Let me start from the beginning, or somewhere near there.
My husband Michael and I knew before we were engaged that we wanted to adopt. In fact early on in our relationship we openly discussed our desires to adopt and found common ground.
We decided that whether we had birth children or not, it didn’t make a difference- we wanted to adopt and grow a family alongside or after or before we had kids-
we wanted to adopt.
A year and a half ago we somehow fell naturally into the notion that we would try the adoption route. By this time we had two birth children, Elijah who was five and Tobias who was three.
I remember the adoption information in my studio sitting from the year previously.
It had rotated around the studio shelves and I never opened it, but one day during that time we felt it on our hearts, I opened it and started the “journey”. It was a Friday afternoon.
Adopting internationally was something we discussed but when we took a short time to investigate what it involved we soon realised at the stage I was at in my growing business/career, we didn’t have the funds to support such a process. Nor did we think it would work taking a month at a time away from the boys to make visits and vital connections abroad. You can read more about adopting internationally here.
So we felt domestic adoption was for us, which meant we would be adopting a child or young person from Northern Ireland, essentially. The process starts with phone calls and filling out a few forms to show you are genuinely interested. I am sure you have seen the buses with “Are you interested in Adoption/fostering, contact this number?” prompting you to take action. Really it is that simple, to start.
The resources were there to be availed of, and Michael and I took the chances we were given and contacted who we needed to.
Can I put out there that I am not new to social services in that I have worked alongside social services and social workers for ten years. I worked as a support worker for Positive futures, an organisation providing extra curricular activities for young people with learning disabilities, and I worked one to one with many young people who were in social services suffering from drug abuse, or neglect. I taught art therapy to give some light relief to what were often horrendous living conditions and the grey existence they were in. In fact, two of my close friends are social workers. Therefore, before I go any further I want you to know that I have a clue, I know that social workers are understaffed and so often overworked. I know the paper work is through the roof, I understand that kids come on board with new cases all the time. Not to mention the young people that just don’t leave the social services system and the cycle of abuse or neglect and unhappiness continues in to the next generation.
Having said that it is quite clear that more could be done from the powers at the top to help Social workers on the ground.
Our initial visit from a social worker was so positive and inspiring and warm and fuzzy. She spoke of her delight that a couple with young family were willing to go through the process, and she seemed unfazed that our boys fought during her visit as well as the fact the house was a bit of a toys-everywhere-shambles. It was like she ‘approved ’of us, or at least that’s the sense we felt.
She was realistic about how long the process could be (almost 2-3 years).
However, since we had no specific gender or race of child in mind she assured us it could be quicker than we thought. Again she seemed happy that we had open arms to what was out there.
I am not Angelina Jolie, nor do I aspire to be (well I would take her body any day). I am also not mother earth who sleeps head to toe with her brood every night so they feel close to their roots. I am an ordinary working woman with dreams and hopes for my family. Adding to our family was not to bulk out the number of kids in our house or prove that we have “culture” because we are willing to adopt a child I didn’t give birth to. It hand on my heart comes from a deep deep yearning to care and provide for a child who has not been shown the love they deserve.
Whatever opinion you may form from reading this is your own, but I know when we went down this road on a (albeit brief) journey,
that we believed for a very long time it was meant for us, we were one hundred percent committed and hopeful.
After the social worker visited it became apparent that we would have to chase up on any other appointments and feedback as the communication was poor. As above, I am aware of the tight schedules of social workers and the overload they face, so this wasn’t shocking to me and we didn’t take it personally.
We finally got onto the mandatory three day training course which was several months (not to mention many conversations with friends, family and adoptive parents) later. It meant getting the boys looked after and our own works covered. My husband’s work were very supportive and we felt set up for the three days ahead when the time came.
Day one of the training started with us being late even though we lived so close to the venue.
There was crazy traffic and we went to the wrong destination. This meant walking in late to a crowded low ceiling room and being immediately told that we weren’t on the list. We apologised and explained it was the Senior social worker of the branch who had put us on the course, and we were, just about, allowed to sit down.
Looking around the room there were young couples, slightly older couples, gay couples, trendy couples, hippy couples, the lot. This reassured me there isn’t a stereotype who wants to or can adopt- not that I thought there was one but, you know, your mind goes all over the place in those intense set ups.
We recognised pretty quickly that we were a minority because we had birth children of our own and we were reminded on more than one occasion that because we had birth children it did not mean we were able to parent adopted children the same way.
The days were educational informing us about the backgrounds of the kids waiting for adoption,
how long every stage of the process takes, why there are methods laid out the way they are etc. They also opened up real life cases of children in care. It was great to be in the thick of it all and feel like things were reachable and hear from people who actually got to the finish line and live as a family in Northern Ireland.
When split into small groups I was amazed that although we were told not to allow our parenting of birth children to input our answers, all the people in our groups still asked us for advice, and the answers I gave as a birth parent (maybe influenced by my own work with young people in care) were, at least occasionally, the ones they deemed correct during group discussion.
I know that parenting birth children is not exactly the same as parenting a child who you adopt.
I recognise there is a whole other world of emotions and circumstances to contend with.
There was a lovely lady who spoke about her three adopted children. She was super and engaging and enthusiastic with great advice.
At the end of all the training we felt more emotional than ever. We seemed to be one of a very few couples in Northern Ireland willing to make this journey with two young birth children.
We had figured out with the social worker on that initial home visit that the boys would be at least seven and five by the time we would get to the fostering stage which comes before the adoption. Yet during the training we were told there may not be the support from social services we needed with our young family.
At the time it seemed incredibly unfair.
We were standing, (literally) with arms and our door wide open for a baby or child to come in and feel warmth and love and security. I wrote letters to the child I whole heartedly believed we would adopt. I was THAT sure this would work for us.
I now realise it wasn’t that Social services didn’t want to support us but maybe they have seen a situation like ours in the past that didn’t work.
I know now it wasn’t that they didn’t care about us, perhaps they were protecting us.
Our Dreams seemed smashed, doors slammed and we were at a full stop. Devastated and crushed we drove home from the third day of training. Huge disappointment.
We never did write an e mail to confirm we would hold off because there didn’t seem to be the help we needed. We knew they wouldn’t contact us anyway, which they didn’t.
When I see a poster with “Every child deserves a family” or, a facebook article claiming that social services need adopters and foster parents, it hurts my heart a little.
Yet, we have no regrets
and I know that in the future we can try again and see where it takes us. If you are on this journey I wish you all the best. What you are doing will make a massive difference in the life of one or more young persons. Even though the road ahead will be long and full of bumps and obstacles and perhaps the odd diversion, what an amazing outcome you will have!