Tuesday, June 18, 2013

When the going gets tough, keep going.

Despite all our fears and the warnings from everyone with experience of panel decisions, the pre-panel meeting led to a decision in our favour.  We knew that we had a really strong case, but had prepared ourself for the worst.   The panel agreed that although there may be some concerns from our past, they needed much more information to make a decision. 
We still have some way to go before we are finally approved, but it feels like we have taken a huge step forward today. :)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A letter in a cache 2

Hi Kiddo,
It's a while since I've written on my blog, and even longer since I wrote to you (well, apart from the postcards from when I go away).  Partly that's because I haven't really got into the habit of writing blog posts regularly so its been easy to let other things get in the way, but is mainly because of the problems that we have been having with the adoption process.
Just over a month ago, our social worker and her team leader meet with your Mum and I.  They are worried that the bad experiences you Mum has had in her past will mean she will struggle to cope with looking after you, especially if you are misbehaving, or trying to deal with bad things that have happened to you.
At first they tried to persuade us to give up our application to become your parents saying that the panel that make the decision wouldn't approve us, then they tried saying that even if we didn't get approved, your social worker (and other children's workers) would look at our report and say that we wouldn't be able to look after you.  Then they tried to fob us off with waiting, but with no idea of what would have to happen to end that wait.  Finally they have offered us the chance to go to a pre-panel meeting to get their advice on what they should do about our application.
Basically the social worker has looked at a time in your Mum's life when things were very difficult and assumed that she will be the same in the future.  She has ignored what your Mum has been like since then, ignored what various professionals that know your Mum have had to say about her and not spoken to anyone who can tell them about me.  From what we can see the social worker's view are not based on any real evidence and we are hopeful that the panel will see that and rule in our favour.  If not, there is an independent body that can review the situation and they should be able to see the truth of the situation.
I've ranted about the unfairness of the situation with friends, planned the best way to prove to the social workers what sort of people your Mum and I are with colleagues, but with you I want to take a different tack - to try and show you what lessons you can learn from this.
1. Don't give up when things get tough - Sometimes life deals you a bad hand, sometimes it seems that the deck is stacked against you.  Unfortunately in situations like that all you can do is keep on, keep trying your best and know that things will get better.  I'm know there will have been times when you frustrated your Mum and I - being a parent is one of the toughest jobs there is and if you haven't stormed out of a room telling us 'I hate you, your ruining my life' at least once by the time you are 18 then we probably aren't doing our job! No matter how hard it gets though, your Mum and I will have kept on parenting you.  When I'm out walking I can't give up just because the weather has got suddenly worse - I need to keep going till I get to somewhere with shelter.  When one of your Mum's patients doesn't want to eat, she can't let them starve - she needs to find ways to persuade them to take the food.  I hope you can look at the things your Mum and I do in our lives and see that having determination to keep going is one of the most important things you need in life.  Giving up means that you don't get what you want or need, that you lose out.  'If you are going through hell, keep going' as Winston Churchill once said.
2. Authority isn't always right.  When it is, accept it, when it isn't challenge it. - As a teacher it's sometime very hard to get this message across to young people.  When authority figures stop you from doing something, it can be very hard to step back and look at the situation from an unbiased point of view.  Often they are right - there are good reasons why I don't let pupils eat in a science lab, or make them do homework.  If those reasons aren't clear to you, ask.  Ask politely, ask appropriately, but ask them to justify the reasons.  If those reasons are valid, accept them.  You may well feel angry, you may well feel your pride is hurt but those feelings will pass in time and you can move on.  If the reasons aren't valid though, then challenge the system.  Challenge them appropriately; shouting, swearing, threats they just make people dig their heels in and fight back and in most cases that makes the situation worse.  Challenge the right person; sometimes it is one person that has made a mistake.   The chances are they haven't done it deliberately, but have made the wrong decision based on the information they have.  Help them see why they have made the wrong decision, give them the information they need, explain to them what it means.  Sometimes it won't be the person that is wrong, but the system.  In that case, challenge the system not the person - many people think that the benefit of living in a democracy is that we can vote on who rules us.  It isn't - the benefit is that we have a system that has built-in methods that allow you to make changes to it so that it works effectively.  As a citizen in a democracy it is both your right and responsibility to use though methods when appropriate.
3. We are on your side.  I know the social workers think they are making a decision that is best for you.  We know they are are wrong and so we are working to help them see that.  By the time you read this, your Mum and I will have fought hard to be your parents, we will have fought hard to giving you the right kind of parenting.  Sometimes that will have been hard for us, sometimes it will have been hard for you.  Despite what a TV advert currently claims it is better to be a parent than a friend.  I'm sure there will have been times when you wondered why we made you do things you didn't want to, or wouldn't let you do things you wanted to.  Hopefully bu now you are old enough to understand our reasons and to see that we did what we did to give you a safe, secure, loving and happy childhood so that you could grow up to be the best possible person you can.  We are fighting hard now to be your parents, we will work hard to be the best possible parents to you.  No matter how hard it gets, you are our number one priority and we will always do everything in our power to ensure that you get what you need.  Other people may have let you down in your life - I can promise you that your Mum and I never will.

I will love you,

Friday, March 15, 2013

Training - Day 2

Wednesday was the second day of our training course. In the morning we had a session on attachment and some of the issues that poor attachment can cause. It was quite eye - opening and a bit daunting if I'm completely honest.
The second season was about the stages in the adoption process. It was good to hear the views and thoughts of the adoptive parents who had been through it all, but I have to admit I'm not sure it was the best use other training time. I think most people on the course had a pretty good idea of all the stages.
The afternoon was spent talking to adopters and hearing their stories. This was definitely the most useful part of the session, although again quite a bit of time was spent talking about the process and the delays and problems they had. I know the LA must be limited in which adopters are able to help on the course, but I did think it would be useful to hear from people who have had adopted children for 10 years or so. The adoption process is obviously important, emotional and stressful but it is only for a limited time. Once it is done we will be adoptive parents for life and I think it would be useful to spend some time thinking about longer term issues.
Overall though, the course was informative and thought provoking. I'm looking forward to the last 2 days next week.

Edit: I'm adding my regular link to the Weekly Adoption Shoutout.  The theme for this week is contact - not something I can really comment on at this stage in our journey, but there are some intersting blogs linked to it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Training course - day 1

Yesterday was the first day of 4 of our preparation course. It was a good day, but there were a few surprises:
There was a bigger range of people on the course than I expected - some of them had almost finished their home study, only a couple had yet to start and one had already adopted (an international adoption)
A large proportion of the people on the course already had birth children. I knew that adoption wasn't just for people who couldn't have their own children but was surprised by how many were there (probably about 50%)
The course wasn't as intense as I expected. I'd heard people saying that I could expect the course to dig into some quite unpleasant topics and that I was likely to find it harrowing. Although we spoke a bit about neglect I didn't find it as shocking as I'd expected, maybe because I was expecting it and because my life experiences have already exposed me to some of the horrific things that life throws at people. That said, quite a few people on the course commented that they would be in bed by 8 o'clock as the course was so exhausting. In contrast we had friends round for a game night (How do you cope with the stress of the course? Decapitating unconscious half ork barbarians. Maybe not the answer a Sw is looking for!)
It wasn't as detailed as I expected - again, this maybe because we have done a fair bit of reading and are already aware of the effects of FAS etc already (at least on paper)

That aside it was a good day - its nice to meet and chat with people in the same way situation a day to share stories of the journey so far and useful, though shocking, to read some of the children's backgrounds.
We are currently on our way to day 2 - I'm sure it will be just as useful and thought provoking

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Don't walk too fast

It seems strange writing this post, given that it's only a few weeks ago I was complaining about how slowly the process was going. Patchwork had a meeting with our SW this week and she mentioned that she would like to try and get us to panel by the middle of June! I have one week over the Easter break when we are in the country - during that week our SW wants to do an interview with both of us and 2 more interviews with just me. I must admit I've got slightly mixed feelings about this. On one hand it's great that she wants to move things on quickly, especially as we had so many delays to start with. On the other hand though, I am slightly worried that it may be taking things too quickly and that we will both need time to process all of the information we get from the training and preparation discussions.
I'm sure our SW won't move us on faster than we can deal with but it does seem a bit odd to be thinking about a possible panel date before we have even started the training course.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Looking back at where you've been

It's been a busy couple of weeks on the adoption front (as well as with work stuff)
I spent a lot of time over the half term break sorting paperwork for the LA. They've asked us to provide 6 non-family members each to act as referees, but want people who have known us over various stages in our lives and in different capacities - not an easy task, but I think we have both managed it.

I know its a chronometer, but there aren't any good images for chronologies!

We've had to produce chronologies of all the key events that have happened in our lives since birth, including schools, addresses, key relationship events, employment etc. It took a while to collect all the information together but even if now I have sent it off, new minor things keep popping into my mind that I missed off.

I thought the wonderful thing about Tigger was that he was the only one.
We've also had to produce family trees for our immediate relations. These are complicated enough to start with, but when you start having to include ex - partners of current partners of step-siblings it gets a bit silly. They need to be in there though as they are parents of children we have contact with.  The final tree is too large to print out, even on A3 paper, so i'm going to have to do some reformatting of it at some point!
On a side note, producing the close family tree has inspired me to do some more research on the family tree that my dad started a few years ago.  With the help of Ancestry.co.uk I've tracked my paternal line back to 1780 - I think that's a bit more detail than the SW needs though!

All of this paperwork formed the starting point for my first preparation interview with our SW, which took place last Friday.  Although the SW was supportive throughout the interview, I found it quite grueling from an emotional point of view.  The purpose of the meeting was to look into how my life experiences might help me cope with the demands of parenting an adopted child and help guide them through the difficulties they are likely to face.  For understandable reasons a lot of the time was spent talking about some of the more difficult aspects of my life - being bullied, divorce as well reflections of my time spent working in the institutes in Romania.  It was a very intense hour and half to say the least, but generally very positive.
For any readers who are reading this blog for hints and advice, the main hint I would give is to give yourself time after the interview before having to do anything significant.  My interview took place at work (it was more convenient for me and the SW) but I was glad that I had a lunch break to collect my thoughts - I don't think I could have walked straight from the meeting into the classroom.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A letter in a cache

I thought I'd try something a bit different for this blog post - an open letter to our adoptive child.  If I'm organised enough to keep this safe and accessible somewhere, I'm hoping that at some point in the future we can sit down and read this (and other future letters) together as we explore our life stories.

On a side note before I start, I'm also going to flag up the weekly adoption shout out scheme I have just come across
Adoption Badge photo BADGE7_zps59df311c.jpg

My classroom
15th Feb 2103

Hey kiddo,
24 hours after hearing the news from the LA that they will train us as prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) and I'm still catching myself smiling happily just because the journey has finally started.  The reality is finally starting to sink in a bit though, in a way that it hadn't before yesterday.
Reality 1 - I'm going to be a Dad.  It's something I've always wanted and over the last few months its something I've had to start working hard towards but suddenly it seems daunting.  its no longer just a vague 'I'm going to be a Dad at some point' to 'I'm going to be a Dad at some point in the near future'.  All the thoughts that my male friends are telling me are starting to surface , "Am I going to be able to cook food you'll want to eat?", "Will I master the art of putting clothing on a wriggling child?" "Will we have a good relationship?", "How much will you moan when I try to get you to come walking with me?", "Are you going to want to watch cricket matches with me without saying 'Dad, can we go yet? I'm bored' all day?", "How am I going to pay for all the things you need and some of the things you want?", "Will you understand that there is a difference between those two categories?", "Will I be a good role model?" - basically "Will I cope?".  In my heart I'm sure I will, but that doesn't stop the doubts.

Reality 2 - I'm going to be a Dad at some point in the near future - that sentence has a vagueness than birth parents don't really have to face.  If things go quickly and smoothly, you could be with us in 6 months time.  Alternatively, I could still be wondering when you are going to turn up in a years time.  I got an email from the local theatre advertising the Christmas panto - I was thinking of taking K. and L. but I don't know if you'll need a ticket or not yet. There's even an outside chance you might be here to watch Hampshire win the t20 championship for the 3rd time in 4 years!

Reality 3 - The chances are you are already out there somewhere, maybe with your birth family, maybe with foster carers or some other situation.  I don't know what you are going through right now but I hope that you are safe and looked after, that someone is taking care of you properly.  I hope for all that, but I know that the reality could well be different.  At best you are probably with foster carers, well-fed, properly clothed, a warm bed, toys to play with, getting the medical care you need and the attention you deserve.  At worst....at worst the odds are that you weren't getting all of that.  I know that bad things happen to people who don't deserve it, for all sorts of reasons.  Hearing stories about neglect, abuse and all the other horrific things that are out there is hard enough when it happens to a stranger.  You aren't a stranger, you are my child.  And to make things worse, there's nothing I can do to protect you right now.  That makes me angry and furious in a way that I've never felt before. It sounds silly - getting angry and furious over something that may not even be happening, feeling it is personal when I know nothing about who you are yet.  It certainly sounds irrational, but then when has parental love and concern ever been rational?

Reality 4 - At this stage your mum and I know nothing about you - What's your name? Are you male or female? How old are you? What colour are your eyes and hair? What's your favourite colour/toy/food? and a thousand other similar questions.  Every prospective parent is just as ignorant at the start, but I find it a bit bizarre to think that there are people out there who do know these things.
It seems wrong to end a letter with 'I love you' when you don't know the first thing about the recipient, but it seems just as wrong to write a letter to my child and not say it.  How about this as a compromise?

I will love you,


Thursday, February 14, 2013

The view from the top makes the climb worth it.

Often when I am taking Silver DofE groups out into the mountains for the first time, they struggle with walking up some of the steeper climbs 'Keep going' I tell them 'The view from the top is worth it'.  They sound like hollow words when you climbing up a steep slope, heavy pack on your back and feet aching, but those who have experienced it no there is no feeling quite like that of getting to the top of a ridge and suddenly seeing the world open up beneath you as look across the green land beyond, sunlight dancing off distant rivers and lakes. It's a feeling that I thought could only come when you are outside, enjoying the beauty of the world we live in.  Seems I was wrong...

A camera can never really capture the true magic of the view beyond

We had the meeting with the SW from the LA to the west of us this morning.  This afternoon she phoned back to say they will take us on as prospective adopters

Our training course is in the middle of March - It took 3 months from the initial contact for our home LA to come to the decision not to take us on.  With this LA it will take less than half that time to go from initial decision to completing the training.  I always tell my DofE groups that they have to walk at the speed of the slowest person, but between you and me - it's good to be able to stride out now and then :)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Keep on walking.

Last week we finally heard from the LA for the city we live in.  After 2 months of delay, the SW had finally had a meeting with her boss to confirm that they won't be taking us on as prospective adopters because we live within the small area they cover.
Both of us were expecting that response, but it was still disappointing to hear it.
The good news is that having responded to an advert a friend saw on the back of a bus, an LA covering a town to the west of us have invited us to a introductory evening (Frustratingly I expect this will cover all the basic stuff that we have done with the other LAs) in March and are coming to do a home visit on the 14th (I think if we do end up adopting through this agency we'll have to tell our child that it all started on Valentine's Day - sounds slightly better than saying it all started on the back of a bus!)
We are also hoping to hear back from the city LA to the east of us about an initial home visit from them.  Fingers crossed that one of these pans out, as it seems we are starting to run out of options.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Picking a route

After much nagging and pestering we have finally had a response from the SW from our LA following up from the initial home visit she made in the middle of December.  According to the email, her children have been ill and so she has been off work for 3 weeks.  As a result of this, she still hasn't spoken to her manager about our case, and no decision has been made about whether they will take us on as prospective adopters. Although I have every sympathy for the SW, it is very frustrating that our journey is being held up for so long.  Obviously I don't know all the details of her situation, so I am not really in a place to judge, but I have to admit that I find it strange that she hasn't been able to discuss anything with her manager by phone or email, even if she has been unable to get into the office.

On a more positive note, on Monday we had went to an information evening held by another LA - one based in another nearby city.  The majority of the information presented was stuff we already knew - the adoption process is broadly similar whichever agency you work with, but there were some details which have made us wonder if we should sign up with them, rather than the LA for our home city.

  1. The second city seem to be working on a much faster time scale - they reckon they have a period of about 6 months between the preparation course and linking children to families.  Our home LA told us they aim to do that in 8-10 months
  2. They offer training/information courses to friends and family as well as to the prospective adopters.  I don't know how useful the course is, but at the very least it seems to be a sign that the LA have a focus on help families prepare as much as possible for the challenges ahead.
  3. They offer training courses on various topics after prospective adopters have been approved by panel but before a link is made and offer lots of support after the link as well.  I'm not certain if our home LA does the same, but they certainly didn't promote it as actively.
  4. Because they are a small LA (even smaller than our home LA) everyone in the office is aware of most of the other workers cases.  Although some people might find that a bit off-putting, Patchwork and I liked the idea that if our SW wasn't available, other people at the LA would still be able to help us.  This seems a very significant difference from our home LA, especially given the issues we've had already!
We've decided that we will ask the second LA for a home visit and see how that goes.  If our own LA get back to us before then, we may have to think hard about which authority to work with.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Know where you can walk

Today the government are releasing a map showing which local authorities have large numbers of children waiting to be adopted (BBC news article). The map makes mildly interesting viewing, but as it is just a raw number of children, with no allowance for population size or other factors, it is fairly meaningless from a statistical point of view.
Equally I think the map makes no difference to prospective adopters either.  In theory we have the right to ask any local authority to take us on as prospective adopters, train us up and prepare the 'Prospective Adopters Report'.  In practice it seems that LA won't take on prospective adopters unless they live in their region.  It seems that despite all the talk in the media about the need for people to adopt, LAs can't train and assess all of the people that are applying within their area, so they don't have the resources to take on people from outside the area.
This is frustrating, but you wouldn't think it was a major issue - surely we can just apply to our LA?
We live in a city that acts as its own LA - the size of the city means that if the LA placed children with adopters inside the city, there is a strong chance that the child would bump into the birth family when going shopping etc.  Therefore, the LA is very reluctant to take on adopters from inside their area.  They haven't actually said no yet, but it looks like we are in the situation that our LA won't take us because we live in their region, and other LAs won't take us because we don't!
Add into the mix all the delays and poor communication we are having to deal with, and its not surprising that people are being put off adopting from the UK - Another blog I read has an open letter to the Prime Minster on a similar topic. 

Deciding which way to go

It's been a while since I updated this blog, but I thought I had better give a few updates on what is happening. 
Since my last post we have had heard from a number of local authorities who won't even consider us as we live outside of their area.  I'm going to talk about the implications of that in a second post, linked to all of todays media coverage.  We have finally heard from a local authority we approached in mid-November, inviting us to an information evening in a few weeks time.
More importantly we have had two intial interviews, one with the LA we live in and one with a VA who cover our region.

The LA meeting took place about a month ago - the social worker came round to our house, discussed our situation and what would happen if we went forward with them.  One the whole it was a positive interview - we were worried that our flat wouldn't be deemed suitable for a child as we don't have a garden, but that didn't seem to be an issue.  The SW was worried about some aspects of my wife's medical history and felt they may want a medical report before we went on a preperation course.  Patchwork was a bit upset by this, but I think it is just a reflection of the SW lack of knowledge of the condition in question - I can't imagine that the medical report will flag up any problems.  The other issue we have is that as the LA covers a very small geographic area, we have been told that they can be reluctant to take on prospective adopters from within the area.  I understand the reasons for that - it makes it less likely that the child will run into the birth family whilst going to the shops/park etc.  However when we asked the SW about the issue, and whether the LA would be able to take us on, the answer we got was a convoluted "No because...but yes because...but no because...however yes because..although no because...etc etc" leaving us with no better idea of whether or not they would take us on.

The interview with the VA just after Christmas was much more useful - we went to their office and spent a few hours talking through how they work and answering questions about ourselves.  I think its fair to say that Patchwork and I both found the process much more pleasent and helpful, and got the impression that they were enthusiastic about taking us on.

That left us with a decision to make about whihc agency to go ahead with - although we had a more positive experiance with the VA than the LA, we will be working with different SW to the ones who interviewed us, so we've had to try and discount our impressions of the two people.  The disadvantage of the VA is that it limits the pool of children that we could potentially adopt - basically the children that are easy to place are placed with parents working with the LAs.  It is only when a child can't be placed within an LA that they look to other LAs and VAs for suitable placements.

After much discussion we have decided to approach the LA first, if they will take us.  However, we left the SW a message 2 weeks ago, saying we would like to move the process forward - since then we have heard nothing from them, not even an acknowledgement that the message has been passed on.  I know that LAs are underfunded, understaffed and overworked, but the delays we have had in following up contact strikes me as very unproffesional.  As a teacher, I often struggle to find time to chase up issues, phone parents etc.  but there is an expectation that all the staff respond to parental contact within 2 working days, even if it is jsut a holding response along the lines of 'I'm looking into this and will get back to you in a week"  Is it unreasonable to expect a similar timescale of response from the LAs?