A We Are Family member describes what the adoption process is comprised of and what it felt like to go through the various stages.
“Our adoption process was made up of three key stages:
- Stage 1 – mostly volunteering, paperwork and background checks and was adopter-led.
- Stage 2 – mostly talking with a social worker and training and very much led by our agency.
- Matching – once approved, we moved to this searching stage which is full of emotions and very demanding.
We decided on the agency based on whether we felt they could provide the best ongoing support. To get to this point, we looked at agency websites, spoke to different agencies at information fairs and attended several introductory talks.
That then led to an initial meeting with a social worker at our agency, where we ran through a range of questions. This gave a flavour of what was ahead and how we would need to have the emotional capacity to reflect on our past. Something that struck me early on was the importance of having experiences of failure or challenge. It is not about being a ‘perfect’ person – it is about being you. As someone who came out in their 20s and has a disability, I might not have had the same experiences as my children, but I can be a parent that can see their experiences and using my own challenges to positively support them and be an advocate for them. This is for me what makes adoption a privilege.
After our initial conversation, we moved onto to completing criminal record checks, a medical assessment, supplying three references each and providing information on our finances. All these checks are there to safeguard children and ensure that you can support a child. It is worth noting that medical assessments are done by a GP and that they may charge for that. Our agency also did things slightly differently from most other agencies. They asked us to complete the home report questionnaires in Stage 1, to speed up Stage 2. This long questionnaire will help inform the conversations you will have during Stage 2 with your social worker. It is all about basic information about you, your upbringing, family and support network but also a chance to detail life experiences and reflect on them. They’ll also ask about how you would see your parenting style.
Finally, we had to attend a preparation course spread over four days. Training is supposed to be a safe space to learn and explore adoption, though we were told – somewhat contradictorily – that our participation in the course would be taken into account in our agency’s decision to approve us as adopters. Despite that, it was great to meet other adopters and it built on the knowledge we had already gained in our preparatory reading and listening to webinars and podcasts. It is, however, not training that is in-depth and will only leave you with a baseline of understanding.
We Are Family helped fill some of those gaps: it allowed us to hear from real leaders in the field of adoption and find out the type of the support we might later on access after placement. It gave me the confidence to speak to social workers and professionals about what we and our children need. I think these conversation and connections have been pivotal in making me understand that adoption is about more than being a family.
All this amounts to a lot of paperwork and time, so while there is no right time to start the process, making sure you have major life events out of the way is a good plan. For example, we moved into a home with the right number of bedrooms for the siblings were hoping to be approved for. We found it helpful to have a conversation with adoption agency before Stage 1 on the basic things we should have in place before starting the process and getting these sorted. It’s also helpful to have a lot of patience: checks will be delayed for unknown reasons, documents will be lost, someone will forget to tell you about an important date or a missing reference that needs chasing, etc.
Maybe one of the most the challenging aspects of this stage is finding volunteering opportunities. It is important to have direct experiences of working with young people and particularly vulnerable young people. By now we had joined We Are Family and by attending the prospective adopters group it allowed me to ask others the type of volunteering they had done and find opportunities that a simple Google search might not have turned up. The fact We Are Family was free to join was a great relief and made it so much more accessible to us.
Once this the volunteering is underway and paperwork done, an agency reviews your cases and decides if you should move to stage two. We waited nervously to be accepted onto Stage 2 and be assigned a social worker.
Stage 2 is about having a whole range of personal conversations with your allocated social worker. That means it is important that you have taken time to address and understand your past and being able to talk someone through that openly. It’s not about catching you out, but more about checking if you have a realistic understanding of your abilities and limitations and how that might impact on the placement of a child. For me, these conversations were helpful in clarifying my own thinking and for our social worker and I to grow a relationship that would last us during the matching process. As your social worker will be having conversation on your behalf with other professionals during matching and placement, it is vital they know you and get you.
All the information and conversations during Stage 1 and 2 lead to Prospective Adopters Report (PAR), which is written by your social worker and includes a recommendation on the profile of the children you will be approved for. It is important that by this point you and your social worker are confident in your PAR and your understanding of adoption. The PAR is then submitted to an approval panel and later also shared with other professionals during the matching process.
We read our report before panel and had an opportunity to comment on it. At the panel meeting, the chair of the panel explained to us on the day the questions we might be asked. We were well prepared and the questions allowed us an opportunity to highlight our thoughts and learning but was also meant to double-check we were suitable as adopters. It is reassuring to know that your social worker wouldn’t put you forward for approval if she didn’t think a positive decision was highly likely. We found out the outcome shortly after our panel meeting and it was a relief. On the same day, we met with our family finders and started the matching process.
The matching process was without doubt the hardest part of the process. Our matching processes went on over several months and we reviewed a number of profiles very quickly. As we had been with a voluntary agency, rather than a local authority or regional adoption agency, we had been added to the national Link Maker system very quickly. If you are with a regional adoption agency, you might be kept on their list for a little while to help you be matched for a placement in that region first. It is good to understand this early on, as it is the most demanding time and it is good to be prepared.
Having to read about children’s adverse experiences is hard and those names will remain with me throughout my life. It is also really difficult as you’re making life-changing decisions based on limited information in usually lengthy reports that are difficult to read and can have big gaps. Sometimes you have to make very difficult decisions not to go ahead with children you feel a connection with, as you may not be able to support their additional needs or there are too many unknowns for you to make an informed decision on. The children’s needs are the priority, after all. Saying no to children that deserve and need a supportive family was the hardest part for me.
Talking to other adopters helped us understand and broaden our thinking during the matching process. These conversations led us to sending an enquiry about the children we would be matched with. Whenever I think I about it, I am reminded how other adopters are your family and your support and a vital network to share and test your thinking and strengthen you in those moment of doubt.
Once we had found a match, the children’s social worker and family finder came to visit our home. Once they talked to us and seemed happy with us, we had the opportunity to meet with doctors, teachers and fosters carers and finally getting to ‘view’ the children at a soft play. All these steps and meetings are full of anxiety about what your and the children’s futures might be. For me it was the final realisation that those decisions, those conversations and that journey is not only real but very much about to change your life forever. From the moment of agreeing to move forward, to getting your house ready, to matching panel happened in a flash for us.
At this point you also have to really understand that while it is exciting for you, the children are about to experience all sorts of loss, as might the foster carers. Once it was all about the paperwork and now it all about holding emotions with no resolution and that you might not have control over it. Knowing that we had prepared and that we have built a family of supporters through We Are Family gives me more confidence for what lies ahead”.