In 2019, something amazing happened; my son came home. He was eight years and four days old, and had been living in foster care for about two years prior to that. About six months later, a judge signed an adoption order, making the two of us a legal family – although we had been a family in our hearts long before then. I can’t tell you exactly when we gelled as a family; I’m not sure it even happened in just one day. It was undoubtedly a drip drip effect over many days, weeks, and months; I had the edge, of course, because I had committeed to becoming a father some time before, and while Bryan knew he was going to be adopted, he only found out that it was going to be me who was going to become his dad a month or so before he came home.
My exploration of fatherhood started in 2017 or so, with a lot of discussions, self-analysis, and support from social work professionals who helped me unpick the story of my life and my experiences to understand what made me tick. I really wanted to embrace this opportunity, as it wasn’t something I’d have very many opportunies to do – really examine my opinions, thoughts, and behaviours to see if there were ways I could improve, and I was glad of it. Some people find it invasive, but I found it strangely comforting – a chance to really reflect if parenting was right for me, so that I could go into the process with my eyes open and be as open as I could be with a child.
When Bryan came home, he was still in the care system; I wasn’t his foster carer, but I wasn’t legally his dad either. i was emotionally his parent, as we had claimed each other very quickly (he called me daddy exclusively within a few days, I think, and chose to use our family name with very little prompting from me) – it’s a vague, grey area as an outstanding, and I don’t know what my legal standing was, to tell you the truth. I was still being checked out by my own social worker from Barnardos, and Bryan was being checked out by his social worker from the local authority where he’d come from, so if there were any problems or queries, then wthere were people we could both talk to outside of the family – professionals, rather than friends or family. Again, I found that very positive; Bryan, I could see, was pulling away from social workers in general as he had settled and didn’t want to be necessarily reminded of his past and that he was currently “different” (not many of his friends had social workers). I was as well, I suppose; I want to have a “normal” family life – normal in the sense that I didn’t need to get permission to take Bryan for a dental appointment or to stay in a hotel, to give two examples that genuinely happened to us during that “in-between” stage.
When the adoption order was signed, I legally became Bryan’s dad as well as emotionally; we cried happy tears together and haven’t been apart since. At the same time, we didn’t legally need supervision by the state any longer; we were just like any other family, so there was nothing for the state to approve or oversee. My social didn’t have any statutory oversight either, and so all contributions from social services disappeared; I never spoke to Bryan’s social worker again (I was disappointed for Bryan that she didn’t do anything personalised for him to acknowledge their relationship, but there you go), and I’ve been able to exchange very occasional emails with my social worker to just say “hi” because she’s come to mind and I both respected and liked her a lot during our relationship.
But I was fascinated to learn that there was no statutory follow-up after the adoption order was signed. Something that was often discussed during the assessment and training phase was how situations might come up in the future that require sensitive handling; parenting a child who has been through the care system and difficult early lives is never going to be exactly the same as parenting a child from birth. You may very well need specialist intervention from therapy or other services because of particular issues – minor or severe – and you might not always know where to turn; there are funds allocated to adopted families, but would you necessarily know they were there or where to look? The bureacracy and waiting lists can be a nightmare as well, and sometimes you’ll need guidance on how to navigate through the system.
There are peer-to-peer support groups, thankfully – through social media and organisations such as Barnardos – where you can talk about these sorts of issues, and that’s really useful. But I’ve occasionally found myself idly wondering how it would feel if we have the option (or compulsion) to meet up with a social worker after a period of time had passed from the adoption – six months or a year, perhaps? On one hand, that separates adopted families out from other types of families, and that’s not always fair; we just want to live our lives. But there is always that point that lingers … parenting a children through adoption is (subtly or overtly) different than parenting a child who is biologically yours. I first started parenting when I was 37 years and 9 months old, and my son was 8; that’s a very different ways of developing a relationship, and I think I could have done with the chance to talk to someone and reflect on my parenting style after I’ve been doing it a while, not just before I’d even started doing it.
Could I do that anyway? Well, yes, in a way; I can speak to friends or family, for sure, although experience of adoption is very limited in that arena, and I don’t want to have to share the entirety of Bryan’s personal history to everyone in order to consider how I should be parenting a particular situation – and whether I got something right, or if he is reacting to something because he is 11 and a pre-teen, or because of his history. I’m a relatively empathetic human being, so I like to think I can judge a situation fairly well, but having the chance to talk to a professional who is able to give a different perspective might be useful.
I should say that I don’t have any particular concerns about my own family, but I’m casting this out there as a thought experiment; I find that I’m inclined to think that, if a “review” had been on offer to me after a year of parenting, I’d have probably taken it, to tell the truth. I think it would have been helpful for me as a single parent to really reflect on my parenting style after a whole year of doing the role; what I had felt really confident about, and any areas where I had thought, “Oh, I really could do with some suggestions on how not to make that mistake again.”
I’d be really interested in knowing what other people think about this; would you have taken this kind of offer up if it had been available, or would you have run as far as you could have done in the opposite direction?