What we learnt through the adoption assessment process

Ben and Rachel share the ups and downs of their adoption assessment process, imparting the lessons they learnt along the way.

My wife and I have recently completed the adoption assessment process. It was part job interview, part interrogation and part crash-course in dealing with a bunch of difficult stuff.

It’s right that the process is rigorous. Vulnerable children need adoptive parents who are as informed as possible about the challenges they face. They also need family environments that can provide specific support in the face of past traumas and ongoing difficulties.

So, prepare yourself for a thorough examination. Your motivations will be pushed, pulled, taken apart and—hopefully—put back together again stronger than ever.

It won’t always be easy, so here’s our take on the assessment process, plus some tips to help you have the best experience possible.

Stage One: initial paperwork

Stage one is largely administrative, and it should take around two months to complete if everything goes to plan. It involves:

  • Medical checks
  • DBS checks
  • The collection of written references
  • Completing an introductory document about yourself
  • Mandatory training days

Unfortunately, our stage one took much longer than expected.

Letters to our referees got lost in piles of paperwork, and our DBS applications weren't submitted for three months—even though we were told they had been.

The lesson?

Chase everything.

It may take a while before you feel comfortable asking questions, but you’ve got to be prepared to make some noise when it matters. It won't hurt your assessment. Just be friendly and polite, making sure everything's moving along as it should.

Stage one also includes some mandatory training. Our local authority put on three days, but others might be different. We were a little anxious about what this training would involve, but it turned out to be one of the best parts of the process.

Topics covered included the reasons children enter the care system, the legal process of adoption, the effects of trauma on childhood development, strategies for parenting hurting children and more.

Each day left us emotionally frazzled, but the training was important in confirming our commitment to adoption and broadening our understanding of the challenges adopted children face.

One of the best things we did in stage one was to build on what we learnt on the training days. This involved reading, e-learning and speaking with other adopters.

This benefited us personally, by shaping our expectations of what adoptive parenting might look like, but it also prepared us for stage two. So, make the most of stage one to educate yourself about the uniquely challenging, and rewarding, life you’re hoping to move into.

Stage Two: personal stuff

Stage two is when the intensity ramps up, the workload increases and the possibility for real stress emerges. At least, that was our experience.

Your social worker will visit your house every week for a couple of months. The purpose of these visits is to assess you through a series of discussions, with the aim of completing your Prospective Adopter's Report (PAR).

The PAR is a large document about you that goes to the approval panel at the end of the process. It's also what a child's social worker receives when you're put forward as a match for a child.

Topics in the PAR included family history, motivations, the needs of adopted children, parenting style, childcare experience and more.

We had to complete a piece of homework between most meetings, which dominated many of our evenings for this time. We also began to face challenges interacting with our social worker, so we found stage two a very difficult time. Hopefully this wouldn’t be the case for everyone.

Our advice to you?

1. Put everything unnecessary on hold: Dialling back your commitments will make it easier to deal with the demands of stage two. This is not the time to do an MA or start a new job.

2. Keep reminding yourself of why you want to adopt: There were times when we wanted to quit. Staying in the game depended on us separating our frustrations from our motivations and reminding ourselves of why we wanted to do this in the first place.

3. Connect with people who have been through it: In addition to the support of your friends and family, it’s vital to connect with people who have experienced the process. At our lowest points, the understanding and advice of other adopters and foster carers helped turn us around emotionally.

    Approval panel: decision day

    Approval panel is when ten or twelve people you've never met decide if you can do something you've been thinking and dreaming about for years. Sound terrifying? It is. 

    However, it was also the most positive experience of the whole process.

    Let's start with the first thing.

    Forget job interviews, your wedding day and anything else that's made you nervous in the past. For us, approval panel topped them all.

    Our anxiety was caused by last minute issues with the content of our PAR, challenges communicating with our social worker and the negative impression of panel we'd been given.

    It also hinged on the fact that the decision was in the hands of a group of strangers we'd have only 25 minutes to impress.

    We've never lost more sleep or been so stressed as the two weeks before our panel date, but what about the positive side of things?

    Well, on the day, it went great. We'd correctly anticipated the questions we were asked, and we answered them confidently. What's more, those on the panel were welcoming, friendly and receptive to our reasons for wanting to adopt.

    We left the room after six questions and were called back in after a few minutes to hear we’d been successful. We left that building in a state of numb relief. It was done.

    More or less.

    The final piece of the puzzle was receiving the okay from the Agency Decision Maker (ADM). The ADM is a person who reviews the recommendations of panel and signs them off. You're unlikely to be turned down by the ADM, as they almost always follow panel’s recommendation, but we couldn't completely relax until that last box had been ticked.

    We waited about a week to hear that it was all official. Shortly after that, we signed a family-finding agreement with our agency and moved into the matching process.

    The adoption assessment process is demanding and intrusive—and rightly so. Children who’ve experienced trauma need parents who have been thoroughly vetted and done everything possible to prepare themselves to care for a hurting child.

    Whatever your experience of the assessment, remember that you’re doing it for the sake of one, or more, of these vulnerable children. The privileges, joys and challenges of parenting that child will be life-changing for you and them.

    With that in mind, the demands of the adoption assessment process seem a little more bearable and entirely worthwhile.

    Author:
    Ben and Rachel


    Date published:
    December 2019



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