Well, I have had my official Stage 1 meeting (in December), and I have been given a long list of homework to do in the next 2 months, including:
- Read at least 3 books from the reading list
- Complete a family tree
- Create a chronology of my life (including every address I have ever lived at….)
- Fill in the DBS forms for a criminal records/background check
- Complete some e-learning courses
- Create an Ecomap of my support network
- Complete a household safety checklist
- Obtain criminal records checks from any country I have lived in for over 6 months (THAT could take a while…)
- Get 3 references
- Have a full medical
The more reading and e-learning I am doing, the more I am starting to more deeply reflect on the process, what is involved, and the impact of adoption is starting to sink in.
It’s almost like they’ve done this before. (No seriously, I must say well done to the Local Authority for such a well-planned process so far, and it really feels like it is all very logical and well-thought out etc).
What is interesting is that starting out on this adventure, it was really, frankly, all about me. I want a family, I want a child/children, I want to adopt siblings, I’m busy fantasising about how lovely it will be, and whether or not they will be white, black, Asian or mixed race etc.
The more I read the recommended books, the more it is dawning on me that this won’t be about me at all, but really needs to be all about the needs of my potential child. For example, I may like the idea of an Asian, black, or mixed-race baby, but the reason the local authorities try to place children with people of the same ethnic background is because at some point in their lives, those children are likely to experience racism in some form or another, and they will need someone they can turn to to talk about those experiences with who will understand and maybe have had similar experiences. They will also need strong, positive role models from their own ethnic community, to help them understand their place in the world. Many adopted children who have suffered abuse or neglect have an inherent belief that it is somehow their fault, or that they are “bad”, and placing (for example) a black child who believes that they are somehow born bad, with a white family, could subliminally reinforce the message that white is good and black is bad etc for that child.
Thinking about it in these terms, I realise that my family and friendship group is OVERWHELMINGLY white and homogeneous, and that I may not be able to provide any positive role models for that child from their own ethnic background. Looking at my eco-map, I realise the most ethnically diverse people in my immediate circle of friends are Scottish and half-Welsh….. Nor have I ever experienced racism, coming from a pretty privileged background and upbringing, so I couldn’t empathise with or truly understand that child’s experiences.
So these books and e-learning courses are really very helpful in making me re-evaluate not just what I want, but what might be best for the child I could be matched with.
That said, I also know several mixed-race couples who have had birth children, and they don’t seem to worry about these things too much, (although I suppose there are two parents and one of whom would presumably be able to relate to the race card….).
Similarly, while I am still keen on the idea of siblings, the more I learn about child trauma and attachment disorders, the more I wonder if it would be fair to the children if I were to take on two kids. For example, if they are very needy and clingy, or need a lot of attention, or become jealous of each other when I give attention to one child. There is only one of me, rather than a couple, so I am starting to wonder if it would be fair on them to have to share my attention?
Will I be able to cope with the (possibly) quite demanding emotional and physical needs of 2 children who need more love, support and understanding than a birth child?
There is still plenty more to think about and reflect on, and once I have read a few more books and done a bit more research I’ll have a better idea of all this.
I have had lots of kind offers from friends of friends who know someone who has adopted that I could meet or talk to – so far I haven’t really know much of what to ask them, but suddenly as I am reading and learning, I am starting to think about the questions I should be asking, and getting ready to have those sorts of conversations.
Some of what I am reading about is worrying and frightening, and some of it is encouraging and uplifting.
The most common theme so far in the books I am reading seems to be that normal parenting strategies don’t work. It’s rarely possible to use discipline in the way that you might with another child, because of the background and trauma the child has been through.
For example, a lot of children who have been emotionally or physically abused or neglected by their own parents believe that it is somehow their fault and that they must been inherently “bad” on some level. Therefore it can be common for children to act up or misbehave deliberately when they are anxious, scared or unsettled, to try to reinforce the message, and to drive you, the new parent away. They might feel convinced that you will leave like everyone else in their life, and try to push your buttons to make you angry, to prove that you can’t be trusted, like all other adults. They may want to prove to you that they really are bad, that they don’t deserve your love.
And similarly, most of the books confirm that normal methods of discipline won’t work – sending a child to their room, or to the naughty step, or threatening to take away toys or tv privileges is precisely what they want you to do. And in any case, no matter how severe the punishment may seem to you as a parent, it won’t be anywhere near as bad as some of the things they have experienced in their previous home. Some children may even try to provoke you to shout at them or hit them because, as far as they are concerned, that’s what parenting is. If their only experience of parenting has been violent or aggressive, they may be trying to push you in order to bond with you, or to prove that you really are their new mummy.
So I am learning an awful lot, and re-evaluating as I go what will be best for me and what will be best for my potential future child. I have become rather anxious after reading some of the books, written by women who assumed they would take maternity leave and then return to work – it seems that many adoptive parents are not able to return to work, sometimes for years, as their children have specific needs that cannot be met by a working mum. This one nags at me somewhat, as not only is my career important to me and to my sense of self, (not to mention it took me a long time to get where I am in my career!) but I don’t like the idea of having to give up work completely and live on benefits and handouts indefinitely. Most of the women who aren’t able to stay at work have a partner who can support them, but I have not yet met enough single adopters, or understood how this works in practice for them. (Again, a kind friend’s mother put me in touch last year with a single adopter, but at the time I don’t think I knew what questions to ask, whereas now I’m starting to think of hundreds of questions to pepper her with!).
I’ve also applied for a second passport, to speed up the criminal records checks from various countries, as it seems that each country will take around 3 months, and each requires me to send them my original passport along, which will take forever!
So far, as we near the end of January, I have completed a very thorough medical, and had my medical history and forms sent off to the hospital to be cross-examined by the head paediatrician, I’ve received my enhanced DBS certificate, and my three references have all been sent in. I’m still slogging through the reading list (it does not make for easy reading) and have completed the e-learning courses. I’ve finished my family tree and chronology (which included writing down every address I have lived at since birth, astonishingly hard to do!). I’ve drafted an eco-map, which maps out my support systems, and I have got my second passport, and made some appointments at various embassies to get the police clearance certificates from a few countries. I have also been booked onto a few compulsory training courses coming up in February and March.
I’ve reached out and discovered several people in my office who have either adopted or are going through the same process as me, so have met a few for coffee here and there, and asked questions and shared experiences. Both of them have mentioned the first workshop with mixed feelings. Out of the 4 workshops, the first one is called “Reflections” while the other three are “Preparation” workshops. The Preparation workshops are designed to help adopters understand the needs of adopted children and the likely realities of parenting in a theraputic way.
The Reflections workshop, is designed for the majority of adopters, who have exhausted their options for natural childbirth and IVF, and who may have possibly experienced miscarriages as well. It is designed to help couples grieve and accept their loss, before moving onto adoption as an option. One colleague who attended it described it as an “unbearable three hours of sitting in a room while couples wept”.
I can understand the need, in most cases, to help couples move past and accept the fact that they cannot conceive before starting on an adoption journey, but it doesn’t seem like a one-size-fits-all solution. Another colleague I had coffee with is a gay man who felt it wasn’t relevant for him and his partner, as natural conception was never exactly an option for them. For me, adoption is my first choice, not a last resort, and therefore I have some trepidation about what specifically I may be asked to “reflect” on before proceeding…
Nevertheless I shall sit quietly and attend, in order to tick the box, as my social worker has advised me that there is no reason not to follow these standard steps, in case it should count against me later on. I had asked a similar question about the volunteering requirement.
Most adopters are asked to complete 6 hours of volunteering with children during stage 1. This is to help adults, who are assumed to have no natural experience with other people’s children, adapt to it and socialise, etc. This is all very understandable for a normal childless couple with minimal interaction with small irrational toddlers, but given my past experiences (3.5 years working in primary schools, 1 year volunteeering at an orphanage in Nepal, and numerous times providing childcare for my many niblings) – I questioned whether an additional 6 hours of volunteering was strictly necessary in my case?
My social worker, ever-practical, responded that no, in my case, it does seem a bit of a token gesture, but ultimately when I go to the panel, to be approved as an adopter, they may want to see that I’ve taken the process seriously and ticked all of the boxes. Not doing it could count against me, and so I will organise that too, and hopefully tick the boxes…..
Busy busy busy….