Once you are approved as adopters you will hopefully be matched to a child. The child’s social worker is likely to have had a range of families to consider and chosen you. They will have balanced a range of circumstances such as where you live, your skills, your family make up, the support you have around you and your ethnicity, gender and other background.
The match will be considered and recommended by adoption panel, of the placing authority, where the child was born/brought into care. The recommendation is presented to the Agency Decision Maker, usually a senior manager within the authority, who will make the final decision.
From this stage introductions are arranged. Introductions is the process of prospective adopters and foster carers first meet the child it is planned to become a part of their family. As an adopter you will find this an exciting as well as a stressful time.
There are various people critical to the process of introductions. The adopters obviously, foster carer, placing authority (child’s) social worker, fostering social worker, and the assessing or adoption social worker. This group, alongside, the Independent Reviewing Officer, who oversees the implementation of plans for the child while in care, will set out the process of introduction and transition to your family.
It is sensible to take a list of questions about the child, their routine and what the agency are recommending about contact arrangements with birth family. Make sure you have read all the paperwork available prior to the meeting, and collated any questions. Are there gaps in the information you have been given? The introductions are the best time and opportunity to get as much detail about the child. You may find it more challenging once the child has been placed. You will also rely on this detail to talk to the child at a later date when they ask about their earlier life.
Will you have a change to meet birth family? Adult adopted children identify the importance of their adopters having met their birth parents and them later being able to talk about them, or indeed to have ongoing contact with them, where practical.
It is important that you feel confident about the process and you feel you can have an input into the planning process, especially if you feel there are changes that would be beneficial for the child. You will feel under scrutiny but try to understand that all the professionals want it to work and for the child to flourish with you. Therefore try to get over any self-consciousness.
In some authorities the adopters might meet the child during Adoption Activity Days allow you to meet a range of children who are waiting to be adopted ina prepared, supported, safe and fun environment.
You are likely to be asked to provide a book for the child with pictures and text which can be read to them, tape or video the foster carer can play to them, so you will already be familiar to the child when you meet.
The foster carers will make an effort to reduce your stress as much as they can, but remember they will also be dealing with their own emotional turmoil, as they are losing a child they love and have cared for, even though they will feel supportive of him/her having a ‘forever family’.
It’s helpful to be mindful of this and perhaps take them a small gift or card to recognise the contribution they have made to your child/ren’s life. However challenging you may find this process, you will end it with a child, and should try to be understanding. Clearly if there were significant issues you should raise them as soon as they occur with your social worker.
Introductions will generally start with a short meeting in the child’s foster home, an informal meeting to get to know the child, the foster carers and start to plan the timetable. There may be what is called a ‘bump into meeting’, if the child is older when it is planned to meet you, while out with the foster carer. You are likely to be introduced as a friend of the carers, but then when the child is told about you they will be able to picture you already.
Over the next few days you will spend time with the foster carer in their home. The foster carers will be crucial continuing the day to day tasks the child is used to, sharing details of routines, needs, likes, dislikes, behaviour and gradually the direct care of the child will be transferred to you as their carers.
The foster carers will increasingly reduce their direct care. The child needs to see that the foster carer has confidence in handing over the intimate care tasks such as bathing and changing nappies to you. This sends the message to the child whatever their age that you are safe and able to care for them.
This can be a difficult situation as it can feel artificial and uncomfortable to care out care tasks in someone else’s house, especially someone you hardly know but this transition needs to take place to prepare the children to move to their permanent home. As the introductions progress it is likely that you will be able to take the child out as a family. You will also be guided to decide when to introduce your other children if you have them to the new family member.
All local authorise have a slightly different approach when it comes to the length and specifics about the introduction period. The duration will also depend on the child’s age and how they react to the changes. While there may be a temptation to try to speed them up this may be counterproductive, especially if tit leaves insufficient time for the child to adjust to their new family. It could make it harder for them when s/he moves in. Introductions for younger children are around a week with older children longer but most likely within 2/3 weeks.
Mid-way review meeting
There will be a midway meeting held when everyone can consider how things are going, this will allow them to air any concerns they may have and see what is working for all parties. This also provides an opportunity to review whether the introductions are progressing at the appropriate speed. Your social worker will be in touch regularly to check how things are going and to offer advice and support.
It is wise not to underestimate the toll that the process will take on you physically and emotionally. You will be exhausted, but it’s OK as this is totally normal! Remember to make sure you take some time to relax and re-charge, before the children come home with you for good at the end of introductions.
You may have a reflection day during the introductions, when you will spend a day away from the child. It is OK to ask for one if you feel you need it. The professionals will understand, it is an intense time.
It is really important to be honest with social workers in the event it is proving challenging.
In amongst all of these challenges, try to have fun. Take the child out when it’s agreed. Days out, activities and also make sure you have some down time built in. it’s a good idea to take lots of pictures for discussion with the child when they are older.
Try to relax and enjoy this time as it will pass very quickly!
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