Updated: Oct 31, 2018
Above: Our nephews from Nordhorn in Germany who helped us with our assessment 💙
The grand assessment
Toward the end of the final day of the Preparation Group at the adoption agency we were assigned to a social worker.
Our social worker was called Michelle; another very organised looking young lady, short and smiley with a sassy red and black tight-curly hairstyle. Michelle weaved her way through the other couples in our direction and met us with a lovely hug.
Despite being the youngest social worker we'd met so far, Michelle had an air of confidence and a relaxed manner that put us at ease and we were happy with the choice.
No more than a couple of weeks later (I forget precisely how much time went by), Michelle visited us at home for the first time. Naturally we were nervous as we weren't entirely sure what the assessment would involve or how intrusive her questions might be.
Back then we had a dalmatian called Meryl; an adorable but completely bonkers creature, cursed with an insatiable FOMO. Meryl absolutely loved visitors to the house and Michelle was no exception. To avoid a huge kerfuffle every time somebody came in, Tom and I trained Meryl to sit impatiently in her bed in the dining room at the rear of the house while visitors came in and took their seat in the living room.
Michelle came in, slipped her shoes off in the hall and sat down comfortably on the sofa. While Tom chatted about Michelle's journey, I made a round of teas (with biscuits, naturally - social workers famously love a biscuit). Meryl could smell the biscuits and started whining, her legs shaking with voracious excitement. I took the teas and biscuits through to the living room and we all tucked in. "Are you a dog lover?" asked Tom while munching on a delicious chocolate digestive, "Yeah, I do love dogs," said Michelle.
Without realising what a crazy hurricane of a dog Meryl was, Michelle patted her hands on her knees and called "come on then, Meryl". Meryl, like releasing an industrial spring jumped up from her bed in a frenzy, her claws scraping along the wooden dining room flaw as she pelted toward the living room. Tom and I grabbed our drinks and the plate of biscuits in a panic, however Michelle wasn't quite so lucky and within seconds she had an enormous 60lb dalmatian on her lap, licking her all over her face, mug of tea all over the floor.
After embarrassed apologies had been muttered, the mess cleared up and Meryl was safely out in the garden with her toys, we began our first of many sessions with Michelle. With each session we instinctively became more open and comfortable with Michelle's questions but I won't pretend that complete transparency came naturally to us; believe it or not, before the boys arrived we were quite modest, private people.
Whilst we can't remember the precise agenda for every assessment meeting, we do remember the main characteristics assessed by Michelle. I'll run through them here, to provide you with an unambiguous idea of what you might expect if you were heading into your adoption assessment. It's completely subjective, remember - every applicant and every social worker will have their own approach.
Resilience | To assess our resilience, Tom and I were each asked to produce a timeline of significant events in our lives so far, 'rating' each event along the last 33 years on a scale with the most traumatic at the bottom to the happiest at the top. Without conferring, we produced our charts. Michelle then asked a series of sensitive but direct questions to help us to determine if and how we overcame each traumatic event. We realised at this stage Tom had been lucky enough to experience far less in the lower half of the chart than I, something that surprised us both. We talked openly about bullying, debt, grief, family issues, religion, illness and coming out as gay.
Support network | Early in the assessment, we were tasked to produce a spider diagram of our friends and family, ranking them in order of importance to us as a potential family in need of support. We had to consider their geographic location for convenience, the strength of our relationships with them and how often we see them and then Michelle explored our choices, probing and scrutinising until we decided on a final draft. The people at the very top were selected as our referees. Eek!
Relationship | Throughout the assessment, Michelle took notes about our interactions, our affection for each other, our squabbles, disagreements and habits as a couple. Towards the end of the assessment we were interviewed individually about the dynamics and practicalities of our relationship, how finances are shared, how our work and home lives integrated and to explore how the arrival of a child might affect our identity as a couple. At the time we felt as though this was a little arbitrary, I mean, we were a secure couple with twelve happy years beneath our belt. But, in hindsight this was probably the most valuable part of the assessment as our relationship was stretched to the brink of failure during the 'Preparing the boys' stage as you'll discover later.
Childcare | To demonstrate Tom and I were naturally excellent with children (and not at all completely clueless and winging it like everybody else) we invited our gorgeous nephews and Tom's sister over from Germany for a weekend. During the weekend, Katie would be interviewed by Michelle as our referee and would participate in a couple of group chat sessions, to add extra proverbial meat on the bone of our assessment.
Additionally, Tom and I would be 'observed' taking care of our nephews in a number of pre-arranged situations in the house and out-and-about around the village. Michelle provided us with an idea of the kind of things that she needed to see, for instance we would need to demonstrate we could prepare healthy food and encourage the boys to eat it, we could manage the bath and bedtime routines and we would observe some basic health, safety and hygiene guidelines. So, we made homemade pizzas with the boys, remembering to wash hands and warn them about the oven temperature and so-on. We had a very contrived bath and bedtime (and then got the boys back up again after Michelle had gone! Sorry, Michelle!).
I must admit, despite all the earlier open conversations about our relationship and traumas, this observation was the most awkward and staged - it felt like a bit of a clumsy pantomime and we were a little worried we may have ballsed this one up. Luckily, Michelle texted a reassuring well-done later that evening; she thought we'd done a marvellous job.
Parenting limits | For lack of a better word (I'm not sure what the social-worker lingo term is for this), we were asked to complete a form that asked us what kinds of disabilities, challenges and unknowns we would be prepared to consider in a child. The A4 paper forms were distributed during the Preparation Group, at which stage we had naively optimistic, open minds (other than we definitely wanted siblings) and we hadn't given it any thought, so we were quite liberal with our answers. Tick, tick, tick, hmmmm... not sure.. tick. That kind of thing. Not meaning to make light of the dreadful disadvantages experienced by children in care, the list included things like 'mobility problems', 'developmental delay', 'foetal alcohol syndrome' and 'drug dependency', among other characteristics.
At the end of our assessment, when the discussions moved on to the kinds of children we might find available to us, Michelle asked us to complete the form again with an educated, reasoned approach. We discussed each characteristic in depth before we made our selection. The items on the list suddenly became very real, lucid possibilities for us. It was an emotional, provocative discussion that brought our assessment to its conclusion. Phew!