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Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Light Pours Out Of Me…

So, we decided to Adopt and started a strange journey.

What could be nicer than adopting unfortunate children? Aside from doing lots of work for charity you don’t want to talk about, mate?

The journey started with a false start. We approached the authority where we once lived, and two nice social workers interviewed us at their bleak head office. They were enthusiastic about their job, and us. They were honest and told us what we should not expect from their department. In hindsight, I appreciate this. But at the time, it was too honest. The world of Adoption is very subtle, and much can hang on throwaway comments and first impressions. We were given the green light quickly, in part because our our professional child based jobs and our already current Enhanced Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) checks- and the fact we were Local Authority Foster Carers.

The road ahead. Damn, I love symbolism.

I forget how, but around that time we heard of one of the few remaining faith based adoption agencies out there, who had a good name. It may have been a queasiness about how much we shared of our faith that made us choose them over anybody else, although in the last instance that didn’t matter. So we switched routes.

The journey started with a group of us who had passed pre screening coming to an open evening at the charity base. Experienced adopters talked about their journey over terrible corporate coffee. To me, it meant nothing. I can only describe it as akin to a bunch of rock climbers giving a presentation to people who have never climbed. You may love the presentation and even choose to take it up as a hobby, but until you have done it, it does not connect. The stories were to general, too edited, and too disassociated from the coal face to impact me. I fiddled with my shoes all through that and pretty much the rest of the prep course.

Five couples started the prep course, including us. And the most unlikely completed it and went on to adopt. I liken the “contestants” to those in seminal cartoon Wacky Races, because we were all odd in different ways.

I think we are The Creepy Coupe team....

You had The Lawyers. These were thirty something, dapper, good looking, nice, intelligent city types who had everything in life bar children. But they started the course unable to commit to the regular sessions, which you were not allowed to miss on pain of stern phone calls and hissy conversation in the corridors. The logic is simple; if you can’t commit to input relating to your most momentous life decision, you won’t be able to commit to adopted children. A court case you can’t get away from? A presentation that cannot be missed? So what’s going to happen when little Timmy strips off at school, calls the class teacher a @£$% &*^%$ and then starts a bonfire in the soft play area?

I totally get that you can’t miss a court case. The verdict could sway and in some countries people can be executed due to this. I know that if we don’t do the presentation, we don’t get the rise we need, or the new job that completes us and gets us out of the damp bedsit into a house with room and Feng Shui. Buts its just that we are talking about two worlds, that will collide and destroy everything. Very sober judgment and negotiation has to be done prior to committing to having children. That’s why the agencies interview you so deeply and need to know about your social support.

This isn’t meant to be condescending, it’s just a brutal truth that we can miss. I’m damn sure I did. I just threw myself into work for 2 years, leaving my wife holding the babies. Before the tidal wave landed.


There were the Twitchers. A painfully shy couple who, frankly, twitched quite a bit. Who wore the Marks and Spencer’s “East European” range of clothes and said about four words in the whole three months, and two of those you couldn’t hear. The ones I could hear I’m pretty sure were “Decaf, please”

There were the Cant Remembers. A couple who started but never came back after about four sessions, that I cant remember. But like Harlow, you vaguely remember the experience.

And finally there were the Suitables. Another professional couple we bonded with closely, as they came from the same home town and we knew each other through friends. We loved them (still do) but if I’m honest a strange competition and fear of failure started. What if I don’t get through selection? What if it all falls apart? Does this mean God thinks we're amateurs?

The whole esteem thing for me is always an issue. In my brokenness, and this was only at some buried sub level, fenced off by the guard dogs of utter denial (wow- that’s in my novel), if I was biologically incapable of producing children I was damn sure I was going to succeed in raising somebody elses children as my own.

This ties in with “honest honesty” which I will look at later in this series, and it reoccurs throughout as a theme. You have to Doublethink. Guard your heart and think about so many of the probing questions, and your answers, in this process. Because we are all a bag of chemicals, and the walking wounded. But the system is unforgiving and wants soundbites and tickboxes. I think this stinks and needs dealing with. An essay on social workers power by Robert Harris starts with these wise words; “If politics involves the acquisition and deployment of power, and social work is ‘one of the most political of all professions’ and understanding of power I all its manifestations must be more than normally important for social workers”

In the training group, that just left us. Throughout, as usually happens , my wife was mature and sociable and eager to learn. But I was awkward, self conscious, cocky, proud, and annoyed that I kept having to take time off from work, which was hard to negotiate and meant I came back to snowdrifts of sticky child protection cases after 2pm. Have you ever been on course where the content is less than thrilling, you have a mediocre lunch you can barely afford, you meet people you want to get real with but can’t because you don’t know them enough, and the whole time you are thinking about that something that was going off at work that is really important? The whole time checking your silenced mobile phone and seeing 300 missed calls, from people who are really hard to get hold of?

During some joint child protection training with Thames Valley Police, the trainer, a great cop called Johnny, warned all of us in the room about the dangers of false intimacy. It was the first and only time I have ever heard this advice in training and anywhere else, and it was distilled wisdom. In essence, he warned us that in this two weeks residential module we would see and hear so many moving things that we would start to band together and be driven to share too much about what we were and what we thought- and don’t. Because when the course ends the lights go back on and we’re exposed.

Pretty similar to adoption training. Because whilst adoption is a wonderful thing- and you’re going to hear how wonderful- it’s also the most difficult and loaded thing you will ever do- guaranteed. There are plenty of hard and dangerous things to do out there in life, but with those you have more choice, more control, more rescue options, and more received wisdom to guide you.

Want to climb a mountain? Here’s a camping shop and clear “what not to do” advice. Easy to see, immutable, and easily applied with instant results. And 60,000 people did it before you. Want to be a politician? Here’s lots of people who are doing it, here’s the surprisingly every dayness behind the scenes, here’s a million think tanks and academics who can inspire your policies (and write them) and here’s the sedating commute on the train to focus you every day.

But adoption? You have to trust in a process that is flawed. Flawed not in the way everything is flawed in a general way, like the way supermarkets make you listen to their instore announcements, just as they finally play a song you liked (why cant they page their employees? Why the **** do I need to hear that some Piccalilli has spilt in aisle 5?). Not flawed like our bosses and school head teachers and electricity providers grasp of human dignity.

I mean flawed like the processes that started in the adopted child’s life. At best, incapable parents. At worst, abuse farmers. Dark things I wont share here that reprogram a childs social DNA for life, with truly awful fallout.


Flawed like the overworked, dangerously overloaded social workers in each segment of the journey. The frantic Chid Protection Worker rushing out on a Child Protection Investigation and getting the green light from Court to remove the child into foster care. The tired magistrates and judges. The life sick Local Authority solicitor with yet another bundle to serve under the manager they hate and the social worker they think is a plonker. The “learn on the hoof just got the complex case as I walked into court” Children’s Guardian from the beleaguered CAFCAS office- if indeed they can find one. Then the capable but utterly totally stretched Permanency Team social worker who has to give expert opinion and scrutiny to at least 7 extremely complex cases but cant because she has to give it to another 9 and so eventually has to go off long term sick and rock in a darkened room, her weight by now astronomical, her marriage over, hope gone.

The Team Manager with a Vietnam thousand yard stare who, when case supervision can actually be arranged, sits through it rubbing their temples, and secretly thinking about whether a mid life career change will loose them the Old Mill they’ve always wanted, but can barely enjoy because they work 7am to 9pm almost daily including weekends. And missing dangerous cracks in the cases, and the fact their team member now thinks they're a squirrel.

The point I’m making is that the journey for the child starts amidst subjective and procedural chaos, and remains there, and ends there. The system is overloaded and a frightening amount of things will have been missed. Even things that make you wonder on dark days whether the child should have ever been taken from the family. Was there a sound uncle that could have had them? Were the grandparents unfairly dismissed? We’re talking implications, and knock on effects. In the same way Government policy is often hatched over a lunch of salmon and rocket sandwiches with a 45 minute cut-off, a life’s direction is decided and once the legal process starts it cannot be put back in the box.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The point I’m making is this; you don’t know what you’re talking on, not really. The processes are alien and you only get the wisdom to translate them too late. You also don’t know who you are, not really. The children will almost always take you to places you don’t want to go, that expose parts of you you are incredulous about. Throughout everything, you stand on shifting sands.

And you don’t know how enormous and life changing the whole things is, certainly not in those early days when its all polite and based in bland training rooms.

But we passed selection. Then we were assigned our social worker and the Great Probing of 2007 began.

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