Updated: Jun 10, 2019
Big apologies for the delay in the arrival of part four of our epic adoption process!
A little news before we get started. Since producing part three, I (Daddy) became an adoption panel member myself! This means I've now experienced the whole adoption and fostering panel from the other side of the table.
It's an important job, with the fate of hopeful adopters at stake. Funnily enough, as somebody who usually experiences mild panic and makes a nuisance of himself in front of an audience, the panel is equally as nerve wracking from this perspective! But after my fifth or sixth panel I feel much more at home; the process for every adopter is the same each time so the routine became familiar and I've settled in to it now.
My peers on the adoption panel are the very same people who approved me and Tom in part three, so it's been marvellous getting to know them and to see behind the scenes. They are lovely. The weekend before a panel there's a lot of reading and note taking - three PAR reports, each up to 100 pages of intensive information about the adopters' upbringing, extended families and, well, their whole life stories including all their sadness, happiness, trauma, finances and achievements included for the panel member's scrutiny.
Hopefully, including a youngish adoptive father like me on the panel might help put the candidates' minds at rest a little. I'll come back to the Adoption Panel in a future blog post.
So, where were we..?
In part three, Tom and I were recommended for adoption by the panel and, sure enough a couple of weeks later a formal letter arrived from the adoption agency's CEO, their 'decision maker' Anna to confirm our approval. We treated ourselves to a night of fun in the city to celebrate.
A couple of weeks later, our social worker, Michelle came over to explain the 'family finding' process. As an autonomous, independent adoption agency, we would have access to children from across the whole country from every local authority. We were looking specifically for siblings so this proverbial wide pool of children would drastically improve our chance of finding the right children for us. By the way, when you adopt through a local authority directly rather than an independent agency like Adoption Focus, you generally only have access to the local authority's database of local kids in care and as a result their quota of adoptive parents is far smaller (*needs confirmation).
Now, before I talk about our family finding process, be warned. I should mention the only way I can approach this topic honestly might seem a little crass or insensitive. But there's no point in putting a pastel filter over this on the chance I might upset somebody. We were effectively choosing our children. We are kind, thoughtful people but the only way Tom and I could negotiate this part of the process without becoming a pair of emotional wrecks was to distance ourselves from emotions and maintain a methodical, distanced approach. More about that in a minute.
So, as mentioned, Michelle explained the family finding process to us. We would be provided with access to several national and regional online and offline publications. We'd also receive paper 'profiles' of hard-to-place children from other regional local authorities which Michelle would deliver periodically and discuss with us.
Before we began our search, with Michelle's help we decided on our preferences, for instance the level of developmental delay or learning difficulties, ethnicities, age limits, gender, disability and number of siblings we would consider. As an adopter it's far more productive to have your preferences sorted before starting to look for children, otherwise you'll be inundated with profiles of beautiful little children who aren't right for you.
During the following week, we registered with New Family Social - a well established online resource for LGBTQ2 (et.al) adopters with a support forum and a database of profiles of children who are waiting for forever families. We also subscribed to a print publication called Be My Parent. Be My Parent is a catalogue (for lack of a better word) of 'hard to place' children whose circumstances have left them waiting for forever parents for far too long.
Each profile is typically a page of A4, including an adorable photograph, a bio of basic information - age, a brief assessment of ability and location and then an abridged life story and a heartwarming description of their personality and demeanour. Every single profile is captivating - emotional and difficult to glance over without becoming quite attached. We quickly realised that the children in the care system who are waiting for their forever parents to come along are traumatised and broken.
Sticking firmly to our preferences; two siblings, boys, school age or younger but not babies, with only mild mental or physical difficulties we were able to shortlist a handful of profiles to put to one side and explore with Michelle.
The following week, we met with Michelle at a cafe (a pleasant half-way point) to discuss our shortlist and to look at her profiles from local authorities. To test our commitment to our preferences, Michelle presented us with some 'single children' profiles, including one dual-heritage little lad who stopped us in our tracks. He was beautiful! But, we'd made up our mind and we decided to persevere with our search for two little brothers. There were a couple of little siblings among Michelle's profiles so we took copies of those to read later.
The search went on for about a month, during which time our usual magazines and newspapers on the dining table were replaced by cuttings from Be My Parent, print-outs from online databases and profiles from Michelle. To be honest we started to feel a little overwhelmed so we parked the search for a few days while we enjoyed a weekend away together in London - but guess what we talked about all weekend!? Family finding!
We eventually managed to shortlist about two or three sets of sibling boys and invited Michelle over for another discussion. Michelle contacted the children's social workers and she arrived with full reports about their backgrounds. Unfortunately, two of the three profiles were going to be far too challenging for us to continue with and the third (little ginger twins!) had already been placed with a family. Don't worry, you all know there's a happy ending to this story!
A couple of weeks later, I was covering the reception at work (I used to work as a Digital Marketing Manager in a lovely marketing agency on a farm) when an email arrived from Michelle with an attachment and the subject line... "Lyall and Richard - playful loving brothers".
Hand immediately on my chest, I took a deep breath and clicked on the attachment. As soon as I saw their cheeky little photo it was love at first sight. I printed off the profile (on secure print with a pin number, don't worry!) and read their bio, with a tear in my eyes. I can't go into too much detail here, but they were three and four, from a neighboring city, and they'd been proverbially passed from pillar to post with several disrupted foster placements before settling in their (then current) penultimate home.
I made a cup of tea to settle my nerves and Whatsapped Tom... We've found our boys! 😍
Tom also had butterflies about Lyall and Richard, so I replied to Michelle to ask her to request the boys' reports.
A couple of days later, Michelle came over again (she was back and forth to our house like a yoyo) but this time she brought Lyall and Richard's social worker, Alan with her. An older, nice chap (Bill Oddie's double), Alan arrived armed with a big clip folder full of dishevelled papers, which he sat and shuffled through on our sofa. At the risk of paper shuffling consuming the whole meeting, Michelle moved things along by asking Alan to provide a detailed synopsis of his involvement with Lyall and Rich and their turbulent first few years, leading to their (then) current settled placement with their foster carers. We asked questions about how Lyall was getting on at school, the situation with their birth family and their behaviour, what kind of interests they had and how they behaved together.
By the end of the meeting, we were convinced. Lyall and Richard were definitely the boys for us.
Some time later, I forget precisely how long but at least a month, Michelle called to tell us that she was attending our 'Matching panel' and that we weren't required to attend this one. Phew.
(I'm reaching for the tissues again - these memories are so emotional)
Later that day, Michelle called me and Tom (we popped her on loud speaker) to tell us the good news...
We'd been successfully matched with Lyall and Rich!
We celebrated with a weekend in Birmingham; a posh hotel in the Jewellery Quarter and enough french wine to sink a ship. During the weekend we announced our new status as 'Dads to be' on Facebook (it was news to most of our friends and family who had no idea) and we phoned our parents and grandparents with the news.
Finally, it felt real.
Here's a few pics of Tom and I (long) before kids, c. 2000-2005!