Matt and Andy Prep Blog

23rd May 2014 - Session 5

It's surprisingly easy to get used to working a four-day week, but alas all good things must come to an end. It was a bit sad arriving at the Scottish Adoption office for the last of the five sessions, but this sadness paled in comparison to the excitement of having come to the end of the first step in our adoption journey.

One of the other couples had been thoughtful enough to write cards for us all. This was not only a nice gesture; it gave the group encouragement to exchange contact details. Though Andy and I already have a good network of friends, including friends with children, it will be great to stay in touch with the others in the group as we continue separately with the process.

We covered a fair bit of ground in this final group session. The central message of the session  seemed to be about modifying your parenting style to take account of your children's history. Whilst boundaries and discipline are important to child development, our facilitators explained that sometimes we would need to tread a bit more softly as being disciplined might trigger bad memories in our children.

Judy and Christine used a couple of engaging games to get us all thinking about our own behaviour and how we respond to stressful situations. This was my favourite bit of the day. We all had to stand on a word (written on pieces of paper on the floor) that described our response to stressful situations/arguments. It became a source of light-hearted jibing between partners and it was nice to get a chance to stretch our legs.

We had a visit from two members of the post-adoption team after lunch. They were both lovely people and together they spelled out the diversity of support available to us and our children after the adoption process is completed.

The most memorable and reassuring bit of the day was an exercise called the 'what if...' exercise. This covered a number of situations which may crop up after our new children are placed with us. Many of these were situations I had worried about prior to the course and it was helpful to discuss these in a group session as suddenly many of these seemed a lot less threatening.

At the end of the day, we were handed our application form which we would use to let Scottish Adoption know if we wanted to proceed further. Though I think every single person in the group would have quite happily completed the form and handed it to our facilitators immediately we were told that we needed to take it home think about it properly. I reckon most of the forms will be sent in quite quickly.

Andy and I are really glad we were given the opportunity to take part in this course with so many other lovely people. We wish everyone the best, and look forward to hearing how they're getting on.

 

16th May 2014 Session 4

After what had been a very hectic week at work I was all too ready for this week’s preparation group session. Unfortunately Judy couldn’t join us this week but another member of the Scottish Adoption team stepped in to support Christine through the early part of the day.

This week we were covering a heavy and unpleasant topic- Abuse (including neglect) and the impact this has on children. This topic is however being covered for a reason, as the far majority of children needing adoption have experienced some form of abuse.

As in previous sessions, the facilitators used a variety of approaches to convey information to us. This was good as it helped to keep the day from getting too heavy.

A lot was packed into the morning session, which started off with the group creating a list of all the things a child needs to thrive. This was quite a long list and covered all the things that you might expect- love, shelter, praise, guidance and food. After about 10 minutes, the facilitator brought up a familiar image, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

I’ve seen this diagram a great many times during my working life but it seems strange thinking about this in relation to our future children. As strange as this may feel though, it is completely appropriate to use this model here as we all have several levels of needs that have to be met in order to thrive. The point the facilitators were trying to make is that with children needing adoption, there are often several of these needs that have not been met.

Abuse and neglect and the impact this has on children was explored through a combination of videos and group work. This was a heavy and emotive session but it had a legitimate purpose- it is helping to make sure we, as prospective adopters know that the children we are going to adopt are likely to have experienced some form of abuse and that they will need love, support and understanding to work through these issues.

We also explored the impact of parental drug and alcohol use in pregnancy and the early life of the child on development. This was made very real through a video of foster parents talking about impact of substance/alcohol use during pregnancy on the babies and children they’d fostered and how difficult this could be. This was very sad to watch but the one positive I took from this was that the dependency issues seen in these children passed after a few months.

It might just have been my perception, but the whole group seemed stoic and calm throughout the morning’s session. I know Andy and I were aware of many of these issues before we started the course and went in with our eyes open. It would seem the other couples in the group have done the same.

Before lunch we ended on a bit of a lighter note with the ‘House Rules’ exercise looking at what we consider ok and not ok as boundaries for children in our homes. This wasn’t shared publicly but was meant to be a discussion between yourself and your partner. Andy and I came up with similar responses- which was a relief, but the differences made for good discussions over lunch.

The most memorable aspect of the session was post-lunch visit from two adoptive parents who were talking about their own adoption journey. They were very open with us and described every stage of the process they’d been through. Though they both thought they had an ‘easy ride’ through their journey, it was clear that much of this was due to their accepting attitude and ability to cope when hurdles arose.

Though Andy and I know a few couples who have adopted, being able to ask questions of this couple in this setting helped to put the rest of the course into perspective and allay fears. I really respect the bravery and generosity of the couple in taking the time to talk to us.

The session ended a bit earlier than usual, but this felt like a good place to stop as it was a very full session.

Once again I feel like Andy and I are going home motivated but with a lot of information to process.

9th May 2014 - Session 3

Taking the advice of Karen, a previous adopter, Andy and I decided to book a short break in between the second and third preparation group sessions. The time off was great and gave us the space to work through some of emotions that have come up since we began our adoption journey.

We arrived at the third session recharged and ready to go. Just as well too, as we would be covering some heavy topics this week; identity, loss and grief. Christine and Judy were once again great facilitators and helped us get to grips with the subject matter.

This week felt more engaging than last week in that there was more discussion with other group members and activities to explore our own life experiences. The first of these was the ‘Life Script Exercise’ which explored what we remembered or had been told about our birth and early years of life. This was a quietly profound little exercise as it highlighted the volume of information we take for granted from our childhood that our future child might be deprived of.

These pieces of the puzzle are important in the formation of identity and can be distressing when missing. This understanding led nicely to a discussion about contact with birth parents, what is usual and how we feel about this. For several of us in the group this aspect of adoption feels uncomfortable and threatening.

The whole group have a fairly good understanding about why contact with birth parents is important for the children we adopt. We can now see how this contact will help our children understand their roots and give them a better sense of self. Letterbox contact is a concept I was certainly aware of before the course started and it is something Andy, I and the majority of the group seem ok with.

Face to face contact however feels like a very different kettle of fish. Before this session I would have been very resistant to this type of contact as I would have thought this to be quite confusing and emotionally damaging to children. Christine and Judy helped to reassure us though, explaining that this sort of contact would only be allowed if it was in the best interests of the child and where the birth parent(s) were supportive of the adoption and the adoptive parents.

We were shown a few videos to help us get to grips with thus concept. These videos featured children, adoptive parents and birth parents and explored what the process had been like for them and what contact felt like. It was good to see these as contact, for these families at least, seemed to be a positive experience all round.

The most powerful aspect of this session was the exploration of gains and losses for adoptive and birth parents. As a group we felt quite aware of the gains for us as new parents… as well as a sense of what we would be sacrificing. What we didn’t expect to be faced with was an exploration of the gains and losses for the birth parents. In my mind I had seen this as an entirely negative experience for birth parents.

As a group we were able to explore some of the negatives and positives of adoption for birth parents and to help make this a bit more real we watched a video of a birth mother who had given up her child and had made peace with her decision. This was very moving to watch as the birth mother in this video had clearly had a very tough childhood and life and was just trying to do the best she could for her child. For her, adoption would give her child the happy childhood and opportunities she was denied.

At the end of the session we were given reading material to take home. These resources are very good and though I have been less efficient than I’d like in reading through them, it is reassuring to have them there.

2nd May 2014 - Session 2

A whole week had passed and once again it was time to return to the Scottish Adoption offices for the second session in our Preparation Group course. Despite busy weeks at work, Andy and I were both looking forward to the day and were glad that the course was being held during office hours and not happening in the evenings after work. It feels right to dedicate whole days to this.

Christine, another member of the Scottish Adoption team, joined Judy in facilitating this session and should be with us for the remainder of the course.

Needless to say, all the members of the group were a wee bit more relaxed and friendly this week, making the whole session feel a lot lighter. In contrast to this relaxed atmosphere, the content of the session was fairly packed with information.

The session started off with us all sharing the story behind our names and what this meant to us. This again highlighted the diversity of the group and helped the facilitators drive home the importance of children keeping their first name as given to them by their birth parents. It was nice to hear about some of the options other adoptive parents had used to honour their child’s identity whilst also celebrating their permanence as a member of their new family.

Throughout the day, Judy and Christine were very good at breaking down some complicated theories into comprehensible and meaningful messages we could absorb… and putting up with my endless stream of questions.

One of the core topics from this week’s session was child development and the factors that affected this. The importance of having a loving, stimulating environment and a sustained relationship with at least one caregiver was highlighted, as was the consequences when these factors are missing. What surprised me was how reversible the damaged caused could be once the right factors were in place.

Judy and Christine split the group into two halves to explore the developmental milestones that could be associated with various age groups. This was a lot harder than I would have thought- especially as we were trying to arrive a decisions by consensus. In spite of this, the group worked well together and we were able to tap into the experience of those in the group who are already parents.

For me the most powerful aspect of the session was a video made by children placed through Scottish Adoption. The video captured what the adoption journey felt like for them, how they made sense of it all and processed the emotions that came up along the way. As an adoptive parent-to-be, I found this video incredibly reassuring as it highlighted the innate resilience of children. Despite difficult beginnings, the children seem to have turned out to be pretty well rounded individuals.

I left the session with a bit more confidence than I came in with but with an awareness of how much more I still have to learn.

25th April 2014 - Session 1

After 3 months of waiting, the first day of the preparation group had finally arrived and Andy and I were so pleased to take the first ‘proper’ step on what we consider to be the start of our adoption journey. It’s taken us a long time to get to this point but we are both happy to be here.

On arrival at the Scottish Adoption building we were greeted warmly and shown to the room.

Other couples arrived one by one and I was impressed at the diversity of the group. To my great relief, we weren’t the only gay couple in the group. I’d been a bit worried about this, though I knew that Scottish Adoption had already supported several same-sex couples to become parents.

This first session was facilitated by Judy and Alex, two charismatic members of the Scottish Adoption team. They had a relaxed and friendly style, and engaged well with each other, which in turn helped the group relax a bit too.

It was clear we were all nervous and it took a bit of coaxing from the facilitators to get us chatting.

Any icebreaker is a wee bit cringe-worthy, but Alex and Judy picked a gentle one- asking each member of the group to speak to another potential adopter in the group. The activity worked well and after everyone had introduced their fellow participant to the rest of the group, the atmosphere within the group became noticeably more relaxed.

Alex and Judy told us quite a lot about how the session, the course and the adoption process would run. There is a lot of information to take in, but the key message that came across is that we would be supported through the whole process.

Though a lot of ground was covered in this first session, there were a couple of powerful activities that really stood out.

The first of these was reflecting on a memorable home in our childhood and the home we now live in. I won’t spoil this activity for those that are yet to take part in a preparation group, but everyone in the group seemed to enjoy and benefit from this activity. As a group member I felt the activity helped to highlight the many similarities between all of the potential adopters in the group.

Though the group members seemed to be very knowledgeable and well prepared, I think everyone was moved by the examination of previous case studies. It gave us a chance to really think about the impact of early experiences, family dynamics and change on the development of children. This helped to drive home the importance of a stable and loving family home.

Alex and Judy did a good job of explaining the process ahead of us as adoptive parents and why certain key stages are so important in helping your assigned worker match you with suitable children. The best interest of children awaiting adoption is clearly at the heart of the long process we are now moving along. Alex summed this up well by saying “we find families for children, not children for families”.