National Adoption Week – Monday 14th to Friday 18th October 2019

National Adoption Week is an annual event that raises awareness about the adoption process and encourages more people to consider adoption. This year, the week (Monday 14th to Friday 18th October 2019) will focus on finding adopters for ‘priority children’ – sibling groups, BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic) children, older children, and children with complex health needs.

National Adoption Week leaves me conflicted. The fact we need to raise awareness is problematic. That money needs to be directed into recruiting adoptive families rather than addressing the causes that lead to the need for adoption is troublesome. It is easy for me to suggest investment in birth families before crisis point but the solution is less straightforward. And well beyond my comprehension.

Previous year’s events and ethos have drawn criticism, not least from those who believed that adopters’ needs were being placed above the children’s. That the children featured in national awareness campaigns were treated as commodities. And that adult adoptees were being completely forgotten (or ignored). There is validity in all these arguments.

But the recruitment drive is needed. The tide of prospective adopters ebbs and flows. In my region, East Midlands, there are 68 children currently waiting to be adopted and just 25 approved adoptive families. More adopters are needed. Adoption must be about finding forever families for children (not the other way around).

I think my view of National Adoption Week has also changed this year because I have changed and my circumstances have changed. Two years ago, we were waiting for confirmation of Little Chick’s placement order. Having been matched, we were still unsure if we would even meet him let alone parent him. Last year we were still waiting for Little Chick’s adoption order to be granted. We were in legal limbo and our parental status was less clear. This year, we are his legal parents, which removes some tensions but adds plenty more. Last year we were bobbing along nicely. It wasn’t always easy but it was manageable. National Adoption Week came and went with little fuss. This year is much tougher.

In previous years I have championed the National Adoption Awards held, recognising success in adoption. I have (successfully) nominated individuals for these. These Awards served a valuable purpose, but this year the money and energy are being spent elsewhere. If viable, I think the Awards should still be held, though perhaps in a different guise and at a different time. National Adoption Week should focus on the adoptee, though others – birth families, foster carers, social workers, adopters, etc. – should be acknowledged, at another time.

This year I will spend National Adoption Week seeking support for myself and my family. I will be chasing adoption support to follow up last month’s plea for help; I will be meeting with Little Chick’s headteacher to find a manageable way to keep him in school and happy, safe, and well; I will be meeting up with other adoptive parents and spending my one child-free evening talking about my child, but to people who ‘get’ it. This year my family are living the reality of adoption. It is the best thing my wife and I have ever done but it’s the hardest too.

If you are considering adoption, I urge you to contact your local agency and find out more. Similarly, if you have any questions that I can help you with please get in touch.

LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week 2019

As February ends, we leave behind LGBT+ History Month. But the pride continues, as next week is LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week (4th – 10th March).

Statistics from the Department of Education show that LGBT+ couples account for 1 in every 8 adoptions. Since this doesn’t include bisexuals, single LGBT+ adopters, and trans people not in a relationship, it is fair to say that the real number is even higher. However, more LGBT+ adopters are needed – and encouraged.

We adopted through Derbyshire County Council and were impressed by how they approached our same-sex status. It was always discussed fully and frankly: there was no rainbow elephant in the room. Since we were approved, several LGBT+ couples have followed. Some of these have been assigned to our assessing social worker, who now has working knowledge of assisting lesbians in the adoption process and becoming parents. She put us in touch with same-sex adopters to help us broaden our understanding; now we have offered to return the favour, by sharing our experience with prospective adopters.

As same-sex parents, we mostly experience parenting (specifically adoptive parenting) like everyone else. We have the highs, the lows, and the mundane reality in between. One stark difference I have noticed is that most same-sex parents have approached adoption as their first choice. Often the pain and difficulty of trying to conceive has not been a feature of our journey to parenthood. As such, we approach it differently (not better, just differently). And I think this can be a positive thing.

Same-sex parents can also appreciate, to some extent, issues surrounding identity that are so vital to adoptees. The circumstances are difference but that feeling of otherness may be the same. Living in a heteronormative society, I find that I ‘come out’ almost daily. In the past week, my wife has been mistaken for my sister and mother. Both assumptions are based on what people expect families to look like (though the latter did make me howl with laughter; she’s less than three years older than I am). I believe people make assumptions about adoption and, in turn, about adoptees. Quick judgements based on what they expect or think they know. Some awareness of this could be invaluable when adoptees are trying to piece together their story and understand their own identity.

As hard as it has been at times, adopting Little Chick has been absolutely the best thing we have ever done. And, in the circumstances, it was a good move for him too. If you are LGBT+, considering adoption, and would like to ask any questions please do contact us (you can also get in touch if you’re not LGBT+!). We try to speak as freely as we can without sharing too much of our little boy’s story (they are his details to share – or not).

You can learn more about LGBT+ adoption and fostering at New Family Social, the only national LGBT+ adoption and fostering charity in the UK. It provides support, improves the treatment of LGBT+ people in the adoption and fostering process, encourages inclusion and works directly with its members and agencies to find more new families for children in care.


Update (April 2019): Derbyshire is now part of Adoption East Midlands. They joined forces with Nottinghamshire County Council, Nottingham City Council and Derby City Council to more effectively find the best matches for children needing to be adopted and people hoping to adopt.

The importance of a good social worker

It’s been over a month since we heard from our social worker. That’s understandable; our last contact was at the celebration hearing, an event signifying our official role as Little Chick’s legal parents, marking the end of Derbyshire County Council’s responsibility. But I kind of hoped we would hear from her. I’m guessing it is her way of gently lessening contact (now that the adoption order has been granted), but after all this time it is odd not having her in our lives. I knew this day was coming and I know why this day had to come, but I still miss her. In a weird way, I’m grieving her. Or at least that episode of our lives. Getting to this point has needed all three of us, not just the Other Mrs Reed Warbler and myself.

With hindsight, I don’t think it is a coincidence that I became overwhelmed in the period when she was absent. She has supported us for almost four years. She has been a constant in a time of chaos. We can and will cope without her, but we’ve never had to.

I know that our relationship was purely professional: she was friendly, but not my friend. But I would like to keep in touch with her, hear about the changes she is spearheading for adopters, especially considering ongoing regionalisation.

I respect our social worker as a professional. I like her as a person.

Last time I saw her I was frustrated, fed up, and downright peed off. I’m not good at hiding my emotions; I’m especially terrible at masking anger. I’m ashamed I was like that and sad that it’s how I left things. I was in no way angry with her, but she still suffered the consequences of my emotional turbulence.

For the first time, I’m nervous about seeing her. I know there’s been a shift in our relationship, but I don’t understand it or know how to respond appropriately.

I also appreciate that this is a strange position in which to find myself. Most of my friends who have adopted couldn’t wait to receive the official sign off, as much to receive legal responsibility as to lose social services’ interference. But I’ve never felt like that. There have been occasions when Derbyshire County Council have frustrated us, but usually it has been due to constraints beyond their control, owing to larger problems with adoption generally. I have never felt let down by our social worker and acknowledge that we would not be a forever family without here. And that’s not to say we’ve had it easy. It’s been bloody hard at times; there have been moments when we’ve stopped and thought long and hard about what we are doing. But we never lost faith in adoption because we never lost faith in our adoption social worker. The importance of a good social worker cannot be underestimated.

Support network

Physically and mentally, I’ve been feeling a little fragile lately. I can sense that I’m not quite right; I’m not working at full capacity. This happens every so often, but this is the first time since Little Chick has been with us.

Little Chick’s presence has complicated things. It’s not so easy to slope off for a duvet day when a three-year-old is vying for my attention. And even when I do manage some alone time, I’m usually too wracked with guilt to enjoy it immediately. Theoretically, I know that it is essential self-care, but it’s another thing to willingly accept it.

In the past I have suffered in silence. Now, I am better at recognising that my ‘down’ days are just part of who I am and no reason to punish myself. Rather than struggle alone, I now willingly ask for help. It took me many years to realise that my health impacted my wife’s life and that I need to consider her needs as well as mine when seeking help. Fortunately, I have realised much quicker that Little Chick needs me to be as well as possible; he needs my best me.

In the almost year that Little Chick has been with us we have utilised our support network to varying degrees: occasional babysitting, adult conversation, grownup advice. This week we have used our support network well: for the first time, we have admitted that things are tough and that we need some hands-on help, above and beyond the usual emotional support they provide. Little Chick will be enjoying his first solo visit to my parents’ house. He has stayed with Grandma and Grandpa several times now, but he hasn’t stayed there alone.

Everyone is excited. Little Chick wasn’t given much notice of his future excursion (we didn’t want to unsettle him), but he is bouncing. Already he is reeling off his wishlist for the next few days: soft play, walk the dog, play outside, play doh, painting, cars, walk the dog, Grandma’s treat tin, big boy bed, walk the dog (again). Grandma and Grandpa are looking forward to some quality time with their only grandchild. We are excited by the chance to sleep well, catch up on work and jobs, and enjoy some downtime. I can’t wait to pee unsupervised.

But I am also feeling strange. I am not anxious. I know that he will be happy and safe with Grandma and Grandpa and that they will provide everything he needs in our absence. But I will miss him. And I feel guilty that I am not on top form and that the need to reach out to our support network has arisen.

Our support network bears little resemblance to the one we mapped in Stage One of the adoption process. Friends and family have been understanding, supportive, and patient, but we grossly underestimated the problem of distance. Both sets of grandparents live 90+ minutes away, which doesn’t lend itself to quick visits or impromptu meet-ups. Instead, we will make the most of overnight breaks and short stays. It’s not ideal, but it is what it is and we will make the most of it.

We have made new friends, primarily other adopters, and they have been a welcome addition to our existing support network. Our ‘real life’ friends have offered companionship for us and Little Chick. Our online community has also been a vital support, readily available night and day. This is one group that we only briefly considered when predicting our support network and certainly the one we underestimated most. Other adopters don’t need a preamble or explanations. We can just be. It’s easy. It’s a relief.

Our biggest surprise/disappointment has been the lack of friends from nursery, both for Little Chick and for us. Since the children attend nursery on different days at different times it is rare to see the same parents regularly. Moreover, we use the earliest and latest drop-off and collection times so people aren’t keen to dawdle; real life beckons. We are looking forward to Little Chick starting school and becoming more involved with village life and our local community. Though socially anxious, I thrive in well-chosen good company and look forward to making new friends and embracing new opportunities.

During the adoption process, our social worker praised our willingness to ask for help, while recognising that this wasn’t easy and had taken years to achieve. Equally, we want others to see us as part of their support network. Again, this is easier with other adoptive parents. I’m conscious though that we’re not the support we once were for our friends and family. The focus was always on who would help us, but little thought was given to how our changing circumstances would affect others. Notably, we can be less spontaneous. We weren’t exactly spontaneous before, but we had the possibility to be, if we wanted. As we all settle into family life, I aim to be a better friend to those I have overlooked these past twelve months. Going forward, I aim to better support our support network and extend the same kindness to them, offer them the support that has sustained us.

Celebration hearing

A few days ago, I started to worry about the celebration hearing. It’s a non-essential part of the adoption process and we are not obliged to attend. But it does draw a line under the legal process and, generally speaking, draw an end to the social workers’ involvement.

Wondering what we could do to make it special and memorable for Little Chick, I began searching the internet for others’ experiences. The more I searched the more I read reasons why people didn’t attend theirs: doubt started forming in my mind.

Would Little Chick understand what was happening?

Would he be frightened of the judge?

This close to Christmas, would he again question if he was leaving us? That we were letting him, even making him, go?

Would seeing his social worker after so long unsettle and confuse him?

These and many more questions kept me awake that night. In the morning I asked my wife what she thought. In the afternoon I asked for the collective wisdom of the adoption community on Twitter. They essentially reiterated what my wife had said. Grudgingly, I told her she was right. The celebration hearing was less important for what it meant now and was more relevant to its import in the future. We would have marked the occasion we officially became family and the photos and mementos would contribute to future life story work.

Amongst the valuable advice was the suggestion of The Adoption Promise. This was kindly shared with us after our request on Twitter. Credit to @mistersglluest for kindly sharing this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We love this idea and will spend the next few days sharing this with Little Chick.


We have returned from the celebration hearing. I am not feeling celebratory. I’m tired, sad, and fed up.

Despite arriving early, we did not enter the courtroom until almost an hour after our scheduled time. This was partly due to Little Chick’s social worker arriving late and partly due to delays. The strict entry requirements – akin to airport security – unsettled us, let alone Little Chick. We knew to expect them thanks to other adopters, but we hadn’t prepared for other people and their reactions. The woman alongside was not as compliant as we were and her effing and jeffing and general aggression startled each of us. The public waiting room then proved overwhelming for Little Chick, his anxiety manifesting in constant trips up and down in the lift or tackling the stairs. I happily accompanied him during these excursions as I felt my own frustration rising, while recognising that I was not well placed to respond rationally.

When we were finally granted access, I found the whole thing confusing. We weren’t told what would happen, what we should do, anything. Our ignorance fed Little Chick’s uncertainty and he became increasingly more unsettled. When the magistrates entered – not the judge as we anticipated – it was apparent that, despite their best efforts, they weren’t expecting us. It was obvious that it was all last minute. All our preparation had been futile. Little Chick was most looking forward to sitting in the big chair: the opportunity arose but, because it wasn’t instant, he became impatient and lost interest. He was given a teddy – unexpectedly and unceremoniously – and I’m still not sure he realises the bear is for him. We have safely stored it in a memory box for when he’s old enough to understand.

Our main reason for attending was to capture photographs that would aid life story work at an appropriate time. Disappointingly, we have one photo of him in the courtroom, blurred. We took many more photos throughout the day, which will aid his life story, though none are sufficient quality for displaying.

Knowing that the court session was short (less than ten minutes) and purely ceremonial I had hoped to enjoy time with his and our social worker afterwards. The delays and the imminent arrival of Granny and Grandad (who were kindly treating us to a meal) prevented this. Lunch with the grandparents was delicious, but marred by my mardy behaviour: I was simply unable to hide or appropriately deal with my frustration. For this, I am sorry. I made it about me when it was not.

Though it was good to mark our family being official it was not the occasion we hoped for. But we should have expected that. Nothing about adoption or the adoption process is what we expected. Then again, maybe it was better that it wasn’t all neatly tied up with a bow. Adoption isn’t about fairy tale endings and I am always conscious that our ‘celebration’ is at the expense of others’ loss. There will be many more moments over the years when we can enjoy our family and celebrate our lives together. We must continue to look forward.