Panel, introductions and more

So, time to check in on where we are in the adoption process. So far I have completed the following stages (started officially in November 2017, so approx 9 months so far, although I went to the information day originally in summer 2016)

  1. Information Day
  2. Pre-Stage One suitability meeting
  3. Stage One (paperwork, volunteering, book-reading, more paperwork, criminal records checks in 4 or 5 countries)
  4. Stage Two / Homestudy (intense discussions about my childhood and suitability to be a parent, more paperwork, health and safety review, financial checks, more paperwork, training courses)

Today I went to my Adoption Panel, which is the culmination of all of the above stages, and I am happy to report I have been recommended for approval!

I will have to wait 10 days for the official letter, as the panel can only make the recommendation but the LEA has to officially confirm the approval in writing. But usually if the panel approves you, you are approved!

So it’s a big milestone for me, 9 months into the process, and I am very happy!

The panel was fine – it was VERY hot, as it’s 33 degrees outside today and there is no AC and very little airflow in the building (for security reasons, all the doors have to stay closed in the building) so I melted into a hot sweaty mess! Also I was quite ill yesterday so avoided shaking hands with people, which felt slightly rude, but I explained I didn’t want to get anyone sick!

I was first in a waiting room with my two social workers (as the one who did my homestudy will not continue with me, as she is part-time so I have a new social worker who will be taking me forward into the matching process – my third one so far!). The panel advisor came out first to take both my social workers into the room. They were gone about 20 mins while the panel grilled my social worker about me, then the chairman came out to introduce himself, talk me through the process and take me into the room. He told me they were going to ask me 5 questions.

In the room we did a quick round of introductions – there were 9 people on the panel, facing me and my 2 social workers. Quite scary and intimidating, but they were all very nice. I can only remember 4 of the 5 questions, but they asked me:

  1. How will I cope with the transition from someone who clearly has a very busy and exciting working life into being a mother, travelling less, and settling into a totally different lifestyle?
  2. What can I tell them about the types of issues that Looked-After Children (LAC) face? (This question was from the medical advisor, so I assumed he meant mostly medical things)
  3. What are my plans for childcare, given that I will be a working mother and plan to go back to work after my adoption leave?
  4. What will I do in a crisis? Who will I call for support? Also who will I call when I need emotional support?

It was all over very quickly – I think I was done in about 10 mins! Then they asked me to go back into the waiting room while they discussed me. They were very quick too – barely 5 mins, and then I had the option to go back into the room or they could tell me the outcome alone in the waiting room. I chose to go back into the room and they told me I had been recommended for approval! They were very nice and smiley and said they thought I seemed remarkably well-prepared and had obviously put a lot of thought into it.

So there we are!

I have a couple of work trips coming up so my new social worker and I have decided to wait until September to put my profile live in the system, which is when the Link Workers will start trying to match me with a child!

Next up there is:

  1. Parenting course (September)
  2. Matching process (a family finder/link worker will aim to match me with a suitable child, often there are many profiles to review, and I can also proactively go onto the database once approved and see if there are any children out there that resonate with me, in the age ranges I am approved for). This process could be 3 months, or 6 months, or 9 months – how long is a piece of string?
  3. Adoption Matching meeting (not sure that’s what it’s really called) – once a potential match has been identified, you will meet with the child’s social worker, child’s foster carer, their teacher if they are in school, a doctor/medical advisor, along with the family finder and your social worker to ask questions about the child, their history and any medical, emotional or behavioural issues, and ensure it’s really the right match for you and for the child.
  4. Matching Panel/Link Panel – Once you’ve agreed to go ahead, and social workers on both sides have agreed it’s a good match, you’ll go to another panel which will review all of the information and make a decision about whether or not to go ahead.
  5. The final decision rests with the local authority, who will review all of the information and the recommendations from the panel, and make a decision on behalf of that child. This is done because at this point the local authority has legal parental responsibilities for the child which will need to be legally delegated to me as the potential parent. At this point I would also be given key legal documentation such as copies of the child’s birth certificates and placement order, to allow me to apply for adoption leave/maternity leave, apply for child benefits and other key things.
  6. Get house ready for the child – need to ensure at this point that all health and safety measures have been carried out, a final review will be done, and that all stair gates/cupboard locks etc are in place, any furniture, clothes, shoes and toys purchased.
  7. Introductions – This process will be clearly laid out, and can take around 1-3 weeks depending on the age of the child and their circumstances. I will be given a clear schedule, which involves at first meeting the child just for an hour or two, and gradually spending more and more time with them throughout the week. I may be asked to get there at 6am to see the morning routine, or stay and watch the bedtime routine, so might need to stay in a hotel near the foster carer’s home. (Bearing in mind it is likely to be at a city quite far from my own, as they will not match me with a child from my area/city). At some point the foster carers will bring them to see my house, initially for a day visit and later for a sleepover, with the foster carer staying in a hotel nearby.

I recently went on a very practical workshop about managing the introductions, which gave really practical advice such as: the foster carer should not stay with you in the house for the sleepover, as it will confuse the child to think they might have new parents and continue to live with their foster carers. Also they advised us not to take them out for a treat like McDonald’s on your visits, try to give them food you have made yourself, so they can get used to what kind of food they will be eating at your house (otherwise a 3-year old might assume that their new mummy will be taking them to McDonald’s all the time!). At the end of this managed process, gradually you will be taking the lead more and more, and the foster carer will be slowly relinquishing their role as primary carer, until it is time for the child to come and move in with you.

8. After a minimum of 10 weeks from when the child is placed with you, but can be much longer, the social workers will at some point deem you to be suitable to apply for an adoption order, so you can legally become the child’s parent.

There are lots of other things which may also happen in amongst all this, such as possibly meeting the birth parents if that is deemed to be suitable/useful on both sides, and lots of support offered by the “Attach team” during the introductions and early few weeks in the process.

One thing they have stressed is that in the first few weeks, I’ll need to be bonding with my child, and laying out boundaries, and so they usually ask to limit visits from friends and family in the first few weeks, and gradually introduce family bit by bit, so it’s not too overwhelming. Children can often get worried if we go to visit grandparents or aunts/uncles that they will have to live at another new place (sometimes they ask this even 2 or 3 years after a placement, and can get very nervous about overnight stays away from home) so it’s likely that my friends and family will need to come to me in the first few months rather than me going to their house (which is slightly annoying as I’ll be on adoption leave and more flexible and able to drive about, but nevermind!).

So it’s all very exciting and moving along! Can’t believe that the next step is to put me into the database so I can start searching for my child!

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