to say goodbye to Kelly, and we felt an overwhelming feeling of sadness that she as leaving us. She asked us to do one favour, and that was that when we had children that she could come and meet them. We had obviously made as much of an impression on her as she had on us. We hugged and kissed her, and closed the door on yet another chapter!
Sally's first job was to do our public profile. Due to the fact that Sally was only on a 6 month contract with the Local Authority, they needed to try as quickly as possible to get a match, so that this could be a part of her training. This was good news for us, as it meant that we would be put on the National Adoption Register with immediate effect. Normally, you would only be available to the Local Authority that assessed you for the first three months, understandable, as they had spent a lot of money on you so far, so by rights they have first dibs on you! The profile had to include a photo, and a small description of us.
Tris and I also had to do our own life story book in this time. We had done a very simple one whilst going through the assessment process, but now we had to fill it out a lot more, and include a lot more personal stuff, pictures of family etc. This would then have parts picked out of it and put into our profile. It was very difficult to do this to the age of child we wanted, because we were looking at 3 to 8 years old, and what appeals to a 3 year old will not necessarily appeal to a 8 year old!
We had also agreed with Sally that we would keep in contact via a monthly visit from her, so she could keep us up to date. At the time we thought that this would be sufficient, however, a month past, and we realised that knowing nothing was a nightmare in itself, as we had no clue as to where we were.
From there Sally took away everything and told us that our Profile would be put together for family finding teams on the National Adoption Register. We had also signed ourselves up for three months of Be My Parent, almost like a newspaper with children who are currently looking to be placed into Adoptive Families.
Sally would now go back to the office and put together a short profile about us that would be sent to different agencies, and the National Adoption Register, in the meantime it was another waiting game, and one that was at a new stage. We had done the assessments, we had done the panel, now it was a waiting game to see how long, and if at all we would ever have children placed with us.
As we had agreed to be in monthly contact with Sally, we could only assume that there was no news. Once we had received a draft copy of our profile, and a few minor amendments were made, that was sent to all the relevant people and the profile started to be circulated. Bearing in mind there are thousands of people out there doing the same thing, you think in two different mind sets, the first is that there is a child out there who is perfect for you and your family, and if there is you will find them, and they will find you. The second is that, there may also be a dozen similar families like you out there searching for the same thing, so what are your chances of being the ones that are picked!
Sally came to see us a month later, and we didn't really expect much except some niceties, and perhaps some direction on where we should keep looking. You could have blown us over when she told us that she had been inundated with requests for more information on us for potential children, and she had also been sent profiles on children from their Social Workers for us to look at! She sat and told us about each enquiry, and it was unfortunate, but none of them would really have been suitable. Of course, we were disappointed, as far as we were concerned, we were suitable for them all! I had to keep reminding myself that as I am a great believer in fate, that what would be would be! After a chat with Sally is dawned on us that she had taken us literally on our word that we were happy with a monthly update from her - we were wrong! We wanted to hear about everything as it happened, and so we amended our agreement. Sally would now contact us about each enquiry made on us, and would update us weekly on anything that she has found that may interest us.
Tris and I were also looking through Be My Parent religiously each month. We would wait on it hitting the door matt each month, and tear the envelope open with excitement, thinking our children could be in there!! The first month there were only a few profiles that interested us, but nothing really screamed "Pick Me". We used to take it in turns to look through the paper, and we would write separate lists. If there were names on one of our lists that were not on the other ones then we would discuss it, and if it was the case it had been skimmed over it then we would look at the profile together. If it did not feel right, then we would discount it altogether - harsh, but long term the right thing to do, as there was no point in taking on something that one of us was unsure about.
In the February we were off on a long waited holiday! We were off to Canada and America for ten days. We were going to Canada for the cold and snow, and to Florida for the heat and pool! Before we went Be My Parent dropped on the door matt, and of course we did our usual scour to see if there was anything that interested us, and Sally did the same thing. We emailed her with some possibilities, and left her to it for a few days while we went on holiday.
When on holiday at my Aunt's in Canada I checked my emails. We had a potential link..... it was a serious second request for information from a sibling groups Social Worker. She told us what she could, and said that there was only one problem.......... the children's ethnicity. From the beginning we said that we would have been happy to consider any ethnicity, and we knew that potentially we could only be matched with a child that matched our ethnicity as closely as possible, however, these children were mixed race, and it may have looked very obvious in the town we live that these children were not ours. After a long long discussion Tris and I decided against this link. We were a little disappointed that we had discounted it, but it did not feel right, and if it does not feel right, then it would have more than likely failed. All this while on holiday!!
When we came back we had our final copy of our three month subscription of Be My Parent. I always joke that if they were not in this copy that it was not meant to be as Tris is too tight to pay for any more than a three month subscription!! We did exactly the same as we normally did, went through it separately and then matched our lists. This time there were 4 potential links, and we had them all in the same order of potential. The first seemed the most likely, and the photo drew us into them............ maybe they shouldn't do photos, however, I am not too sure I could have made my decision without it.
That night Sally rang. She had also been looking through Be My Parent, and had made her list. We were shocked, actually we were horrified, to find that our first potential was also the top of her list!!! Wow! Could this be it?
Saturday, 4 April 2009
Sally told us the next steps...... she would be ringing the Social Worker involved for further details, and also to provde the Social Worker with some information about us, from there, if the Social Worker was interested we would be sent the Child Permanence Report (CPR) for the child, which should detail all of the information known about the children. The children's Social Worker would also be sent our Form F (now known as Prospective Adopters Report or PAR) so that she could read about our histories and find out more about us. From there, if we still wanted to proceed and the children's Social Worker still wanted to proceed then arrangement would be made for us, Sally, and the children's Social Worker to meet. She did not tell us anything past this point, as it was important we did not think too far ahead at that stage, which we thought was really fair, to be honest. Our hopes were up enough!
So Sally did just that, she rung up to enquire about the children. Obvosuly we were not party to that conversation, so we are now going on the information provided to us by Sally, however, she has told us that the Children's Social Worker, Tammy, explained that they had had a number of enquiries about the children. The best thing she could suggest at this stage was that Sally email over our "brief" that had been sent to the National Adoption Register, and she would keep in touch with Sally to advise her of any progress. We wondered how long all this would take, and were now concerned there would be even more delays, so we had to sit back and wait!
The next day Sally rang, to let us know that she had heard back from Tammy, and it was good news! Tammy and her Manager had gone through the briefs they had received, and ours was the only one that would be a potential match. We are not too sure who many others there were, if any come to that, but we were now back on track and excited again! Tammy told Sally she would send us the CPR's for the children, and that we should read them thoroughly and highlight any areas where we had queries, questions, worries etc, and Sally explained that she had a duty to do the same.
This was where the difficult work began for us, because, believe it or not, we had fallen in love with the picture that we had of these Children, and we were now very worried that we would read something that was going to put us off, or even worse, that Sally would read something that held up a red flag and would not support us any further with this link. It was tense, and even more tense when we started reading all about these children. We sat with a cup of tea with the PC plugged through the television on the large screen so that we could both read them at the same time. It was one of the most surreal things we have ever done. We dared to dream whether we or not there children could become ours!
After about 2 hours reading the CPRs we had goggle eyes. We did have some questions, but no worries, which was strange as we felt we should have felt some worries, but to us, they seemed perfect. We printed off the CPRs and got our highlighter out, ready to highlight the areas we had discussed and put an email together for Sally to send with any questions she had to Tammy. We wondered how many questions Sally would have, and were shocked to see she had hardly any! She was still keeping her distance though, and made it clear that this did not quantify Sally and the Team's support at this early stage, a lot more fact finding would have to be done!
Our list of questions was sent to Sally for the next morning, and she added hers to the email. We expected to wait a few days to receive the reply, but low and behold, the answers were there in the afternoon. This, to us, proved hos positive this was, as Tammy was obviously keen! The answers were good, and we were both getting more and more excited.
After all of the questions had been answered Sally rang me to ask when would be convenient for them all to come round and talk with us........ however, Tammy was going on holiday for a week, so it would either have to be the next day or two weeks time..... of course, we went for the next day, as we felt that delays were the last thing we needed at this point.
An anxious few hours went by while Sally found out if this was ok with Tammy. To our surprise, she said yes, and that she would cancel all of her plans for the next day, and was coming to see us with Jane who had been doing some life story work with the Children. She actually knew them better than Tammy, so it made sense for her to come with her.
After all of this time, we were actually going to meet a Child's Social Worker about a Child, surely it was not going to be this easy?
Friday, 3 April 2009
Anyway, I digress! There was a sufficient amount of cleaning to get through, make sure that the bleach had been put away, that the knifes were locked away and that the cats claws had been removed from their paws (ok the last one would have been extreme, although, through this process, you'd be surprised what you think you have to do!) and of course the obligatory cakes and biscuits had to be purchased. That evening we were so nervous. It did not seem real that after all of this time we could be meeting the Social Worker of our potential children! In some ways I don't think I believe that the meeting would actually take place. In the past we had been so unlucky with one thing and another, so this seemed too good to be true! A few glasses of wine soon soothed the nerves, and made for a good nights sleep.
I think I slept the soundest I had in ages that night, and I was glad of that, because I was about to get the biggest shock of my life!
Thursday, 2 April 2009
The Social Worker and Family Finder were due at 12 noon - I would even go as far as to say "High Noon". All I could do was look at the article about these two fabulous little boys in "Be My Parent" magazine and wonder more about them, more about what we were going to be told, if they were already spoken for, or if we were not going to be suitable. Amazing how pessimistic you get during this process! The photo, which we still have, obviously, showed the boys in these little matching long sleeved tops. They looked angelic and I just wanted them to be with me. I did not know how likely that was going to be to happen, but I wanted them to be my kids!!!
There is one thing our Local Authority had always told us during our training and that was that when you are potentially matched with children, they (the Authority) would not allow you to see any photos of them until such time as you were matched. The fact that we were put on the National Adoption Register as soon as we were approved meant that unless we were matched through our Home Local Authority we would be able to view photos of any potential matches. I must admit that this is something that confuses me even now.
I know that if you were to have a biological child you would not be able to choose any of their features or what they looked like, but you do need some form of connection to be able to strike up a bond, even if it is a very weak bond. Biological Parents have a bond from conception, through Adoption, it is not quite so clean cut - these are, after-all, other peoples children that you are about to consider giving a home, so the least you need is a photograph to create a bond for YOU - not for the child - YOU! Of course, there will be some who would base their decision on a photograph, but I would hope that any Social Worker worth their salt would know this was happening. The other problem you have of course, is getting too attached to something that may not actually happen.
That photo had been my hope and dreams while we were waiting to hear back from the Social Workers involved, which seemed to be forever, and at 12 noon, they arrived. Our Social Worker was a little late, and rang whilst they were on their way. The regretted being late, of course, because it meant that the other Social Worker could have said something that would have gotten out hopes up higher, or we could have asked a question that would have made us look too keen, but at the end of the day, that was not our problem! We had their attention!
The Family Finder started by telling us that she has been doing some Life Story work with the youngest boy, (let's call him Bob for ease!) the day before, this included being able to open his mind to different kinds of families, as up until now, even the Social Worker thought that it would be a conventional family that the children would end up with. He basically turned around and said it did not matter as long as he was allowed to play football....... kids! That was when our Social Worker and her Supervisor turned up, and I was actually thankful for them doing so, as it was making me feel awkward, as I did not know what to ask and of course what I was allowed to ask.
We sat at the dining room table with our cup of tea and the mountain of cakes and biscuits, looking back I maybe should have made more of an effort, as it was lunchtime, but hey, I had other things on my mind. So there we sat, and the first thing we were asked..... would we like to see more photos of the boys? My heart skipped a beat! I turned to Tris, and I was unsure what he was thinking, but I knew that at this stage, it was to be a no, I had quite maturely decided that I did not want to see anymore photos of the boys until we knew whether we were going to take this further. I bet you are thinking "Oh my god!". Well, the way I saw it back then was that I had already fallen in love with the photo of them from Be My Parent, and I desperately did not want to tempt fate by falling in love with them anymore. Thankfully Tris felt the same, but what surprised me was the reaction from the boys Social Worker and Family Finder - they were actually shocked! It took me a long time trying to explain why I had made that decision, and eventually they accepted it. I am sure it is not the first time it had happened, although, maybe it had - who knows!
After that most of the conversation was between the Social Workers, our Social Workers were asking relevant questions about the boys that the CPR (Child Permanence Report) had either missed, or was not too clear. Eventually we were allowed to ask some questions! I wanted to know as much as I could about them, and knew that I was running out of time to find it out.
The one answer that sticks out in my mind is that the Social Worker said, "They are really lovely boys"....... what could you say?
The meeting lasted around 2 hours, and it was time to decide on the next steps. Of course, as is common in Social Services, Social Workers get Annual Leave entitlement, and our Social Worker had some starting that weekend! To us, this was delaying things, but looking back, it was only a few days! I think by the time you are at this stage, you want things to move on as fast as possible, not thinking about the consequences of a bad decision or a rushed decision, but that is why there are Social Workers doing all the running around for you... otherwise, I would imagine 95% of Adoptions would go wrong in the first week!
The important question was asked of us, "Are you still interested in following these boys up further?" Without hesitation, we answered a resounding yes, to which we saw the faces of our Social Workers drop, quite shocked that we had been so quick to answer.... Oops!! More importantly to us, were the Social Workers still interested in us? This still chokes me, because what they said next gave me the first grasp of hope that this was even a possibility to anyone outside of our Local Authority..... They had decided prior to coming to visit us that unless something extreme happened during the visit that they had already told any other interested families that they had decided to go with us.............
The ground could have opened up and swallowed me at that point, and I would never have noticed!