Sunday, 28 April 2013
Having survived the Open Evening we were keen to put our names down for the next stage of the process; a full day course which would look more deeply into the journey that adopters and adopted children take. Of course, that meant another frustrating wait for the Orientation Day. Inevitably the next one wasn’t until a few months hence.
When the day finally came we sat in another hall which had clearly been decorated in a job lot with the class rooms at the local comprehensive. Cosy and welcoming it was not. This time the previous roomful had been winnowed down to about 30 or 40 people. Sitting in a couple of rough circles it was difficult to work out what was to come next. As it turned out... largely more of the same.
The overall agenda for the day seemed to be the Open Evening writ large. Of course, that gave even more scope for horror stories. Tales of the types of neglect and abuse which looked after children may have suffered followed. Again, the odd face around the room seemed to grow increasingly pale with the descriptions. This was followed by a talk on the types of challenge which an adoptive parent might face over the years of caring for and healing a potentially damaged little soul. By now some of the people sitting around the room were letting out little gulps and shifting uncomfortably in their seats. I’m sure I heard the odd whimper...
Horror stories and inspiration
So having decided that adoption was something which we were now seriously looking into there remained the question of... how? And who? And what? And where...? A couple of evenings’ Googling led us to the Children’s Services page of our local authority’s website. And here began something which we came to see as a repeating theme over the following few years. There was certainly lots of info on the website although none of it seemed geared towards answering the basic questions of a keen young couple keen to follow the adoption route. What there was seemed to be, at best, tangential to our basic questions and, at worst, downright misleading and contradictory.
Over some time we’ve spoken to couples who have gone through (or are going through) the adoption process within our own area, through local authorities in other parts of the country and with national agencies. One theme seems to recur far too often. That for most of the process they’ve got little idea what’s going on, that when they DO think they know what’s going on their understanding is subtly (or indeed, wildly) wrong and that the social workers and support staff they talk to have no more of a definitive view of the process...
OK, I should step back and caveat that dismissive statement... All that being true, we do hold our own authority in the highest regard and applaud the difficult and complex job that they do with increasingly limited resources. The social workers themselves are unsung heroes and we wouldn’t have swapped “Denise”, our social worker, for all the world.
It’s just that there didn’t seem to be any consistency in the process or its application. What were described to us as hard-and-fast rules seemed to be flouted in the case of other couples. What was described by one social worker as an absolutely necessary part of the process was skipped over in practice. In the end it all worked out and muddled through but the inefficiencies in the system were constantly frustrating – particularly for two people for whom efficient management was part of the fabric of their working lives. Still, we got there in the end.
After much increasingly tortuous web-surfing we decided it would simply be better just to ring up our local authority and hang onto the phone until we got hold of a real person who could answer our basic questions... like how do we actually apply to adopt.
And then came the first of a number of frustrating waiting periods. It turned out that we’d just missed the most recent “adoption open evening” - information evenings for prospective adopters just starting out on the journey. Not to worry, there’d be another one in two or three months. Great. Still, our names were on the list and we had finally placed our feet on the first rung of the ladder.
When the open evening finally came around we sat in a hall with about a hundred or so other prospective adopters. All fresh faced and hopeful. And then the horror stories started... To say that the content of the evening could be described to have been a bit on the dour side would be an understatement.
First we heard how difficult the journey into adoption can be. We were warned about the terrible problems that many looked-after kids carry from their birth families into their adopted ones. We were given an insight into the lives of the birth parents whose children are taken into care. We were told that the process of being approved would be long, hard and invasive. As the evening progressed those brightly scrubbed faced around the room started to become paler and paler.
Of course, there was talk about how rewarding it is giving a child from a difficult background a new start but somehow it all seemed rather overshadowed.
An open or shut case...
For me, personally, the most enlightening element of the evening was the description of the “open adoption” process – the fact that parents are encouraged to be open with their adopted children about the realities of their history; to integrate this into the child’s personal history and their understanding of their own identity. For us this was a relief as it seemed to answer the concerns seeded in our minds by the difficult adoptions which we had come across in the past. Where crises had arisen it had been an artefact of the old, closed style of adoption – a sudden realisation in mid teens that many of the givens within the child’s life had been either subtly massaged or were founded on, well let’s call a spade a spade, a lie. Emotional meltdowns and general family trauma then ensued... We had both seen that happen on one occasion - in a truly Eastenders Christmas Episode manner. Yikes!
On the other hand, the “open adoption” route seemed positively enlightened to us. Clearly not to all. As the idea of life-story work, regular contact with birth parents, siblings and other birth family members was outlined the last remaining vestiges of colour drained from several faces around the room...
But not from ours. Chatting straight afterwards we both realised that we had shared the same feeling all the way through evening. An inner dialogue which said, “Yes, I can do this.” “Yes, I can buy into this.” “It’s not gonna be easy but... Yes, this is right for me.” While others sloped off, tails visibly between their legs (presumably straight to the nearest hostelry for a stiff recuperative), we took the opportunity to chat to the social workers, pick up literature and find out how we could apply for the next stage of the process.
And they're off!
As hinted in the first blog, we had always wanted kids – our plan of attack for life was the typical 2.4 children, dog and suburban idyll. So much for plans. After several years at the mercy of the fertility sausage machine we had wanted some time off. Some time just to be us again. And so we did for a few years.
But the desire for kids was still there and at one point a couple of years ago we both realised, pretty much independently, that it was time to do something about it. Adoption seemed like the obvious – read only – way forward and I think that we were both a little surprised at the other’s positive response when the topic was first broached.
We’re both pretty sensible types and so neither of us were making the decision with an unrealistically romantic view of adoption... “Oooh, we’ll get a wuvverly wittle baby and everything will be wuvverly!!!” No, we had a pretty good idea of the pool from which looked-after kids are drawn and the baggage that they might take along for the ride. In fact, a throwaway comment from my mum many years before came flooding back. “Hmm, adopting a child. You’re just taking on board all of someone else’s problems.”
Harsh, but to some extent true. Well, at least you’re certainly signing up for potential issues not of your own making. We’d both also independently come across cases of the “traditional” closed adoption which had gone wrong in the terrible teenage years – in one case in a truly “Eastenders” fashion.
So what do we know. Well, nothing more than anyone else who has passed through the process of preparing for adoption – so much like someone blindfolded and feeling their way around some strange terrain. There’s no room for pontificating here (and certainly no claims on authority other than the insight that comes from experiencing something first hand). However, we hope that this series of semi-random jottings either strikes a chord with those who have similarly navigated the rocks and shallows of adopting or provides some comfort and reassurance for those embarking on it.
Headline – no, it’s not just you. It is just as frustrating and bewildering as it seems to be. Just as contradictory, just as inconsistent, just as confusing, just as emotional but, ultimately, just as rewarding.
Personally, I blame a dear, dear friend of ours. It was probably just a throwaway comment based on the fact that she knows that I enjoy creative writing. “You should write a blog about it all!” I dismissed it at first, thinking “What the heck do I know?” Well, just about as much and as little as anyone else. But somehow it stuck. The idea burrowed away into the subconscious and kept niggling away when I least expected it.