For one very obvious reason, I can’t fall pregnant; I’m just not capable of that function, no matter how hard I try. If I wanted to contribute to someone else’s state of pregnancy, I would require a (preferably consenting) female partner to undertake that method of procreation. Personally, I’d rather have a cup of tea and a chocolate hobnob rather than engage in anything of that nature.
When I came to the decision that I wanted children, I knew – as a single man – that I would clearly need to think outside the box. I was aware of adoption, as friends of mine had been through the process themselves. Later, I worked for a fostering agency, where there was a lot of overlap with adoption, in terms of process.
So adoption was squarely in my sights, and I started making enquires – after first telling a few people around me what I was planning to do. That was key – I needed their support, as they would form the nucleus of help I would need as a single parent, and something that any assessor would look at in detail – both if I’d told people and if I hadn’t; either way would be telling. To have told people in my immediate circle would indicate I was proud of what I was doing; to have told no-one might be concerning. Why was I keeping it from everyone?
So I looked around. My friends had gone with the local authority, because they’re always the best-known places that manage adoption services, and because you’re cutting out the middle man; you can be guaranteed that the child you’re adopting is from your county, and you haven’t got to negotiate with anyone else.
But then there are the national adoption agencies, entirely independent and separate from the local authorities. They can give you a far more national reach, but the downside is also the national reach; it means you might have to travel more, and there’s that extra layer of bureaucracy.
For me, it was a complex decision; I had to weigh up all those factors before I settled on what was best. In the end, the decision was at least half-made for me; my local authority was oversubscribed with prospective adopters, so I decided to go with an agency – I might well have done anyway, because it broadened my reach, and that was more important for me – to be matched with the right child, no matter where in the country they were.
I went with Barnardos in the end, partly because I liked the ethos they presented both on their website and in the initial telephone enquiry I made with a member of the team. But I also went with them because of their experience – they’d been in the adoption business for over 100 years, so clearly had weathered the storms and changes that different governments and issues introduced.
After that initial phone call, you have a visit from a social worker – and usually their manager – to do an assessment on you and your home. That’s nerve-wracking in itself; funny when I look back on it, knowing what I know now, as there were so many more nerve-wracking points along the way, but I guess it was that first point – if they had felt I wasn’t suitable then, it wouldn’t have gone any further, and my plans would have been dead in the water. There was a lot riding on that visit.
But, thankfully, I had nothing to worry about; it was a pleasant afternoon with the two social workers. They were clearly passionate about their roles, and they checked my home carefully to make sure it was suitable for a child, and to make sure that I was doing this for the right reasons. There would be plenty of time for them to get beneath the surface of my psyche, of course, but this was Step 1.
After that comes the hard work; at least, the first stage of it. The Prospective Adoption Report has to be created, a document written by the social worker based on a series of interviews with you, as well as an appendix with references and other checks they conduct.
The interviews are incredibly intense, and certainly leave you thinking deeply about yourself, analysing every part of your history and views. I’ve actually been through this process twice, albeit unintentionally; just as I got to the end of the process the first time round, I lost my job for reasons that are too convoluted to go into now. I had to take one of the hardest decisions in my life and put my adoption plans on hold as I moved back in with my parents, to re-start my career in a different direction.
But re-start those plans I did. That was a blip, a temporary aberration, and I wouldn’t permit any sorrow to seep into my mindset, or to receive it from others. Once I was living by myself again – albeit a year after the shock news – I was able to restart the process, although I needed to go through the PAR process again.
As it turned out, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; I had a visit from a new social worker to assess my home, and then we discussed what needed redoing and finishing off. As it was, we pretty much started from scratch, and I was surprised at myself at how little that worried me; of course it would have been nice if I could have just gone straight to the end stage, but it was nice to reflect on everything after over a year away.
The social worker assigned to me was incredibly pateint and thoughtful, and that’s something I would absolutely urge you to consider if you decide to go through this process. Make sure you have a social worker who gets you, and who you trust will present you with truth and honesty.
But in response, you need to be open and honest with them. They are looking at every part of your life in order to understand you, your parenting style, and your capacity to parent – will you be able to love a child who isn’t biologically your own the same as a child who was? Will you be able to give a child who has had trauma a healthy, happy upbringing, but help them deal with the trauma when they need it? Bear in mind, that trauma could be physical, mental, sexual, emotional … so it’s okay to think hard about those things and, sometimes, say no. If sexual abuse is something that you simply can’t manage, then now is the time to be honest; it won’t be a black mark against you if you say to the assessing social work that there are things you’re unsure about, or are worried about managing. It shows where your strengths and weaknesses are. So be honest.
Whilst that assessment is going on, you have a number of other checks happening at the same time. There’s a DBS check, which the agency will organise and fund, a medical (which you’ll have to organise through your GP and pay for yourself – it’s an extortionate way for doctors to make money, but that’s a rant for another time), and references.
The references will be sought by the assessing social worker, so there’s nothing you have to worry about doing except supply the names of people you know well and trust – preferably at least some of whom will have seen you look after children. They need to be honest about you, giving the social worker a constructive view of your ability to be a parent; their views are kept confidential, so you don’t know what they’ve said, and it was reassuring for me that the assessment continued after they had all given their opinions. That meant – in my view at least – I was on the right track, and that I wasn’t necessarily doing too badly.
References from your landlord (if you rent) and employer are de rigeur, and at some point during the assessment, you’ll be asked to attend a three-day Skills to Adopt course. It might be called something different, depending on who you go with, but the principles are the same; it’s here you have a lot of discussions on what children in the care system come to adoption with – emotionally, mentally … everything. It’s an incredible eye opener, because you need to be considering things like the age of children you would be willing to adopt, what issues you feel you could manage (would you consider a child with Down’s Syndrome? Foetal Alcohol Syndrome?), and what genders you would consider.
On the gender front, this course surprised me, as I’d always assumed that there was a block on single men adopting daughters – but no. You can absolutely be considered for either gender in the same way that a woman can; it’s possible it might be harder in some respects, if people have outdated assumptions, but there’s nothing blocking the path for a man to consider either gender. The fact I’ve been matched with a son was because I was the right match for him – I would have happily considered either gender.
Those three days are incredibly intense, so be prepared to come away with a lot to think about – and, if the venue isn’t close by, consider staying over as well. I travelled up each day, and on reflection, that was a mistake; I should have booked a hotel.
When the assessment is complete, you then see the report’s final draft. It’s a hefty tome, and I urge you to read it closely; this is the document that goes to the social workers of children you’re interested in, so you need to be as invested in it as the social worker was in writing it – more so, in fact, as it’s your life story and representing you to people who don’t know you.
When the report is finished, then you go to Panel – a group of professionals and experts by experience who have to give a recommendation of approval – or not – to you becoming an adoptive parent. If you’re with a local authority, then this is the only Panel you’ll have to attend; if you’re with an agency, then this is the first of two Panels – this one to (hopefully) recommend approval, and the second one being with the local authority when you have been matched with a child.
One thing Panel isn’t, however, is a decision-making body; it analyses the evidence, looks at what has been said about you, interviews you, and then makes a recommendation.
The questions at the interview can range very broadly, and will come out from the contents of the report. But the social workers have usually become pretty good at knowing what areas to expect; my social worker was able to fairly accurately predict the areas that Panel were going to focus on.
So then I was approved by – in my case – the first of two Panels, and the the process of finding and be matched to a child began. This I will cover in my next blog, as this process I’ve described took about eight months, and the next stage – although quicker – was equally as indepth. You can find the next entry here, if you wanted to skip right to it.