One of my more recent posts discussed the adoption process in some detail, but that was only part of the story. Even before you’re approved by that first (or only) Panel, you have to start thinking about what sort of child you would like to be matched with.
Do you want a boy or girl? Baby, toddler, or older child? A sibling group or an individual? Disabled or able-bodied? So many things to consider, and it’s hard to look at all the options – because there might be occasions where you finding yourself saying “no” to particular types of children. It can make you feel pretty terrible, saying “no”, but you have to be self-aware and know where your strengths are.
Think about it; if a child with – say – a severe history of sexual abuse is up for adoption, they will have a particular set of responses to every situation in life. No matter how much therapy they’re already received, and no matter how long they have been in loving foster care, they will act out some bad behaviours in their forever home. Can you deal with that? Could you manage the physical and emotional responses of a five year old with a history of living with birth parents who have drug issues. What about a three year old who has Foetal Alcohol Syndrome or Down’s Syndrome?
First and foremost, it’s okay to know your limitations; it’s fine to look for a child without Down’s Syndrome. It doesn’t mean you’re cruel, merely accepting that raising a child with that condition requires a particular set of skills; I don’t, and I had to be clear with myself that I wasn’t going to just say yes to every child that came my way. I wanted the matches that I was shown to be as closely aligned as possible to my abilities. There’s no shame in being specific with your matching criteria; people who are pregnant do it all the time, hoping for this skill or that personality trait to be passed down from one generation to the next.
Any good Family Finder – a member of the Adoption Team in the local authority or adoption agency – will meet with you before the Panel date to get your thoughts down on paper. The adoption course you’ll have gone on will discuss this in detail as well, so it should have been ticking away inside your brain for some time. By setting it down at this stage, you’ll be able to start visualising the type of child you might want, and that will give you energy to get over Panel.
And then the next section of hard work begins. You have to actually start looking for the children, working hard with the Family Finder and your social worker to find potential matches. You’re just as responsible for searching as they are.
I have had a brilliant social worker all the way through this process, and the family finder was worth her weight in gold – both gave me some expert counsel as well as freedom in searching for children. There is a site used across the country for adoption matching, and the numbers were alarmingly high. I just logged on for the purposes of this post, and there were 826 children up for adoption on the site, ranging from under a year to eight – all looking for that forever family. Ouch – even if you don’t have any desire to become a parent, that must tug at your heartstrings. This is by no means all the children looking for new homes, but to know that I am having to reject 825 of those children is heartbreaking.
You read and analyse a lot of different profiles whilst you’re on this site, and have to be quite strict with yourself; no matter how heartrending some of the stories will be – and there will be many of those – you need to stay focused on who you can parent. It is a privilege as much as it is emotional, because you get to know a lot more about the children here than you would if your child was born to you naturally; yes, they have endured a lot in their short lives, but you have the opportunity to learn about their personality, their coping strategies, and their willingness – active or latent – to engage.
When I was contacted by the Family Finder to be told that a child’s social worker wanted to meet me, I was delighted and shocked – and of course I was very willing to discuss the possibilities with them.
So the child’s social worker, as well a family finder, came down to meet me. If they like you, and feel that you’re the right fit for the young person they’re representing, then you’re on the start of your own process – your own version of a pregnancy, if you will (and yes, that’s a very loose analogy, but it’s the best I’ve been able to come up with).
I was thrilled to be accepted by the social worker and the family finder to be this young man’s dad, although there was still a way to go before anything was signed, sealed, and delivered. It’s a provisional acceptance of a sort until I attend the second Panel and have it signed off – like the first Panel – by a Decision Maker, this time who works for the local authority.
How long it takes to get to a Panel can vary, but it’s often the case that you can get to one within three or four months. It’s rare to go beyond that, but it can happen – and it has happened to me. I was due to go to Panel in mid-December but, due to a decision taken by people higher up the ladder within the local authority, I have to wait now until mid-March.
It’s something of an emotional blow, I don’t mind admitting; when your mind is set on something so important, and you have an expectation that it will happen in a certain order and at certain times, it can hurt when it changes. Despite your best efforts, you’ve allowed yourself to get excited about a process you hope goes the right way, and if it changes, there’s an amount of grieving involved that decision makers can’t always feel.
Reading it back, I recognise that it must sound rather dramatic. I wish it didn’t, but I can’t help the wave of emotions I experienced in the moment of being told about the delay – both for myself and for the young man, who will be waiting longer for a permanent family.
In a way, he’s cushioned from the effects of it, as he doesn’t know anything about me – he won’t until I’m confirmed as being his dad – but it’s sad he can’t know that someone has claimed him as his forever family for another couple of months. His foster family are excellent, and I hope to stay in contact with them, but he deserves to know that someone wants him.
Depending on the local authority, you might get the chance of having a “bumping into” meeting, where you get the chance to meet the child at a “chance” event somewhere local to and safe for them. I had the chance, and took it – they won’t know who you are, but it’s absolutely the best feeling in the world. Why would you not want to do it? I can honestly say that it was the best experience of my life, meeting this young man for just a few minutes. It was a privilege I hope I never forget – and if I do for any strange reason, you have permission to beat me around the head with a wet kipper.
And then you get to Panel. Whenever that might be – and hopefully the timeframe is kept tight and concise – this is a big and serious moment. This Panel recommend you (or not) being matched to the child or children who are currently in foster care and waiting for their forever family. It’s rare that the recommendation goes against the prospective adopters, but it can happen. In the majority of cases, the recommendation is for approval, and the Decision Maker will follow that up with the actual approval as soon as possible (it has to be within ten working days).
Within that time frame, you should really be able to make plans – or already have plans – for introductions.