How we progressed through the Stage 2 of our UK Adoption Journey
After completing our UK Adoption Stage 1 at the end of January 2020 (which in itself took around 8 weeks), we had a few weeks break before beginning stage 2.
During this time, our UK DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checks came through after quite a few weeks. Interestingly, obtaining one from Portugal was surprisingly easy in person (I did this over the previous Summer, it was automatically translated into English and it cost 5 Euros).
During this time, we also began volunteering at our local school – I listened to year 6 students read each week whereas Simon was part of the weekly gardening club. We were due to complete 6 sessions each as part of our adoption volunteering checklist – and interestingly enough, both of us want to continue doing this. Covid-19 and the Spring of 2020 lockdown meant, of course, that a pause was necessary.
Being assigned a social worker
We had been initially assigned a person as our social worker for Stage 2, but due to personal circumstances, she was unable to take on other prospective adopter(s). In late February, we were then assigned a new social worker.
We exchanged some correspondence and booked our first meeting which took place on 3rd March 2020.
What is Stage 2?
Stage 2 of the 3-part adoption process, aims to assess our suitability as adopters. During this time (which has a fixed time scale of 16 weeks, or 4 months), we were to meet with our social worker for a minimum of 8 times, with the average meeting to be between 2 and 3 hours.
As we started a bit late, we agreed with the agency that we would still work towards the same panel date of 28 May (more on that later) and complete the whole assessment in 12 weeks – little did we know that a lockdown was going to happen and this would have been the wisest decision we had ever made!
The point of stage 2 is to write our PAR or Prospective Adopter Report, which is then given to the Adoption Panel and then leads to the ultimate goal: to be approved as an adopter by the UK authorities.
It is worth noting that whoever would like to adopt a child in the UK (regardless of the child’s origin) has to go through this process. This is the way that UK authorities have devised as a means to validate any wrongdoing (like child trafficking). As an example, if you wanted to adopt from country X, the country’s social services would require that document. This is then how you would be able to bring a child into a country and subsequently have a passport issued. You will have to undergo this process with the local authority of where you live in the UK or you can choose a charity that will be accredited to do so. There are no costs involved if you intend to adopt from within the UK as local authorities and agencies receive funding to cover these costs. In short, there are no ‘agency fees’ and private adoption is not legal in the UK.
There are costs if you wish to adopt from elsewhere – around £2000 to cover the new documentation (government costs, similar to obtaining a new passport) and also the agency fee which differs wildly. Ballpark figures are around £10k, based on our research. The UK Gov website is very clear about the process and worth a read.
What we covered during Stage 2
We booked 10 meetings in March and April and we had 2 face to face with our social worker at our home and then the remaining meetings (which ended up being 7, I believe) via Skype.
Despite the lockdown, we did not waste a single day – and I have to commend ATV by how incredibly quickly they adapted procedures and their way of working.
For each meeting, we had a topic to discuss – and we really had to dig deep in some cases and I have to say, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity that we were given to have these discussions.
I don’t think many other couples have conversations of this depth before conceiving a child – and I have to say, it added a whole other dimension to our marriage and relationship (which we always thought was very strong).
We discussed things like our relationship (in great detail), our identities (which are so different), how we fit into our neighbourhood and community, our finances, our education and we hadn’t had some of those conversations before in such a ‘direct format’. These were not difficult conversations to have.
We discussed our family backgrounds, what we liked about our childhoods and also what we did not like. We lifted the veil on some of the relationships we had with others that hurt us, and also the ones we were so grateful for. We mapped our support network – who will have our backs really? Who called and who did we call during lockdown? It was quite an interesting exercise.
We talked about our experience caring for children (we get extra points of course as Simon raised 2 children, now independent adults) and our motivation for adopting.
What was tougher? Talking about the nature and impact of adoption on children, reading up about limiting factors – from learning disabilities to learning difficulties (and understanding the difference).
Who could we be the best parents for? That was what this whole process was all about. If a child has known disabilities, what can we do? And if they are not visible, how prepared are we to cope with what will come? There are no right or wrong answers – but having these conversations was SO tough. And so wonderful at the same time.
We missed 2 key parts (which couldn’t take place in its usual format) – the friends and family event and the final house assessment.
Our social worker decided that a group zoom call wouldn’t be the same, so we decided we would do this event, which will gather together ‘the elite’ of our support network, at our home for a social event, before a placement takes place. Obviously the house check will be incredibly thorough and will happen before a child is placed. (2021 EDIT: Actually, no one really ever checked anything and they came to our house a few times during COVID).
Our social worker interviewed (via skype) 7 references, of which one was my sister, and in Simon’s 2 children. We then had of our closest friends telling the social worker what they thought about us. We have no idea what was discussed on each call – and we did not ask anyone about it. We do understand by some comments that the calls were a bit more detailed than some expected!
One of the things one needs to do is go on a 3-day parenting course. We were meant to do so in June, after we were approved, but someone else cancelled and there was space in the May course.
7h zoom calls were ‘interesting’ – and actually not too bad. We did enjoy the course (and again kudos to everyone who changed their way of working so quickly) and also met other prospective parents, some of which will be part of our adoptive support network, which will be one of the most important things we will have.
Imagine an NCT group – and how you have formed a bond with some of those people in the same way as you gave birth around the same time (this is something standard in the UK, I don’t know if it happens in other places). It will be incredibly important for our child to have other friends who were also adopted and be able to understand each other in that way. It will also be good for us to have other people who ‘get it’ and who really really understand what we are going through (or will be going through).
Obviously you don’t bond with a person just because they are the same skin colour, or country or something – but I believe that there are 1 or 2 people that we will really become friends with. Watch this space!
We learned a lot over these 3 days – the instructors were extraordinary facilitators and I think they may be on speed dial in the future. We touched on so many techniques and ideas to use later on – and I am very grateful ATV sees this process so holistically.
The PAR report and the Panel
The end result of our many hours of therapy with our social worker (as I called them) was a 45-page result about us two. About your strengths, our vulnerabilities, our beliefs, hopes and dreams. But also our fears and worries. It was incredibly well written and we agreed some minor corrections but did not disagree with anything our social worker wrote. (it doesn’t always happen this way, so prospective adopters have a section where they can add any comments).
In May 2020, the adoption approval panel took place virtually. 10 people are part of it, they reviewed our PAR report and then directed most questions to the social worker, as the panel really is a scrutiny of his report. We were then invited to comment or add anything – which we did when we thought we could (but were grateful to know we didn’t have to add something for the sake of adding something).
It took about 45 minutes – and it was blind. We were on a Skype call but no video. I thought it was odd, but there are silverlinings! We had a video link to our social worker (on mute) so we could look at each other and make some funny faces when necessary!
15 minutes after our panel ended, we got a call and were told that we had been unanimously approved to adopt a child up to 3 years old and also eligible for early placement (or fostering for adoption).
Fostering for adoption is used for babies and children who are in local authority care where the plan is likely to be adoption, but who still have a chance of being reunited with their birth family. This poses a significant emotional risk (and about 5% chance of the baby being removed from us and returned to a potential family member). But it also comes with many upsides. Fostering for adoption protects children from experiencing multiple moves within the care system. It provides children with good quality, uninterrupted and consistent care while detailed assessments of their birth family are completed and decisions are made about the plan for the child. You can read about it here in a bit more detail.
We wish to adopt a child of any gender and ethnicity, of up to 2 years old and are open to a variety of health conditions but would like our child to be able to live independently as an adult. We are open to siblings in the future. It is all I am prepared to share about this, and I hope everyone understands.
What happens next?
This is the question we get asked the most and the most difficult to answer! As I write this post, we have officially began stage 3 and have had a meeting to sign our contract with Adopt Thames Valley.
We will have to wait until mid-June to get our final bit of paper (where the ADM or the Agency Decision Maker takes into consideration the recommendation by the adoption panel and our social worker).
We also need to create our parenting profile on a system called LinkMaker which is used by social agents across the United Kingdom.
Our contract with ATV states that within the first 3 months we will only consider the children in their care – and hopefully even outside the 3 months, this is the route we intend to take.
Why? Because all future support will come from the local authority where the child ‘comes from’, so being local will be key.
Not much will happen in June, as our social took a month off and we took that as a blessing. We have been on this part of the process for 10 weeks, in quite an intense manner – and I didn’t mention all the books, podcasts, tv programmes we have watched as part of our research. So taking a few weeks off will do us wonders.
We did have a baby girl placed with us on a fostering for adoption basis. I would love to tell you how smooth and professional the process was – but I would be lying. I will make sure to write about Stage 3 once she is fully adopted. She is wonderful and worth all the pain and hassle – but a lot has to be said about the ‘quality’ of the service provided by everyone involved.
It has been a very painful process – and half of the pain is because those handling the process either have been hardened by the job so much that they forgot what being human is, or simply is more than their jobsworth.
One of the things that gave me strength to continue our IVF journey was to hear the most incredible stories from friends and readers (and readers who became friends) – so please please send me an email or a message through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram about your own adoption journey.
Thank you for reading.
Ana & Simon
PS. For those of you embarking on the same journey or just curious, I have shared a list of the adoption books we have been reading.