Our brief adoption journey, and the disappointment.

October 18, 2015

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!


  • Reply Jen October 18, 2015 at 8:52 am

    No child birth or adopted could have more devoted and loving parents. What has been taken away now will be yours someday.

    • Reply Aly October 18, 2015 at 9:46 am

      Thanks for your beautiful comment Jenny. Come over to our mayhem soon please!

    • Reply Eunice October 18, 2015 at 12:08 pm

      Alison you and hubby would make wonderful parents because I know in my heart where your heart lies keep working towards it and don’t give up xx

      • Reply Aly October 18, 2015 at 2:58 pm

        Thank you Eunice! X

  • Reply LJ Mottram October 18, 2015 at 10:32 am

    I wonder if some of the ‘generic’ training is designed to test a couple’s commitment? A ‘warts and all’ approach including warnings about limited/no support could be a deliberate effort to ensure only the most resilient people continue along this difficult process ?

    The mixture of adopted and birth children isn’t that uncommon and speaking to parents in that specific group **might help more than social services training. ( **interpret ‘might’ for ‘definitely’..)

    I wish you all the best – the difficult things are usually the most worthwhile. You & Michael would have so much to give a fostered or adopted child.

    • Reply Aly October 18, 2015 at 11:04 am

      Thanks LJ

  • Reply Patricia October 18, 2015 at 10:35 am

    Thank you for sharing this. Some poor local child has most definitely been deprived of a lifetime of love with you 4, but who knows what the future holds … watch this space xx

    • Reply Aly October 18, 2015 at 11:05 am

      Thanks Patricia! X

  • Reply Sharom October 18, 2015 at 5:38 pm

    Have five children under ten but would love to foster some day. This article is full of hope and warmth on one level and then despair on another. Keep Fighting!!!It’s families like yours which can make a real difference to children who need it most…

    • Reply Aly October 18, 2015 at 5:45 pm

      Thanks so much for this Sharon and good luck in your journey!

  • Reply sheelagh October 18, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    I remember that day when you arrived here to collect Elijah crestfallen. I’ve also always wanted to do it but would need to gear up for the process. Your title says it all- What’s for you won’t pass you by. X

    • Reply Aly October 18, 2015 at 7:11 pm

      Thanks so much Sheelagh! X

  • Reply Tattymacall November 5, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    Thank you for writing about this. My husband and I are still waiting for the initial assessment to start (a year and half after the we declared our interest). We found the 3 day course like you a very emotional process. We already have a birth son and feel that our little family would love and provide the support for another child. The process is so frustrating. We are here with our arms open and hearts waiting. I am starting to doubt the system and fear the wait will be too long.

    • Reply Aly November 16, 2015 at 3:01 pm

      Karen, I am so sorry for the delay on this.
      I am happy that this resonated with you in some way. That’s amazing that you are so far along! I trust that it all goes well with you from here on in. Please let me know how it all goes. Thanks again. Aly

      • Reply Tattymacall January 23, 2016 at 12:47 pm

        I thought I would post an update. We are finally now being assessed!
        We have to travel to meet the social worker but at least the process has now been started. I think we are about half way through and I have to say the process is intense! Each session has lasted about 2 hours. It is all a bit strange talking about your life with a complete stranger who continually writes as you talk.
        Our son is fully aware of our plans but we feel the final decision on whether we will proceed onto panel well rest on whether our son will cope with another child entering our family.
        I will keep you posted on any updates.

        • Reply Aly January 26, 2016 at 12:19 pm

          That is super! Thanks for letting me know your progress and all the best with the rest of your journey, so so exciting!

          • Tattymacall June 5, 2016 at 9:54 am

            UPDTAE. We eventually got the all important nod from the adoption panel that we are cleared to adopt. Now, that real wait begins. We are all very excited.

          • Aly June 10, 2016 at 12:02 pm

            That is AMAZING!! I just bumped into a girl last week who had their approval all through. Rock on and good luck!

  • Reply Hazel Edgar-Purdy April 23, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    Hi Aly…I don’t normally reply to these blogs so I do hope this makes its way to you. We are a family from N. Ireland. I am mum to 4 kids. We had two birth children before we began our journey to adopt (inter country) We spent 2 years in the process this end before travelling to bring home our son. We then had another birth child and are currently in the assessment stage to adopt again (domestic) I have to say our SW has always been hugly supportive of us adopting from our initial contact with them 6 years ago. Having birth children has never been an issue at all! I appreciate that everyones journey is completly different and in fact that sometimes it even comes down to the SW you are assigned ! Yes…we were a little different in that we were interested in adoption purly because it was how we wanted to create our family !!! But then everyone comes to the decision in various ways. During the process both last time AND this time we have been faced with a number of very thought provoking decisions by the SW but then that is totally what they are there for…I believe they would not be doing their job if they made it easy. I want to encourage you and anyone else who is perhaps reading your blog with the intention to adopt. I agree “what’s for you, won’t pass you” but that doesn’t mean to say it should be made easy ! Sometimes we must work hard for what is right. If you talked with my SW she’d probably tell you I pretty much stalked her 🙂 but unfortunately we live in a society that who ever shouts loudest gets ! Sometimes (I’m not saying it’s the case with you…please don’t get me wrong) but sometimes people think…we’ll I’m willing to offer a child a home so they should be chasing me. That is soooo not the case….you have to be really determined to adopt or basically you will fall at the first hurdle. After all….getting matched with a child is the easy part…parenting them is the hard (but extremely rewarding) part. Please…please…if you fell adoption is in your heart then DO NOT let it pass you !!!

    • Reply Aly April 25, 2016 at 6:43 pm

      Hazel thanks so much for reading and replying to my blog! I LOVE to hear your story and your experience, it is so refreshing.
      Should we go through the process in NI again we will definitely go for inter country. I also think it depends on which trust you go through. The belfast trust has been going through some changes which had a knock on effect on every aspect of our journey.
      Thanks fryer encouragement I appreciate every word.
      All the best for the future with your growing family. Aly

  • Reply faithfraser September 2, 2016 at 10:57 pm

    Loved coming across this blog.
    I love hearing of families that have adoption on their heart and if adoption is on your heart pursue it, things worth having don’t come easy, as we all know.
    My hubby and I sound the same as you guys, we wanted to adopt from we were teenagers and discussed it early on.
    I’m a proud adoptive mother and birth mother(although I see no difference, I’m just a mother to them equally)
    Family care society is an agency you should look into. They facilitate adoptions from England and Wales as well. But yes you have to be fierce in your pursuit of adoption.
    I wish you all the best in the future!!

    • Reply Aly September 11, 2016 at 3:46 pm

      So sorry for the delay on this and THANK YOU for your words and the hope that you give. I will most certainly look up family care society! Are you based in Northern Ireland too?
      How wonderful that you were able to expand your family in all it’s beautifully forms. Thank you again. Xx

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