7 months after first approaching my adoption agency and I’m only just at the end of Stage One. It’s due to be at least another 7 months before I actually get a child. Add to this having weekly meetings and training days where you’re asked questions such as ‘is there enough light in your sitting room to see by?’ and I’m tempted to pretend I have no windows or electricity and have lit candles everywhere; however as I’ve now had my home assessment and I blush or laugh whenever I lie, I don’t think I’d get away with it.
The training days are like playing the game Scruples where you go off in groups and are asked endless scenarios such as ‘what would you do if a father kissed his 13 yr old daughter goodnight on the lips (closed)?’ and I’m just a little bit frustrated. Obviously we are taught valuable things too and asked pertinent questions but it sometimes feels as if you’re being tested as to how long before you laugh in their faces and walk out of the door.
I’m not the only person feeling like this, chatting to other prospective adopters and people who have made it through and are out the other side, I wonder why there is such secrecy surrounding the whole adoption process and why the government say they’ve sped up the process as it often feels interminable. The sad truth is the inane questions are not made up by my agency who are very good and experienced, they are simply following government directives; no wonder not many people choose to adopt and that’s before the reality of coping with parenting a child who has experienced trauma.
Other people on my training days are feeling the same, none of us have come to this route blindly and spent time researching and talking to people experienced in this area for insight. So it feels as if I’ve been trying to adopt for a lot longer than seven months. As someone who took so long to make the decision as to which path to motherhood to take, once I finally made up my mind (3 years later) I want things to happen quickly. In theory, after another 7 months, Matching happens. This is when a child and I are matched, by what I can offer, personality and strengths. Then I have to be approved by the child’s adoption panel – I have heard this can be harsh as a single prospective parent and wonder how can I compete with a couple with twice as much time and energy?
I asked my social workers this recently as I think I’ve decided to adopt a baby and panels are more likely to give a baby to two people than one to raise. My SWs said I was already doing everything I can by getting experience with children I don’t know. This comes in the form of helping at my local pre-school every week and I’ve been doing this for 7 months too. You would think I would love this and I do love the children there, even the naughty ones make me laugh. There is one little girl, Lily, who will never do anything a grown up asks her to do and is very attention seeking but I think it’s because she’s incredibly clever and can run rings round most of the grown ups in charge. One week, Lily pushed Rebecca into the cupboard and shut the door. I found it hard to tell her off as Rebecca is a pain in the backside and had been particularly whiney that morning.
Since I was at nursery (as we called it in my day), by age 4 I could read and write, spell basic words and do basic sums. I wasn’t a child genius, most kids my age could do this and we were taught it at home as well as in nursery. Apparently these days the alphabet is practically defunct, having to sound out letters, which I thought would be more appropriate for 2 year olds, this is now being used with kids starting school this year. It is now left to the child to learn to associate shapes of letters with sounds of words…. I really don’t understand what was wrong with the old system unless particularly children needed teaching in a different way. So each week at pre-school where I now go, a different child is selected as Helper of the Day, gets a round of applause once their name is announced and gets to write their name on the board in front of everyone. The first time I watched this was with a boy named Tom, I had to stifle giggles as he put his pen on the board and scribbled round and round as if he was colouring in. I assumed the teacher would step in and help him but no we had to all give a round of applause for his scribble and then just hope he associates letter shapes before he starts school in four months. I’ve since discovered only 2 of the children can actually write their own name. We sit there occasionally sounding out the letter ‘s’ for snake or ‘b’ for ball and the children who struggle with this are never helped, it’s assumed they will get it eventually or it’s mentioned to their parents to help at home. Apparently this isn’t just my pre-school, its across the country. Last week we had to give a round of applause to a 3 year old who had learned to use the potty over the weekend; I spend a lot of time biting my lip to stop myself convulsing in to giggles.
When I’d been there around four months, the headteacher greeted me one morning (this is unusual in itself as the staff barely talk to me) and said I wasn’t the only helper today and she then pointed to a board which apparently had a volunteer rota on. I had no idea this board even existed. She looked at the piece of paper and said, “oh the other helper is Sarah, she’ll be with you today”.
“I’m Sarah”, I replied.
“Oh”, she looked at the rota again,” right it’s Kate, she’s helping with you today”…. No apology offered.
Kate then turned up fifteen minutes late, spent some time checking the petty cash records as she’s also the treasurer while moaning to the staff about how much she had on that day. She disappeared soon after and a teacher said I would be on my own that day after all as Kate had an appointment to get to. As I’d stood eavesdropping earlier while peeling and chopping carrots for 25 children, I’d heard Kate say she had to get home in time for her shopping from Sainsbury’s to be delivered.
All the other helpers are parents of the children there, I was honest from the start as to why I wanted to help, not only to give back to my community (I have been on various village committees) but for experience as I’m applying to adopt. One of the teachers and one of the parents occasionally ask me how the process is going which is sweet but those are pretty much the only two conversations I’ve had with anyone there for six months; apart from when there were roadworks and everyone was late and moaning about it.
One of the kid’s dads often helps and is great playing with them all, he’s also very talented at not doing any of the chores which us volunteers are supposed to do. One week he asked me where the dustpan was which I thought was progress, only to discover he wanted to sweep up some woodshavings as he works as a handyman and had decided to fix a sticky door in the school (I don’t think any of the staff had asked him to do this but as they don’t talk to me it’s hard to know).
Most weeks I’m helping on my own, shopping, preparing food and clearing up after 25 kids. I do wonder what they do when I’m not there. What makes me laugh is that I used to be a nanny so when I start playing with the kids or catch them doing something naughty before a teacher does, the expressions on the staff’s faces is quite something.
Today, the head called me by the wrong name for the first couple of hours, I have given up correcting her now as I’ve learnt to keep my head down in this place. She told me we would be having a practice fire drill and when it happens, not to panic and simply help get the children to the front door and out of the building. She was about to press the alarm when I stopped her as one of the boys was on the loo doing a poo; how to traumatise a recently potty trained kid….
When the alarm later sounded, half the kids had just come inside after playtime so they didn’t have shoes on. I herded a few to the back door where the adults created a gridlock. The children said they needed their shoes so I said it didn’t matter this time, it was more important to be safe and go outside. One girl wasn’t sure so I carried her and took another one by his hand. But we met gridlock again. The teachers told them to put their shoes on quickly but no one could find them as most of the shoes were in another room. So I started putting any shoes on any child just to get them out while explaining to them why. But the teachers then stopped them all again to find their own shoes. Ten minutes later we all got outside to get a lecture from the head. Quite frankly if this had been a real fire, the consequences would have been devastating.
Meanwhile my life is still on hold. My sense of timing is great, after ten years of not working in theatre and tv, I now want to go back in to it. I had moderate M.E. which is why I stopped working in the first place, once it became mild I started working part time and I’ve worked more hours in recent years as I have more and more energy and the condition has only flared up briefly a couple of times. Meanwhile, I usually work Spring to Autumn doing local fairs to increase my therapy business but as this Autumn will theoretically mean stopping work for 6 months, I’m only working with my regular clients. I can’t tell you how bored I am.
While I realise how lucky I am to be so well, I’m also frustrated that there’s no point in applying for other jobs as I’d have to give it up once a child is placed with me. A reality faced by every parent. My priority, like others, is my child I have yet to meet and so it seems I have to put my choices such as jobs on hold. I also have to put my human desires such as finding a partner on hold (you have to be seen as not actively pursuing a relationship). Meanwhile, I’ve come to the point of being able to afford to move house i.e. paying solicitor’s and estate agents’ fees but must also put this on hold for at least 2 years as this can traumatise a child who has already moved from their birth parents and foster parents and then to you. While all the reasons behind my limbo make sense, they’re also incredibly frustrating. I’m supposed to put my career and home desires and even sexual desires on hold for at least another two years while I’m asked endless questions, rather like someone constantly poking a bruise for hours on end – hey it’s like parenthood!
Without a child, and never being told if you might be approved as an adopter, so you live on hope for months, in limbo and in crazy pre-school.