The Inside Edge

By Gail Braznell

National Adoption Week 2016 will take place from the 17th to 23rd October.

As always, the need to find families for some of the most vulnerable children remains at the heart of this year’s event. In England over 3,000 children from a range of ages and a variety of backgrounds are waiting for loving adoptive parents. What they have in common is a difficult start in life and that they can no longer be brought up by their birth families. Children need a loving, stable home and parents who will stick by them through the good times and the bad. They need support and love to help them overcome their troubled backgrounds, make sense of who they are and grow up to be safe and secure.

When thinking about a day in the life of our adoption family it really occurred to me just how much has changed for us as a couple. Our son came home almost three years ago, after a lengthy battle getting through the adoption process that was worth every single second.

Thomas is not yet four years old, with blond hair, blue eyes and is charming with a cute smile that will melt your heart. He is a perfect match in every sense of the word, he looks so much like my other half that everybody recognises it, and already has a great sense of humour and fun like myself. Our son is growing into a lovely boy, with an adorable and loving nature which was brought together by the wonderful job that Worcester County Council and a couple of “stand out” social workers have done, some going above and beyond, on our behalf.

The process

Our process started with us sending for an information pack from Worcester County Council and getting booked onto the next available information session. The session was really useful and gave us an opportunity to hear from social workers and adoptive parents. We were instantly made to feel welcome and discovered there were people from all walks of life, all with the same desire as us, to start a family.

A few weeks later we had a home visit from a social worker. She went through the process once more and asked us more detailed questions about ourselves such as, why we were considering adoption and why now. We also talked about our own childhood experiences, our relationship, the level of childcare experiences we had and our support network. After the visit, we knew adoption was what we wanted and booked our place on the County Council training programme. The course was so informative, we learnt so much, and we met many lovely people, some who are still our friends to this day, and all on their very own adoption journey.

The next stage, the home study assessment, was very intense and make no mistake about it, very intrusive. The adoption process took over two years for us: a frustrating and invasive experience, but with the most sublime outcome. Two years may sound like a long time and is not the case for many prospective adopters, but this time was so important to us, we came through the process better prepared and looking back better people.

Panel

All we had to do was turn up and answer a couple of questions, right!
Adoption panel was tough and emotional, sitting in front of a board of independent panellists is never going to be easy. I must confess we had done a bit of preparation over the weekend before our panel date, reading back through reports, checking out what the social workers considered to be our strengths and weaknesses as individuals, as a couple and as prospective parents for an adopted child. We thought through a few possible questions and how we might respond. The next twenty minutes rushed past in a blur…….. there were certainly tears when the chairwoman told us, “it’s a unanimous positive recommendation”. The panel chair explained that the recommendation of the panel would be forwarded to the Local Authority’s “Decision Officer” for their approval. This was a senior official who was personally accountable for all panel decisions. They would review the paperwork, the notes of the panel meeting and then take their decision. The chairperson emphasised that it was possible for the Decision Officer to decide against the panel recommendation should they consider that there were still issues which they felt had not been fully addressed. But, she said, this only happened very rarely. It would be a week or so before the Decision Officer would have the paperwork and make their decision so we should get formal confirmation of our approval in around a couple of weeks.

After our approval decision we kept smiling at each other, every time the chairperson read a significant strength or point out loud we beamed with pride. We have moved house twice, been travelling to various destinations, recovered from serious illness, become civil partners, dealt with loss and now we are going to be parents. To say we were elated is such a huge understatement. I’m so proud of Eve and so proud of us.

Outside we talked with Pat our social worker who has been our rock throughout, and to this day is a very loyal true friend. I’ll remember that moment for the rest of my life. A tune was playing from the nearby skate park in the background, which will always trigger that very special moment of joy between the three of us. The song, Jason Mraz, “I won’t give up” will always remind me of our social worker, who never gave up on us, who always believed in us and who went that extra mile above and beyond her day to day duties.

Matching

Three weeks after being approved we received a call from Pat. She asked if she could talk to us about something – in fact, she meant someone. We were so excited! We got to know more and more about the little boy that has changed our lives forever, the more we heard the more invested we became. We received a small amount of information over the phone, to begin with. The quick version is that our son’s birth mother was unable to put his needs above her own. Our hearts bled for this little man and his awful start in life, the more we learned about him the more we wanted to help. We were beginning to form an attachment with his profile and becoming very protective over what we were hearing.

We met later to discuss “the match” and collect the child permanence report(CPR). Nothing could prepare us for what we were about to discover, not even the well-presented training months earlier. The reality of what had been talked about in training and learned about children in the care system had now been presented to us in the form of a CPR. The roller coaster of emotions returned and was tougher than ever. From the excitement of seeing an image or two to the heartbreak of learning that at seven months he had an incredible amount of history. But one thing remained in our hearts and our heads, he will need a loving, caring and sensitive family….. Of course, we knew immediately that we were up to this, that we were perfect for him and we could and would meet each and every one of his needs as a priority.

We discussed Thomas nearly every minute of every day when we first heard about him. How we could offer him a well balanced secure base as his home, a positive environment and a calm upbringing with little disruption. In our minds we were planning to be perfect parents, using our time to study various parenting techniques and strategy’s as part of our preparation to become parents. In particular, some recommended reading “Nurturing Attachments” by Kim Golding. “Creating Loving Attachments” by Dan Hughes, “First Steps in Parenting the Child Who Hurts by Caroline Archer and her follow-up, “Next Steps in Parenting the Child Who Hurts”.

We also planned for me to take at least 12 months off work and dedicate this time to building a healthy consistent attachment with Thomas.

We took our time before returning our decision back to the adoption services regarding Thomas. There was never any doubt that we wanted to become his parents, but we needed that time to process the amount of information we had received. A month later we met our child’s social worker and returned back to panel to have the match approved.

Introductions

This was the most magical experience we have ever felt and very overwhelming. On one hand, you have the joy of being with your future son, then on the other, you have to leave him behind each day until a solid attachment has formed. This part of the process is unique to each family involved, so personal, so sentimental and so very private. What I will say, there was an immediate bond between the three of us and we instantly knew it was meant to be.

Home time

It is the toughest thing we have ever had to do, our emotions are all over the place. As we plan to take our boy home, the foster carers are planning to say their goodbyes. As we drove away that day the foster family waved us off with a look of sadness, but also a relief that a forever family who are perfect, has been found.

Final moments

After three months an Adoption application was lodged and reports prepared for a Court hearing. An adoption order is granted and Thomas is legally ours.

Three months later…….

Thomas has been home for three months and is presenting as a normal happy child. He feels safe and has settled into our lifestyle really well. We are so very proud of him. Every day we wake up before he does and can’t wait for him to get up. Nothing is too much trouble and the days are not long enough. You take one look at Thomas, you think how can someone with such a poor start to life be so happy. There is not one day that goes by where we don’t think about how lucky we are to have found him.

On Reflection

The Adoption process is tough but worth every second. We had to work hard to prove ourselves as good people, as someone who wouldn’t give up, someone who could put their child’s need before their own and someone who could protect a child. Having come through the process we feel stronger than before we started, we feel proud and we are immensely happy. I’d say to anyone who’s thinking of adoption, don’t be put off. It’s not always easy but keep going, it’s hugely satisfying.

It never even occurs to us he is not our biological child – He is absolutely ours.

_27a0050
Photography by Gail Braznell © Reflected Images www.reflectedimages.co.uk

Three years on

Thomas is confident and happy, we could ask for no more. He is also looking forward to welcoming another member into our family as we enter the process for the second time.
Special thanks to Pat, our social worker and now our true life long friend.
For more information about adoption a good starting place is:
http://www.gov.uk/child-adoption/overview

Or alternatively, I’m very happy to answer any of those questions you may have.

Contact me gailbraznell@reflectedimages.co.uk