The Worst Time
The foster carer came round to my house accompanied by the child’s social worker. My social worker had arrived in order to support me. The foster carer gave us a very different view of the baby, and said that she was very clever and was doing all sorts of things that were not evident in the reports from the doctors and social workers. She told me that she’d been very upset by the recent medical report which more or less described the baby as ‘unable to amount to much’.
She also gave me a video that she’d recorded of the baby just before she came to visit me. In it she was crawling around the garden, very quietly, making hardly any vocalisations. The foster carer also told me that the child had just taken her first steps – if I’m honest, I was a bit gutted. I really wanted to be there for some of the first ‘firsts’, but I smiled and said how wonderful it was. I mean, it was wonderful – but not…
My bedroom had the cot in it as I’d decided she was going to sleep in my room to begin with, because she was used to sleeping in the same room as the carer and her husband. Her wardrobe was in her room and full of clothes; her chest of drawers was full of clothes; nappies were bought in preparation. The foster carer liked the clothes and the room.
A date was agreed for the Planning Meeting, and it was decided that they would contact me via letter to confirm the date.
What is a Planning Meeting?
The Planning Meeting is where all the arrangements for meeting the child and taking her home would be discussed and decided. It was to be held in the Social Services offices and would be attended by everyone involved with the placement of the child.
I received the letter telling me when and where the meeting was to be held. We lived some two and a half hours away and had to be available for 9.00a.m. That would take some organising due to busy roads and frequent accidents. At this point I was still unable to organise my adoption leave from work, as no one knew what the date of my final visits would be. It felt very last minute having to organise things and leave work in the lurch, even though they were fully aware of the situation.
The Planning Meeting
On the day of the Planning Meeting, we (my Mother and I) left the house very early in order to beat the traffic and get there on time. We put the postcode in to the satellite navigation and set off. There were no directions or maps included in the information sent to us. When we got to the town the ‘sat-nav’ took us round and round in circles, so I contacted the Social Services Department and asked them if they could help me as we seemed to be lost and were worried about being late for the meeting.
This was a rather unhelpful call, because the person I spoke to had no idea how to guide us. We were both anxious that we were going to be late for an important meeting and that it would create a bad first impression of us. Eventually we found a car park and we just walked in the direction I thought the offices were and then I went in to another building and asked them for directions to get to the Council offices.
When we arrived, my social worker was already there, as was the adoption manager and the placement social worker. My Mum suggested to the manager that perhaps it would have been better practice in future if they sent out a map with letters as we couldn’t find the offices. I agreed that it would have been quite useful and would have reduced the stress level for us too. This request didn’t seem to suit the manager.
We then sat and waited for nearly an hour for the child’s social worker to turn up. She worked in the building where the meeting was to be held, but had gone to another Social Services building because she hadn’t read the invitation properly. We had to wait until she caught a bus back.
When the meeting eventually started, over an hour after the time that it should have started, it felt very uncomfortable, but as it progressed I felt more relaxed and even made a joke about taking the child to McDonalds with some free vouchers. There were a number of people round the table – the adoption manager, the placement finder, foster carer, child’s social worker, my social worker, Mum and me.
The room was very crowded and small. I actually felt that we didn’t need to be there as everything had already been decided prior to this meeting and we were surprised that all the information about the baby was regurgitated again. The records and health reviews were brought out, but as we had already pored over them at home, we gave them a cursory glance.
The one thing that we did disagree about and insisted on it being changed was a day planned during the final introductions. The intention was that the foster carers and the child would be transported by me to my home – a journey of over 90 miles so that she could stand in her cot. (We had two dogs at the time who would have barked at so many strangers and probably scare the child, creating an undesirable first impression of her new home). We would then get back in the car and drive the foster carers home, another journey of over 90 miles. This would have involved at least five hours in a car – for nothing really. So we said that we didn’t think that it was a sensible thing to do and it would be unfair on the child.
The final agreement was that I was to meet the child on 22 October and bring her home with me on 31 October.
When the meeting broke for lunch we sat with the foster carer and my social worker; everyone else disappeared and we were left alone. The foster carer informed me in front of my social worker that the child’s social worker didn’t actually know this child. She’d only ever met her once.
The meeting then continued and, to be perfectly honest, I can’t remember what else was mentioned as it just dragged on for over four hours.
Bleak Times Ahead
A few days after the meeting I received a phone call at work from my social worker asking if I and Mum could go to her office to see her. I asked if there was anything wrong; she said no, but I wasn’t convinced. I called Mum and told her that we were being asked to go in, gave Mum my social worker’s telephone number for her to call and arrange the meeting.
I was in the very fortunate position that my work would allow me to leave work whenever I needed to, but Mum has her own business and needed to arrange with my social worker the date and time. I believe that Mum asked if there was a problem and was told that Social Services were unhappy with the relationship between Mum and me, including their opinion that she did not want to be a grandparent. They wanted my social worker to question us about our relationship and reassure them that my Mother would welcome the child.
The next day we went in to the adoption agency offices to be questioned. My social worker was very apologetic about it all, and she seemed to be unable to understand where the concerns were coming from other than they didn’t like Mum questioning their professionalism with regard to the provision of a map. She just wanted us to say yes and no to the right questions which she asked us so that she could go back to Social Services and to provide them with the answers.
To be perfectly honest, I have blocked a lot of the ensuing events out of my mind as they were carried on from that point. There were constant underlying accusations that Mum and I did not get on. Their conclusions based on this planning meeting were that Mum was overbearing and I would be unable to stand up to her, which in reality is actually the opposite way round. I can work my Mum round my little finger if I choose to, I can be quite manipulative – possibly not a welcome trait, but one I can admit to having.
I remember being so upset that I took the cot down and put it away. I’d got it all in my head that I was going to have to return everything to the shops that I’d bought them in. (Luckily I’m the type of person that keeps receipts.) It was like losing another child. It was awful, and for me very reminiscent of the death of my first child, when I had to return the pram and cot to the shop.
The interventions and accusations from Social Services seemed to be ongoing and there were many more ‘concerns’ that had to be addressed by my social worker and her manager, and many meetings that took place ‘behind the scenes’. We were never privy to the minutes from those meetings and I understand that my social worker was also not privy to some of those minutes either, even though she attended most of them.
There was the intimation that I was to be allowed to meet my prospective daughter, only to be informed that the social workers did not consider this to be a good match and I would be sent away. As I say, I really have tried to block these meetings from my mind as it was such an awful time, to have to be so defensive, yet so open, about yourself and your relationship with the one person who had been there to support you through everything.
During this time I also had to advise work that I might not actually be leaving and that I might be remaining, due to the difficulties that I was facing with the adoption process. They were very supportive and asked if there was anything they could do to help. Clearly there wasn’t, but the fact that they were there was enough.
The date of the Matching Panel was quickly approaching and I was more and more concerned about how Social Services would be within the meeting. It was their final chance, formally, to prevent me from having this opportunity to adopt a child, because no other local authority would want me if I’d been refused at this point.
By the time the Matching Panel date arrived I’d been reassured that Social Services would be supportive and approve of the match. With everything that had happened previously, though, I was not convinced that they would remain that way and was fairly sure that within the meeting they would spring yet another surprise on everyone and tell the Panel that they didn’t approve. It was also the first time I was to meet the social worker and the placement finder face to face since concern was raised.
I was very, very nervous, more so because I had to leave Mum at the entrance to the building and I was on my own. It was very hard for me not to react towards the social worker and placement finder. I wanted to ignore them completely, to treat them with the disdain they had shown me throughout the whole process. This process should have been so exciting, such a huge adventure. I should have had so many new avenues opening up, discovering new things about myself and my feelings towards a child I hadn’t actually met at the time.
I had to smile, bite my tongue and make small talk with them. I think it would be fair to say that I hated them, I hated the fact that they were able to have such a destructive impact on my life. I vowed that no one would ever be able to do this to me again. Everyone was called in to the Panel meeting and I was left alone with my thoughts and worries and misgivings about what they were to say about me.
I inevitably ended up in floods of tears, almost uncontrollable. I was very tense and felt so alone. The organiser of the Panel came out to meet me and talk to me and advise me of the protocol of the Panel. He tried to pacify me and calm me down. Obviously I couldn’t tell him the reasons behind my tears as I didn’t want anything to influence any decision made.
I was called in to the Panel room; there were so many people around the table; I was still crying and, as much as I tried to stop, I couldn’t. The Panel chair introduced everyone around the table, and told me that she and the Panel found this situation very unusual. Normally they would have lots of questions for the adopters to prove themselves as suitable for the child they wish to adopt, but in my case they had no questions for me at all. They could tell from the profiles they had read that I would be all my child could need and that I had wonderful support from my Mother and they were more than happy about the baby going to live with me. With that I was more relieved than ever, and the tears came thick and fast again. It was so wonderful and a real slap in the face to the social workers who had fought against me to hear their own panel state that they had no qualms about placing the child with me.
I walked out from the meeting down to my Mum, still sobbing (if you knew me, you’d know how unusual it is for me to cry, even now two years on, my daughter has only seen me cry twice, and she doesn’t like it at all). Mum stood up and, because I couldn’t speak and she could only see my tears, I could see her start to bristle, so had to stick my thumbs up at her that it had all gone well. Mum visibly relaxed, and she gave me a cuddle – possibly not the best move as I sobbed more.
Becoming an Instant Parent
It was all systems go, I returned to work the next day and began to arrange adoption leave for at least a year. Adoption leave is actually maternity leave, and you get paid at the same rate as statutory maternity leave for nine months if you are entitled to it. I had a date for when I was going to meet my daughter!!! I went into full-on buying mode!
In the midst of the joy of meeting my child I remembered I had agreed to meet with her birth parents just before I went to meet her. So my anxiety, not only at meeting the child – I mean what if I didn’t like her? What if she didn’t like me? Then what would happen??
Meeting birth parents when I was working in Social Services was never a problem as I was the one in charge. I wasn’t the one who was to have the child for the rest of my life. It was a very different feeling being on the other side. There was a possibility that I would only be meeting the maternal adoptive grandmother and not the birth mother (who was also adopted) as she didn’t think she could cope with meeting me. She’d cut off ties with the baby more or less since she was born and hadn’t been in contact since. I would meet the birth father in a second meeting.
The day arrived. I packed my case and took a spare case for the child’s clothing to bring back. I drove to the Council offices where I’d been told they were providing me with a parking space inside the staff car park. As I was nearing the offices I got a phone call advising me to call when I arrived, not only to ensure that someone could come out and let me in to the car park, but that the birth mother and maternal adoptive grandmother were there early and were outside the building. My heart leapt in to my mouth, I was there… there were people outside smoking; it was my first glance of my child’s birth mother.
I entered the building and met my social worker and endured yet another meeting prior to meeting the birth parents, in which I was lectured by the adoption manager, which didn’t go down well with me at all, but again I bit my tongue. I just needed to meet my child, the focus of all of these overly intense intrusions into my life.
The next meeting was with the birth mother and maternal adoptive grandmother. It was a very emotional meeting, and I have to say I was very impressed and thankful for the fact that the birth mother hadn’t had a drink the previous evening or that morning before meeting me, which must have been a huge effort for her, and a sign of respect for me, which I will always appreciate her doing.
She was very quiet, and didn’t speak much, but she did acknowledge that I was going to be the baby’s Mummy, and she said that “she will now have two Mummies who will love her very much”. It was a very special meeting and from that meeting I will be able to share with my daughter when the time is right, how her birth mother showed me absolute respect and how she was pleased that I was going to be her Mummy.
The next meeting was a little more tense with the birth father, as he spent a lot of time trying to absolve himself of responsibility and explain the whys and wherefores of the circumstances surrounding the child’s life, while at the same time not accepting any guilt on his part. As much as I managed the meeting, I couldn’t deal with him in the way I would if I was the social worker. In the end my social worker stepped in and said that we needed to move on from that subject and the meeting ended quite soon after that.
I then followed the child’s social worker to the foster carer’s house. I did note that the social worker needed to use a satellite navigation to get to the foster carers house, which struck me as rather odd, as according to her she’d seen the child frequently…
On arrival at the foster carer’s house we knocked at the door and waited to be let in. When the door was opened, my child was there and she looked tiny, like an elf, really, really tiny, and I made the comment that she was very small – which was stupid, I realised afterwards, and the social worker used it against me at a later date.
The social worker stayed for 10 minutes or so after reminding us that we had a meeting with everyone at the foster carer’s towards the end of the week. I sat back on the sofa and watched my child wandering aimlessly around the house, being very silent, not making any noise and looking rather dirty and tiny and just nothing like me. She spent her time ignoring me. I never thrust myself on children anyway.
It was very odd knowing that she was going to be coming home with me in a few days’ time, barring any further intervention from social workers.
You can find the next episode in this mother’s story on this page.