A Permanent Family & a Change of Name

In the previous post in this series, I wrote about adoption’s introduction process, which is one of the most emotional parts. What am I saying? The whole thing is emotional, from beginning to end, but now we come to making all this permanent.

When my young man comes home, he will still be recognised by the courts as a child in care – there are so many acronyms for this system that it’s hard to keep track what’s current and what’s considered outdated. Even saying “child in care” is undoubtedly out of date, so apologies for any mistakes in the words I use.

The courts will have made any child removed from their birth family a child in care, and it’s a decision never made lightly; if their home environment is not healthy, a child deserves a new start in life – either through long-term fostering or through adoption. They will be given something like a full care order or permanence, depending on what the plans are for them. In my son’s case, he was approved for adoption; to start with, he will be on a full care order when living with me, and then the courts change that to an adoption order.

This allows social services to keep a close eye on him – on us – to make sure he’s developing okay; that we’re bonding, that I’m caring for him as I should be, that he’s engaging well at school, and so on.

In this initial period, we can also decide whether or not he might need any therapy. It’s always difficult to make that judgement call; what sort of therapy will be best? How many sessions should we get funding for? How long before we start seeing results? All tough questions that don’t have black or white answers, so it’s reassuring to know that the help doesn’t just stop after the care order changes into an adoption order. I’ll be able to make contact with social services through his childhood and teenagedom if anything comes up that therapy might help with.

I’ve already made contact with the school I want him to attend; it has a good, inclusive environment. Children I know well go there and get a good education. The teachers are switched on and engaged, the ethos is compassionate, and the quality is high – why would I not want my son to engage in that kind of environment?

Working with Virtual Schools – the part of the local authority which works with children who are out of the “normal” school system – is key, and each Virtual School is different. Some aren’t, if I may be so bold, very good; but the dealings I’ve had so far with the Virtual Schools unit responsible for my son have been positive. I’m reassured by that, and feel hopeful things will progress because of their involvement.

He’ll come out of school shortly before introductions start, which gives him the chance to say goodbye to his current friends. That’s going to be an emotional wrench for him, as well as all the other emotional wrenches he’s going to have to deal with – saying goodbye to his foster family, for example – so helping him deal with and understand his emotions will be absolutely key during his move.

When he comes to his new home, he won’t begin school immediately. He’ll have a short transition period where he and I can spend time together and start to bond. This sort of thing takes time, of course, but by having some initial time together, it’ll start the process. Then he gets to start school and have a structure to his day; this will definitely help him settle into his new home town.

When he goes to school, he won’t immediately be known by my surname. The same applies to the doctor and dentist I register him with – anywhere, frankly. Because he’s on a care order, he’s not legally “my” son until that’s changed by the court to an adoption order, where I get full parental rights – until then, I share parental rights with the local authority where he’s from.

This is part of the care order vs adoption order process, so that the local authority have authority over him whilst they make sure the match is working well. Imagine as a child changing your name to be the same as your new family and then having to change it back in the rare occasions where the match doesn’t work.

But eventually, the adoption order gets signed by the court and we legally become a family. It’s not signed whilst we’re in the room, but there is the opportunity for the child and their family to meet a judge and have some photos taken with them. This forms a huge part of the child’s memories – either just through the photos if they’re too young, or actually part of their remembered history if they’re older. It’s also a chance to celebrate a formal landmark; a moment in their young lives where it helps them feel claimed.

Of course, if I’ve done my job properly, then he will already feel claimed by me and his extended family, and this will be more of a formality – but an important formality nonetheless, and a landmark for him. A change of name will be an important part of his journey; our names are precious to us, so he might well grieve over the loss of his original surname, and that’s entirely understandable. Men aren’t mentally hardwired to change their names in the way a lot of women are; I’m not suggesting it’s right, merely that that’s the way society works at the moment, and I like my surname – I very much want to pass it on to the next generation.

So he becomes legally my son, and I become legally his dad – but that process will have emotionally started months before when we began living together. I can’t wait to begin that; what a joy and a privilege it is. The judge’s signature will be the icing on the cake, but I hope our bond starts long before that; we’ll certainly be celebrating afterwards, perhaps with a spot of lunch – it’s those simple pleasures I’m most looking forward to.

Thanks for reading this series; I hadn’t intended it to end up as a multi-part epic, but that’s what it has become. I hope it’s proved informative.

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