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Lack of support network, and other things that may damage our chances?(33 Posts)
Hi, and first of all sorry – this is going to be another one of those ‘what are our chances?’ type questions that I hope aren’t too annoying. I’ve been reading and thinking about adoption for about six months now, with a view to mentally preparing myself and my husband for the possibility of future adoption. We’re currently undergoing fertility investigations and I’m fully aware that any such treatment should be a closed book before starting the adoption process, but it’s nevertheless a subject I’m interested in anyway, and something I feel I want to do in the future, whatever happens with our fertility. This forum has been a fascinating read, and even though I’m just a lurker, I’m grateful for it.
I’m worried though about the criteria and our suitability in a SW’s eyes. Some things about us that I feel might go against us:
1) we both have PhDs, which I’m aware from reading this forum can be off-putting (which to me seems ridiculous, but hey). We have zero academic snobbery and are both from working/lower middle class backgrounds, and would have no desire to push a child down any particular route. Their life is for them.
2) I have had a quite problematic background. One of the upshots of this was that last year I traced my biological father only to learn he had died three years ago and I would never meet him. My mother had lied to me my whole life about where I came from, telling me he died before I was born, and was unsympathetic when I found out the sad truth. I’m not sure what a SW would make of that – would it go against me? It has strengthened my belief the importance of being open with children about where they come from and who they are, and I do feel I could relate quite well to an adopted child emotionally because of certain hardships I’ve been through in my own childhood (including periods of homelessness, and being sent off to live with my uncle, of whom I was scared, for a year). Would I have to assure the SW that the child wouldn’t have contact with my mother though?
3) we don’t have much of a support network where we live. We live in Aberdeenshire, and my husband’s family all live in Ireland, and my mother lives about 500 miles south. We have friends through my husband’s work (I work from home on a very casual basis), but we live in a village where we don’t know anyone. We always assumed that having a child is when support networks start to grow – through mother and baby groups, nursery, school, etc. But with adoption, we would need those sorts of networks all in place to begin with, and this concerns me. We’re not religious or particularly community-oriented. How do/did you build up the kind of support networks they look for?
4) we’re vegan. The child’s needs would come before this of course, and we would be happy to feed our adopted child/ren the diet they asked for and are used to, for as long as they continued to want it. But we wouldn’t eat animal products ourselves, and if the child asked us about that we would tell them our reasons. I’m worried that a SW might allow a certain prejudice about what s/he thinks vegans are like to colour her/his opinion of us. Many people think vegans are oddballs or ‘extremists’. We’re not, we’re perfectly normal people, but I just have this worry that it’ll go hugely against us.
Sorry, this has been long. Some good things about us just to balance it out:
- we are kind and caring people who have a lot of love to give
- my husband has a good job and we own a four-bedroom family home with a big garden in a quiet village in the countryside
- we’ve been together 10 years, married for 2, and our relationship is rock solid and very loving
- I’m based at home and only work (freelance writer) when I want to, so I would have lots of time to devote to the child/ren
So sorry this has been so long. It’s the result of months of ruminating on the subject with no-one knowledgeable to talk to about it. I’d be really grateful for any replies. I think of all our issues, number 3 concerns me the most. I'm a bit scared that they would reject us outright.
Oh crap that was long, sorry. One more thing. My husband doesn't have British citzenship, as he's Irish. Does he need it?
Welcome! There are a lot of things to think about (as you've spotted) but you don't need to have answers to everything in advance. You mention fertility, and that you're aware this needs to be a "closed book" before applying to adopt - and you're quite right, so please give yourself plenty of space and time to work through all the feelings associated with that. If you proceed with fertility treatment, most adoption agencies/LAs will want you to then leave at least a year before considering adoption, to allow recovery time and potential grieving.
Since you say your third point concerns you the most, I'll just try and comment on that one. In some ways you're right, that different new networks develop once you have a child. But in other ways, you will need to demonstrate that you currently have connections and sources of support that work for you. This can look unique to you, and can be whatever works for you - in my little map of support I have people locally, people further away who give emotional support by phone, people who skype, people who I see weekly, people who I see monthly... Loads of them are friends, some family, and then there are some connections to groups. It doesn't all have to be selfless community work (!) but it does help to show how you commit to and sustain relationships with people. You could look out for ways to get to know people locally that still mean you feel like you're being yourself - is there a village event you could attend and chat to people? A local noticeboard or something? A library service for information or volunteering?
After all that waffle, what I'm trying to say is, sketch out all the people you would turn to for friendship and support, and you may find your network is already stronger than you think. If you think there are gaps in it, then by all means try to fill them, but take the time to find things that genuinely attract you rather than things you think will please others. Part of your assessment, if you choose to adopt, will look at your self-awareness and capacity for reflection - so showing that you know yourself and your own strengths and weaknesses will be a really good thing.
I'm sure others will be along to give their wisdom on some of your other questions
I'll go through your points in an orderly fashion, based on our own experiences. We're a couple of weeks away from approval panel, FWIW, so we have experience of the process but not of actually adopting yet.
1) DP has a PhD and works at university, in research mainly. Myself, was doing a PhD until recently but gave up (though I am maybe more academically minded than him). Noone has ever raised any concerns regarding this. We did have a general chat about encouraging children in whatever they are good at, and valuing non-academic things, and taking pride in small achievements. I didn't feel that that was a conversation particularly geared towards us as academics though, it felt more like something they discuss with all prospective adopters. Also, it only came up half-way through stage 2, so definitely not something that would have stopped us right from the start.
In our PAR the SW pointed out that whereas neither of us struggled academically at school, I did struggle socially and would thus be well placed to empathise with and support a child in a similar situation.
Personally, partially because of my academic 'prowess' I feel confident that I could support a child who was struggling academically, too. I would also feel confident to home educate if necessary.
2) In different ways to yours, my childhood was difficult too. Our SW saw pretty much every 'horrible' thing that happened, as a strength for our application. If you are reflective of what happened, difficulties and problems can be seen as opportunities for personal growth, or, from the SWs perspective, as 'evidence' of whatever (emotional maturity, resilience, tolerance, empathy...)
Regarding contact with your mother, I think you would have to show that you would put your child's needs over your mothers (and maybe yours). I don't think you would have to guarantee no contact, just that you would ensure that the relationship with your mother happens on your terms, and that you would be willing, and able, to stop contact if it proved to be harmful to your child.
3) We were worried about our support network too. Our families are abroad. They are a big emotional support to us, but obviously not available for impromptu, or regular, helping out. We did/do however know lots of people locally, due to having a BC already - you are right that this kind of child-centred network tends to grow when you have a child.
I think you could try to slowly build a local network. You could join local activities (I went to a knitting group for a while); you could volunteer to be a governor for a local school; start talking to your neighbours. You could also tie it in with gaining childcare experience; volunteer at the local school to help with reading, or at rainbows, and when you've met a few local people that way, start offering babysitting. It does take some effort to build a network, but it is worth it.
That said, I don't think that you would be refused on the basis of not (yet) having a local child centred support network. You can for instance research the play groups available locally, various baby classes you may be interested in taking your child to, or demonstrate to your SW that you have researched schools and what kind of extracurricular activities and groups are available in your area, if you are considering older children. Also, focus on the network you DO have, and point out the strengths within it, then identify how you are going to address the 'holes' in it.
4) I have no experience of this. I do think that if you don't present as 'extremists' then the SW won't be prejudiced. However they will probably want to have in-depth conversations about food issues, and how you might deal with them, as food issues are (or so we have been told) nearly ubiquitous in adoption. On all sides of the spectrum.
hth, and good luck with everything.
Quite some cross posting there, sorry.
DP doesn't have citizenship either, no problem whatsoever. You do have to have indeterminate leave to remain though.
Thanks so much for such thoughtful responses both of you
You both actually made me think that yes, perhaps our support network is stronger than we think it is. Family-wise, emotionally, we are perfectly catered for by DH's extended family - his parents, three brothers, their wives and children, his two aunts, etc. Obviously they aren't around for regular stuff, but they would be straight over if we needed them. It's reassuring that not everything necessarily needs to be in place for a child-centred support network, but that we show commitment to developing these. I've been thinking about getting involved in gymnastics coaching in the village, and that sort of thing would be just the ticket I presume. There's also a gardening club I might join. The village does have a strong community, it's just that I haven't really felt like joining in so far. I think as the years progress and we moved towards adoption, I would naturally become more involved in things like that anyway. And actually I've been thinking of becoming a school governer for a while, just haven't plucked up the guts to do it yet (I can be a bit shy sometimes). So thank you both for the reassurance. And don't worry, I won't rush into anything (not that I'd be able to even if I wanted to). I just like to be prepared
64x32x24, I'm glad that your education levels haven't been made much of by your SW. Perhaps my impression was slightly wrong, though I suppose every SW and agency is different. I agree that if anything, having quite academic parents could be an advantage for a child who might be struggling. DH and I both have experience of teaching - granted, we both teach at university level, but that doesn't mean our students are all naturally bright. We both have got a lot out of helping less natural students grasp new things for the first time, and we're patient and understanding when it comes to things like that. I was home educated as a child, and like you would feel confident doing that.
Re: my mother, if it's just a case of ensuring the child's needs come before hers or mine, that is completely fine
Yes, I've read that food issues are often central with adopted children, particularly where some form of neglect has been a factor. We know that we would be supportive of a child's dietary needs and choices, it's just a question of whether a SW would judge us negatively or make assumptions. I'm guessing it would be dealt with similar to a religious couple or something - making sure the child wouldn't be forced into anything?
Oh thanks for clearing up the citizenship thing, that's fab. Aye, we'll be living in Scotland forever, no worries there!
I would just add that things I have learnt as a school governor has been really useful throughout the Homestudy and thinking about placement. I have been involved in the school's safeguarding and LAC policies. I have learnt about child development, support for children who have delayed development and have found a lovely school where I could potentially send my future children one day. It has been really useful, plus some of the other governors are great support.
I was really scared of confessing to being a vegan - I think it's something to do with the pretty much universal 'that's a bit weird' reaction. It's unlikely to come up right at the start and once you've got to know your social worker it'll be much easier to discuss. I said I intended to raise my child vegetarian but would be open to providing whatever food they were used to while they were settling even if that meant meat. I did say that I wouldn't be able to cook fresh meat (i.e. I could manage fish fingers but not a hog roast) so if they felt that a child really needed that kind of diet then it wouldn't be a good match. My DS never seemed to notice the switch to veggie food so it wasn't an issue in the end for us. However there could be all sorts of food issues and so the important thing is to show you are committed to doing whatever is in the child's best interests
ps: I find nothing deals with the weirdo issue better than a really luxurious vegan chocolate and cherry cake (see www.ppk.com for ideas) - the social worker will be expecting something made from lentils, sawdust and righteousness and will get a lovely surprise
murielspark Good luck with your fertility treatment.
If it does not work out and you go for adoption all best wishes.
I am not sure I can add much but briefly, my thoughts....
1) You've asked and answered your own question about your PHD when you say "...would have no desire to push a child down any particular route. Their life is for them." That's what social workers want to hear. My hubby has an MA and I have a BA, not quite a PHD but it was never even mentioned for us.
2) 'problematic background' I am very sorry to hear this. I think social workers want to know you are able to come to terms with your past and that it will not be a problem for the new child (ie make parenting them hard or perhaps their possible trauma triggering your own past).
3) 'we don’t have much of a support network' well I think you may have more support than you know, plus I think you can make new friends who will be a support to you in the future. A support does not mean they will be looking after your child, a support means someone who could cook you dinner or go shopping for you, someone to talk to etc. I know that sounds obvious but when I was first thinking of this I thought a support meant someone who could look after the child for you! Of course, people you only know a little are not able to look after your child etc. So new friends and support would be more the food and shopping type of person.
You said "... we live in a village where we don’t know anyone. We always assumed that having a child is when support networks start to grow – through mother and baby groups, nursery, school, etc." That is true it does but it helps you to get that support ready and volunteering and getting involved is the first step. I think you may find you can volunteer for stuff in your community and that will make you new friends who in time will be a support and if it is work with children (beavers, brownies etc, crèche or toddler group etc) you will be getting experience with kids (which most adopters are asked for even if they have birth children - they want to see experiences outside the family often so nieces or nephews don't always fit the bill.
As a Christian I found the church a great source of support but understand you are not religious and so would perhaps find find going to church comfortable or easy. They may have clubs or activities that may be interesting.
4) we’re vegan, I don't think it is a problem what you eat it is what you will feed the child. It's also possibly a problem if you will feel you want the child to be vegan or vegetarian. I would be surprised if many kids in the looked after system would be vegetarian but if you are open to cooking meat foods and encouraging a veggie or vegan diet in time that may be OK. I am afraid this is guess work so feel free to ignore me!
Mmmm Maggslee the luxurious vegan chocolate and cherry cake sounds a lot better than something made from lentils, sawdust and righteousness.
murielspark, I'd pick Maggslee's brains, s/he seems s/he would know.
murielspark, I'd love to pick your brains about being a free lance writer!
Sorry not brief at all!
Sorry - and so would perhaps find going to church noT comfortable or easy. They may have clubs or activities that may be interesting.
Yes, I generally agree with the others. My dp is an academic and from a very high-achieving family, and we certainly got the 'how will you cope if your child is not academic'. I think it's a very legitimate question. (Fortunately, I was able to point out to them that in my extended family you are considered a high flier if you get out of bed before 10am and have a job to go to.) But I have never heard of people being refused simply because they are highly educated.
Speaking very generally, I don't think problematic childhoods are an obstacle per se: I certainly had a very troubled childhood and my family are NOT the Waltons. There was a lot of talk during home study about what you do with difficult experiences, how you learn from them, how they can make you more resilient and resourceful and how you can use that to support an adopted child. So do start talking about it in those terms.
Resilience and resourcefulness are also important concepts in the business of support networks. It's certainly true that many of your support networks develop after, and as a consequence of, parenthood. But if I was your SW I would be a bit worried about why you aren't integrating into your community NOW - bluntly, you need to demonstrate that you aren't a social misfit who will be raising any child within an isolated home. That doesn't mean you have to be a tight group of wannabe best friends and babysitters on your doorstep, but if you could show a portfolio of different kinds of supporters it would help. LIke: my main emotional support is from my friends x and y and though they don't live nearby they are always available to help me think things through on the phone. My family aren't down the road but they are hugely supportive and in an emergency they could be here within 2.5 hours. The main gap I can see is other local families who we could socialise with and trade babysitting favours and playdates with. I am addressing this by [add voluntary work of your choice here].
As for veganism, you just need to show you are flexible and can put the child's needs first. If you are going to adopt a young child, I don't see this will be too much of a problem. But it could be a significant issue if you adopt an older child.
I'm an assessing social worker and would agree with 68x32.. 's post almost word for word! I'd be pretty impressed if I came to assess you and you had already identified those issues!
In terms of support networks I might be worried if you didn't have any long term friends (for emotional support) that you see every now and then and have phone and email contact with. Your lack of local support isn't abnormal and some good ways of demonstrating that you are building it up have already been suggested. Also childcare experience outside your network will be v useful.
* murielspark* I woke up thinking of you! And I read a few more comments and saw you said Yes, I've read that food issues are often central with adopted children, particularly where some form of neglect has been a factor. We know that we would be supportive of a child's dietary needs and choices, it's just a question of whether a SW would judge us negatively or make assumptions. I'm guessing it would be dealt with similar to a religious couple or something - making sure the child wouldn't be forced into anything? That is exactly what I was thinking. We are Christians and whenever this came up we were asked how we would feel if our adopted child did not follow our faith. We have a birth DD (aged 9) too so we could honestly say that children make up their own minds on faith.
All the best.
Thanks everyone for your responses, you're all so helpful and good
Maggslee How wonderful to speak to an actual vegan adopter, thanks for replying. That cake sounds amazing, not sure the link worked though? I was thinking I could impress any SW with my scrummy vegan chocolate chip cookies, but that cake sounds even better. It's great that you felt able to draw the line at cooking fresh meat too - I'm not sure I'd have the nerve. Obviously the child's needs come before ours, and if a child has always eaten sausage and beans, and finds it comforting to eat sausage and beans, then sausage and beans it will eat. We imagined that some sort of transition would gradually take place, where we would pull back from cooking meat in the house etc, but that's all theoretical and would totally depend on the child. It's really nice to hear that the switch has been straightforward for you, and that it didn't hold you back at the assessment stage. Fantastic.
Italiangreyhound thanks so much for your supportive messages. Really helpful stuff Oh and about the freelance writing - it's not as cool as it sounds, and not at all lucrative. Basically I write book reviews for various newspapers and journals, the work is sporadic - sometimes I'll have multiple things to write with a short trunaround, oftentimes none - which is why it's financially pretty unstable (luckily my fella's salary keeps us decently afloat).
Devora thanks, and I do appreciate the bluntness, as that's what I'll expect from the process. We're not 'social misfits', but we are less community-oriented than some, it has to be said, and a both a bit shy really (well, I mean we're introverts). We're very friendly though, and have lots of friends going back a lot of years. We don't know anyone where we live partly because we haven't lived here all that long - my husband got a new job last year and we moved to Scotland from Yorkshire. If we were talking about our old town, we had lots of support networks there built up over the ten years we'd lived there. But here we're starting from scratch.
Mutley, it's very interesting to have a SW's point of view on all this, thanks so much for responding. What you said about longterm friendships does worry me a little as I don't really have any of my own (my own longest friendships are through my husband's 20- and 30-year old friendships). This is mostly because of my upbringing - my mother was constantly taking me out of schools and moving around, making it impossible for me to sustain friendships or roots. I'm wincing a bit now at how odd that makes me sound! Good point about childcare experience - I want to volunteer as a gymnastics coach, would that be okay, or should I be looking more at actual babysitting etc?
Barbadosgirl thanks for that, that's made me more interested in the school governer thing. I hope there are spaces at the local schools. Are you a primary or secondary school govener? They didn't mind that you didn't have kids at the time?
Murial you said I want to volunteer as a gymnastics coach, would that be okay, or should I be looking more at actual babysitting etc? Personally, I would think of a few things:
1) What would be helpful from your point of view - gaining confidence etc.
2) What would be helpful from the social services point of view - it would be a shame to pile loads of energy and effort into something and find it was not what would be applicable for social services (for example babysitting or caring for relatives kids sometimes does not count for as much as helping at a group or club with a variety of kids - I can say more if you like)
4) What is do-able. What group or clubs have vacancies for helpers (lots I would guess - but is it at a time that you can manage, what about DH, can you both help together or separately? Again, do ask social workers what would be best, shame to both get involved and find out it would be more effective if you did different stuff! - and even if the answer from SW is you decide then at least it shows you are considering what they would think - which I am told they like!
No you don't sound odd at all. You've obvs really thought about why and what has happened to you. I guess can you make lasting friendships and relationships and do you have anyone who can support you through the very dark days that may well crop up? (in addition to your partner as you may well feel v frustrated with him at times). Nothing you're saying says red flag at all. Also the gym coach sounds great;getting alongside school age children.
Thanks both. This thread has really helped me to clarify where our strengths and weaknesses truly lie, as opposed to where I perceive them to lie. I now see that the things about us I thought might be an issue (our education level, our veganism, my background), aren't as much as a problem as I thought. And importantly, I can see that the real missing link is in our local support network and our lack of childcare experience. These are obviously quite big things, but unlike the first three issues, we can actually do something about them and we have the time to work on them.
Apart from possible gym coaching, I've just found a befriending programme locally, where severely disadvantaged / vulnerable children are befriended by adult volunteers one on one, who develop trust, give them nice, fun, every day experiences that they don't get at home, and broaden their horizons by introducing them to new hobbies etc. It sounds really wonderful actually. So I might give that a go.
It has been harder to think of things my husband might do, because his interests don't really mesh well with organised child-centred activities; he's wonderful with children, but he can't coach football or run a scouting group, it's just not who he is. He once ran a poetry workshop for primary school children in Ireland, which resulted in published book of their poems - perhaps he could do the same thing again here, through the library? Something to think about I guess.
The befriending programme sounds great, muriel. I think you're absolutely focused on the right things: it's not easy to show either childcare experience or local support networks pre-adoption - these things tend to come with parenthood! - but addressing them will demonstrate the resourcefulness that adoptive parents need.
A gentle challenge to your husband, though: his interests may not mesh with organised child-centred activities, but once he's a dad he'll have to knuckle down to them! How would he feel about having to stand on the touchline of a muddy football pitch every Sunday morning, or hanging out in softplay centres? If he doesn't like the collective organised bit, could he not join you on the befriending programme?
I truly get how tedious organised child-centred activities can be - they're not always my cup of tea either - but they are so integral to parenting that I think the social worker may pick up on this quite quickly if your husband is resistant to getting involved with children in ways that are 'not who he is'. Do you see what I mean?
I completely see what you mean Devora, and I was saying the same thing to him last night. I think I expressed myself poorly in my last post. He loves football so would be happy cheering on his son or daughter on the sidelines, and I can see him rolling around in softplay happily. When he's around our nieces and nephews they flock to him, as he really knows how to have fun with them - whether playing chase, reading with them, or telling them stories about Sirocco the lonely parrot from space (or whatever - he's a writer, and they love his stories).
What I meant, I suppose, was that his skills are not ones you'd typically associate with child-centred activity groups - he likes sport but is rubbish at it and couldn't coach it, he doesn't have scouting or crafting abilities, etc etc. Hence why I mentioned the poetry book workshop as one thing he could do. I mean, he could easily teach piano or French, but it's hard to imagine how he would do so in a group setting. And - I know this will sound bad - but teaching music or languages one on one to children is not something he really has time for because of his job. There's a difference between giving a couple of hours to an activity group (which he could do, it's just a matter of thinking of a suitable activity), giving all your spare time to your adopted child (which he could do and would love), and becoming a part-time piano teacher on top of having a fulltime job (which would be stupid). So it's a question of finding something appropriate. I think someone said above that you don't have to change who you are, it's better show that you can work with what you've got? I hope I'm making sense here.
I was pleased to learn that my husband is entitled to 39 weeks paid adoption leave if we did manage to adopt, with a further three months unpaid leave available if necessary. That sounds like a wonderfully generous amount of time - is that normal across the board?
Yes, I see now. It's NOT easy - most adopters (except those of us who already had children - struggle with this one. Social workers will be impressed if he approaches it in a resourceful way and finds some kind of solution.
I'll stop challenging him now, poor man
Haha, thanks I'm pleased to hear it's fairly common. Whenever I watch adoption programmes (which I've been doing a lot lately, both the recent ones on TV and Lilka's links on here), it seems like the couples featured always seem to have raised children of their own first, or live nextdoor to their extended families, or both. Compared to them, we look very green indeed. It makes me wonder if we'd even be considered for a toddler or baby, as we have no experience of looking after babies and no means of getting that experience. But, given that so many people come to adoption after infertility, we can't be the only ones with no parenting experience... at least you'd think not
Ack I just used that horrible 'of their own' construction. Obviously adopted children would be children 'of their own' too. I should have just said that they've already been parents once before. Sorry if I offended anyone there. Wince.
Muriel -IME most prospective adopters do not drop out of the process because they fail to get approved, though obviously some do
I think that most drop out themselves for various reasons, mostly because they discover that the type of child they had hoped to parent was not a available in the system, or only available after a very long wait. Or they decided to take another route to being a parent, such as IVF or surrogacy. Or because they find the matching process very stressful, especially if they are rejected for a large number of children . Or because they have a disrupted placement and can't face it again.
Have you checked that the agency you are with can place the kind of child you want ? And how many of such children they place each year with unrelated families ? And how many adopt from other areas ?
Getting approved in just the first step. It's a bit like being approve in principle by a mortgage lender -you still have to find the house you want.
If you get a poor or inexperienced social worker, you may have to play down your academic achievements a bit. Especially your own, they are very into gender stereotyping.
Some of them went into SW to help the deserving poor, so they can be a little resentful of people who are richer and better educated than them. If you get one of those ones, you will soon spot it . Those type like to do a Bit of ritual humiliation , to put you in your place. It's just a power game to them. Sadly it's very one sided, they have all the power and you have none. You just have to grin and bear it.
< awaits outcry from social workers who are convinced that they have met every single social worker in the county and none of them are like this >
Sorry to have to mention this,but I thought it better that you were prepared for the possibility.
Re being vegan -you might have to demonstrate that you are aware of the nutritional needs of a growing child and how you would meet these within a vegan lifestyle . It will raise more issues than being vegetarian . Again, a good SW will just cover this a matter of routine. A poor one might try to stereotype you. So play it all very low key.
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