How we are getting on with our Stage 1 of our UK Adoption Journey
Our UK adoption journey officially began on 18 November 2019. That was the day Simon and I signed the papers to officially begin the process which is made up of 3 parts – and we are beginning stage 1.
After an unsuccessful IVF round in April (you can read my IVF and life updates here, here and here), we decided to take a break and just think. I still had one round included in my IVF treatment pack (yes, they do sell them in packs and you will almost get a 3 for 2 deal not including medication and other extras) but after a week or so (and not hearing a word from the IVF clinic who only called to ask when I would like to rebook my next round), Simon and I decided we were done.
This time round, I had twice the medication as before and I got to a point where I said no more. And that was it.
We had talked about adoption since we started treatment 5 years prior and were always very keen to explore more so we did a bit of reading and tried to understand how the UK adoption process worked.
To my understanding (do not quote me on this, but there are plenty of reading materials which we are working through at the moment), you go through a process which gets you to a stage where you are approved (or not) by an official adoption panel.
Adopting with Local authority v. Charity
To get there, you have 2 routes: you go to your local authority, which has a team specialising in adoption who works with the other social services teams. The main goal is of course to place the children in their care with the most suitable families. Alternatively, you go to a charity, who ‘have no children’ (who are always under the care of local authorities) and they take you through the process, then go nationwide (or internationally if accredited to do so) and find you a child based on your criteria and the ones available via the local authorities. Worth knowing that if we are not matched with a child (or children) from our local authority, our designated social worker will then begin a national search.
There are no private adoption agencies in the UK (nor is it a for profit activity) – you can then look for children outside the country, but only when you are approved to be an adopter. Otherwise it is called child trafficking (which makes perfect sense).
We didn’t know where to begin, so we decided to speak to both our local authority (Adopt Thames Valley, which is actually made up of various local councils, with more pooled resources) and PACT, a charity that (ironically) my husband had supported through donations via another organisation.
Both organisations were quick to respond to our initial email and schedule an call, but this is where all similarities ended. It is quite interesting – so I will provide some details.
With the charity, we had an initial call and then booked a longer call, where we went through our history, motivations, brief financials and went we got to the medical part, where obviously we mentioned that I had IVF and my husband had had prostate cancer (which was successfully removed without any need for further treatment). It was a big ‘oh’ as the lady who was taking our call (who kept saying ‘cool’ at the end of each answer and was really quite young), then said ‘oh, you need to be cancer free for 5 years’. There is no such requirement in UK law (of course you need to be healthy), and in our case, the organ was actually removed, so technically the same cancer could not come back. She said she would speak to her manager and a week later, told us that their medical advisor said ‘that then, 2 years would be enough’. The point of me sharing this detail is because we were BAFFLED by how someone made a decision with a real impact on our lives without asking for any medical records, wanting to speak to our consultant or actually meet us. We then got particularly annoyed and asked our consultant to send them a letter (and he was baffled as well). The last straw was when on our last call, we were told that because Simon was older, they could consider continuing the UK adoption process if we accepted an older and more handicapped child. Nothing made any sense and we decided to end that process there and then. I am sure that they and other charities do some great work, but the approach and attention we received were not what we expected at all.
With the local authority, it was completely different. Our first call was with someone quite senior, whose tone of voice was empathetic and understanding. It turned out that they were having an open night event the following week and we went along.
Over 2 hours (I think), they explained how the UK adoption process worked, what was really going to happen, how children get into the system, introduced the fostering for adoption concept, siblings etc. The room was packed and with people from all ages and races. We then heard from an adopter who had 2 girls and it was actually great to hear a positive and happy story. We left the event and booked a trip to Gocek in Turkey departing the following morning, to go and get some air and think. It actually did us a world of good, and I couldn’t have picked a better place.
These 2 conversations happened at the same time (with the local authority and the charity), so the difference in tone and attitude was even more noticeable. We then had a 90 minute call with the local authority a few weeks later and again, completely different. We knew there and then that we wanted to proceed with the local authority and booked the first house visit meeting for end of October.
Adoption: you need to take a break from IVF before you begin (and that is absolutely right)
Why the delay? They required 6 months break between any fertility treatment and beginning the UK adoption process – and it gave us time to start reading (there’s quite an extensive reading list, which I am sharing for those of you interested). Also gave me time to get my (non-existing) criminal record checked in Portugal (as the authority does all the UK background checks directly).
I was initially quite irritated about the wait – but I knew I couldn’t fight it, and it was the best thing that could have happened to us. We did need that time to grieve and deal with the incredible sense of loss we felt. We also needed time as a ‘more normal’ couple and decided to do some home renovations which had to be done before we began the process. The reason being is that the agency asked for maximum consistency and routine when we began the process and any works, moves or sudden changes would affect any person, let alone a child.
Beginning Stage 1 of the UK adoption process
Before we began stage 1, we had a pre-approval meeting, where a social worker came to our house and had a good chat with us. I was so nervous, I couldn’t tell you – but all nerves disappeared within minutes.
We had a 2 hour chat, which touched on pretty much every question you could ask someone – from health, to relationships, to friendships, disappointments, happy moments, finances, work and everything else. We were then told that we would be invited (or not) to officially begin stage 1, of the UK adoption journey, which we were a week later.
The UK adoption process stages are kind of set in stone. Stage 1 takes 8 weeks (2 months) – and the local authority is going through our lives in every possible manner. We will be checked, our finances, bank statements, background checks, internet and social media checks (for a very particular reason which is to see if people can find other people with the desirable answer being no), taking up references with friends, family and employers, medical checks, a 90-page form for us to complete and 4 days of workshops. We also have to volunteer with children we do not know (hoping to do that with the local school) for 6 sessions.
This seems like a lot, but it is absolutely necessary – and if anything, the process is there to check who has the resilience to deal with what will come next, which is a complete unknown.
After Stage 1, Stage 2 begins – and that takes 16 weeks (4 months) and we will be working with a social worker on our “home study” which will help us ‘get ready’ to then (hopefully) be approved by a UK adoption panel. We will have a parenting course as well! Then stage 3 begins – and that is the matching. We will be approved to adopt a child or children (which we are very keen to do) within specific parameters (which we have not decided yet).
Stage 3 is the matching – which can take days, weeks, months or years – and at this stage, it doesn’t matter. We need to be approved first and that is what we are focusing on.
UK Adoption Stage 1
In December 2019 we attended our first workshop – a half day based on reflection. We met the other parents (or prospective adopters) who are going through this journey with us (it will be like a NCT group minus the birth). We didn’t know what to expect – but it was wonderful.
There were tears, laughter from people from all backgrounds – everyone in the room firmly believes they have much love to give and can be great parents to children who couldn’t stay with their biological ones.
Throughout stage 1, we attended 3 more course preparation days (with the group) which covered a very very wide number of topics – from abuse to neglect, from attachment disorders to fostering from adoption. It is brutal what is happening to these children – and more and more, we thoroughly believe that this has happened to us for a reason. Maybe we are good enough to play a key part in the life of someone who wouldn’t get many other chances otherwise.
During this stage, we had a variety of background checks, we asked closed friends and family to provide us with references (this part of the system could have been made much easier for everyone as instead of an email, everyone had to do this by post which seems a bit strange – as everything else we do with Adopt Thames Valley is electronic.
We have also started volunteering with our local school. It sounded a bit odd when we were told we had to do this – but we are both thoroughly enjoying it and plan to continue doing it after our mandatory 6 sessions. I am being read to by Year 6 (and I love it) where as Mr. O is helping with the gardening club.
UK Adoption Stage 2
We felt that during the first months of 2020 things paused for a bit – and we are not sure why, but some admin errors made us waste some precious time, but we seem to be back on track, having signed the paper that confirms that we are now in Stage 2. We have been assigned our social worker A. and we have met him and set the next 10 meetings we are going to have with him over the next 12 weeks.
These sessions will be between 3-5 hours each, at our home and we hope to be going to panel (where we will be approved as adopters) at the end of May 2020.
In the meantime, I am going to leave you with a poem that was read to us on our first day – but read it from a child’s perspective, or a third party who plays a part but doesn’t even know.
Welcome to Holland
by Emily Perl Kingsley
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.” But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.
I shall keep you posted on our UK adoption journey throughout stage 2.
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.
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.