My partner and I had been together for a little over six years when the conversation about expanding our family was brought up. We were on holiday with my parents having dinner, and out of the blue my dad asked the question “If you wanted children, how would you go about it?” The question was unexpected as we hadn't shared our recent thoughts about starting a family with anyone. We explained that we had been discussing it and we had come to the conclusion that adoption would be the route we would take.
After arriving home my partner and I contacted our local authority and attended an adoption information evening where we learnt about the backgrounds adopted children may come from, we got an insight into the adoption process and had the opportunity to speak with social workers and ask any further questions we had. After the event, we were certain that we had made the right decision.
Following the information evening we had our first visit from a social worker. I can remember how anxious we were about allowing a social worker into our home. I had previously read on an adoption blog about an experience a couple had with their first meeting – the social worker who visited got out a tape measure and measured the gaps in their banister. Of course, we had gaps in our banister so it was all I could think about, that and all the corners on the coffee table, the TV unit, the work surfaces.
"I can remember how anxious we were about allowing a social worker into our home."
I was worried the social worker might pick up on these and deem our home as unsuitable for a child. Thankfully they didn’t. The meeting was very informal. The social worker had a brief look round our home and asked us a few personal questions and advised us what would happen next.
From this point and starting stage one of the process, my partner and I decided to have a break. We then began the process around Christmas time and were assigned our own social worker who would work with us throughout. Stage one is mainly ‘checks’ – there's a lot of checking. Finances are looked into; you must have a full medical with your GP and you will have a DBS check. Stage two is a little more in-depth. It requires you to look back on your own childhood and upbringing and involves a lot of work relating to that. Altogether stages one & two should take around 6 months. You have several meetings with your social worker during this time, ours were varied between meetings in our home and at the offices of the local authority. We also attended a four-day course which is known as preparation training. This course is attended by other people who are going through the process and looks in depth at children's backgrounds, what they may have experienced during time with their birth families and pre-birth and looks at certain medical conditions children may have such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Developmental Delay and more. This was also a fantastic opportunity for us to meet other couples who were going through the process and from that we have an amazing friendship with another couple who we see regularly.
Once stage one and stage two were complete we were then sent our date for our approval panel, where the decision would be made as to whether we would be approved as adopters. The nerves were rife. We met with our social worker prior to the meeting and the chair of the panel called us in. We walked into a room with a huge table with about 14 people sitting round it. You could have struck a match off the roof of my mouth it was so dry due to nerves. All the panel members were lovely and asked us questions which weren’t too difficult to answer. We were then asked to leave the room and about 20 minutes later the chair of the panel came to advise us we were approved adopters. There was a long wait after being approved before we were matched with our son. At the time we adopted, the amount of people wanting to adopt significantly outweighed the number of children waiting to be adopted.
"We walked into a room with a huge table with about 14 people sitting round it. You could have struck a match off the roof of my mouth it was so dry due to nerves."
The waiting was incredibly frustrating, we seemed to have gone from the adoption process taking up quite a lot of time, to it almost coming to a complete standstill. However, this did turn out to be a blessing in disguise. During this time, we were able to save up more money to enable our adoption leave from work to be longer than we originally planned. We were also able to take time to understand what we were entitled to with our employers and get everything set with them when the time came. Our social worker was also very proactive, letting us know of any useful blogs to read, any relevant books we might find beneficial and let us know of any courses that we could attend.
After around ten months of waiting, we were linked to a little boy. The link progressed and before we knew it, we had been matched and the matching process began. This involved visits from our son's social workers who visited our home to chat with us and share information about him with us. Before that we had received his report from social services, so we already knew a fair bit about him. During the matching process we had a meeting with both our social worker, our son’s social worker and our son’s foster carer. It was incredible to meet them and from this our relationship with him began. We also had to send certain items across to the foster carer for our son including muslins with our aftershave on it and photographs of ourselves and our home.
The next stage was the introductions which involved my partner and I going across to the foster carers’ house and spending just over a week there with our son. I will never forget walking into the foster carers’ house and seeing our son for the very first time. This week was incredibly exhausting both mentally and emotionally. Our son's foster carers were incredible. Not only were they fostering, but they also had their own children in the house to care for. We are still in regular contact with them and have met up on occasion since the adoption.
The time came for us to head home with our son and we were incredibly nervous, especially because we wouldn’t have the foster carer there for support. We stuck to the routine that our son was used to when in foster care. Routine is vital for children in care as it helps to provide a safe and secure environment for them and helps them to build attachments. I was lucky enough to have a full year off from work on adoption leave and my partner had five weeks off. During this time, we still received visits from our social worker and our son’s – it would alternate between the two and occasionally we had visits from both.
"I will never forget walking into the foster carers’ house and seeing our son for the very first time."
One thing that came up during one of these visits was the subject of meeting birth parents. We were advised that we had the opportunity to meet our son's birth father. This was an extremely daunting thought, but after a lot of careful consideration we decided to go ahead and meet with him. The meeting was very emotional, but it allowed my partner and I to let our son's birth father know that he was being taken care of, loved and safe. We were also able to get bits of information about our son from his birth father that weren’t included in any of the reports. Before the meeting ended my partner and I had a photograph taken with our son's birth father. This is something we will be able to show our son in the future. We felt incredibly supported by the social workers during and in the lead up to the meeting. Even though it was an incredibly nerve-wracking experience, I would recommend meeting with birth parents if the situation allows.
Approximately a year later, the three of us were on holiday. We received a call from our son’s social worker informing us that his birth mother was expecting another child. We were informed that if the plan for the child was adoption there would be a chance we would be asked. We didn’t hear anything for an awfully long time until one day when I was taking shelter from a hailstorm with my son under a climbing frame. Our social worker called me asking if it was a suitable time to talk. I explained the situation I was in, she said “I’ll call you back in half an hour. I have a question I need to ask you”. Of course, I knew exactly what the question was going to be. After running home and speaking with my partner who was at work, and my parents, our social worker called back. We discussed the situation, and we were officially asked if we would adopt our son's half-sister. This didn’t take much consideration. It was always our intention to adopt two children, however the plan was to move first and then look into adopting again. For our son to be able to grow up with his sister was far more important than moving house and we decided once the adoption had gone through, we would then move.
We had to update our report as there had been some changes since we first adopted which we worked through with our social worker. We were put in touch with another adopter who had adopted for a second time to get insight into what second-time adoption was like and to find out the reality of having two children. We then had to attend the approval panel once again to be approved as second-time adopters. Once approved, the process happened quite quickly and before we knew it, we had met our daughter’s foster carers and we were all set to start our introductions once again.
The introductions this time of course had to involve our son. This was all handled very well with the help of social workers. For our son things had to be carefully considered as this was about to be a big change for him. The first half of the week my partner and I went to the foster carers’ house alone and then our son joined us for the second half. It was another emotionally and mentally exhausting week but as it was our second time going through it, we weren’t as nervous this time round. Again, the foster carers were incredible and a fantastic support and we are still in regular contact with them. Before we knew it, introductions were over and we were heading home, this time as a family of four.
"If the circumstances are right and the opportunity arises to meet birth parents, it’s so beneficial."
Having the children in a two-bedroomed property wasn’t without its challenges. I can remember one morning; my partner had gone to work and I went to get the children up. I walked into their bedroom and my son had ‘changed’ our daughter's nappy stating he was ‘trying to help’. I don’t think I need to be too specific, but when I say they were both covered, they were both COVERED. It wasn’t a pleasant sight first thing in the morning. Not long after this, we moved into a larger house where the children had their own bedrooms.
We were then told by our daughter’s social worker that our children’s birth mother had expressed an interest in meeting us. This is something we had thought about and discussed before and I had come to the conclusion that I didn’t want to take part in the meeting, but my partner wanted to. I am so pleased that I changed my mind and we met her. This meeting was a lot more emotional than when we met our son's birth father. I will say again though, if the circumstances are right and the opportunity arises to meet birth parents, it’s so beneficial. We were given yet more information about our children and found out where their names came from, which was lovely as we will now be able to tell them this should they ever ask.
Personally, I found the adoption process extremely interesting. I am now an adoption peer mentor with Adoption UK, which involves supporting adopters who are currently going through the process, attending information events and adoption preparation courses. I also sit on adoption panels as an independent member which I enjoy thoroughly and feel very lucky to be part of.
If I were to give anyone thinking of adoption any advice it would be to be as honest and open as you possibly can be with your social worker. The thought of having a social worker coming to your home and carrying out checks, looking into your finances, speaking to your friends and family initially can feel quite intrusive, but working together results in the best outcome for both yourself and the child.