Updated: Oct 31, 2018
I started producing the Daddy & Dad blog shortly after Lyall and Rich ‘moved in’ back in 2014, after our adoption process had reached its happy conclusion. The arrival of the boys turned our lives upside down and as time went on life gradually returned to a wobbly upright position again.
As you know the Daddy & Dad blog talks candidly about our family’s milestones, achievements and debacles (for lack of a better word) during the wobbly time of our lives after the boys moved in. However, before the kids moved in, the prolonged assessment, family finding, matching and then the perpetual limbo up until we finally met our sons was a very personal and emotional ordeal for Tom and I as a couple.
I recently applied to become an adoption and fostering panel member for Adoption Focus, a fantastic adoption charity in the West Midlands that is very close to my heart. As part of the application process to become a panel member I had to revisit our own adoption assessment process in explicit detail and so, while it’s fresh in my mind, I thought I’d write about it here for your perusal.
Before I start, keep in mind that I’m not going to sugar coat this. Even though the end result is absolutely blimmin’ marvellous, the adoption process is an endurance. It’s complicated, bureaucratic and intrusive. But if it were any less of these things, if it skimmed over the gory details, there’s every chance apprentice adopters would be ill-prepared for the reality of parenting adopted children, with all of their quirks, problems and baggage.
For my transatlantic and international readers, I’ll be talking about the British adoption system here – I’m not sure how your local adoption process works precisely although I’m sure it’s equally as stringent. Also, remember the adoption process is entirely subjective and no two applicants experience precisely the same journey.
First things first – process basics. Our adoption process was divided into twelve defined stages over approximately twenty four months (some stages taking longer than others):
The preparation group
The grand assessment
Preparing the boys
It’s a pretty epic process, so I’ll try to keep the gumph about each stage as concise as possible.
So, without further ado, here’s how Daddy and Dad began. It all started with a phone call…
“Just bloody get on and do it!” sighed Tom, sitting at his laptop in the kitchen sorting through his monthly expenses with receipts and train tickets covering the whole dining table.
“Ok.” I said, taking a deep breath. I’m not an enormous fan of talking on the phone.
“That one?” I pointed to a sponsored result on my laptop’s Google search for adoption agencies. I figured an agency that invests in well produced online marketing is probably a good place to start.
“Yes just get on with it!”
I called the adoption agency.
“Oh hiya. I’d like to enquire about adopting two boys please.” I said, quickly realising how ridiculous that probably sounded.
“No problem my love.”
The lady on the other end of the phone was warm and helpful. She asked for our names, address and contact details and gave me an abridged version of the first stages of the adoption process – the initial meeting and ‘the home visit’.
A month or two later, having not heard anything from the adoption agency for a while, I decided to call them to move things along a little. We were invited into their offices for a preliminary discussion about the adoption process. It seemed fairly straight forward, so we decided to continue to the next stage, which was a home visit.
With no idea what to expect from our home visit (other than a heads-up that they would be assessing our house), Tom and I cleaned our house – not an ordinary clean, mind you. I’m talking about a deep clean; the kind we usually reserve for parents’ visits or royalty (not actually happened yet). We cleaned the skirting boards, the windows, washed and ironed the curtains (yes that’s a thing apparently when you’re in a cleaning frenzy) and dusted around the coving around the ceilings.
A young social worker, Beth, knocked at our door and we nervously invited her in. After a quick handshake and some rudimentary chit-chat, Beth retrieved a clipboard from her handbag and made her way upstairs. She surveyed the whole house, peeking into every room, mainly, as far as we could tell to check for unsecured blind cords and skirting board level plug sockets. Apparently the cords attached to blinds present an enormous danger to children… who’d have known that was a thing. If anyone was going to accidentally choke themselves on a blind cord it would definitely be me, I thought with a smirk.
Back in the kitchen, Beth checked the contents of our kitchen cupboards for dangerous liquids, which of course there were, along with all the junk and jumble that I’d shoved into the cupboards to de-clutter the worktops (not to mention a case of wine and a bottle of gin that I’d quickly bunged into the bin cupboard moments before Beth arrived).
“You will need to move those up to a high level cupboard with a child-lock.”
“Okay.” I smiled uncomfortably, glancing back over at Tom, who was sitting casually at the dining table with a cup of tea, far less burdened by the situation than me.
“The last thing I need to check is the garage.” said Beth, causing Tom to splutter his tea and jump up. “It’s a bit of a mess..” said Tom, making the most enormous understatement. “That’s okay, don’t worry. Could I just check the lock on the garage door?”.
Later, after Beth had sat for a cup of tea and an interesting chat about our extended family, she said cheerio and set off with a cheerful toot.
“I’m going to have to replace that bloody garage door aren’t I?” said Tom, rolling his eyes.
“And all the blinds!” I giggled. “Let’s have a nice glass of wine.”
“Good plan.” said Tom, putting his arm around me and giving me a reassuring kiss on the forehead.
The Preparation Group
Having impressed with our ridiculously clean house at the home visit, we were invited to attend an adoption preparation group. The group would meet daily for one week, Monday-Friday in the adoption agency’s training centre. We had no idea who and what to expect and naturally we were very nervous.
My main worry was that we would be somehow looked upon differently (we’re gays by the way, just in case you hadn’t read our about page) while Tom was nervous about having to participate in embarrassing, revealing group activities with people we don’t know – we did used to be quite private people before the children arrived, although you’d never think so now!
On arrival at the ageing offices, previously a catholic orphanage, we signed in at the reception and made our way to the training room. We were met by an eclectic mixture of about ten or eleven nervous smiling couples, all drinking tea and chatting quietly. The couples were all heterosexual and older than us, with the next youngest couple in their mid 40s or early 50s and the eldest about the age of my grandparents, possibly 70ish. We were 32. We stood out like a pair of penguins in a room full of hedgehogs.
I made Tom and I an instant coffee and a smiley Indian couple beckoned us over and introduced themselves. They were only 40 and already had three children and lived in the same town as us – a welcome coincidence. We chatted for a few moments before a vivacious, very organised looking social worker entered the room with a loud “Hello adopters!”, asking us all to take a seat. We sat in the middle at the back with our new friends.
Much to Tom’s delight, the first morning was consumed with ‘meet and greet’ style team activities, involving (but not limited to) a beanbag, post it notes, red balloons and a black sharpie and an over-familiar ‘back-to-back’ exercise. I secretly enjoyed all the silliness.
But, once the fun bit was over, shit got real, as they used to say in 90s movies and the more serious subject of ‘looked after children’ was explored with increasing severity.
We watched and discussed emotive videos of adorable, independent but clearly broken children who were expected to make their own breakfast and walk themselves to school while their absent parents drink cans of beer and slept on settees at friends’ houses.
We learned about the physical defects caused to babies by parents who drink excessively during pregnancy.
It was hard hitting, emotional stuff. And that was just the first day of five preparation sessions.
As the week went on, we were introduced to the concept that babies’ brains don’t physically develop sufficiently if they don’t receive eye-contact from their parents. I mean, how horrendous that a child can be physically delayed by the lack of something so elementary.
We learned about speech development, attachment, drug dependency, homelessness, mental illnesses, domestic violence; we even met a health visitor who sat with the trainees on the carpet to demonstrate attachment techniques. It was a completely unexpected new world for us and we absorbed as much as we could.
During the preparation training it became apparent to Tom and I that until this moment, our journey into parenthood had admittedly been a completely selfish one, without any consideration to the issues affecting the actual children that we might be matched with.
It was like a revelation, an acknowledgement of the tremendous difference that we’ll make to two disadvantaged little children, one day.