Adoption (Part 1) - The Process
People often think that the adoption process is too rigorous, fixed and full of barriers to put you off adopting but in my experience, and that of many others, this couldn't be further from the truth. For sure it's emotionally challenging but the Social Workers, they are on our side. They need to find safe families for the most vulnerable children in our society; they're rooting for us. And the children, they have been through so much that they need strong parents.
I'd like to take you through the process from the very beginning through to approval, being matched with a child, to the adoption order and the future. Get a cuppa. It's a long one.
So you've decided you want to have a child. Beautiful. And for whatever reason, adoption is your chosen path to growing your family. Even more beautiful. Before you make those initial enquiries it would be helpful to contact some adopters, read some blogs (hello), read some information on how raising children from traumatic backgrounds is mostly very different to raising birth children and get a general feel for the process. This will pay off; the Social Workers will be impressed and there will be no huge shocks when they discuss what experiences the children come with.
You have two choices to be approved as Adopters; you can go to an L.A (Local Authority - your local council) or an Agency. They both have their advantages and disadvantages but to quickly explain. When children are waiting to be matched with forever families they are under the care of the L.A, usually in Foster Care. So when you choose to go with the L.A you live in, the children they are caring for are from the same area as you, as are their birth families. When you go to an Agency, they do not have the care of any children but they work closely with many L.A's around the country to match you. Sometimes for safety reasons children can not be matched with a family in their own L.A so the Social Worker will look further a field often reaching out to Agencies of the families they have approved. It's important to note that you are strongly advised to meet the Birth Parents of your future child which I'll touch on later, so if you're uncomfortable with the idea of bumping into them in the future because they live in the same L.A you may want to consider an Agency. We decided to go with an Agency and our experience was fantastic and we would do the same if we ever decide to adopt again.
So there are two stages to the process but you have to be accepted onto stage 1 first. When you initially contact your choice of L.A or Agency they will have a brief chat to you and most likely book a home visit appointment. It will usually be a Social Worker that comes out to see you and it will take anywhere up to 3 hours. This, in effect, is a mini assessment to see if they will take you on. They will talk to you about the process, the children and you - lots about you. They will want to know, in very basic terms, a little about every bit of your life including your relationship, family, friends, job, health, finances, home life, hobbies, childcare experience, upbringing - everything. But like I say very basic at this stage. They may want to look around your house. Don't fret, it doesn't need to be perfect but I know you'll scrub it from top to bottom regardless of what I say. After this they will go away and write a mini report to share with their Manager and discuss if they feel you're ready to start the process. If they agree - CONGRATULATIONS, you're over your first hurdle.
*Just a little disclosure as I feel it's important. We were turned down on our first application because we were getting married within 6 months and they felt that we needed our sole attention on the process, rather than planning the biggest event ever. And thank goodness they did turn us down. Our second application led us right to Ella.
Stage One - All the paper.
This for us was the most difficult part. All the checks. I'll try and cover them all but you'll need: an Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check (the new CRB).
A home reference if you rent.
A current work reference (if you've worked with children or vulnerable adults you'll need one for every place you've worked - cheers to my past 10 employers).
You'll need 3 family references and I think that's it for the references.
You'll have thorough financial checks including bank statements, evidence of loans, credit cards and wages. You will have a medical with your GP at your expense of around £70. Your pets will have a safety assessment if required. You will have a home check to observe safety such as plants, boiler checks, stair spindle safety, window locks, etc etc. If you have a car you'll have to show evidence of your MOT and Insurance. I'm sure there are more checks than this, but you get the idea.
In stage one you'll also do training. Yes! My favourite bit of the process and where we met some of our dearest friends. As a previous trainer I am very enthusiastic about a good load of training sessions. I hear you though, training to become a parent? Yes, parenting children from traumatic backgrounds is very different in many ways to parenting birth children. You'll need to understand attachment, and broken attachments, safeguarding, womb trauma, child development and how an adopted child's development is in most cases disrupted in one way or another. You'll learn all about brain development, damage to the brain due to traumatic experiences, about different conditions such as Global Development Delay, Developmental Trauma, Attachment Disorder, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and others which are common in our children. You'll meet adopters, hear stories from Birth Parents and take part in discussions, activities and case studies. I loved every minute of our training. It was four days long, intense but so helpful for further down the line. And a little tip, speak up, ask questions and get involved. You are observed by the Social Worker and the notes will go into your PAR (Prospective Adopters Report) that is used when you go to approval panel. And once all this is done, the Social Worker will write another report recommending (or not) you through to stage two. This stage is supposed to take about 2 months. Ours took close to 5 months because of the amount of references from employers and volunteering I'd done.
Congratulations, now you're at the juicy stage; stage two. My Wife would likely disagree as she doesn't like to talk much. But I loved it so much. In stage two you're allocated a Social Worker who will do weekly visits for about 2 months. Again they will last up to around 3 hours. Everything you lightly discussed in stage one will be covered in depth. It does feel intrusive but it is so necessary for the Social Workers to build up a picture of you, your past, your experiences and all of this forms a true reflection of who you are and what you have to offer a child. I found this very therapeutic. Almost like counselling and I know a lot of others feel the same. It can be difficult, bringing up things that we like to keep buried away. But trust me if you don't air things now, then raising a child from a traumatic background will certainly raise them for you. Dig as far as you feel capable then dig some more. Give it your all. Families who birthed their children don't get this opportunity and you have it right here. Grab it with two hands and throw everything at it. It's so important that you're honest about your experiences regardless of how hard you find it. The Social Worker is skilled at assessing you. They will see past your barriers and support you to gently lower them. This inner work you'll complete during stage two is crucial for the Social Worker to build the correct picture of you.
Your referees who provided a written reference in stage one are visited and interviewed. This was scary for me. Letting go of that control and giving it to others. But we chose the right people who knew us inside out. A's Mum, and our two best friends who knew us individually and as a couple - they all said it wasn't too scary. During stage two we also read everything we could about adoption, child development, neurodiversity, trauma etc. You want to show that this means everything to you and you're knowledgeable and prepared to parent a child from a traumatic background.
After 8 weeks ish of meetings your Social Worker will begin to collate all of the information from stage one and two into your PAR (Prospective Adopters Report). You'll get a date for your Approval Panel and get to see your PAR and have the opportunity to comment on it. I remember we received ours on my 30th Birthday when we were a bit merry in the hotel on a break away. I can't pretend that we didn't cry with relief, emotion and excitement reading that 80 page report. Our Social Worker just got us. And presented us absolutely beautifully, warts and all.
The Big Day has arrived. I felt sick with nerves and you will too. Our future parenthood was in the lives of 15 panel members made up of Adopters, Legal Experts, Medical Experts, Adopted Adults and Social Workers. They have already read your PAR and have questions ready which you receive about 5 minutes before going in. By this point your Social Worker is already being questioned on your suitability before you go in. I'll never forget seeing our questions and I couldn't take them in, I was THAT nervous. Needless to say once we were inside I waffled the biggest load of b*****s, even A agrees! It lasted about 10 minutes. At the end you're sent out while the group deliberated whether to approve you or not. The wait is long, and painful. After what felt like a lifetime our Social Worker came running out to tell us we were approved and gave us the biggest hug. And now I'm crying thinking of that incredible moment. We were going to be parents.
To be continued.