On Friday last week I had my enchantingly-named 'Adoption Viability Assessment Meeting'.
It's as though whoever designed the process we have to follow to become a parent through adoption was determined to take the shine off the whole experience, right down to the choice of language!
But anyway . . .
As I have now been thoroughly assessed by my LA twice (once for fostering, once for adoption) I had rather hoped that this initial meeting could be avoided, but no, the protocol still applies. Thankfully my assigned adoption social worker had actually read my files in advance (a growing feeling of hope glimmers) and came to the meeting with only two discussion points: potential risk posed by birth family, and my financial situation.
We didn't start there though. No. We started with a question that I personally consider one of the most annoying questions that is asked during the process (and believe me, it's up against some stiff competition).
Why do I want to adopt? And why, particularly, Birdy?
I knew it was coming, so I had rehearsed my answer and was ready for it. But I can't help wondering why it is that those who will become parents through adoption must justify their desire to create or add to their family in this way? And this in the context of a meeting where, if everything doesn't go well, the ASW could write a negative assessment and shut the door at the very start of the whole process. So I have to justify my desire to add to my family in terms that will pass some sort of test, the criteria of which I will never know. I just have to hope that my explanation is good enough.
Thankfully we moved on to the birth family issue quite quickly, and dealt with it to the ASW's satisfaction, so there was only the issue of my finances left. It was at this point that I started to slide into that weird vortex of misunderstanding that I often experience when dealing with social services.
It's not that we are incapable of making ourselves understood. The problem is more to do with the protocols and tick sheets that the social workers seem to have to work to, and which I think are sometimes ridiculous. I suspect that some social workers think they are ridiculous too, but saying so is not the done thing. So the social worker keeps trying to bring the conversation back to the tick sheet while I try (and fail) to suppress the urge to challenge the tick sheet's basic assumptions.
As far as finances go, I will have to fill in a financial assessment form which will be passed up to a finance panel who will look at it and decide whether I earn enough money to raise two children. Here's where I start to grit my teeth. I am a foster carer. I live on fostering allowances supposedly designed to cover the cost of raising children that are placed with me. I intend to carry on fostering. So my income will remain at a similar level. So, the same LA that pays the fostering allowances that we are supposed to live on is now to determine whether they are, in fact, enough to live on. I wonder what will happen if they decide that they are not? I am pretty certain such a decision would not result in a raise in all of our allowances!
I pointed out to the ASW that 'enough to live on' is a matter of opinion. I am apparently wrong. They work it out to a formula, totting up all the bills and then seeing whether what you have left over is sufficient. It seems to me, though, that the definition of 'sufficient' might be significantly different for someone who habitually does their grocery shopping at Marks & Spencers than it would be for someone who shopped at Aldi and Lidl. I mentioned that when I started fostering, this same LA thought that £150 per week would be 'enough to live on' for me and my foster child. "That's totally different!" said the ASW. Not to my bank manager, I thought.
She was also very quick to assure me that there would be no question of adoption allowances. In the past, allowances were apparently automatically granted to all foster carers adopting in our LA (although last time around I was made to feel as though I was being given a grand favour when I was awarded them), but now they are only granted if the powers that be assess the child in question to have significant additional needs that would warrant the award of allowances. "And I can tell you now, just from looking at her, they won't." How marvellous, I thought, that the ASW can tell this child's whole future just by looking at her!
Before this meeting ever happened . . . way before . . . I had already thought through the finances and worked out that we will have 'enough to live on' in a range of different scenarios, with and without allowances. I know that we will, because I know how to cut my cloth. Now to fill in the form and hope that these people on the finance panel, who are probably used to considerably more disposable income than I've ever had, feel the same way.