This week I had the first of many meetings with the social worker who is going to guide me through the process of becoming approved as an adoptive parent. I more or less knew what to expect as I had already been told that it's fairly similar to becoming approved as a foster carer. That process took months, involved many, many long meetings where I told my social worker literally everything about myself, and resulted in a 50+ page report.
So I was surprised to be told that the adoption process is indeed similar to the fostering one, but is more in depth.
More in depth? I honestly don't think it's possible for me to be able to tell them more about myself than I already have!
But it reminded me that long ago I promised to say more about the process of becoming approved as a foster carer, and it seems to me that the meetings with the social worker are a good place to start.
I had about 14 meetings with my social worker in order for her to create a portfolio of information about me that was more than 50 pages long, not including appendices. We discussed absolutely everything. Seriously, my social worker now probably knows more about me, my life and my attitudes to everything conceivable than anybody else.
There is no stone left unturned. I had to talk in detail about my childhood, what my family life was like, how I was disciplined, my education, my parents' divorce, my relationship with my sister and other family members, other people that were important to me and the ways in which I think that all of that has affected me as an adult.
She built a timeline of all the significant events in my childhood, including when I moved house or changed school. This ended up being pretty thorough.
In my adult life, she wanted to know about all of my significant relationships, my work history, my interests and hobbies. I was asked about my attitudes and beliefs in regards to education, achievement, cultural and ethnic differences, sexual relationships and sexuality, religion, managing children's behaviour, special needs and more.
Some things were easier for me because I am a single carer with no children of my own, and who has never been married. Otherwise I know that I would have had to give permission for my children to be interviewed and also for ex-partners/husbands to be contacted.
The age range that I was choosing to foster (0-3) also affected the questioning. There was less emphasis on issues such as peer relationships, sexuality and teaching children to stay safe than there might have been had I been fostering older children. But I still did face challenging questions on issues such as religion - for instance I was asked to provide evidence that I wouldn't attempt to impose my beliefs on children in my care.
For each of the answers to these questions, evidence was required. It wasn't enough for me to say that I knew this, or thought that. I had to provide evidence from my own life and professional practice that these truly were the values and attitudes that I espoused. I think this might have been easier if I had children of my own - a lot of my ideas about raising children were purely theoretical!
Each of these issues were discussed in a lot of detail at meetings in my home that often lasted for two hours. In between meetings I was given a booklet which showed all the areas that were up for discussion and I was invited to make notes on the relevant sections in advance of each meeting. Frankly, it was quite a lot of work for someone who never uses one word when 20 would do!
I think that the level of detail required in these interviews is something to really think about if you're considering fostering or adoption. I am thankful that I am comfortable talking about myself and I don't really have unresolved issues in my life waiting to ambush me, but if I did, I would have had to submit to having them examined under a microscope by a person who was basically a stranger. My adoption social worker even suggested that she would come in the evenings if the subject matter looked like it was going to be sensitive so that we could discuss it with the children out of the way. They obviously expect to be stirring up emotions.
I also need to be honest about the sort of pressure you feel when answering all these questions. Most of the time there's a nagging feeling in your mind that if you give a 'wrong' answer then it could all be over for your application. I don't know if this is how it works, and they reassure you that there is no 'wrong answer' but still, it's hard to shake the feeling.
I'm expecting a whole new set of questions when it comes to the adoption process. Granted there can surely be nothing left of my personal life to uncover, but taking on a child for life is a completely different proposition to taking them on for just a few months. Certainly we'll need to discuss issues relevant to older children that we sidestepped last time. I'm already trying to formulate honest but measured answers to some of these in my head - the last thing I want is to be caught on the hop and accidentally say the 'wrong' thing. Turns out I simply don't believe that old 'there is no wrong answer' line!