December Prep Group Blog

The Fifth Session - 13 December 2013

So here we were at our last preparation group session already. The five weeks seem to have passed in a blink of an eye! There was a festive atmosphere today despite the unseasonably warm weather and one of the group leaders had further enhanced the mood with some lovely home-baking.  We began as usual with the opportunity to ask questions about the content of last week’s session.  Most queries related to the brief mention of fostering to adopt which took place towards the end of session 4.  We were reassured we would spend time discussing this in more detail later today and we were certainly not disappointed!

An Unexpected Visitor

Meanwhile it was time for an unexpected addition to the original planned programme – a visit from the Chief Executive of Scottish Adoption, Margaret Moyes.  Margaret confirmed the messages conveyed by our group leaders and urged us all to take opportunities to provide feedback, such as the weekly prep group survey, emphasising that constructive feedback is acted upon.  Like all the staff members we met so far she was very welcoming and seemed very approachable.  This was also an excellent opportunity to ask questions if we wanted although most of us seemed to feel that by now we had a good knowledge of the agency and of the adoption process from this point so the preparation group appeared to have had the desired effect!

Next, as promised we moved onto an in-depth discussion of the child’s legal route to adoption which can be very complicated and was definitely one area that my prior reading had not prepared me for!  We considered this in parallel with the adopter’s route which we looked at last week.  It seems overall that the legal route in Scotland often focuses on getting children into permanent placements quickly through moving them under fostering legislation.  As a result though this route could feel very uncertain for prospective adopters at times and the legalities can vary between areas. You could be in a situation where you are heavily involved in the legal process and it can be lengthy. Although this information was a bit unsettling it means that we can make an informed decision regarding what we feel we could deal with in terms of the legal situation and will have opportunities to explore this further during home study.

Later we moved onto considering some of the practicalities of adoptive parenting through discussion of some example scenarios and deciding on the best course of action to take. Some of the potential scenarios were quite challenging and it was useful to hear everyone’s views on these.  It was clear that there was not always a single right answer and anytime we were unsure our default response would be to ask Scottish Adoption for advice!  Issues relating to contact were raised once again, and we realised that contact could seem insignificant or very significant to the people involved at different stages in the process depending how frequent this is.  However, in terms of the impact on the adopted person and their identity it would be essential to pursue every opportunity to maintain this even if the child does not seem overly interested at the time.  It was also important to remember that although some of the example situations seemed difficult to deal with most could be considered as excellent inroads to talk about adoption in a natural way.

Our Final Group Lunch

After this it was time for our final preparation group lunch which was quite uneventful and we stayed very local today to ensure we had no timekeeping issues.  We have all shared email addresses and it would definitely be good to keep in touch.  It has been lovely to meet people who are in a similar situation and can truly empathise with our experiences and we will hopefully be a source of mutual support as we progress through the adoption process.

After we returned from lunch it was time for the event we had all been waiting for – the visit from adoptive parents!  They were very open and honest about the experiences of the adoption process, providing detailed information about every stage in the process.  There had obviously been some difficult times particularly in relation to contact and a long and dragged out legal process.  However, the positives they described far outweighed this and their joy and pride in their new family was further emphasised in the beautiful photos they shared with us.  They had also benefitted from some after-adoption support for one of their children which had made a huge difference and confirmed this was quick and easy to access. By the time they finished there were not many questions left to ask and we are really grateful that they gave up their time to share their experiences with us.

Finally, after a few last minute questions it was time for our much anticipated ‘Application to Proceed’ forms to be distributed.  It hit-home here that although the preparation group felt like an important commitment we still had not formally applied to begin the process.  Happily we are now both even more certain that adoption is for us and couldn’t wait to return the form.  We had been pre-warned that we could not immediately hand the completed form back or post the letter back through the letter box so we had to rely on the first-class post on the Saturday morning.  I’m pleased to report that by the Tuesday we were emailed receipt of our form so are now eagerly awaiting news of our allocated worker in the New Year.   On reflection I was glad to have the evening to complete our form before posting because despite only requiring names and signatures there is an added request about directions to our house which proved quite challenging for me.   Attaching some printed maps seemed the best option for us and we hope our allocated worker has a Sat Nav!

Overall, for us the preparation groups have made everything seem a lot more real.  We had undertaken quite a lot of prior reading but there is a limit sometimes to what you can learn from textbooks and engaging in discussion with our fellow prep group members and group leaders made everything we had read much more meaningful.  The way the course is delivered is also very effective with a good mix of theory, group activities and discussion.  The order the topics are covered in makes sense as it gradually gets a bit more challenging though continues to be interspersed with some more light-hearted activities.  We definitely had a lot of laughs during the five weeks and now we have a slightly deflated feeling as the group we have been looking forward to for so long is over. However now there is the small matter of home study to think about which I’m sure is going to keep us sufficiently occupied!

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this blog.  It has certainly been a valuable experience for my husband and me to reflect on each session in great detail, though after it is written I prefer not to look back at it at the moment (cringe!)  We would like to send our best wishes to all our fellow Nov/Dec 2013 preparation group members and the staff who helped make our prep group experience so enjoyable and we now can’t wait to continue our adoption journey with Scottish Adoption.

The Fourth Session - 6 December 2013

We had mixed feelings in the run-up to Session 4 as the group leaders had forewarned us that the content of the morning could be difficult with a focus on abuse.  However, the afternoon was due to contain one of the events we were most looking forward to; a visit from some real-life adoptive parents.  We were therefore a little disappointed initially when we arrived to the news that the visit had been postponed until next week.  As we got immersed in our tasks that was soon forgotten and now we are pleased to have this still to look forward to in Session 5!

The session began again with the opportunity to reflect on last week.  There were a few comments relating to the Contact DVD and most of us felt the issue of contact was much clearer since watching the DVD.  We were advised by one of the group leaders that we could try to borrow a copy of the DVD while going through home study.  I would be very keen to do this as there were still several more clips to view offering further perspectives on the complex issue of contact.

The first activity focused on quickly identifying ‘What a Child Needs?’ As a group we came up with a very long list ranging from the serious (e.g. safety) to the more light-hearted (puppies!).  We then began to consider some of the psychological theory relating to the needs of children and were all pleased to discover we had already identified quite a few of them.  We looked at the views of what a child needs from some of the current theorists from our reading list including Holly Van Gulden and Dan Hughes. Our group leaders also recommended some other very current practitioners to look into who have produced recent research into issues such as trauma and attachment from a neurobiological perspective.  We also discussed Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ and though this is one of the older theories (1940s) it still makes a lot of sense, particularly when reflecting on experiences of children who have histories of abuse or neglect.  Maslow’s theory is based on the premise that unless a person’s basic physiological and safety needs are met then they will be unable to move onto develop within areas such as self-esteem and achieve their full potential through self-actualisation. It was apparent here that the reason many children are taken into care is that their basic needs are not being met therefore it would perhaps be difficult for them to move on and flourish without a lot of patience and therapeutic parenting.

Abuse and Neglect

Next it was time to consider abuse and neglect in more detail and the impact on the developing child.  Sadly the likelihood is that many children in care could have been removed from their birth families as a result of abuse or neglect and the full extent of this is not always known.  We were asked to consider the different types of abuse that children could have been exposed to and the resulting impact on the behaviour and actions of the victims of abuse.  We divided into two groups for this task and both groups came up with a frighteningly long list for both categories.  This is perhaps partly because there have been many prominent cases reported in the media of abuse and neglect in recent years.

The discussion then evolved into thinking about how our parenting styles may need to be adapted to effectively support a child who had experienced neglect or abuse and that at times it may be difficult to predict triggers. It seems that further research into theories of therapeutic parenting may be necessary here during home-study.  We also considered the fact that some children, even those who had suffered abuse and neglect need to know that their birth parents are ok.  One group leader shared an interesting example of a child who had suddenly demonstrated that he was worried about his birth mother so a one-off meeting had been arranged which provided a lot of reassurance and had a very positive impact on his behaviour.

The next task was one of my favourites of the day ‘What are House Rules?’ and provided some light relief after the last topic. This was a simple but effective task involving us individually rating a series of potential scenarios according to whether we found them acceptable.  When it was time to feedback it became immediately evident that there could be some disagreement between couples.  My husband and I had several opposing answers (he was the strict one to my surprise!)  We were reassured though when we both discussed and explained our answers that we generally agreed with each other’s views- until the teenage years at least. This activity helped us to see the bigger picture and to explore some of the common dilemmas in parenting with some humour.  After this we all went en-masse today for another enjoyable group lunch but we were careful to make it back on time for fear of cementing our reputation as the delinquent group!

After Adoption Support

Last week I mentioned that the support Scottish Adoption was able to provide after placement was one of the reasons that attracted us to choosing them.  This support was confirmed during a visit from a member of the After Adoption team in the afternoon who described the varied, unique and individualised nature of support available.  All corners of the adoption triangle are catered for and this really can be life-long with people currently being supported into their nineties!  There are a wide variety of groups for young people held according to need, from Theraplay to art therapy, tadpoles to teenagers. The staff can also provide a high level of specifically tailored support to address specific individual issues whether long or short-term.  In addition to this are visits from the internationally renowned expert Holly Van Gulden who even provided individual consultations with families and there are various support groups for adoptive parents.  Once again, even though there are several other local authorities and agencies local to us we are very glad we have chosen Scottish Adoption as the after-adoption support appears to be second to none.  Our role in accessing support will be important as although we will be invited to all relevant agency activities it will be essential for us to take some responsibility for this and be proactive in keeping the agency informed of our progress.

The plan was to devote the rest of the afternoon to discussing and comparing routes for adopters and routes for adopted children.  In the end it took the whole time just to discuss the adopters’ journey, which looks quite scary but fortunately we will hopefully be getting started straight after prep.  There was some more discussion of Form F and the importance of contributing as much information as we can so the panel get a real sense of us.  The prospect of Panel is also quite terrifying but the overall message is that there should be no surprises and that if your social worker became concerned about any issues during home study you should be alerted to this right away.  A final issue I had not properly considered is Fostering to Adopt and I look forward to finding out more about the legal processes next week as well as examining the stages of the child’s route in more detail.

The end is near...

Overall, Session 4 was another positive, informative and interesting session.  There was a lot of new information covered but as usual we received a lot of handouts to read at home which help to clarify the topics covered. Each session has given us more insight into areas that we think we need to know more about and we will have plenty of reading to keep us busy when we finish preparation group. We are both really looking forward to the adoptive parents’ visit but can’t believe it will be our last session, where has the time gone?!

The Third Session - 29 November 2013

As we approached Session 3 we both had the prospect of sharing the story of our journey to adoption on our minds.  Although we were mostly looking forward to the opportunity we were both a little nervous and thought more about some difficult memories this week.  I’m pleased to say that in the end we both survived and enjoyed Session 3 and are still here to tell the tale!

On arrival this week we remembered there would be a planned change of staffing in our group as one worker was covering the first two sessions then swapping for the last three. Although it obviously meant group dynamics would slightly change the bonus was that we get the chance to get to know another member of staff.  This also lent itself to an extra introductory activity where we each shared our thoughts about what we had covered in the first two weeks.  As expected this was mostly very positive although a few concerns were raised about the focus on some of the more negative aspects of adoption.  The staff helpfully explained that we could perhaps think of adoption experiences as being on a spectrum.  At one end there are families where everything goes perfectly with very little effort and at the other the cases where the placement is extremely difficult and may even disrupt but both of these scenarios are rarer.  In the middle would be the more typical scenarios where there are a few bumps in the road but overall it has been a positive experience.  Their role is to ensure we leave prep group with an informed view of the whole spectrum.  Personally I feel it would be much worse to finish the group with a rose-tinted view of adoption that might not turn out to be the reality so this was quite reassuring.

What is 'Life Script'?

Our first official task was a short activity entitled ‘Life Script’ which involved making notes about areas such as our birth, early childhood memories and extended family.  Again it became apparent here that much of our amusing family anecdotes that we take for granted may be missing for an adopted person or that some of their early memories may not be positive.   We also considered the impact of family expectations and the importance of praise for achievements, no matter how small.  Staff shared some research about positive outcomes for adopted children and that family support and celebrating the little things were two very important factors.

Next we watched a powerful video continuing the theme of loss within the adoption triangle.    The excerpt focused on a birth mother who shared some of the experiences that led to her children being placed for adoption.   She had clearly experienced a significant amount of loss and trauma in her own life but despite her obvious distress she appeared to have taken some comfort from the fact that her children would hopefully have a better future than she did.  At the same time the continued depth of her feelings about the loss of her children was painful to watch and created a bit of anxiety in the group around how this could impact on adopters regarding attempts at contact etc.  We were again reassured here that these kinds of issues usually seem much more manageable when you are considering a real child and that everyone who has experienced an initial meeting with birth parents has found this worthwhile. This activity again emphasised that within the adoption triangle the needs of the child are always paramount and quite rightly come before those of the birth family or the adoptive family.

We all have different journeys

Following a quick tea break it was time for the much anticipated sharing of our own journeys to adoption.  We girls took up the offer of making use of the more comfortable library and left the men downstairs to their own devices.  During this activity Scottish Adoption staff gave us our own space which we were grateful for.  The experience from my point of view was quite therapeutic and it was refreshing to talk to people who can truly understand and empathise with my experiences even though our stories were all different.  We did spend some of our time joking that the men had probably given up and gone to the pub.  However, I think that they found it an equally valuable experience and it seemed to bring the whole group closer together and perhaps resolve some unanswered questions.  Our now closer-knit group even went en-masse for lunch today which was great from a bonding point of view but not so great from a timekeeping point of view.   We did choose a restaurant which judging by the title should have provided quick service but I think an unannounced table for twelve slowed this down slightly!  As a result we all skulked back a bit late and very apologetic but luckily we still got a warm welcome.

After lunch it was back to considering some more of the gains and losses within the adoption triangle.  We split into two groups, one group (us) focusing on birth parents and the other on adoptive parents.  Our group again had a few issues with using the Smart Board write-on technology and had to find creative ways to condense our thoughts into one or two words.  The end result provided some entertainment for the group who thought we had persuaded a visiting child to scribe for us!   However, though the presentation left a lot to be desired our group had managed to come up with quite an extensive list of both gains and losses leading to some interesting discussion.

Contact DVD

Lastly we moved onto the issue of contact which had inadvertently been raised a few times during the group already.  We were all looking forward to watching the recently released Scottish Adoption Contact DVD as it featured some of the same young people in the excellent Talking About Adoption DVD from last week.  However, before we got to view the DVD we split into small groups to quickly record our worries about contact.  Between the three groups we generated a fairly large list in a short time but the hope was that many of the issues raised would be addressed during the DVD.  Our lists again highlighted the abstractness of contact to us at the moment and that there are so many factors that could change depending on individual situations.

After considering many challenging issues today the Contact DVD was a refreshing finale to the day.  It was great to see some familiar faces from last week and reassuring that their experiences had continued to be positive.  The most interesting part was viewing the perspectives of all three sides of the adoption triangle and it must be quite rare to obtain all these views. Again everyone involved was quite frank and honest about their experiences and on reflection I think this helped to alleviate some of the fears about contact.  The issue of openness within contact and that reality is much more manageable than fantasy seems to be coming up a lot.  Also that each individual situation will be different and it will mean much more to us when feelings and attachments to a real child are involved.  We will all hopefully have opportunities to explore our individual views and feelings regarding contact during the Home Study.

Overall today appeared to be a breakthrough week in terms of relationships within the group with the opportunity to share our stories.  We also gained a much more detailed understanding of the adoption triangle.  Again we have been provided with lots of additional information to read in our own time including an article from a birth mother’s perspective.  It is becoming clearer that the preparation group is definitely not about giving us all the right answers and that each situation is different.   This is why the support Scottish Adoption is able to provide even after placement is so important to us and why each week we feel even more reassured that we have made the best decision in our choice of agency.

The Second Session - 22 November 2013

The week since our last preparation group flew by in a flurry of learning logs, blog-writing and reading on top of the usual working week and before we knew it we were back for Session 2.  The session kicked off with the chance to reflect on last week and ask some questions about the information we were given to take home.  We then moved onto one of the main topics for the day – Child Development.  After some background information was presented we split into two groups for our first task.  This was a simple but effective exercise involving deciding on the age that a particular developmental milestone would usually be reached.  The task generated a lot of interesting discussion within our group and a little healthy competition between groups.   The purpose of this task did not appear to be to assess our existing knowledge of child development (a relief as mine felt a little rustier than it should be!), but to raise our awareness of how different ages and stages might present and the suggested answers were shared with us in a relaxed manner.

Next we considered what can happen if stages of development are interrupted and the resulting behaviours that could present.  Although it was felt that some of the more challenging behaviours described would also occur in a typically developing child, these would often occur at a much younger age.  An amusing video clip of a well-known experiment further illustrated this point and it struck me that while it might be cute and endearing for a toddler to blatantly deny eating chocolate while it is smeared all over their face this type of behaviour might be more concerning in an older child.  The Russian Children’s Home documentary continued the theme of the effects of disrupted development which made for difficult viewing at times.  However, there were some more positive outcomes within this and we were reassured to find out that there is research to suggest that even some of the neurological damage caused is not always irreversible.   I will be interested to research this further, particularly strategies to promote attachment, and there are several books on our recommended reading list which look to be a good starting point.

What's the story behind our name?

After lunch we considered the significance and origins of our names. I was delighted to share my bugbear about the lack of personalised items available for my name and also enjoyed being reminded of some of my husband’s many past nicknames which thankfully are no longer commonly used! Many of us did not feel that we were particularly attached to our names.  However, I suspect that if our name had suddenly been changed as a child or worse if we discovered later in life it had been changed for no good reason without our knowledge then we might feel differently.  Another consideration here was traditional views of certain names and the judgements people can make based on a name.  A final issue was the sense of loss adoptive parents may feel at not being able to name their child.  The indecisive part of me is viewing this as a positive at the moment but perhaps later we may feel we have missed out.  There are of course exceptional circumstances where names are changed and we are confident our Social Worker would guide us through this should the need arise.

We then moved onto thinking about gains and losses for adopted people.  After a few technical hitches in our group (serves us right for attempting to use the Smart-board!), this task also went smoothly.    Our list of potential losses for an adopted person was extensive and it was sad to realise that in order for many of the gains that we identified to occur there had to have been an initial loss.    However we did manage to identify a fairly long list of gains and one in particular that we felt was not offset by a loss was the sense of being wanted by a ‘forever family.’ The thought of being able to provide a secure and stable forever family is at the heart of our decision to adopt and we feel even more privileged now to be taking the first step by attending this preparation group.

Talking About Adoption

The highlight of the day for us was the ‘Talking About Adoption’ DVD created by Scottish Adoption.  We both thought this was an amazing film and the young people interviewed inspired us with their articulate, expressive and confident views on different aspects of adoption.  They all had different experiences but a common theme seemed to be that their adoptive families had been open and honest with them from an early age and this appeared to have had a positive impact on their self-esteem and sense of identity.  There were so many interesting points raised, some of which we had not previously considered.  For example, the issue that people may comment on adopters rescuing their children and express pity for the children rather than recognising the joy and fulfillment brought to the adopters particularly when they may have experienced their own losses.  This related to the helpful advance notice from the group leaders that next week will bring the opportunity to share stories of our route to adoption.   We really appreciated this prior warning and are confident any discussion will be sensitive and supportive (and that neither of us will put our foot in it as we will confirm what we are happy to share).

So we had reached the end of Session 2.  It seemed like such a quick day due to the wide variety of activities and it is only when reflecting back on the session that we realised quite how much we covered.    We were again provided with lots of information to look at in more detail at our leisure which is really helpful and allows us to focus more closely on the content of each task.  Overall it is again reassuring to note that although the content of today’s session was potentially more challenging we left again feeling confident of the support Scottish Adoption will provide and even more excited about our next session!

The First Session - 15 November 2013

My husband and I had a few months to wait from our initial meeting prior to beginning prep group and undertook a lot of adoption-related reading, including the prep group blogs on the Scottish Adoption website.  When David asked for a volunteer to write a blog for our group I decided to take the plunge in order to hopefully provide some support and reassurance for prospective adopters in future.

So day 1 of Prep was finally here!  On arrival at the Scottish Adoption offices we were warmly welcomed by the staff and braved the slightly awkward few minutes until the group began and the ice was broken.  There were fourteen prospective adopters and three staff members leading our group.  I was particularly relieved that we had dressed appropriately after a last minute internet search of ‘What to wear to an Adoption Preparation Group?’ the previous evening! The answer:  comfortable, smart-casual wear is fine, phew! 

The Ice Breaker

After some housekeeping information and a helpful overview of the programme for the next few weeks, it was time for the dreaded ‘getting to know you’ activity.  Let’s face it; nobody likes an ice-breaker!  We were assured that the staff would not expect us to do anything they wouldn’t do themselves (though perhaps when we get to know the staff better we may not be quite so reassured by that statement!).  As ice-breakers go this was not too scary but very effective as evidenced by the gradually increasing noise levels in the room and even a few laughs!  After feedback the atmosphere was noticeably more relaxed and we were all ready for our next activity.

The next activity involved drawing current and childhood homes which was both fun and therapeutic (and also an opportunity to laugh at yourself or your partner for some of us!)  There were several valuable lessons to take from this task and what was most apparent here was that we all naturally focused on early family memories.  We described family traditions, interests, pets and toys and realised that several of us still had parents or other family members living in our childhood home.  Although some of the details we drew or talked about seemed insignificant at first they were a big part of who we are today and we naturally got a sense of security from these.  It was a sobering and poignant thought that a lot of this information might be missing or unobtainable for some adopted children.  This clearly highlighted how as adopters we will have a responsibility to find out as many details as possible from the important people in our future child(ren)’s lives in order to offer them some of this security in the future, and to show them that their roots are valued and celebrated.

Children's Profiles

Before lunch we began to look at some example profiles of children and discuss these in smaller groups. Although we were not expecting an easy read it was still difficult to consider the level of disruption, trauma and loss many of the children had experienced.  It also struck us the differences in the information that was available for each child.  After our lunch break we began to reflect on the profiles in more detail within the large group and though many of our questions relating to the profiles were answered we could have probably spent a whole day discussing each case study if time allowed.  We touched on some complex issues such as contact and some of the legal processes which we will look at in more detail in future sessions.  It was lovely to hear that despite a very challenging start in life many children with similar profiles have now been successfully introduced to their  ‘forever families’ and are making good progress. 

The final presentation of the day outlined the adoption process in more detail, providing clear timescales where possible but stressed that after approval panel timings can vary considerably and are completely out-with the agency’s control.  The issue was also raised here that the later stages can be a particularly difficult time if you are in touch with other people in your prep group as matching is not going to happen at the same time for everyone.  At the moment we hope that staying in touch with our fellow prep group members would be very positive in the long term and enjoyed getting to know people today so will try not to dwell on this.

Time to reflect

As the session concluded each couple was provided with a folder of information to take away and read, including the slightly daunting ‘Form F’ which forms the basis of the home study.  We were also given a learning log task to complete which relates to a section of Form F. Although we are already excited about session two it is great to have a week now to reflect, read and gather our thoughts.

On reflection, overall I think the main feeling that session 1 has left us with is ‘reassured.’  Choosing an adoption agency is the most important decision of our lives so far and our first preparation group session  has left us feeling confident that we have made the right decision.