Adam and I first started looking into adoption in summer 2013, when our daughter, Harriet was 7. Harriet had been desperate for a brother or sister for years, but we weren’t able to have any more birth children.
At the first information evening we attended, we found out about Concurrent Planning and immediately felt it might be right for us. This feeling was confirmed as we attended both the 4 day standard adoption training course and the 1 day extra training session on concurrency.
We didn’t tell Harriet we were considering adoption (or fostering) until after we’d completed the first stage of the application process, known as Stage 1. We wanted to be sure we could definitely proceed before getting her hopes up. She was delighted when we told her the news, just before Christmas 2013!
As we progressed through the final stage of the assessment (known as Stage 2) and then went to both fostering and adoption panels, we tried to keep Harriet involved and excited. We were approved in June 2014. We then had a difficult few months’ wait, as the Concurrent Planning scheme was still very new back then so there were not as many children referred to the service. We began to doubt whether we’d made the right decision and wondered if we should have gone for traditional adoption. I was very tempted over those few months to get a t-shirt printed with the words ‘No, we have no news’ on the front!
During that time, however, Harriet was invited to attend a children’s workshop, looking at the reasons why children become looked after, how they fit into families and how the Concurrent Planning team can support birth children as well as looked-after children. She learnt about different types of fostering and adoption, and had fun doing crafts and meeting other birth children whose parents are foster carers / adopters.
We’d just about decided to give up on concurrency and revert to standard adoption when our social worker phoned and told us about a 15 month old boy who might need fostering with a view to being adopted if he couldn’t go home. We knew that the case of Jonathan and his older siblings was going to court in a few weeks to decide whether they should all be put into care. If the judge said yes, Jonathan would come to us that day, but if the judge said no, he wouldn’t. We tried to get prepared without making too many preparations just in case it didn’t happen. Tricky!
It was a very long day for all of us. Harriet was in her pyjamas and ready for bed by the time Jonathan finally arrived late that Monday evening. His social worker took a photo of the 4 of us sitting on our sofa when he first arrived. Although it felt a bit odd at the time, we’re now really glad we’ve got a record of that first day as a family.
We told Harriet that we were simply fostering Jonathan at the start. That was easier for her to understand and for her to explain to her friends. It was also easier for us to explain to people outside our family and close friends. Jonathan had contact sessions 3 times a week: twice a week with his birth parents and once a week with his birth parents and siblings at a contact centre near his birth parents’ home.
We found the family contact sessions harder to handle as it was difficult to see all the brothers and sisters together, enjoying each other’s company, and then take Jonathan away from that. The early contact sessions with his siblings would really unsettle Jonathan and as we crawled home afterwards in the Friday teatime traffic, with him sobbing in the car, our hearts would almost break. The Concurrency team provided extra support for us during those sessions as they recognised that they were particularly tough emotionally.
At times like those, we’d remind ourselves that the professionals involved in Jonathan and his siblings’ lives had their best interests at heart, and we were simply trying to do our best for a little boy who needed us. As time passed, and Jonathan bonded with us, he came away from those contact sessions happily and it became less of a strain for all of us.
The contact sessions dictated the rhythm of our life and so even in the school holidays, when normally we’d have spent time with Harriet, we of course still had to take Jonathan to contact. Harriet came with us once or twice, an experience which I think helped to demystify things for her. She never actually met any of Jonathan’s birth family, as she waited in the car with Adam whilst I took Jonathan in to contact, but she saw where contact took place.
Adam and I managed to build up a relationship with Jonathan’s birth parents and siblings, which, I think, we all found beneficial. At the start they seemed very critical of us, which we could understand since they wanted their son back, but over time, they came to appreciate that we genuinely cared for their son and they said that if Jonathan couldn’t return to them, they wanted him to stay with us. We still have letterbox contact with them (where we write to each other), and it really helps to know who we’re writing to.
A court date was set – a whole week since it was to decide the future of Jonathan and all of his siblings. Wonderfully, for us, the week was during a half-term holiday and we were able go on holiday for the first time since Jonathan came to us.
As the court date approached, we were informed by Jonathan’s social worker and guardian that their recommendation was for Jonathan to remain with us and not return to his birth parents. However, we also knew that there was a chance that the Judge might decide against the local authority’s plan. We therefore told Harriet that there was a chance the Judge might decide Jonathan should return home but also a possibility he might be able to stay with us. It was a careful balancing act: on the one hand we didn’t want to raise her hopes of him staying with us too much but on the other hand we didn’t want her to be totally unprepared for him staying with us.
On the Friday of our week away, on a gloriously sunny day in Scarborough, I took a phone call from the Concurrent Planning team to say that the Judge had supported the plans and that Jonathan should stay with us! We were on the beach at the time. I remember asking Harriet if she’d like Jonathan to become her brother. Fortunately the answer was a very excited yes and we all celebrated this milestone day with ice-creams at the seaside!
Since then we’ve had further milestones: the matching panel, officially applying to adopt, adoption day, celebration hearing etc. There have been ups and downs along the way and, as with any siblings, there are times when Harriet & Jonathan get on famously, and times when they drive each other (and us!) crazy. The 7 year age gap between the two of them can be challenging at times, as what interests one may well not interest the other. However, it can also be a positive thing: Harriet is becoming increasingly independent and likes to spend time with her friends without us, so we’re then able to have quality time with Jonathan on his own. The day we really like to celebrate is the anniversary of Jonathan first coming to us. Every year, we have a celebration tea party with a special cake to remember the day when we first became our happy family of four.