Attending Panel as a Prospective Adopter

Going for a job interview can be a nerve-wracking experience. As can anything when the outcome has the potential to change your life forever.

When going through the adoption process in the UK, the Panel is the penultimate step. It’s also one of the most intensive processes that the prospective adopters go through; the assessment provokes a lot of thoughts, feelings, and internal analysis … and then Panel comes along. For me, I’ve sat before two Panels; one for the agency I’m with, and one for the Local Authority where the young man I’ve been hoping to get matched with lives. This second Panel is the one where they recommend whether or not he and I should be matched, and the Decision Maker either ratifies the decision or not.

The Decision Maker gets the final say, and I’ve known of cases (not many, I’ll grant you) where s/he will go against the recommendation of Panel – but that’s why I say the Panel meeting is so intensive, because the Decision Maker will listen very closely to what they have to say. If all Panel Members make the same recommendation, then that’s very powerful. If there’s a split in the Panel, then that’s telling as well; why did Panel disagree? What was it about the assessment that brought out the disagreements?

Either way, Panel has the ability to consider the application to become an adopter, and in this case (as in many others) was able to consider me against a specific child; how did we match up? Was it a good union? Had the social workers really got beneath the surface of me and seen the reasons that I was the right dad for this young man?

In my case – yes, of course. There was nothing they didn’t know about me in terms of my capacity to parent – my Social Worker from Barnardos (I suspect) knows about me in ways that I don’t entirely know of myself. She’s very insightful – you have to be, in order to succeed as a Social Worker – and a true hero.

I’ve sat on Panels before, as Coordinator and minutes secretary (a non-voting member), so I’ve had the chance to observe it at close hand … but sitting in front of a Panel of experts whose sole interest is the same as mine; the protection, safety, and happiness of a young boy who deserves a rich future. So we are entirely on the same side, but I still want to impress by my answers and show that I have given this a lot of thought. I don’t want to show that I was a gibbering wreck inside, despite my experience observing Panels – that experience is not worth my spit when you’re sat there and you just want to make sure you speak in coherent sentences without dribbling water down your jumper.

There were eight people sat round the table; six voting Members, an Advisor (a senior member of staff at the Local Authority who can offer advice), and a me – a minutes secretary. All were utterly professional and very welcoming. I had felt the nerves increasing slightly as I stepped into the waiting room along with my compadres – my Barnardos Social Worker (the legendary Danielle) and two social workers from the Local Authority area. They were all coming in with me, which reassured me no end, but I could feel my pensiveness building nonetheless.

My original Panel date had been delayed from its original date in December to late February. A two-month delay I wasn’t expecting was an emotional sucker punch that hit me hard; I hadn’t quite appreciated how quickly I would emotionally invest in him.

As a result, having finally reached the date of Panel was an intense experience – I really had invested even more, and I was delighted to be here, but now I was more nervous as a result. I felt my hand shake every time I took a sip of water (someone clearly poured me a glass, although I didn’t notice who in my nerves-induced haze), and I focused all my energy on keeping my voice steady.

When we were in the room, I was struck by two things; I was glad I hadn’t rehearsed scripted answers too closely, as I wanted to freedom to free-wheel what seemed right, and I desperately needed the loo. My only answer to that second point was to cross my legs and hope for the best.

None of the questions phased me, although I was fascinated by the last one; given that I was a blogger / writer, how would I ensure the young man’s privacy – especially as I was already writing about the adoption process? Some of the Panel Members had found my website – good, I thought, as that meant others would as well; I’m writing for others as much as I’m writing for myself – and didn’t tell me my writing was crap. Phew – a good start.

I was actually pleased to answer this, as it let me reassure them how important I place my son’s safety and privacy. After all, how many readers of this blog can tell me my son’s name? (And if you do know because I’ve got you in real life, do not – in the name of all that is holy – speak it aloud; that’s sacrosanct right now). His story is his story, and I cannot presume to speak that to others; he is in care at the moment, and I can say that because it’s pretty obvious as a prelude to adoption. Other than that, he gets to choose how – or even if – he speaks up about his story later in life. Until then, his parent gets to be the caretaker of it, and I take that role incredibly seriously.

And then I had to wait. The Panel asked us to go back in the waiting room whilst they had a discussion – and that, for me, was the nerve-wracking part. I was amazed at the calmness exuded by the three social workers I was with, and found myself wishing I could replicate it; I lost the ability to sit in the moment and feel entirely calm. It was an odd sensation, but one I had to just accept until I knew the answer.

After a trip to the loo (more to kill time than anything), I was relieved to see the Panel Chair walking towards the room. That seemed like the longest walk imaginable from the Panel Room to our little meeting room, and she appeared to be taking forever.

When she walked in, I tried to read her emotions, but she was really good at keeping her emotions under cotrol. She then gave me the news – that I was going to be recommended to be the young man’s dad. A handshake and a hug was very welcome, and I found myself weeping for a moment as I realised the enormity of what was finally about to happen. I can even recall the intensity of emotions even now, hours afterwards, and I hope I never do forget them.

Now I wait for the Decision Make to ratify their decision … but everyone seems quietly confident (although I’m refusing to count my chickens …). We’ve got a date to work towards, as well as a plan for introductions. Saying “I’m a dad” feels great … although, after a year’s journey of prepation, to know the day is only a couple of days away is mind-blowing. My son is coming home, and I couldn’t be more delighted.

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