A leap of faith

On Big Adoption Day, which is almost exactly 2 years since our son was placed in our home (hence just over 2 years since we met him for the first time), and a year since we had our celebration hearing, I’ve taken time to reflect on what an uncertain thing becoming an adopter can be.

Becoming an adopter takes several leaps of faith:

  • That your existing relationship is strong enough to get you through any challenges
  • That your support network will be available no matter what
  • That you can deal with whatever being an adopter can throw at you
  • That you’re not afraid of uncertainty

When we adopted,  we took all of these leaps, and more.

  • We placed our faith in our animals reacting well to the new arrival (or, at least not causing problems!). So much so that, had it not been the case, I’d already told our son’s social worker that if he didn’t get on with the animals/was allergic then he’d have to go back since they were here first! In hindsight, that was perhaps not the right thing to say (as I learned immediately I’d said it…), and fortunately we weren’t faced with such decisions.  Our animals have reacted brilliantly, particularly our dog who is our son’s best friend. They are pretty much inseparable – she looks out for him all the time and is quick to get to his side when he’s upset (although she also runs away if there’s any telling off being done – some loyalty!).
  • We reassured ourselves that we could cope with whatever was thrown at our newly extended family – that the uncertainty around our son’s future due to his diagnosis of FAS was something that we, along with our support network, could cope with. So far, so good. We’ve (well, my wife) arranged for his school to have training on FASD and have slowly educated those around us that, although he’s functioning in the same way as his peers now, that might change in the future. We’re starting to get to the age at which FAS becomes prevalent, and signs of how a child with FAS will cope with the future start to appear. Needless to say, we’re watching with baited breath – to see if his emotional and social development will continue in line with his peers, or whether he’ll need additional support to keep up. Regardless, we’re prepared to offer him support for as long as he needs it/we’re alive, whichever comes first.
  • We placed reliance on our support network always being there for us – each other; family, friends, employers, and professionals. We’ve found, however, that with the best will in the world it’s not worked out as we’d expected, so we’re changing our plans. We’re relocating to be closer to that vital support, and also to provide support in our own way to family members who need it. Having that proximity will make such a difference – we’ll feel more supported and be able to have more precious time back for our relationship.

Without doubt, at the time, the biggest leap of faith we took was to adopt a child with a diagnosis of FASD – with such uncertainty around his future we could have been forgiven for thinking again. But that’s the funny thing about adoption – as much as you can identify “issues” (there is no such thing as an adopted child without “issues” – they are placed for adoption for a reason) from a child’s past, or potential for difficulties in the future, that leap of faith is needed for you to truly discover that there is so much more to a child than a description on a profile. As adopters it is up to us to recognise that, to cherish our children and to give them all the love we can, no matter what. After all, that’s what makes our families special.

 

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Finding out more…

Having declared our interest (along with three other sets of prospective parents at prep group and, I understand, several others) we arranged to find out more. We would be brought details of his history and diagnosis,  see more pictures and even see a video of him!

I should point out at this stage that whilst getting ready for prep group and awaiting the visit of the social workers  (ours plus the boy’s family finder from the agency), we (at least I think I had some say!) decided to have some work done to convert our garage into a living area since we only had a kitchen on the ground floor. The work got finished at 10pm the day before the visit so we were still manically cleaning, tidying and rearranging furniture an hour or so before the social workers arrived.

We watched the video (which showed him playing and involved his social worker and foster carer talking about him – unfortunately we didn’t get to hear him speak) with interest and in silence. This could be our son!

His medical reports and family history threw up some questions/considerations of what we might need to deal with in future, but our overriding decision was that we wanted to proceed further. Around the same time we were approved to enter Stage Two of the adoption process (more in a separate post…).

The next step was to put together a short profile of ourselves to be sent to the boy’s social workers (his social worker and his family finding social worker) so they could consider us for a link. They must have been happy with what they saw because we received a visit not long after.

That visit was nerve wracking – someone who knew the child we wanted to adopt really well was coming to run the rule over us. She arrived and all was going well, until my wife left the room…

She asked “if he arrived in your home and there was an issue with the animals what would you do?”. The textbook answer (which I now know!) is “we would try to manage the situation, and if it was completely unmanageable we would reluctantly find alternative homes for our animals (3 cats and a dog)”.

The answer I gave was more like this: “the animals are our priority. we made a commitment to the animals when we took them on (2 from rescue), and could not give them up, so he’d have to go back”. Funnily enough, that took her by surprise and put our social worker on the back foot too! My wife entered the room with drinks and noticed the deadly silence, the stonefaced look I was getting from his social worker, and the bemused/amused look from our social worker. Fortunately she was able to smooth things over and explain what I really meant, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to relay the tale today!

Foot in mouth aside, the visit went well and we were invited to a meeting with the boy’s foster carers and social workers, where we would be able to find out even more about him and see if he would be a good fit for us.

When we arrived we were escorted to a room with 7 chairs (which I surmised were for me and my wife, our social worker, his social workers and his foster parents). Then another chair was brought into the room, which turned out to be for his foster carers’ social worker – something that had skipped my mind, but which now seems entirely obvious!

At times it was very much “us” v “them” as his social workers tried to get us to guarantee that we wouldn’t so much as glance at another profile (they had a match prior to us break down, so they were very keen to get it right as he had been in foster care for a lot longer than they had anticipated). Fortunately our social worker was a real jack russell, sticking up for us and fending off questions which, really, they should not have asked in the first place (or, at least, directed to our social worker and not us).

By far the best part was talking to his foster carers – when asked what sort of parents they had envisaged for their charge, we seemed to fit the bill. We were also very fortunate that his foster mum loved taking photos, and that it had been his birthday recently, so we got to see some of those along with a video – we finally heard his voice!

Everyone went away willing to support the link, so now it was a matter of getting approval to adopt and then making plans for matching and introductions.

The protective prospective father

Day two of prep group came and we talked to our social worker as soon as we could.  She agreed we could talk to our families so we got straight on the phone. If we were to adopt a child with such an uncertain future then we needed to consider worst case scenarios and whether we and our support network could handle them. The response was a resounding yes, so we confirmed we would be interested in finding out more about this very special little boy.

A big help in us cementing that decision came when the adopters who came in to talk to us brought their son,  a boy with FAS around the same age as the one we were interested in. We had the chance to talk to them at lunch and it was incredibly helpful to discuss their experiences as well as our concerns.

The rest of the day involved more training with the other prospective adopters and concluded with profiles of all of the children who the agency were trying to place displayed in the middle of the room. We had a look at all of the profiles and decided that we were still happy to pursue our interest in the boy we had looked at the night before.

Thus followed much amusement for my wife and the social workers as I hung around the profile for this boy, listening to what the others thought. Nightmare – some of them also wanted to find out more! Cue a sad face from me to one of the social workers – I had already started claiming him as my own!

Love at first sight?

As part of stage one, we had to attend a preparation group. It was a two day course attended by other adopters at the same stage in the process as us.

It all got off to a great start from our perspective – a giant spider decided it wanted to find out more, so jumped down onto our social worker’s knee! Cue my wife and I teaming up to escort it out of the room – a perfect example of being calm in a crisis (and me doing as I was told!).

Over the course of the two days we learnt a lot – getting a completely different (non tabloid) opinion of birth parents whose children were placed for adoption. Having had a downer on them going into the process, I now have much greater empathy/sympathy for those who find themselves in that situation, often through no real fault of their own. It can be a vicious cycle, which we can only help by giving those children the best possible start in life (and sometimes even that will not be enough).

We also covered attachment theory, and the work that we might need to do to support any prospective children to build up areas of their lives they might not have had before (e.g. security, praise etc).

It was really interesting to meet others in our situation – to find that they had the same questions, concerns and hopes. It became a safe environment to share fears, and to learn from others.

The most vivid memory came at the end of the first day.

Having visited us on a few occasions, our social worker mentioned that she had some profiles of children which she’d like to show us, so would we be able to hang around after the end of the day? Intrigued, we agreed.

At this point, it’s worth noting that usually you’d look at profiles after you’ve been approved to adopt, but the agency we went through run another route to adoption, the child specific route, which links prospective adopters with children earlier in the process so the overall timescales are shortened. In case the link does not get approved at the matching stage, the child does not find out until the formal process has been completed.

Back to the story…

We sat down at a table with our social worker (and several others in earshot) and she talked us through the three profiles she was showing us. There were two sibling groups (2 girls; and 2 boys), and a single boy. Each profile was complete with pictures and a description of the children – what they liked to do, why they were placed for adoption and what sort of family might suit them best.

We had been looking to adopt siblings – my theory being that if one settled quicker than the other, they’d help the other, and also that they’d have some constancy with their previous homes (my wife’s theory was the more the better…), hence those two profiles. For reasons that will become clear.

Our social worker had also picked up on the fact that my wife would be giving up work to raise our child(ren), so would be able (and indeed wanted) to to spend a lot of time to help support their development, hence the third profile – a child with a diagnosis of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

We perused the profiles and asked lots of questions, with the social workers looking on trying to pick up on the slightest reaction, but we gave nothing away. We took the profiles back to our hotel and the walk back involved more of the same – both of us asking each other questions to find out what we were thinking, and neither giving anything away. We eventually each admitted that there was at least one profile we were interested in.

The first thing we did when we got to the hotel was to look online for FAS. My wife had an idea of the potential difficulties already, but when I searched it scared me silly. It became clear that we could not even consider the lone child without getting a lot of support from our families. Since we did not yet have permission to do that, we had to put that profile to one side – in fact, we put it on the table in the corner of the room.

We looked at the other profiles, but kept taking it in turns to go and look at the profile in the corner of the room. Something about that beaming face, full of character, made us unable to put him down.

We resolved that we would prepare ourselves as much as possible, then ask permission to talk to our families the next day.