Scott and Tracey

Scott and Tracey

So here’s our little blog about days three and four of the prep group we attended with Scottish Adoption (“SA”). I say “little”, of course, but given the cheeky jesting I received from John, Alex and Judy Heyes (who joined us on the last day) about the length of my last blog, just to annoy them I’m aiming to make this even longer!

As an aside, the fact I’ve been ribbed by them jovially about the blog, the stories we’ve heard from them about the hassles of fixing up their house or supporting football teams that aren’t really football teams (sorry Alex!), the natural and light-hearted manner with which they’ve approached the prep groups, have suggested to us that in what’s to follow, we’ll have the benefit of dealing with genuine people there to help us through the process with a non-judgemental, amiable and plain English attitude. We’d started this process by speaking to social workers in our local Council and were almost put off the whole idea, having been lectured to fairly patronisingly about, for example, how pretty much every adoptive kid will have ADHD (total nonsense, by the way), so it’s been really comforting spending time with SA’s team who all come across not only as really knowledgeable but also who don’t spend their time shoving it in your face.

Apologies if the chronology of what follows is a bit mixed up, as we took a wee break after the group finished and the brain’s obviously still on holiday!

Day Three

For various reasons we were late on the third day, so when we arrived we’d missed the most of a dvd the group were watching. We caught the end of it though and we were brought up to speed. The gist of it seemed to focus on the behavioural difficulties that foster and adoptive parents can experience in the kids living with them. We felt it was a fairly downbeat start but definitely something that needed to be heard and talked about. The whole process of welcoming someone else’s child into your home is bound to throw up some challenges, particularly given the story that’s led them to you, so every minute watching and chatting about dvds like that and the one we watched later in the group about neonatal abstinence syndrome & foetal alcohol syndrome was helpful and much appreciated.

Sounds really hard-going I know, but thankfully we then had a break, downed some coffee, relaxed a bit and then sat down to one of the most uplifting and educative experiences of the whole prep group – meeting an adoptive parent. A real one, not on a tv screen, but an actual human being who’d been through what we’re planning on going through. It might seem a little weird to think of it like this, but at the start it felt to us like we were in the presence of some important celebrity, such was the thought that although we’d learned so much already in our theoretical discussions in the group, here now in our midst we had access to someone like us who’d walked already the path we’d like to take in life and could tell us first-hand what to expect. I think we weren’t the only ones who felt like that, because everyone in the room was silent and completely transfixed as she sat there and talked about her experience. She took us through her first thoughts of adoption, on to first contact with SA, her time in the prep groups, the home study with Alex, the unnecessary nerves ahead of the adoption panel, and the matching process which seemed quite fraught and disappointing at times but ultimately brought home to her in an emotional and even amusing story the amazing wee boy she’d been longing for. Her tale of what she went through to get there, how she was and still is supported throughout by SA, and the way she spoke so naturally with Alex with whom she’d clearly formed a close bond after what they’d been through together, as I say was all truly uplifting.

As for that ongoing support, after lunch we then got to speak to Giles Greenslade and Catherine Watson about the ‘aftercare’ SA can provide for you and your adoptive kids as time goes on. They talked about all the groups, events and trips they organise regularly to bring adoptive parents together, and their kids together, making it clear that the process towards adoption is by no means the end of the story and that their door’s always open for you, and more importantly for your kids, if it’s needed. Again given our previous chats with the local social workers, knowing this has proved one of the main reasons we have decided to go ahead with SA, as with the local Council given its significant lack of resources we felt that really would have been left to it alone.

After that, I’m pretty sure on that day we also got to see two more dvds (again this might have actually happened the next day!), one with real adoptive parents (some of which were parents of kids we’d seen in earlier dvds) talking about the eye-opening challenges but positive experiences in adoption, and the other a short video of kids being asked to look after cakes without eating them. That last one I think was more for amusement, but what also followed from it was how it related to our discussions on the way adopted kids can take some time catching up on their development, their apparently immature behaviour needing a different parenting approach than with those who’ve been brought up with positive attachments.

It was a really fascinating third day in the group, and by that point although we’d got through only three quarters of the experience, we’d made our minds up already that we’d be going ahead with the adoption and choosing SA to help us through our journey.

Day Four

The last day was another great bite of reality for us, because we got to meet two adopted kids who’d gone through the process via SA. Before we met them we were taken through slides on the various stages of development as kids grow up, and discussed how their needs change as time goes on and what happens where their attachments and development have been interrupted.

We enjoyed an animated exercise where Alex and Judy placed on the floor bits of paper showing different emotions and reactions, and we had to stand on the ones we thought we’d evoke whenever we felt challenged or stressed in a difficult situation, for example if the kids were playing up or we’d had an argument with our partners. The point here was thinking about how we react normally in that situation, and how our usual reaction might be seen by our adopted kids who’d perhaps come from difficult experiences before. We were being asked to reflect on how applying different techniques to the way we’d deal with things normally might help the kids begin to trust you and bond with you more. Having chosen to stand on ‘negotiation’ as the approach I’d take, I tried to talk sagely about why sometimes a negotiation approach might be inappropriate in certain situations (for example, where the kids were trying to stick fingers in plug sockets, or running across the road) where the kids really needed to be told calmly but firmly “no” together with an explanation as to why. All the while in my mind, however, I was smacking myself on the head as I’d realised too late that I could’ve stood on bits of paper that other folks had also chosen – to be honest I’d stood on ‘negotiation’ as it was the only one left! There was only one brave lad in the room who’d been honest enough to stand on the ‘shout and swear’ bits of paper!

We also watched a brilliant dvd interview with Dan Hughes, a world renowned clinical psychologist, in which he talked about development of the brain in kids who suffer from neglect, and how various techniques can be applied to repair the damage created by neglect and poor attachment in the early stages of development. Alex spent a great deal of time slagging off Judy for being obsessed with Dan Hughes, but given how much Alex talked about him and his fascinating theories throughout the prep group I reckon that if she really is obsessed, she ain’t alone!

Watching the dvd made us want to learn even more about the theories behind neglect and how it affects child development, but there’s a point at which you have to bring yourself back into the real world instead of thinking about such lofty things, and as I said above, meeting the adopted kids in the afternoon helped us do just that. We met two girls, one in her late teens and the other in her early twenties, and they told us their own stories about adoption. It was really interesting to hear about two completely different experiences when it came to knowing their birth parents or not, how connected they felt with their adoptive parents and siblings, what they were doing or planned about contact or searching for their birth parents. Again, the room was pretty silent when they talked about all this, and again the bond which each of them had with Alex and the SA team was clear to see. It reminded us that first and foremost SA are there for the adopted kids, particularly from their stories about how they’ve been helped via the youth groups and outings arranged by SA. They both came across as confident for their age, and although they described various problems they’d experienced growing up, including learning difficulties and bullying, the fact that they were here in front of us as two pretty self-assured young ladies notwithstanding what they’d been through, impressed on all of us the idea that, putting aside for a minute all the theoretical stuff, with a little bit of help and a positive approach, the kids we end up adopting can have every chance of growing up capable of embracing the opportunities we give them. One of the striking things they both made clear was that they were truly thankful every day for the life they’d been given by their adoptive parents, and again coming back to the possible concerns about contact with birth parents, from the kids themselves we picked up no sense that once they’d met their birth parents they’d wave goodbye to their adoptive ones.

So we really enjoyed getting to meet with them, as we had felt when meeting the adoptive mum the day before. Had the groups been all about the theory I don’t think we would have taken from them as much as we did, and the mix between the theorising, the fun exercises, the dvd watching, the general chatting and the meeting of real people who’d gone through what we’re about to, has been an immensely rewarding process we’ll never forget.

The last session ended with an informative chat about the next step – the home study. It focused on how we would tell SA if we wanted to go ahead, what would happen next, how a social worker would be allocated to you, what would happen during the home study, and generally encouraged us (without pressurising) to make a decision one way or other fairly quickly, as otherwise it would hold up everything for the others in the group. We all agreed to swap contact details but were reminded that everyone is likely to go through the matching process at different rates given our differing situations, so not to get too scunnered if some couples are further ahead than us. We were given an idea about timescales, and the gist of it is that, having completed the groups in August, we’ll be looking to go through the home study and be ready for the adoption panel by February or March, however they fell on the calendar.

So that’s it. I’ve reached over 2,000 words John, Alex and Judy – BOOYA!

Tracey and I would like to thank them and all at SA for arranging the groups and providing so much knowledge and understanding to the process, and we’d also like to thank the other couples who were with us during the group and who we hope have a great experience ahead of them. We’ve now submitted our form to go ahead to the next stage and are waiting for a social worker to be allocated, likely the one who gets the shortest straw as they’ll have to come through to Glasgow plenty of times over the coming months! We really can’t wait to get started now, so thanks for reading this and if you’re thinking of going through the prep group with Scottish Adoption, I hope this has given you a ‘little’ idea about what to expect – all the very best in your own journey!

Day 1

I'm Scott, and I've attended the first two days of the August preparation group with my wife Tracey.

Tracey and I live in Glasgow, so have been commuting through to Edinburgh for the groups. They've been organised to take place on Friday and Saturday two weeks in a row, and run from 9.30am until (officially) 4.30pm, although in fact we've managed to finish up a wee bit earlier the first two days which has been really helpful for us given the journey we're facing!

Our groups have been attended by seven couples, and have been run so far by Alex McDonald and John Nelson, two of the brilliant senior practitioners at Scottish Adoption ("SA"). We'd known John from our meeting earlier in the year when we'd talked about how SA might help us fulfil our dream of adopting a child, so it was good to see a familiar face as soon as we walked in.  Listening to both of them has been enlightening, particularly given their own personal backgrounds connected to adoption, as you can feel the passion and experience when they talk about it.

At the last group, Alex asked if anyone might be interested in writing a little blog about our experience of the groups. No-one put their hand up at the time (who would?!!) , but I write a lot anyway so thought I'd chip in - as Alex suggested, it's a great idea for those of us who've gone through the experience to pass it on to those who're thinking about doing it in the future. Having read myself some of the blogs on the SA site and found them really encouraging, hopefully this will help paint a little picture for you about what it's like.

Day Two

After some general chat we got talking about development in children, the various stages they go through and how that might play out in the lives of kids in difficult circumstances. Alex took us through some of the theoretical stuff on the needs cycle and attachment theory, how a lack of a primary caregiver or unmet needs might affect kids and so on, but before it got too technical and academic we got to watch another dvd. Although it was set in a Russian home for kids, the messages from it tied in well with what we'd been talking about.

We then did an exercise which looked what we thought the gains and losses might be for adopted kids, birth parents and adoptive parents. Like the other exercises it broke up the day really well and helped lighten the atmosphere, allowing our focus on the main issues to stay clear. We chatted a lot about birth parents in particular, and how adoption can be felt by them. Alex mentioned that there can't be many adoption agencies around who also work with birth parents, and in the dvd we then watched which featured the same kids as in the first one albeit older, we got to hear from one of the kid's birth mother. It was really powerful stuff and got us thinking and talking again about looking at adoption from other perspectives than our own.

One of the big issues we talked about here was contact with the birth parents. An assumption we've come across quite often is that it's best for the kids to have no contact with their birth parents, but from watching the dvds and seeing real life situations where properly controlled contact can help adopted kids, the feeling around the room was that it's something that should be encouraged. You might be quite suspicious of the idea that if you encourage contact then your adopted kids might run away with their birth parents, but we chatted about how that's really only more likely where contact's not been encouraged and the kids haven't been given the information to fill in the gaps in their story so feel the need to search it out themselves. We heard about how the usual once or twice a year 'letterbox contact' can be really effective, and it was quite uplifting listening to the kids on the dvd talking about how much they looked forward to their birth parent's letter on their birthday, this with no suggestion as you might expect that they'd want to move beyond that.

Another fascinating discussion we had was about the kids' names. It's a pretty emotive subject, but quite naturally we heard again about identity, how kids need their story, how a change of name might affect their connection with the past, even if their name is Pocahontas!

All in, the first two days have been a wonderful experience for both of us, as we've learned so much about adoption that we didn't know before. The days are broken up really well with the chats, exercises, dvds and breaks (and our thanks go to one of the couples who very kindly brought in pastries for the second day, albeit that this just added to my continual coffee-fuelled gorgefest during the breaks!), and ended very positively. Although very serious subject matters have been getting talked about in the groups, we've found it all light-hearted and easy to understand, and it's been great how everyone in the room started out as total strangers but, with the same mindset in the air, have got on naturally well together.

Can't wait until the next two days!Day One

On the first day of the groups we all arrived at SA's offices and piled into the hefty mound of biscuits, coffee and tea laid out for us before settling into chairs laid out in a horseshoe shape in the meeting room. There were a few nervous faces but John and Alex made sure everyone was at ease from the outset. Everything felt quite relaxed, even though some of the chat focused on how we'd be missing the first two Saturdays of the football season!

Introductions in these types of groups are always pretty nervy, but Alex talked about a technique he'd nabbed from one of his old colleagues and straight away got us all to shift one place to the left and talk with the person on the right for five minutes. I found this a really great way to get everyone talking. I've been in plenty of groups like this where everyone introduces themselves separately and you can see folks waiting with increasing anxiousness as their turn gets closer! After the five minutes were up here though, we went round the room and introduced the person we were talking to, Alex and John first as they made it clear they'd not ask us to do anything they wouldn't do themselves. To be honest, my chat with the person to my right ended up being about adoption stuff rather than about each other, but thankfully we didn't get told off for not knowing much about each other when it came to our turn for introductions!

From there we were taken through what we'd be doing in the four preparation groups, and without going into too much detail I can assure you it's fairly comprehensive. The programme of the groups looks at family structures; what adoption looks like from the point of view of adoptive parents, the kids themselves, and the birth parents; what the various steps of the adoption process will be, timescales, and all the big things you'll likely have been thinking about. The one over-arching idea Alex introduced to us was attachment - he made it clear that if we take anything at all from these groups, it's the importance of attachment and how that plays out in the bonds between adopted kids, their birth parents and their adoptive parents.

To kick things off we were asked to complete an exercise which had us draw pictures of our childhood homes and the people and main memories we had about that, and on the other side of the paper we were to draw pictures of what our home and lives are like now. This, of course, ended up turning into stickman central, with all of us coming up with drawings a five year old would be proud of! Again, it proved to be a brilliant ice-breaker, as we then talked about our drawings and laughed not only at them but also at some of the brilliant childhood memories around the room. The point made about this was how our childhood affects the way we grow up and look at family and relationships as time goes on, and it really brought home for us the importance to adopted kids of being able to hold onto a story about their childhood, where they came from, why they ended up where they are now. We talked about gaps in that story (for example, not having photos, not knowing what led to adoption), and how vital it is for the kids to have those gaps filled by their adoptive parents. We heard that some might think it'll be better for the kids not to know they're adopted and be introduced to the idea when they're old or mature enough to be ok with it, but we talked in the group about how the kids' understanding of their childhood story can, amongst other things, help them through the loss of their birth parents making it easier to forge attachments with their adoptive parents and others as they grow up.

After that we were divided up into smaller groups and asked to talk through some profiles of adopted kids. This led to a discussion about some of the common issues and needs that can arise from very difficult circumstances and how those can be addressed through adoption. We then watched a dvd in which adopted kids told their adoption story. Some of it was quite revealing, some of it pretty amusing as well, and after it we chatted about looking at adoption through the kids' eyes (one of the most important things I heard from Alex here was that the work they do isn't to help people adopt and to create new families, rather it's to help the kids find a stable future). It was particularly helpful that the kids in the profiles and dvd were actual kids who'd been through the adoption process via SA rather than made up characters, as this made the discussion more real. Despite what the kids had gone through, Alex was able to give across the idea that generally everything had turned out well for them, so this left us all with a good impression that with the support of SA after your adoption things can really turn around for the kids.

We were given away some reading material in folders, and though it was a pretty intensive day, the general atmosphere in the room was really positive.