Starting a family is a big and wonderful step to take. But taking on a ready-made family through adoption is a whole other story.
How does it feel to go through the rigorous process? What exactly do you need to do? And when you finally become a parent, is it everything you dreamed of?
Curious to understand more, I spoke to some lovely friends about their journey from prospective parents to actual parents, and found out just how committed you need to be to turn your dream into a reality.
Me: So, when did you first decide to adopt?
My friend: When we decided to start a family, we went through IVF, but we always kept in mind the option to adopt. The IVF wasn’t successful though, which was a very tough time for us both. You have to wait a year following IVF before you can start the adoption process, so when our year was up we made the call and got things started.
Me: I wouldn’t know where to begin, how do you even start the process?
My friend: Well, it was thanks to good old Google – we searched for ‘adoption’ in our area and it directed us to the local council. From that moment the process begins.
Me: Can anyone decide to adopt?
My friend: Pretty much, unless you’ve got a short life expectancy, are under 21 or have a criminal record. We were in our 40s and we met a couple who were in their 50s and adopting.
Me: So how does it work? Do you have to go for an interview?
My friend: It’s a really strict process (as you’d expect) and they make sure you’re well prepared to become parents. We were asked lots of questions over the phone, followed by an interview.
Then we joined a preparation group with other potential adopters – it was a diverse group, with two single women and five couples. We did most of our training together, and then spent time one-to-one with our social worker. It was all very intense.
Me: We often hear about how strict the adoption process is. Did you feel that you were under a spotlight at times?
My friend: We were scrutinized from all angles. The vetting process is very serious, they want to know everything about you. We had to have a medical by a GP, give references from work and character references – then they meet the people who’ve given the references.
They also meet your previous partners if you’d lived together, just in case they can give useful information about what you’re really like.
Then a social worker attended a party with our friends – without us there – to find out what our support network was like. Really and truly no stone is left unturned. But this is a good thing, especially after some of the terrible headlines about child welfare – they need to know the children are going to a good home.
Me: How long did the process take?
My friend: From start to finish it was two years and two months. But it’s faster now, and you can usually complete the process in nine months – the same preparation time you’d have to become birth parents! That one’s thanks to David Cameron. Shame really that this was brought in just as our process was over. But the same rigor is involved.
Me: Was the reality very different to your expectations?
My friend: It wasn’t an easy journey, that’s for sure. There were highs and lows, sometimes we were left in the lurch not knowing what was happening, then we were expected to make very quick decisions. Phone calls at work saying “we have these children… are you interested?”
We knew we wanted a sibling group – adoption can be quicker depending on the choices you make and how flexible you are prepared to be. Finally the time came, and we knew we had two children coming but we didn’t know when. We had to be very patient – there was an awful lot of waiting.
Me: How did you decide whether to have one or more children?
My friend: We knew we wanted two children right from the start. The social worker takes you through a whole list of questions, so you can specify what age children you would like, whether to adopt siblings or half siblings, and what level of care you can give (things like whether you could look after children with disabilities or behavioral issues).
Me: Do you get a choice on children selected as a match?
My friend: Yes, you’re involved at every step. They don’t just show you a photo – in fact you don’t get to see a picture until you’ve decided whether the child is a match. The social workers don’t want people to fall in love with a cute picture of a small child without thinking things through and that would be easy to do. So you find out everything about the child’s life history first.
Me: So at what point did you get to actually meet your children?
My friend: Once a panel of social workers approved us, we put together a little book for the children. This was to introduce ourselves and help them learn more about us, so they could look at it before we arrived and when we weren’t there. This is a great technique for helping small children understand and come to terms with changes.
We met with the children’s foster parents first then 10 days later we went to their house and met with the children for an hour. There were lots more of these visits to make the transition as easy and happy as possible for the kids.
One of the moments we’ll never forget is the first time we went to the foster parents’ house, they opened the door and one of the children said “that’s my new mummy from the book” – words can’t describe how we felt and that was really when everything started to fall into place.
The 10th day was our final visit to the foster parents home to pick up the kids. It has to be a quick hand-over – it’s better emotionally (for all really). Our kids’ foster parents had had them for a long time. They were such wonderful people, treating the kids as their own and seeing our little boy grow from an almost new baby to a toddler. It was hard on them and there were a lot of tears – hidden to avoid distressing the kids.
Me: How did it feel taking the children home with you?
My friend: It was a very, very big day! As we reversed off the driveway, I glanced at the backseat of the car and there were the two kids! And then it was the same looking at them later when they were in their beds.
It really is an indescribable feeling and it was real – there they were.
Me: What if you didn’t feel the children were a match for you, or you for them?
My friend: Even after children move in with you, they’re not legally yours straight away and the placement can be stopped if things aren’t working out. It’s a very thorough process. Some adopters we know still haven’t finalised the legal process and it’s been well over a year.
I’m delighted to say that we knew instantly it would work and we couldn’t wait to file the papers to become our children’s legal guardians. We went the very first day possible, we just couldn’t wait. There’s a lot of paperwork to finalise but 6 months later they were legally ours.
We’re coming up to the one year anniversary and it’s a date we’ll always celebrate.
Me: Will your children know they’re adopted?
My friend: Oh yes. The council organises adoption parties every year, which we’ll attend, so our children will grow up knowing others who are adopted, too. These are great events and we all really enjoy them.
Me: It sounds like everything has worked out for you. What would you say to others considering adoption?
My friend: Be prepared, as it’s emotionally and practically hard. Keep your eyes wide open, read the papers thoroughly, understand every detail and talk everything through.
When you know it’s right, it’s right. Our kids are adorable, and for us they were absolutely worth the wait.
For more information about adoption, contact Adoption UK or go to your local council website.
And some useful information here too!