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TEAM ZOELLA JANUARY 18, 2021

We Spoke to 5 People About Adoption

Here, we speak to five people about their stories and what adopting has meant for them, as well as some of the invaluable advice they’ve picked up along the way.

Biology has very little to do with a parent’s capacity to love and care for a child and there are more ways to mother a child beyond carrying one in your own body.

It can also be the most incredibly enriching life experience.

Adoption can quite literally change the course of a child’s life and whilst the process can be an emotional rollercoaster of a journey, it can also be the most incredibly enriching life experience.

Here, we speak to five people about their stories and what adopting has meant for them, as well as some of the invaluable advice they’ve picked up along the way.

Marri

Marri adopted her daughter Ellie when she was 18 months old, she’s now 5.

Where did you start with the research process and deciding which adoption agency / local authority to go with?

I have a close family friend who is a retired social worker. She talked me through the process and gave me the contact details for my own local authority and the two neighbouring authorities. There will be support services local to you depending on where you live, so I contacted Scottish Adoption and read over all the information available. I ended up going with a local authority near me, and they were excellent.

What was your biggest motivation for adopting a child?

I’ve wanted to be a mum all my adult life. I wasn’t fortunate enough to meet someone who also wanted to have kids, so adoption felt like an empowering way for me to take control of that. As soon as I made the decision to embark on the adoption process, my determination to be a mum went to a new level. This was no longer about my need to be a mum. This was about a child who needed a mum.

Can you talk us through what to expect from the adoption process? (Timescales, interview questions, training, first introductions, the matching panel)

  • My telephone enquiry led to a visit from a social worker for an initial assessment and to complete paperwork. As a single adopter, I asked if my mum could be present during the visit. I still smile when I think back to that night. My mum showed the social worker my spare room and even told her I was a good baker! She basically gave me a glowing reference. I felt so emotional seeing how badly my mum wanted this for me too, and proud to have her unwavering support. I really liked the social worker who did that initial visit and hoped I’d get her allocated to me. As luck would have it, I did, and she was amazing.
  • The next step was to attend preparation groups. These classes took place over a number of weekends. They covered a lot of detail about what to expect from the process – it was a ‘warts all’ approach, covering the importance of acceptance, risks of known and unknown health conditions, connection, heritage, discrimination, preconceptions, prejudice. I was the only single person in our group. I remember sitting in my car on the morning of our first class watching all the couples walking in, taking hands, arms round each other. I buckled and called my best friend. She told me to walk in there with my head up and keep my eyes on the prize. I met some good people in that group, including a couple from the same town I live in. We made friends instantly, we’ve been close pals ever since and now our daughters are best friends.
  • After the preparation groups, I was allocated my social worker, Joanne. She had my back from day one and I had complete faith in her, which is crucial when you are bearing your soul to someone, as happens when you enter the next stage of the process – the paper work. As an adopter, single or a couple, you need to complete a form which speaks to who you are, what your motivations are, your family, your upbringing, your views, your ability to cope with life’s transitions, your resilience, your support networks. No drawer is left unturned, no skeleton is left hiding in the cupboard behind far too many pairs of shoes. When you tell people about this part of the process, they seem quite appalled; ‘it’s terrible you have to do all that when most people can have a baby without batting an eye’. I never viewed this part of the process as anything but necessary, essential. I also made a decision to see it as cathartic; a healthy reflection on who I am, and what I have to offer. The completion of the paperwork took place over the course of a year, in my case. Some of the form was written by my social worker following in depth conversations, some of it I wrote myself and submitted. My parents and some very close friends also submitted personal references. I had to attach a photo of myself to the form. Scrolling through my phone, I realised I didn’t have many which didn’t have me holding a cocktail. A work friend took a picture of me sitting at my desk, smiling, scared, determined. My daughter will read this form one day and I hope it makes her feel proud.
  • The next stage is the panel for approval, and then it’s a waiting game. For many adopters, they view that panel approval as being the positive pregnancy test. You know you will be a parent, but in this way, there is no gestation period. It’s all in the hands of your social worker, and the social worker of a child in ‘permanency’, to make that match. Six weeks after I was formally approved, my social worker rang me to say she had a file for me to read. It was a baby girl who had just turned one year old. I will never forget that phone call as long as I live.
  • My social worker sent me the file to read and followed this up by texting me a photo of the baby girl. It had been taken on her first birthday, only two months prior. Her big blue eyes, her wee face, I knew the second I saw that photo she was mine.
  • My social worker visited me with my daughter’s social worker, and from there we were formally matched. I set to work. A buggy, a cot, toys, clothes – many, many clothes, books, more clothes, adoption leave from work, savings cashed in for adoption leave, nights out with my friends before it was ‘all over’, more clothes but this time for me – what look would I go for now I was going to be a mum? Goodbye, high heels – hello, high tops. I was ready.
  • I was able to connect to my daughter’s foster carer, Elizabeth, via my social worker, so in the 3-4 months between the match and our introduction, Elizabeth and I met for a coffee and swapped numbers. She sent me photos and videos every week, and it really helped me to connect to my daughter before I’d even met her.
  • It was so important to me that the transition period was as smooth as possible for my daughter, who had already been through a lot in her 18 short months on the planet. I slept with a teddy bear every night for two weeks before we met to get my scent onto something comforting for her which her foster family gave to her before our introduction week. I also found out what type of washing powder her foster carers were using so I could buy the same and try and maintain some familiarity for her.
  • The night before our introduction day was surreal. Three years after I picked up the phone to the local authority and asked that question – ‘can single people adopt’ – here I was, preparing to meet my daughter in the morning.
  • I knocked the door, and in I went. There she was, sitting on the floor, playing with her toys. There she was, my girl.

What criteria must you meet before you can adopt?

In Scotland you have to be over 21, but other factors are taken into consideration, such as having a spare room, healthy and fit enough to care for a child, and not banned from working with/being around children.

Meeting a panel of independent experts to discuss whether the applicant/s should be formally approved must be a pretty daunting experience, how did you prepare for that?

Your social worker won’t take you to the panel unless you’re all set for approval. It’s daunting, yes, but all the hard work is done by this point. Everything you do from that first ever enquiry has prepared you for this part of the process. In some ways, it’s the easy bit.

What support did you receive throughout the adoption process and afterwards?

My social worker was very supportive, and I had good peer support from the people I met in the preparation groups, but the support from my friends and family during – and since – has been phenomenal.

What’s your best advice for anyone considering adoption or just beginning their journey?

Somewhere out there is a child, or children, waiting for a forever family. Keep on going. For as long as I can remember, I knew I would be a mum to a little girl.

I planned for it and constantly envisioned what it would be like, what I’d be like as a mum, and eventually my wildest dreams came true. Marri

I planned for it and constantly envisioned what it would be like, what I’d be like as a mum, and eventually my wildest dreams came true. Never lose sight of the end goal, it’s not an easy path to follow however the feeling you get when you get to take your little one home for the first time is unrivalled. It makes every single part of the process worth it.

Do you have any particularly special milestone moments, trials and triumphs that you feel you could share for prospective adopters?

So, so many. The first night she slept in our house; the first time my dad picked her up and said ‘I’m your grampa’; the first time I pushed her in a swing; the first time she called me ‘mama’. I doubt there is much I’ll ever forget. No parenting trajectory is easy, I know that, and adoption is is no mean feat. My daughter is almost 5 now, and her mood can swing from Disney Princess to Disney Villain with terrifying ease – but the triumphs far outweigh the trials.

What was the most valuable piece of advice you received along the way?

My best friend telling me to keep my eyes on the prize at that first preparation group, which kept me going all the way through the process.  

How do you prepare for when your child starts asking important and inevitable questions about their birth family and how do you ensure that your child is always aware of their history growing up?

I tell my daughter her story as part of her bedtime routine; how mummy wanted a baby but not just any baby – the best baby, the bravest baby, the smartest baby, the kindest baby. And that out of all the babies in all the world, I picked you.

The more honest I am with her from this young age, the more blasé I hope she will be about being adopted.Marri

The more honest I am with her from this young age, the more blasé I hope she will be about being adopted. I will answer her questions. I will take her worries, her fears, her hurt and I will comfort her, soothe her, reassure her. If and when she wants to find any birth connections, I will help her, I will drive her there myself. I won’t shy away from hard questions and I won’t make it about me.

What does life look like for you as a family today?

Being Ellie’s mum is like having front row tickets to the best show in town. She’s funny, curious, kind and whip smart. She is a force of nature and my biggest inspiration. Everything I do is for her and for our little family unit. We have so much love and support in our lives, but when all is said and done it’s us against the world, and I could not be happier.

Luke

Luke and his husband Sam are currently in the process of adopting.

Where did you start with the research process and deciding which adoption agency / local authority to go with?

We started our research by looking online for adoption agencies near us. We used the website first4adoption.org.uk which has lots of really useful information regarding the adoption process and it has a ‘find an agency’ function that will provide you with a list of nearby agencies. We then went along to an adoption information event held by our local authority and decided that was the way we wanted to proceed. 

What was your biggest motivation for adopting a child?

My husband Sam and I have always wanted to be parents, and with being a gay couple we always knew that either adoption, fostering or surrogacy would be the way for us to have a family. After a lot of thought, we felt that because there are so many children out there that need a loving home, adoption would be the right path for us. We really feel that we have the skills, love and patience it takes to raise an adopted child. 

Can you talk us through what to expect from the adoption process?

When you register your interest to adopt, you have a ‘home visit’ with your appointed social worker. This is a 3-hour informal meeting where you will discuss a whole host of topics such as, why you want to adopt, your financial situation, what you are like as a couple/family, medical history and what your own upbringing/family life like was like. We were then booked onto a two-day training course which was really informative and a great opportunity to meet other people going through the process as well. 

It can feel a little invasive at first, but it’s just so that your social worker can get you to know you as much as possible. Luke

Then when you start Stage One, you can expect a lot of paperwork! We were asked to produce financial reports, family trees, support network maps, health & safety reports on our home and a questionnaire that asks more detailed questions about our upbringing, our relationship with our own families and what kind of parents we think we would be. It can feel a little invasive at first, but it’s just so that your social worker can get you to know you as much as possible.

I personally found it quite therapeutic to reflect on my own upbringing and to think about what I would take or not take from my childhood experiences into my own prenatal journey.  In regards to timescales, I was surprised at how quick the process can take! We are just coming to the end of Stage One, which has taken us just over 3 months (with a slight delay thanks to Covid!) We then hope to complete Stage Two within 4 months! 

What criteria must you meet before you can adopt?

The criteria for us to be able to adopt through our local authority was that we had to be over 21, have lived in the UK for longer than a year and be clear of any criminal convictions or cautions. Other than that, you can be single, married, unmarried, be from any ethnic or religious background, be heterosexual, bisexual, gay or transgender, be a homeowner or living in rented accommodation, be employed or receiving benefits.

What support did you receive throughout the adoption process and afterwards?

We have received so much support from our social worker throughout the process so far. They are always at the end of the phone or an email if we have any questions or worries. We will have the same social worker for the whole process and they continue to support us even after we (hopefully!) adopt a child. Our local authority also organises two events a year for adopters and their families and there are several support groups for adoptive families.

What’s your best advice for anyone considering adoption or just beginning their journey?

Attend an information event, they are really informative and you will know if adoption is the right path for you after going to one of these. Also, a big thing that will help for being considered for adoption will be how much childcare experience you have. So, start clocking up with hours and spend as much time with any children you have in our life! If that’s not an option then I would suggest volunteering at your local nursery or school, this would look great on your file when going to the adoption panel! 

Emma

Where did you start with the research process and deciding which adoption agency / local authority to go with?

After we had decided that we wanted to adopt we attended an open evening with our local authority. We didn’t really look into adoption agencies since we would only be able to take on a newborn. While we were waiting to attend the open evening we did a lot of reading around the area of adoption. The best place to look is Adoption UK. Home for Good is also a Christian charity promoting fostering and adoption that is an excellent source of information.

What was your biggest motivation for adopting a child?

We always knew that we wanted a big family. Before we had our eldest child who is now 10 we looked into fostering with our local agency but at the time we were in our early 20’s and felt that it wasn’t the right time to foster. We then went on to have our second child who is now 4 but that thought of fostering was still in the back of our minds. When our second son was nearly 2, my husband were discussing about having another child. Out on a summer walk one day I brought up the subject of adoption and it turns out he had also been thinking about it – the rest is history! 

Our biggest motivation is to give a child in need the chance to grow up in a loving and caring home.

Can you talk us through what to expect from the adoption process?

The adoption process is intense! It normally takes 6-9 months. It is split into two stages. Stage 1 is mainly paperwork that needs to be completed. You will answer questions about every aspect of your life from your childhood right through to your current relationships. During this stage, the social workers will also gather references from your employer and friends and family.

If you have any past significant relationships they will also contact them for a reference but don’t let that put you off adopting. They also ask you to make a map of your support network, these are the people that you can lean on throughout this process and once you have been matched with a child. You will also do a chronology which is a timeline of important and significant times in your life. A family tree is also requested. You will also have a DBS check and a medical check with your GP. 

Stage 2 is where you will have regular visits, normally weekly with your allocated social worker who will meet you to discuss further everything that you have written in the paperwork that you completed in stage 1. In doing this they will then write it all up into one big report which is called the Parental Assessment Report (PAR) this document is presented to the panel before you go.

During this stage, you will also attend training courses on a variety of subjects to equip you further in your adoption journey. Your social worker will also have a call or visit with your references to discuss things further. You will also give your social worker a rough idea of children you have in mind eg siblings, age, gender, whether you would consider a child with a disability etc

Once you have attended approval panel at the end of stage 1 you wait for that to be signed off by the agency decision maker you are then ready to start family finding! There is no specified length of time on this stage unfortunately. You could be waiting for days or months. We waited 10 weeks before the call about our daughter but friends of ours were linked within 2 weeks. Once you have been formally matched with your child then you go back to panel but this time for them to agree that the match is good and that the adoption can go ahead. That decision also has to be signed off by the agency decision-maker. 

In traditional adoption, a plan would then be made for introductions to start. The time scales on these would depend on the child and their age and how long they have been with the foster carer. They will start off really short and gradually get longer. They take place at the foster carers house but towards the end you would take them back to your house. During the introductions, you will have a days break where you will have a meeting with your social worker to reflect on how everything is going. On the day you collect your child and take them home it will be emotional for everyone. Once your child has been home for 10 weeks you can then apply to the courts to legally adopt your child.

We took an alternative route called Foster to Adopt where the child is placed with potential adopters who are also approved as foster carers while the decision is made about their future.Emma

You then get a court hearing which the birth parents can attend. They may contest to the adoption and the hearing be delayed while this is assessed. Once the order has been granted your child is legally yours. You are normally invited to the court to have a celebration hearing with the judge who granted the order and have a photo with them. At this point, your child will receive a new birth certificate with their new name and you listed as their parents.  

We took an alternative route called Foster to Adopt where the child is placed with potential adopters who are also approved as foster carers while the decision is made about their future. Children that are normally placed for foster to adopt have a high chance that they will be adopted although there is an inbuilt risk to the adopters as there is a chance the child will return to the birth family. With this route into adoption, you don’t tend to get much notice, we had under 24 hours notice! 

What criteria must you meet before you can adopt?

The only main criteria that you must have a spare bedroom, be over the age of 21 and legally a resident of the UK, Isle of Man or Channel Isles for at least 12 months. 

Meeting a panel of independent experts to discuss whether the applicant/s should be formally approved must be a pretty daunting experience, how did you prepare for that?

Panel is one of the most nerve-wracking things I have ever done! The best advice, given to me by my social worker, was to just remember that they are not there to catch you out and to just look at it as a one big conversation. You are the topic of conversation and no one knows you better than yourself. Rescue remedy also helps!

What support did you receive throughout the adoption process and afterwards?

We have had such amazing support from our family and friends. They have been with us every step of the way from reassuring messages while we were waiting to be matched to babysitting the boys while we attended our training courses.

What’s your best advice for anyone considering adoption or just beginning their journey?

There is no right time. The path may be long and you may feel like you will never get there but it is so worth it in the end. 

Do you have any particularly special milestone moments, trials and triumphs that you feel you could share for prospective adopters?

Watching our boys meet our daughter for the first time was so special. She was 3 days old and we hadn’t told them about her before they left that morning just in case something happened and she didn’t come home to us. The look on both their faces will stay with us forever. Even now 16 months on they are completed besotted with her and adore her. The day she was finally matched with us and we knew that she wasn’t going anywhere was a really special day. 

Our journey from placement at 3 days to adoption order at 16 months had a few ups and downs along the way. Good news was often followed quickly by bad news and we needed a lot of patience while the process ground on. There were two particular occasions where we genuinely feared she might be returning to her birth family and those were tough moments and we were preparing ourselves mentally for it. But this has formed such a strong bond with our daughter for all of us because we went through it all together and the elation now at the end is just beautiful!

How do you prepare for when your child starts asking important and inevitable questions about their birth family and how do you ensure that your child is always aware of their history growing up?

When your adoption goes through you are given a life story book which has photos of birth parents and any siblings and also explains the child’s story before they were adopted. You prepare by ensuring that you are open and honest with them from the start. Ensure that you know all the information and what you would say to them in a child-friendly way. You are also encouraged to tell them from an early age so that although they may not understand it fully they are aware of it. 

We want our daughter to understand her story from an early age. She has a different heritage to us as well so we want to try and keep that connection for her as well by incorporating traditions from that country into our lives. 

What does life look like for you as a family today?

Family life today is hectic!! We have 3 children aged 10, 4 and 16 months. We wouldn’t have it any other way. The love and bond that they have for each other is amazing and I can’t wait for them to grow up together. We also haven’t ruled out the idea of adopting again! Just not yet!

Natasha

Natasha is currently in the adoption process.

Where did you start with the research process and deciding which adoption agency / local authority to go with?

I think the first start was looking for an adoption agency/Local authority. We also went onto to the adoption UK website which is an amazing resource. We read through all the steps in the process to get familiar with them. Once we were fully decided we contacted our local authority. We had a conversation with them and we went from there. We had to wait for a while due to Covid as they couldn’t do the usual information meetings they do. They were just trying to get things set up for virtual training and meetings. There is also an amazing podcast on the BBC sounds called the adoption. 

What was your biggest motivation for adopting a child?

I have a condition called Turners syndrome. This means I cannot have children naturally.  I have known this since I was in school. It was a condition I was diagnosed at birth. I have always wanted to be a mom and I feel it would be a great gift to give a little one a loving and stable home.

Can you talk us through what to expect from the adoption process?

I would say in general without any breaks or anything it could be a years process all in all. Sometimes it may be quicker for other potential adopters. It will pretty much be a year for us by the time we go to the panel. So through the local authority, the time scale is as follows: You have to attend an information event. Then you fill out an expression of interest form. After that, you attend what’s called foundation day training. After this, you can then say you want to proceed onto stage 1.

Stage 1 in general can take 2 months sometimes slightly longer. Stage 1 includes doing 2 workbooks where you answer a lot of questions on your motivation for adoption, life timeline and family background. Then once stage 1 is complete you have the stage 1 review which then you decide on whether you want a little breather or you proceed onto stage 2. The stage 1 social worker will recommend you for stage 2 if they are happy with everything. You then wait to be allocated a stage 2 social worker.

Once stage 2 is officially started it is around 4 months to panel. The social worker has a few sessions with you to get to know you well and to go through the matching criteria at length. They also need to do a check of your house etc for safety etc. Once all that is done they get you ready for panel. Sometimes you may be matched with a child before panel and then you could have matching panel the same day as approval panel. That isn’t always the case though.

Once you have gone through approval panel and you are hopefully approved you can then start fully family finding. Once you have a match then you would go to matching panel. If that is all agreed then you would start introductions a week to two weeks after. Depending on how much transition time the child needs, will determine how long the intros are and that. Once that’s done then its time for them to come and live with you in their forever home.  I would say if all goes smoothly and you find a match quite quickly it would be a 9-month process all in all to being approved. I think in general though it will be just over a year. Depending on your matching criteria, a match could happen quickly or it might be a few months wait for the right child. It also depends on which children have come through into the system as well.

What criteria must you meet before you can adopt? 

You have to have a home either owned or rented with a room to accommodate a child. You have to be able to support them financially. You don’t have to be a couple. You can be a single parent. I would say having child care experience would be extremely helpful.

Meeting a panel of independent experts to discuss whether the applicant/s should be formally approved must be a pretty daunting experience, how did you prepare for that? 

Yes very daunting but your social worker works with you and prepares you as much as possible for the panel. We haven’t been to panel yet but will be soon #fingerscrossed


What support did you receive throughout the adoption process?

There are a few training days which prepare you and you have your assigned to you who is there to help as much as possible and provide support. They also will still be there for support after the child is placed with you.

What’s your best advice for anyone considering adoption or just beginning their journey? 

I would say have patience and be open-minded. It might feel long but the end result will be so worth it.  I  think just do your research and embrace the training. Also, I would recommend speaking to other adopters about their experiences.

Do you have any particularly special milestone moments, trials and triumphs that you feel you could share for prospective adopters? 

So far the triumph has been getting to stage 2 and now full on to Panel. We have everything crossed for the day of panel and hopefully matching panel soon as well. I think the hardest part is waiting. Waiting to move on from stage 1 to stage 2. Waiting to be allocated your stage 2 social worker. Waiting for your adopters report to be ready for panel and to go to panel. Waiting to be matched and introduced to your child. So if you can stick through it, in the end, everything will be even more special.

What was the most valuable piece of advice you received along the way? 

Manage your expectations and ideas you had about what adoption will be like and going through the process.


How do you prepare for when your child starts asking important and inevitable questions about their birth family and how do you ensure that your child is always aware of their history growing up? 

This is discussed in the training you receive and there is also further training on life story work. Where you put their life story in a book and the social workers help with this as well. You get to find out their background so you can explain it to them at age-appropriate times. I think it’s about keeping that discussion open with them throughout.

At the moment it is just my husband and myself with our lovely cockapoo Luna. We are ready to welcome a little one hopefully this year. Natasha

You also in a lot of cases get to meet the birth parents/parent at least once, so you can tell your child how they look and what they are like. This will help them with their identity. Our child will know from the start that they are adopted so it isn’t a shock when they are older. At the moment it is just my husband and myself with our lovely cockapoo Luna. We are ready to welcome a little one hopefully this year. 

Helena

Helena has two adopted sons – aged 17 and 19.  Her youngest is also her oldest as she adopted him first when he was 9 months. His older half brother joined them a year and a half later when he was 4.   

What support did you receive throughout the adoption process and afterwards?

Support has been essential to me – my Local Authority (whom I adopted through) have a support service which has been available to me throughout and I still use them – this week even. Psychologists and social workers have attended meetings at school with me when issues arose and give me continued guidance and support.  Family and friends have also been amazing – my parents and sister have been my strength when times have been hard.  

There are support groups, online communities, web sites, books, some great Instagram accounts of other adopters who give perspective and advice – anywhere I can get it I do! 

What’s your best advice for anyone considering adoption or just beginning their journey?

My advice to anyone thinking of adopting is to go into it with an open mind, try to gain as much training/advice before and ongoing, be willing to adapt and change, be strong and resilient,  and to make sure you have a good support network. 

What was the most valuable piece of advice you received along the way?

The most valuable piece of advice I have received is to live in the moment – enjoy the good times, and know that if it’s a challenging time it won’t last forever – things change and move on. 

How do you prepare for when your child starts asking important and inevitable questions about their birth family and how do you ensure that your child is always aware of their history growing up? 

Every adopted has a birth family – and these families are part of our children forever.  It is important to be respectful of their birth family whatever the circumstances as it is part of them. Talk about birth family from the start and give age-appropriate information, answer questions as honestly as you can – again age-appropriate.  Like all children, questions can come at the most random times so be ready!

I am so proud of the young men they are becoming and how they have managed to navigate their way through the challenges they have had to face which come from being adopted.Helena

I am so proud of the young men they are becoming and how they have managed to navigate their way through the challenges they have had to face which come from being adopted. Yes, it has been hard – sometimes extremely- for them and for me parenting them through this – and it still is at times.   But it is worth it all for me as, quite simply, they are my children and I love them unconditionally.

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Mireia

One of my favourite blog posts so far

Tahnee

What an insightful and touching article! Good luck to all these wonderful families and all those starting this journey! Xxx

Dahlia

Thank you for this post, in particular including the question about discussing the inevitable conversation about adoption with the child. Xx

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