So, after my social worker suggested that it might be time for me to move on and start looking at some other children again, she suggested I attend an activity day, and see if anything clicked.
Activity days are organised by a local authority and are an opportunity for potential adopters to engage with the children that are up for adoption, to meet their foster carers and talk about them, and see if any connection is there. From the children’s perspective, it is a really fun day out, usually at a special activity centre with an adventure playground, soft play, lots of toys, face-painting and an entertainer who does balloon animals or magic tricks and that sort of thing. The kids are there with their foster carers and also their social workers, so there are lots of adults that they know and feel safe with. The babies generally don’t really understand much about the day, and just play with the toys, while the older children have had some explanation, so they know that potential adopters are coming to the day, but that none of them are specifically linked to any child. The kid’s expectations are managed so they know it’s not about “picking children” and no one will go home feeling rejected.
The day I attended had 2 sessions. In the morning, the babies up to 2 years old, (about 10 kids altogether) and in the afternoon the sibling groups and slightly older single children (about 34 kids altogether). There are clear rules and boundaries – they ask you not to spend more than 10 or 15 mins with any one child, partly to allow other potential adopters to interact with that child and partly to avoid developing a bond with the child which might raise their expectations unrealistically. They also ask you to make sure you’re not openly discussing the child with their foster carers in their earshot, and to be careful if the child asks any difficult questions like “Will you be my mummy?”. There was a colour-coded lanyard system which was very useful – adopters had blue ones, social workers and family finders had orange, foster carers had purple and children up for adoption had yellow stickers and wristbands with their names on, and any other children (such as adopter’s children or foster carer’s children) had green stickers so you can tell them apart and know who was who.
It was quite an emotionally difficult day, and it was very well organised with spaces for adopters to step away if you find it a bit overwhelming, and plenty of social workers you can chat to if you need to talk about it.
So what were the major pros and cons of attending a day like this?
I suppose for many people attending, the expectations are quite high that you are about to meet your future child for the first time, and for some it was clearly very nerve-wracking (for example, one couple had been told by their social worker that they had a particular child or children in mind for them, and wanted them to come and meet those particular kids). For me, in some ways I was lucky that I was able to keep very low expectations – I have already looked through all the profiles for my local authority, and none of them had jumped out at me, so I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with a particular kid, or anything dramatic. In fact compared to many of the couples there, I was there mostly just to observe and see how it all felt rather than to try and find a child that’s right for me. So my lowered expectations probably helped me a lot in what was otherwise an intensely emotionally-charged day.
So, the pros of the day were: Of course it’s much better to actually meet or interact with a child, or watch them playing – it gives you an entirely different perspective on their personality, and brings them to life the way that a photo and a paragraph in a database simply cannot do. In fact, there were a few children that I had discounted in the database who I found myself watching more and more closely, and considering in a new light. One little boy just bounced and jumped up and down delightedly for about 40 mins straight with a look of total joy on his face – that is very hard to capture in a profile!
It allows you to meet the foster carers, and ask questions about what they are like (outgoing, bouncy, energetic, clingy, shy, etc) and things like are they sleeping through the night, what do they like to eat, what is their favourite toy or activity etc. All in all, it gives a really great and much fuller picture of the child than you could ever do on paper.
Another interesting thing was that although some have behavioural or attachment disorders, and some had medical issues, when they are all jumbled up in a ball pool or playing with train sets, you don’t see any of that, you suddenly realise they are just children, and they all play and interact just like any other kids would. On paper it’s too easy to focus on the issues and problems and medical history, but in person all of that fades away and they just become kids.
Which brings me to the cons….
Being surrounded by 30 odd children who are beautiful and gorgeous and smiley and totally lovable, and knowing each and every one of them has an awful history of neglect or abuse or violence is HEARTBREAKING. Truly, madly, deeply unbearable.
The database was hard enough to trawl through looking at kid’s profiles, but in person it’s 10 times more real and harder to bear – hence the break out rooms where you can go and cry or take a break if you need to step away. I met an utterly gorgeous little girl and her brother, they were adorable and sweet and kind and lovely and I kept drifting over to them, feeling more drawn to them than anyone else. Aside from the fact that I’ve been told as a single adopter I can’t consider siblings, these two had a rare genetic disorder which was likely to cause lifelong health problems, growth and development problems, and both had severe heart conditions that would require surgeries and many, many check ups and hospital visits. Could I manage all of that while working full time? Of course not. Could I bear to take home the most gorgeous and wonderful little girl in the world knowing she might have a heart attack and die at any moment? No of course not, I could barely stand to think about it without weeping. Hearing the foster carer explain that these two beautiful children have already been in care for 2 years, and they can’t find anyone able to take them on was devastating. Genuinely they were the sweetest, loveliest kids and you wouldn’t know to look at them that they had any health issues at all. I cannot explain how heartbreaking that is to hear.
A few other cons for me I suppose – the afternoon session was for siblings and older kids, but they hadn’t told us specifically ahead of time who was coming. So in the afternoon there were 34 children, of whom only 4 were single children (all of the rest were sibling groups which I can’t consider). Of those 4, one didn’t show, and 2 were from my city, and therefore I couldn’t consider them either (too close a proximity to the birth parents). So out of 34 children only 1 was a possible option for me to consider adopting, and it was a little weird and disappointing, especially as you’re expected to move around and meet all the kids and play with them, but it seemed a bit weird and pointless to play with all these gorgeous kids that I can’t actually consider adopting. That was hard for me, and next time I think I would try to find out more in advance before attending.
Another thing I found hard was that 2 of the siblings there were related to my first failed match. They were the older siblings, and I desperately tried to avoid them all day, as it was too weird thinking that they don’t know who I am, and I know their intimate history and all the awful things that happened to them. And hard to know that I chose not to adopt their little brother – that I rejected him. That was tough to manage emotionally to say the least. Their social worker was also there, and I’m not sure if she didn’t recognise me or remember me, or if she did and was ignoring me…
Would I go to another activity day? I probably would to be honest, but with a clearer idea of what it’s like, with a slightly harder mental shell on to block out the heartbreak, and checking first if it’s worth going to both sessions (in hindsight I’d have skipped the afternoon knowing only 1 child out of 34 was a realistic option for me).
I’m an empath. I feel. And that makes all of this so very very hard sometimes. Hard not to let it in and break you, hard not to scoop up those two gorgeous little kiddies into my arms and say “I’ll take them! I’ll figure it all out!”
I honestly don’t know how social workers can bear it, and tonight, as I shed a little tear for all those wonderful, gorgeous, lovable kids, I will be raising my wine glass and saluting each and every social worker out there who can maintain a positive attitude in the face of so much sadness.