We were easily the youngest couple in the room. There were some families with young children with them, various different ethnicities, ages and just a general mix of people with a common interest in adoption. I remember feeling very excited, nervous, and scared all rolled into one.
We returned a week later to start the paperwork. There were CRB checks and all sorts of other forms of paperwork. Then the waiting began... we waited for a place on the preparation course first. Then once we had experienced five days of training which covered everything from attachment to child protection to making sure we had come to terms with the loss of our 'dream babies' , we once again waited for a social worker to guide us through our Form F. This is the case study on adopters which has a dual purpose. It assesses the person/couple's suitability as adopters and is the document which introduces them to the social workers responsible for prospective children. It is fair to say that in my 30 years on this earth this is one of the most important documents concerning myself and my family. It is therefore vitally important to have a good working relationship with the social worker responsible for preparing it. Our social worker was great. Committed, capable, and empathic. She was also extremely thorough and stated that she never took a couple to Approval Panel unless she was 99% sure that they would be approved. She visited us once a week over 3 months and the meetings were progressively easier (although she was terrified of our pet rats and sat as far away from them as possible all the way through the meetings).
On the 21st February 2006 we went to our approval panel. Our panel cross examined us for about 10 minutes (which felt like an hour) and then our social worker stayed for a further 15 minutes privately. Then came back to tell us we were approved! Whoopee!!!
Then a little more waiting began. However this time we were on a winner! Our baby was out there waiting.
The LA we were assessed by had a system which involved allocating a new social worker once adopters were approved. We were very nervous about losing the person we had put so much trust in and starting again at this point. However, our fears were unfounded, our Support Towards Adoption social worker was fantastic and we were really happy to have her in our corner for the most exciting period of our lives so far!
'Little Bear'The first meeting with her she came with the file of a child who was waiting for us to look at. We were overwhelmed! She came to us with Little Bear's file, 2 days after his first birthday. He sounded amazing and we started to say his name repeatedly (which is only Little Bear for this purpose!) and to look forward to the meeting with his foster carer, social worker, family finding social worker and our social worker which happened 1 day before my 26th birthday.
That was a meeting to remember. I just wanted to impress Little Bear's foster carer, whom he had lived with from 3 days old. She obviously adored him and particularly so as he was her first 'fosling'. She had loads of photos which she was desperate to share but our very pragmatic social worker was urging caution. Inside I was chanting 'please please please' and they did eventually show us some pictures of this beautiful blond, curly, smiley little one year old! My heart leaped. This could be our son.
More waiting was to come. Summer brought holidays for social workers and support staff and nothing happened about Little Bear's matching panel. We got gradually more frustrated. On the sidelines was the fact that we were due to move. My husband was due to start theological college in the September which meant a move which could cause problems at matching panel. Although all the social workers so far were quite positive about the placement, there were concerns about matching panel. Without their approval this child would not be coming to live with us!
During the summer/ early autumn we busied ourselves with moving plans. We would be quite a distance away from the placing authority and it would be a complete change of lifestyle and experience but this was something that my husband had been praying about and working towards for many years by this point. We were prepared and felt God's hand in it. We were leaving our jobs and moving to theological college to follow my husband's call.
Some people involved in the process did not seem to realise what a long and demanding process discerning a vocation really is. In fact, we were interviewed at the last minute by another social worker responsible for Little Bear and his family, and this woman raised concerns about our stability and commitment because we were moving into the unknown. This person had not met us before, she was not in a position to make those assumptions. We felt as if we were being challenged at the final hurdle.
She detailed her concerns to the matching panel and I responded with a very careful worded email which completely dismisses any concerns which she had and very much supported all that we had previously told our various social workers.This was so that our social worker (who would be representing us at Matching Panel as prospective adopters are not invited to this one) could present our responses to panel.
Matching Panel approved the match - Little Bear would be our son!
This was not without its hitches - one person on the panel disagreed with the match but is was carried by the majority. The dissenter actual told our social worker 'on your head be it', meaning that is the placement disrupted then our social worker's reputation would be questioned! No pressure then?!