Before moving to Glasgow I was a young boy with a broken heart. Sue supported my transition from being removed from my birth parents and provided me with an abundance of love and support. After this Rita and Peter came along and brought me into their family and since then have made me feel like I was always their son.
‘Mummy, where do you buy a ball?’
‘Err, is this question or a joke?’
‘Right. I don’t know, where do you buy a ball?’
Have you ever tried teaching a 5-year-old the intricacies of a joke? Sometimes it feels like we sit at a table talking to two Alice Tinkers from The Vicar of Dibley. At some point, I hope, a joke worthy of the Funniest Joke of The Fringe may occur but, on the other hand, one indisputable point is that this year has been unprecedented, and I don’t just mean that big pandemic thing that everyone seems to be talking about.
The day before the first lockdown due to the pandemic we brought two children into our home who we had adopted through St Andrew’s Children’s Society.
I feel that is a standalone paragraph for, despite the amazing support we received on the lead up to meeting our new family, we were suddenly locked in our house with a 4-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy. Thank goodness for zoom and our wonderful social worker!
All of a sudden we realised what all the lead up to being approved to become adopters was about; why the questions about how we cope individually and as a couple, our ideas of being parents, support networks, general ideals and the reason for prep groups on separation and trauma. What we, as a couple, realised through the process was that we have a sense of humour. As we welcomed our family into our home our sense of humour turned into our superpower (yes, we even gave it a theme tune).
We were told by the lovely folk at St Andrews Children’s Society that ‘the first year will be hard’ and ‘there will be a honeymoon period and then the children will try and push boundaries’. Yes, they were right. It was tough and every day seemed a challenge. But with that, every day was just a wee bit easier. We had not had time to learn our children’s likes, dislikes and routines in their foster home, as the introduction period had needed to be reduced, in order to get the kids to us before the national lockdown. Everything was new to them. Everything was new to us. Routine (and humour) was our saving grace. We even wrote a daily schedule. Colour coded. It was fancy.
In the introduction books we had sent them, there were pictures of the primary and nursery schools they would have been attending but it was months before they could go, by which time nursery was off the cards. We would drive to the school car park and sit and look at it, sharing an apple, talking about the things they would do and friends they would meet.
Instead of the larger things we focused on the small. My husband is a vet. He really likes cows. Every hour, on the hour we set up an alarm; an alarm that went ‘moo. This became our hug alarm. That meant every hour, on the hour, we all stopped what we were doing and had a nice big hug. It helped to structure our day and kept us on that fancy colour coded schedule.
There are some things the kids got wrong. There are some things the adults got wrong. Main thing is to learn from the mistake and remember tomorrow is a new day. In the immortal words of Kelly Clarkson ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.
‘Don’t forget wee ones, it doesn’t matter what they look like so long as they are kind.’
‘Wow, that’s an old tractor! What make is it?’
Boy: ‘Massey Ferguson!’
Girl: ‘It doesn’t matter what is looks like so long as it’s a tractor.’
Watching the wee ones grow as little people has been truly amazing. Watching how they slowly learned to trust us. Our son has found it easy to express his needs and fears. Working with his school, social workers and Rita, the Adoption Support Manager at St Andrew’s Children’s Society (who provided Theraplay TM via zoom in the early days) meant that we could get his needs met quickly; that the school could understand where certain behaviours came from. We were all learning, only he knew what was going on in his head, and we just had to remind him how well he was doing and how loved he is.
Family songs? Yes, we have them too. I have a playlist that is, at best, eclectic. The current favourite is High Enough by Marvin Gaye – ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough, Ain’t no valley low enough, Ain’t no river wide enough, To keep me from getting to you, baby.’ Funny how a song can help a child understand just how much you would do for them.
It is amazing how life story work can be fitted into every day. We took on three ex-battery hens; they went from their birth family (farm) into foster (the trust that saved them) and to their forever family (our home). We have seen dogs in the park on leads that are hackles up and this has let us discuss how we might show we are scared, feeling the need to hit out, run away or climb high. I have ‘cried’ over dead woodlice to help show empathy, we have read books about ‘how we wished for you’ (then I actually did cry). I’ve even explained in great detail how my tummy feels stretched to help the children understand how a full stomach feels.
We often fell back on our superpower. In fact, my husband and I started a notebook, which we named ‘The Report
Card’. Everything that was funny, done or said, went into it. That way we had a good laugh at the end of every day.
Adopting kids is not easy. No one ever said it would be. I would not change anything for the world. Well , maybe the pandemic could have been at a more convenient time. I have heard that when a mum first looks at the face of her newborn baby her world changes. Well, the first time you hear your adopted child say, and mean, ‘I love you’ there is nothing in the world you wouldn’t do for them.
‘That’s a bit loud wee man!’
‘It had to be loud mummy.’
‘It was a sonic boom of love.’
This blog post was written by a couple who adopted two children through St Andrew’s Children’s Society the day before the first lockdown in 2020.
I am a 58 year-old father of three who was adopted just after birth.
The circumstances of my adoption don’t matter, what does matter is that my natural mother’s circumstances didn’t allow her to keep me or to care for me in the way she would have liked to have done.
What I would like to do here is to provide a few brief reflections of one life that began with an adoption, and how the team-effort of navigating that situation can, with care, flexibility and love, have a positive outcome.
I’m aware that adoption is often a favourite subject in dramas, mostly with negative outcomes, stressful experiences, exploiting lingering resentments, and focusing on tragedy and hurt. Perhaps the opposite would have insufficient dramatic value.
My own experience was rather different to that, and the older I get the more I appreciate my childhood and realise that any pain associated with my adoption, was born largely by my natural mother.
I was arguably very fortunate in being adopted at a week old. My natural mother – not allowed to know any details – had been sent for a walk. She returned to an empty cot as I had departed with my new parents. This seemed tough, but how else could it be done?
My adoptive parents were loving and caring and having now had the benefit of seeing my mother’s letters to St Andrew’s Children’s Society, the adoption agency, I appreciate what a vital joy and genuine thrill my adopted older sister and myself brought into her and our father’s life. We were taught core values, laid down in gossamer thin layers of daily experience, like any child.
Life was not without stress however, and both my adoptive parents sadly died quite early: my mother when I was 15 and my father 23. There was trauma around then for sure, as there would always be, however looking back something had imprinted on me ‘which way was up’. Something had made a compass that continued to provide a sense of direction. Was this genetic; or was it the demonstration of love that I had received as a child? I now know my natural mother: she is established as my mother in my life, so the answer I lean towards is probably ‘both’. However I sense that either influence might if different, have upset the apple cart.
For that gymnastic feat of fortune I feel genuinely blessed although some have told me it is the tools to make lemons out of lemonade that we should feel gratitude for. I may never know.
Fortunate timing in reunion also played a part.
I identified my natural mother in my 20’s but didn’t contact her until my 30’s. My first wife found she had cervical cancer during her pregnancy with our second child in my early 30’s, and that period of considerable trauma included meeting my natural mother and welcoming her back into my life, in hindsight at the point where she was most vital.
We met when my wife’s health was deteriorating after chemotherapy, and I had my seven-year-old son to care for. She arrived like the 7th Cavalry, helping me to care both for my wife and my son.
Odd looking back how the grief and stress of my wife’s illness was in a strange way the landing pad for the soft re-entry of my mother into my life. My mother and I used to walk and talk together for hours as we tentatively got to know each other, each recognising traits and habits, re-familiarising ourselves with essence of each other, both feeling a frisson of excitement when we touched. We clacked together like magnets when we first met and the intensity of that is difficult to explain to non-adoptees.
On one such walk we passed the house she had been required to stay in when heavily pregnant with me. We hugged outside, and I felt so privileged to be able to tell her that all the fear, all the worry she had felt 35 years ago handing me over, and the fears for her own life’s path, had been unnecessary. Here we were both travelled well, fairly well adjusted, and now together again, with no resentment and no rancour, just steeping in the joy of the reunion. I told her that I never felt as though I had been abandoned by her: I had a loving childhood and had somehow put her aside for when I would really need her. Is this true? Who knows?
She and her family’s love and support accompanied my son and I through our recovery, becoming my ‘family’. When I met my current wife, married and parented two new children, both now adults, they were my support. Viewing it as a ‘blessed journey’ frankly doesn’t do it justice.
I sometimes joked when people say ‘you only have one mother’, that I was blessed to have had two. All adoptive people do: one who lovingly builds the little spacesuit they arrive in, and leaves with them a set of silent instructions, and ideally another who lovingly guides and shapes their following of those instructions, hopefully but not essentially all the way into independent adulthood.
Every adoption is different I do get that, but to be an adopted person, I now recognise is a special, rather than a negative thing.
During the vulnerability of childhood, being adopted did make you feel different, there’s no escaping that. Apart from my sister, we each knew no other adoptees with whom we could share experiences.
My mother tried, and succeeded in large part, to make ‘different’ into ‘special’, telling us for as long as we could remember that we had been ‘chosen’ and were genuinely loved. I recognise now from her letters that that was genuine in a way I did not appreciate growing up.
Nonetheless, there always was a sense of being an island: a little bit of land surrounded by sea. Although you knew intellectually that you were connected to the mass of humanity, the link was hidden deep below a sea of circumstances, ones that you had no influence or control over. So the isolation was real.
It was not until I held my own first child in my arms that that I realised for the first time I was looking into the eyes of a blood relative. I became aware that I was not an island, but this baby with its dark eyes was the next link in a chain, a chain of which I was part, a chain that extended back for thousands of years. The birth of the first child for an adopted person is an especially profound experience.
Any parenting journey is challenging and full of unknowns. Adoption perhaps brings some added unknowns and possible complications, but not necessarily in a bad way as fiction might have us believe. It is sophisticated and delicate, yet deals with deep seated emotions, tied to the most powerful of influences – our genes. Embarking upon this journey may require ballast, call for skill in handling undercurrents or emotional weather none of the parties expect, might call for reserves the parties didn’t know they possessed, but like any voyage of discovery, the rewards exceed expectations, and often exceed even the imagination.
This blog post was written recently by someone adopted through St Andrew’s Children’s Society in the 1960s.
Sometimes, when I’m allocated an adoption homestudy, I have already met the applicant(s) at an information event, visited them to do an Initial Visit or have facilitated their Preparation Group. Other times, we are meeting each other for the very first time. As a prospective adopter, you will undoubtedly feel a mixture of emotions upon finishing your Prep Group and getting ready to start your adoption homestudy; you will of course be excited to get started but I bet you will feel nervous too and you’ll have thoughts like:
Believe me, all of these are understandable thoughts and feelings to have when embarking on such a life changing journey! Even as an experienced Social Worker who has assessed countless numbers of prospective adopters, it might surprise you to know that I get nervous at the start of the adoption homestudy too! I’m a stranger, asking you to completely open yourself up to me to be assessed and I want to make you feel as comfortable as possible in doing that. What if you don’t like me? What if I don’t do a good enough job? Lol, we all go through it!
In the first session, I like to keep things as relaxed as possible. It’s about getting to know my applicant(s) first and foremost. However, I usually have a fair bit of boring paperwork to hand over at this meeting which I walk my applicant(s) through and I like to set out how I like to do the assessment (all workers have their own style for assessing applicants and we all write our reports in our own style too but the information we need to make the assessment is the same).
I’ll also talk my applicant’s through the homework that I’ll set – I think it’s really important for applicants to provide written work to be included in the Prospective Adopters Report (PAR). It gives panel members and family finding Social Workers a sense of you that sometimes can’t be captured fully by me.
From there, I’ll meet with my applicant(s) either weekly or fortnightly (depending on their availability) and we’ll make our way through the assessment together.
Although this is an assessment, it’s also a continuing learning opportunity and I’ll share as much knowledge and examples from experience as I can and provide my applicant(s) with resources for further research.
We look at the following areas in assessment:
Sounds like a long list to get through? Yes, it is but trust me, time will fly by and we’ll be heading towards a panel date in what will feel like no time at all. And remember, we’re a team and we’re working on all of this together. There’s nothing better than for me to hear people say that it was just like having a really long chat with someone friendly and interested in them (and I’ve heard this many times!).
During assessment (generally once we’re more than halfway through), I’ll ask for a panel date. Once we’ve finished our assessment sessions, I’ll start writing the PAR. This is the assessment report that goes not only to panel but if approved as an adopter(s), goes to Social Workers in the family finding stage.
I’ll send the PAR to my manager and to my applicant(s) to read through once it’s finished. It’s really important that my applicants read the report and can see themselves in it. My manager will then meet with me and the applicant(s) and we’ll discuss the strengths and any vulnerabilities in the application.
We’ll also prepare them as to what to expect from panel. Then, it’s only about a week or two until panel date and from there, well that’s another story…