Friday, September 25, 2015

A Pinch of Salt

Anybody who is considering embarking on adoption should purchase for themselves a large bag of salt, and carry it with them at all times. You will need it, as much of what will be said to you should be accompanied by a pinch of it.

Today we had Birdy's long-awaited LAC Review. The Independent Reviewing Officer, Birdy's social worker and I convened the meeting in our playroom while I put the children in front of a DVD with vast quantities of snacks.

I got out the salt.

Today's largest pinch was needed to accompany the words, "I'll get that form sent off straight away." Do I hear hollow laughter from the adoption community?

This was said in relation to a form which I was promised at the start of August, received at the start of September (after chasing it up myself), and returned, in person, almost three weeks ago. Since then, apparently, it has been sitting on the social worker's desk. Nothing else can happen until this form is received by the 'Finance Panel'. As an administratively-challenged person myself, I do have sympathy with others who also suffer, but it's starting to wear a bit thin now.

It's not the first time I've got the salt out. You may remember that the thorny issue of finances raised it head extremely early in the process. I ranted about it here. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I could forget any idea of receiving any adoption allowances. I thought this was a mean-spirited opening shot, and wondered at the time if it was one of those tricksy stumbling blocks they like to throw in the way of prospective adopters to see if you've got what it takes to stay the course. After all, we'd already been through 'open-adoption-gate' with its proposed six direct contacts with birth mum per year. That was a barrel of laughs.

My suspicions were aroused even further when the 'financial assessment form' I had to fill in turned out to actually be an application form for adoption allowances. Shortly after I filled it in and returned it, Birdy's social worker talked about how she would "submit that form and see how much you'll get". This is the same form that hasn't been submitted yet. Of course.

Today, the IRO reassured me that "there's usually a 2-year buffer" for people in my position. This is exactly what I received last time. So much for "no chance of adoption allowances this time around" then. I'm not out to wring every last penny from the LA. I actually think two years is a bit generous. Personally, I'd be happy to settle for financial support to cover the Statutory Adoption Pay I don't get because the LA forces its foster carers to be self-employed. Two years is also fine though!

But I digress. Suffice it to say that I was right to suspect that the whole no adoption allowances scenario needed a little salt on it. I know that many (most?) adopters don't get allowances, but there was just something about the way it was said that made me suspect all was not as it seemed.

Today's LAC Review turned out to be a great opportunity to get a grip on the whole process and get a few things off my chest. The IRO supported me over some of my concerns, and is concerned about "drift" in Birdy's adoption process. She rounded off the meeting by setting out a timescale based on the minimum possible time that each stage could take and decreed that we should be at approval/matching panel by March.

Pass the salt!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Tiny Steps for a Man. Giant Leaps for a Child.

It's around four months since Twinkle moved in with us as an emergency placement. With two hours' notice we went from a fairly settled family of three, to a decidedly unsettled family of four. It's been a rough old ride to be honest and there have been several days when I have felt sorely tempted to phone her social worker and ask for her to be moved to another placement. I still have my doubts that our busy house with another child very close to her age (and therefore in direct competition for my attention) is the best possible place for Twinkle but we must weigh up the advantages of a different placement against the trauma of yet another move for this vulnerable little person.

Whatever happens, Twinkle will need permanence, so at least one more big move is in her future. Where to, we do not yet know.

But, we have seen progress. While we are a long way from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I am beginning to feel as though we have taken a few steps forward. It is still dark, but there is something fresher in the air. We are definitely seeing positive changes.

I can go to the toilet in peace, for instance. For the first three months, every visit to the toilet would be accompanied by a persistent soundtrack of relentlessly loud wailing right outside the door, accompanied by scratching at the wood and rattling the handle. I can't express how delighted I am that this has stopped.

There is no more crying at night. This happened regular as clockwork every night for the first ten weeks and, I think, eventually became something of a habit with well-rehearsed lines on both our parts. The habit is broken. She's actually a great sleeper.

There are signs that she is beginning to value our established routines and see herself as part of them. We have a simple but unvarying bedtime routine but recently, as a result of throwing her new shoes over the garden fence, Twinkle was sent to bed without participating. Her genuine sadness at missing out on our sofa time was, I must admit, a little satisfying (after all - the shoes!), but also an encouraging sign that our little rituals are beginning to mean something to her.

Finally, and this may seem an odd one to some, this week she has left food on her plate several times! I know a lot of parents are frustrated by picky eaters, but for a little girl who approaches every meal as if it might be her last, the few bits of pasta left behind and the words "I've had enough" are very encouraging signs that she's beginning to feel more secure that her basic needs will be met.

Many times over the past four months I've been reminded of that programme, "Protecting Our Foster Kids" and, in particular, of Amy who was featured in the first programme. I remember some of the shocked and shocking comments about her foster carers, and I wonder what some of the commenters might have written if they'd seen the results of someone following me around with their camera as we've tried to re-group and re-establish our family since Twinkle's arrival.

The problem with a child with overwhelming needs is that caring for them can be . . . well, overwhelming! And, however experienced you might be, you do not know what you are getting when you accept a child on an emergency placement. At the point at which you say "yes" to a child sitting in a police station, you do not know their background, their experiences, their personality, their needs. I was not even able to pin down Twinkle's correct age.

And it's not just overwhelming for me. I am an adult and able to rationalise what is happening. Yet even so I have days when I really don't want to get out of bed. For other children living in the house, it can be completely destabilising. OB has had to share his toys, his mum and his personal space with a total stranger who sees herself as being in competition with him for every morsel of food, every word, look, cuddle or moment from me, and even for toilet time. It's a lot to ask. Of course, none of this is Twinkle's fault, but that doesn't make it any easier for OB . . . or for me sometimes, for that matter.

I'm not a fan of the attitude that unless you have experienced something you have no right to hold an opinion on it. Personal experience is only part of understanding a bigger picture. But I will happily admit that I could never have imagined the impact on every single part of my life that fostering would have, and I'm pretty sure someone who hasn't experienced it couldn't imagine it either. A new child comes into your home and literally nothing feels the same. They stay for an unspecified length of time, then they leave and literally nothing feels the same.

And repeat.

Friday, September 11, 2015


I have written before (this time last year actually) about the White Noise that comes with adoption; a sort of never-ending buzz that stays mostly in the background but sometimes pushes its way to the fore. A lot of the time we get along like any other family but, in reality, it's never possible to completely get away from the fact that adoptive families are not quite like other families. There's always that white noise.

Recently, with two unrelated looked after children in the house, an adoption in progress, and letterbox time upon us, the white noise has become considerably more noticeable. Each of these situations comes with its own set of professionals to deal with, paperwork, meetings, appointments, plans and schedules. I will pull out my mobile phone to discover a missed call from Children's Social Care and think, well, that could be from any one of eight or ten people!

This week alone I have spoken to Twinkle's social worker twice, Birdy's social worker, Birdy's IRO several times, my adoption social worker, a PAS social worker and my supervising social worker. And that was just a regular week with no extra meetings or appointments. That might not seem so bad, but bear in mind that, usually, an actual conversation with social worker will have been preceded by several missed calls, or a series of emails to set up a successful call. At times like this I get irrationally irritated that their switchboard closes at 4.45pm. Not 5pm. It's almost as if they're admitting that nobody stays in the office until 5pm so there's no point ringing.

I have resorted to contacting Birdy's IRO directly to try to cut through the issues surrounding the adoption process we are supposed to undergoing. I am concerned that there is no timetable for it, no final contact with birth family scheduled for her, apparently no accountability for whoever leaked my intention to adopt to Birdy's birth mum before her placement order had even been secured. She promises that we will discuss all these issues at the next LAC review which will be happening very soon. I had to ask her to personally ensure that I was told when it was scheduled as I was not invited to any previous review, despite my presence being theoretically required as Birdy's foster carer. The IRO admitted that there seems to have been "drift" in the process - an understatement I'd say since she remembers me discussing it with her back in March and there has been virtually no progress since then. She was of the opinion that there was no reason why we couldn't be at panel in ten weeks. I rolled my eyes. She has a good reputation but I haven't yet heard of her working miracles.

In the meantime, Twinkle's situation has done a complete reverse course. We had quite a dramatic few days shortly before we went on holiday (and she went to respite), and now it seems as though she will be staying here for quite a while longer. This will have implications for us all and I'm not sure what the best course of action will be as yet. She is a little girl full of challenges and yet I do think I'm beginning to see faint glimmers of progress. We will see. Mostly it's out of my hands anyway.

And then, earlier this week, we had a particular moment when the white noise became not just intrusive, but deafening, all-consuming. Driving to my close friend's house for a playdate with our children, I slowed at a junction to let a young couple with a double buggy finish crossing the road. It was only as they got on the pavement and turned towards me that I saw that it was OB's birth mum, her partner and their two tiny children.

She didn't see us. I'm sure about that. OB was chatting away in my ear, Mummy this and Mummy that, and I couldn't take in a word he was saying for the buzzing in my head. I only caught a fleeting glimpse of her face as she walked off, barely aware of our car, but I knew straight away it was her, as surely as she'd have recognised me if she'd seen me.

Of course I've always known that OB's birth mum lived locally - in the next town in fact. But not in the small town I was in that day. Not in a place I go to at least once a week. Not so close to my friend that they would share the same local park (a park I won't be visiting again any time soon). My dentist is in that town. We might even share the same dentist. We were, maybe, a quarter of a mile from my friend's house. I have always expected to find myself face to face with her again, but, you know, in a few years, when OB was older, when and if he chose to look for her.

Hoping against hope for reassurance, I phoned post-adoption support only to be told by a very kind and understanding lady (after several missed calls of course!) that the most recent address they had for birth mum (which of course she didn't disclose) was not in that town but was also, probably, extremely out of date. I suspected as much. She hadn't co-operated terribly well at the time of the adoption, so the chances of her keeping social services updated as to her latest address were always going to be slim.

Tonight, tomorrow night maybe, I'm going to write our annual letterbox letters to birth mum and paternal grandma. I'm going to write platitudes and moderately interesting anecdotes about OB's year, without hope of reply in birth mum's case anyway. And all the time I'm going to be wondering if her second and third children are playing at the same park as her first one so often does. I'm going to be thinking about that for a while.