In my first year of teaching, having seen the positive impact fostering had on one of my students, I decided that I would one day foster and adopt from the UK care system. I knew there were hundreds of children waiting to find safety and love in their forever families.
I foster. I love watching the changes in attitude, supporting the forming of attachments, and broadening their horizons; I love that Christmas Day is without fail a day of celebration and catching up with my first two foster children, now in their early 20s. I love that my eldest foster daughter occasionally comes shopping from my cupboards. I love that my desire to adopt is finally journeying to reality.
I tried. I met him, aged 8 months, my baby boy B. We played, we learned, we laughed, and we travelled. For 11 months, I supported him to grow and thrive. Our care system says I have no rights until he has been with me for 12 months. I submit my adoption registration of interest. I am told, Family First. An aunt living overseas is deemed suitable to have him. Can you imagine my anguish when he moves? The move does not work. I do all I can to push for his return to the UK. I tried again. It happened; he returns. But I am told, family first. He can only be legally returned to his family. Grandma will have him. I keep in touch; I need to know he is ok.
I tried again! I collected her from the hospital, day 7. She is tiny, blond, and blue-eyed, with a health condition. She is frequently in hospital. I learn the medical ins and outs. I am literally explaining the little-known condition to doctors. I love her, the judge asks that I be her forever mummy. I really want to, but I feel this is not the best decision for her. Month 11, I happily introduce her to her forever family. This feels right. I’ll try again. I visit her, I share her with her new family.
Along the path, I become a We. We tried again. We met her on day 5. She is home. This feels right. Our baby girl is thriving. She is happy. We are happy. I am glad we tried again.
A whirlwind tour of emotions, frustration, and angst. It’s easy to say we must agree to and accept the decisions made by the local authority or courts; the reality is you may not! You may very well feel the child’s social worker is your antagonist, the judge is your saviour-in-waiting, and the system is a complete shambles; and all, some and none of those feelings will be right and wrong at different points along the journey.
The judge says yes, adoption is the right plan for her. The placement order is granted. Six weeks later her baby brother is born. Two weeks later he too is home with us. BUT things are changing… Four months later we are told Dad has secured the right to be assessed to care for baby boy in an assessment unit. He goes. We wait, nothing. We wait, nothing! We wait! NOTHING! Two months later we are told it’s all positive for Dad, baby boy won’t return AND our baby girl may also go. This does not feel right. Our options are limited. Family First! I say no, “blood first”, we are the only family she knows, we just aren’t blood. We continue to love her. Love her like there is no tomorrow. We await decisions. Hundreds of children are waiting for their forever families. IF our baby girl goes, we WILL try again.
While we wait, we continue to soak up the joy of her infectious laughter. You should hear this girl laugh! I would love for you to see the scowl on her pretend angry face. Watch the way she closes her eyes and scrunchies her face when she is being cheeky. Like pretending to throw her pancake away only to smile and gobble it up! You should hear the melodic sounds of her mixing English and Swahili words, aged 18 months. Glimpse her delight when she clinks her glass to ours and gleefully declares “cheers!” I wish you could watch her excitement as she puts on her boots to take out the “takataka” (rubbish in Swahili). You should see her pride and sense of accomplishment when she helps to unpack the food shopping and name each item before handing them over to “mama” or “baba”. Her focus when she pulls the empty shopping bag to the front door ready for it to go back into the car for our next shopping trip. I wish you could see the twinkle in her eyes when she sees a bird go by as she signs and says bird or mimics the wind as she blows the leaves of trees within her reach.
Our baby engineer is home. Our independent girl who began drinking from an open cup aged 6 months. Our food connoisseur, who resents processed foods, shares in mama’s joy of making homemade recipes, while she affirms: “mix, mix”. Our girl who loves plantain and booberries (blueberries), prefers smoothies over milk, scuffs at the texture of kiwi, and drinks water like there has been a drought all her life. Our baby is here with us, and we will enjoy, love, support, cherish and hold her for every moment we have her.
Legally, a child placed under Early Permanence provisions is not ours, but my heart doesn’t yet understand legalities. I unapologetically refer to our new additions as our child, our baby, our girl, our boy, because if they are here for a day, a month, a year, or a lifetime, they are ours for that time. Ours to support in building loving attachment, ours to keep safe, ours to nurture, ours to love!
You see, early permanence is not about us; it is about them. It is about ensuring your baby has opportunities to develop and thrive irrespective of their starting point. It is about giving birth families the time to get their ducks in a row to prepare for parenting. It is giving your baby the start you wish every child could have and hoping that you have the joy, privilege, and fortune of being the person(s) to continue that journey with them. And if you don’t… you curl up in a ball and cry! You grieve your child who is still alive, though you know society has little provisions for this grief. You seek support, you recoup, and if or when the time is right for you, you try again!