This is the third part in a series on the adoption process, and the previous part is right here if you wanted to follow it in sequence.
The introductions in adoption is a very delicate one, because the child needs to be told that they’re being claimed by a forever family in a careful way … and until that is recommended by the Panel and confirmed by the Decision Maker, nothing is absolutely confirmed.
As you’ve probably guessed, it’s the case that the child won’t know anything about the family who want to claim them until it’s been confirmed. On the flip side, the forever family knows about it earlier – much earlier – and you go through a strange process when they finally meet you. They might have learnt about the family just a few short days or weeks before, whereas you’ll have known about them for months.
Once you and the child’s social worker have agreed the match, a whole load of work goes on behind the scenes. As someone at the front end – a prospective parent, still, as I write this – I can’t tell you absolutely everything that happens, beccause I don’t know everything that happens. My social worker from Barnardos, as well as the social work team from the local authority, will share information about me, write reports, complete forms, discuss issues, and so on until everything is resolved.
In my case, an additional assessment required by one of the managers at the last minute meant my final Panel date was pushed back by two months – as I write this, I’ve been told the new date (in February) and now have to just wait. Very frustrating for me wanting to start a family, but I have to accept these changes – they will happen whether I want them to or not!
Different local authorities have competing views on how introductions will work, but I have been very fortunate with mine. I’ve already had an information day all about him, where I got to meet all the professionals involved in my child’s care over the years. I’ve been told that not all local authorities do this. But I’m glad this local authority did, as I was able to learn so much about him – as well as see the very real fondness with which he was held. Everyone lit up when they spoke about the boy who is going to become my son, and what an absolute joy that was.
During those two days I spent there, I also got to spend three hours with the young man’s foster carer in her home. I immediately warmed to her, seeing how much she clearly cared about the young man in her charge, and also what she was providing for him. She had (has) a very incisive ability to see beyond the surface layer and begin to dig deep into his psyche. She admitted that she wasn’t entirely there with everything, despite the time he had been with her, but she had been able to connect with him and provide stability, warmth, and love during their time together.
Later on in the afternoon of that first day, I was able to then meet the young man for the first time – and, speaking directly from the heart, it was one of the best experiences in my life. I was able to spend perhaps 10 minutes in his company, without him knowing who I was, and he charmed me immediately. I had already learnt about his many layers, but the layer I saw that afternoon made me connect with him in a powerful way that I hadn’t fully expected. I was overwhelmed with a sense of love and responsibility for him, and made me willing to wait however long it took to have him as part of my life … and for me to be a part of his.
The social workers involved in the young man’s care have arranged a meeting with me straight after the Panel where the recommendation (hopefully) will be positive. At this meeting, we’ll be making arrangements for the introduction period itself. He’s already fully aware of the plans for him to be adopted – the foster carers have done a brilliant job preparing him for him – but the discussion will be around when precisely to tell him, and how soon after that introductions will begin.
When he is told, he’ll be given a welcome book from me that gives him the first sense of his new family. This kind of book can differ according to each family’s design, but the core principle is always the same; it’s a visual guide for the child to see what his new family looks like. It doesn’t have to contain absolutely everyone, as that would be rather overwhelming for a young child to have to absorb, but picking out a few key people that he will see regularly is absolutely key.
I chose a photo album I found (if I remember) in TK Maxx, and immediately liked it because of the unusual design and colour. I hoped it would stand out as a result. I’ve got all the photos I want – of me, my parents, some of my close friends who will form part of his extended family – and can add captions to each picture, so my son can know immediately who they are.
Tagged along with that can often be a short video, introducing your voice to the child as well. I’d have liked this if I was a child in care, because it would have been reassuring to know a little extra about my soon-to-be parents. Pictures convey a thousand words, as they say, but this is different; to hear your mum or dad’s voice is brilliant, and with the advent of camera phones and free editing software online, it’s easy to do. Well, I did have help with me, as not everything went to plan – thanks, Kirk!
These are given over to the social worker on Panel day (usually), and then when a date’s agreed – sometimes on the same day, sometimes on a different one (mine is all being held on the same day, because of the distance involved) – the young person is finally told of their plans.
This is a delicate point – if the foster carers and social workers have done their jobs well, then the child will be expecting this and can start visualising their parents more realistically, but it still needs to be handled well. They need to remember the journey as full of positivity – that they can still see their siblings if they’re being separated, or stay in contact with other family members if they care deeply about them. The adoptive parents need to be engaged with this, and it would have been explored during the matching process anyway.
The child will be given some time to absorb this, and the book and video will be left out for them to look at whenever they want. It becomes part of their history as well as their future, so they have ultimate rights over the documents; it’s a lot of responsibility on the adoptive family to get it as right as they can. There’s no hard and fast rule on what works and what doesn’t work, but trust in the foster carer; they’ll often be able to give advice on things the child might respond to.
And then introductions start. I know for me, nerves will kick in five minutes before I ring the bell as I see my life changing for the better as I become a dad. That’s how my nerves work, but everyone’s different. The introductions are usually something like a week or two, depending on the age and experiences of the child; mine will probably be over a couple of weeks, so I’ll be spending a week up there with the foster family (not living with them – a nearby hotel will be my home away from home), and then the foster carers will bring him down to his new town. I’ll gradually build up and take over the daily routine, helping him learn – gently and at his pace – to come to me first. When he and the carers are down with me, then he’ll be introduced to my flat, and the carers will gradually fade away before going home.
An intense experience; I know I’ll feel a gamut of emotions during the fortnight, so his emotions will be a hundred times more varied and intense. I need to be sensitive of that, both when I’m up there and when he’s down with me; I need to be respectful of the carers, who are absolute oracles of knowledge about his personality, and I want them how important I consider them in the grand scheme of my son’s life – let alone how important he considers them as well.
He will stay over at mine, we will go out for ordinary, every-day activities and days out, and he will spend his time before returning to school learning about his new home and the local area … as well as meeting his extended family.
What a privilege I have, to offer that to a child. I’m a lucky man, aren’t I? In the next part of this series, I’ll talk about the next steps – school and family becoming permanent.