Faster? Slower? Bewildered? Thoughts on the new adoption process in the UK

So, this new adoption process: is it faster? Is it slower? Is it better? Is it worse? Recently my @PedallingSolo Twittersphere has been alive with questions, opinions and – it seems perhaps too often – irritations regarding the new adoption process.

So what have I learned from my own experience and from the joys and frustrations of others?

From registration (though see below) to approval panel should be 6 months in total, 2 months in Stage 1 and 4 months in Stage 2. Even if this falters, still, it seems that it is taking more like 8-10 months whereas more experienced voices talk of their journeys taking a year, or 18 months under the old regime. And for many of us currently in the middle, we entered this new world just as our Social Workers and their support staff did, and so we have learned with them how to navigate the new rules. I suspect that as it settles down, as new “best practice” filters out, as more efficient guidance is shared and the various paperwork-processes are sharpened up, average timeframes will become clearer and probably closer to the advertised 2-and-4-equals-6.

So yes, overall, I think it probably is faster even if at times it doesn’t seem that way.

My instincts are to be wary of suggestions it should be faster still. Adoption as a means of family-forming has many hurdles, complexities and challenges unique to itself; however the 9/10 months that birth parents go through from conception to birth is not simply devoted to biological change, but is a time for preparation in both practical terms and psychological terms, an opportunity to think about a different life ahead, indeed a life that will never be the same. There is a reason why clichés are clichés – they have truth within them – and the reality that “life will never the same again” cannot be overstated! I am not convinced that reducing further that period when we silently and unconscious adapt our thinking and our understanding to include a whole new life will help us or therefore our children overall.

The potential adopter journey is, nonetheless a strange time. (I am sure pregnancy can also feel strange but on that I am even less qualified to comment!) On our course many described the Stage 1 period as feeling rather like “dead time”. There were potential adopters from more than one agency but none of us had a specific/allocated Social Worker until Stage 2 (so I guess that’s either universal or at least common). Most felt their major Stage 1 experience had been one of waiting. And more waiting. And then filling in the odd form followed by more waiting. If feeling in control is your thing … it’s not necessarily going to feel as easy and as happy as it might! Some online friends as well as fellow course attendees have had or are currently experiencing also the frustration that is the “absoluteness” of the need for every box to be ticked before you can transition from Stage 1 to Stage 2. When a piece of paper is lost in the ether, everything stops until that piece of paper deigns to turn up and make it to the right desk.

At such times, the idea that the new process can possibly be faster than what went before seems deeply implausible. How can a process that seems to insist you do nothing for weeks on end awaiting a floating bit of paper coming to rest in the right place possibly be quicker?

However, most of us on our course were also bewildered by the apparent change of pace as we entered Stage 2. For all of a sudden it is as if someone has whipped up a storm. Social worker visits fill up diaries. Homework ensues. The course that for us comes around the beginning of Stage 2 is intense and thought-provoking. In my case I’ve also been given the names of a couple of local adopters to speak to who are themselves now single parents. I even have a date for my approval panel. Suddenly it is very real – no longer calm, but a whirlwind!

Asked at this point how the process feels, it is hard to imagine how this stage could possibly happen any faster (especially if you’re trying to fit in a full time job alongside)!

So yes, the journey varies. However, before I depart today, some hints and tips that I have garnered that might be worth knowing for those following in our footsteps:

  • Until your registration is in with an agency and has been formally accepted, you are not yet on Stage 1. They may talk endlessly about how Stage 1 takes only 2 months – but it is quite possible that you think this has started when actually it hasn’t. There is no time limit on this pre-stage – so keep an eye on it and get your paperwork in!
  • Once you are in stage 1 it is essential your medical is completed, your referees have returned their forms, and your DBS (see below) is back, all before you can go into Stage 2. Get all the forms sent off as early as you possibly can. Chase. Chase again. Check up. If you have any doubts chase once more. Any of these can, it seems, get stuck somewhere in the system.
  • Your DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check – the new equivalent of the CRB many will have done in the past – can take quite a while. If you have ever lived abroad (or you were born abroad and have moved to the UK), your DBS may well be complicated – on our course one couple had had to travel to another European country and to an embassy in London seeking documents and proof of their past history to satisfy the needs of their DBS. So follow it up early. Find out if you need to give them anything extra and get it to them. Otherwise everything could just go on hold. (You can also check progress online or phone them for an update. Online friends have made it clear that is well worth doing!)
  • Your medical can also be another go-slow area. Make an appointment as soon as you possibly can. Then check the form has gone. Mine sat on a desk at the GP’s for a while; when I chased and found out it was being awaited the relevant secretary was on holiday so I had to call back the following week. If only I’d known I could have got it sent off two weeks earlier!
  • Don’t worry about chasing your agency for updates – politely, obviously! Ask where you are and what they’re waiting for. If you do check up you might hear that one of your referees hasn’t returned their form and you can give them a ring … and then as in my case you might just find out that they never received the form and are still patiently waiting for it to arrive!
  • There are no doubt commonalities in how the process works between agencies – but there are also, it seems, lots of differences. Don’t assume that because someone you’ve met through a friend or online has had a certain number of training days, or required a certain number of referees, it will be the same for you. If you want to be clear what needs to happen in your case you need to ask your own agency, whether it is an LA (Local Authority) or VA (Voluntary Agency). If necessary, ask again and again until you get a meaningful answer!
  • If you are like me and want to read lots and do lots but are not sure what – you probably should get a reading list from your LA but my suggestion would be to join forums and groups and get reading stuff online (though if you’re reading this you’re probably doing that already!). Lots of people will point you towards their favourite books and their preferred forums – it’s a blog in my head just not yet written too! To me it feels as if the new system relies heavily on a type of “distance learning” model – but no-one has set up any distance learning infrastructure. So for now we have to fall back on ourselves.
  • And my final thought is … you do get there. I was held up for several weeks by a simple email going astray. I was frustrated, I admit. But I chased – eventually – and we got it sorted. I entered stage 2. And now I have done 8 hours with a SW within a week and have 4 more hours coming up this week. So it does happen and you do get there, and all of a sudden it is all change.

Wherever you are in your adoption journey, whether you are going fast and slow, I guess for me I am working on experiencing it is at is. Part of any journey is learning about the frustrations, the hurdles and the hiatuses and feeling the landscape is unchanging … but there are also the times when you are so deep in the experience you barely grab time to look out of the window. So I guess the trick for us all is to try to stay aware of what is outside the window throughout our trip, and to observe it with all the pleasure we can, for there is much to absorb from the landscape all along the way towards the place we all seek but which seems currently so unknown.

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About Pedalling Solo

I am a potential adopter in the UK, going it alone as they say. Somehow I've worked my way through lots of paperwork, done lots of learning, become an approved adopter, and navigated matching (hopefully). I am very much learning as I go. This blog is my opportunity to share my learning and experiences and maybe some random musings as I go along as well.
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11 Responses to Faster? Slower? Bewildered? Thoughts on the new adoption process in the UK

  1. Al Coates says:

    I have followed the twitter conversation with interest.
    As a family we have travelled through the adoption approval process three times, 1999, 2007 & 2013 and have seen all manner of changes. There is an argument that the amendments to the system are politically and financially driven.
    Now in stage 1 any unsuitable prospective adopters can be dropped with no right of appeal whereas in the previous system they could appeal to the IRM (Independent Review Mechanism) and this could and did cost the LA’s and the IA’s £1000’s furthermore they could be forced t take un matchable parents to panel. The IRM can now only be accessed at stage 2, when all the checks have ruled out the obvious, i.e. murderer, bigamist, illness etc.

    As for the timeframe I believe that Social Workers should have the liberty to slow the process down, or up, for the benefit of the prospective adopters without fear of recourse. Prospective adopters often come to the table fundamentally different to expecting parents, clearly there are many different reasons but they often bring loss, pain and grief and this can be a toxic combination when mixed with children who have travelled through the looked after system. Having sat on an adoption panel I saw many PA’s come for approval who’d had to address issues in her own lives, often painful and difficult to enable them to be effective parents.
    There is no excuse for bad service from Social Workers and lapses and mistakes should not be covered up, using times scales as an excuse. Sometimes 4 months is right, sometimes a year is right, we are all different and arrive at the beginning at different stages of preparedness. Politicians in Whitehall should not pronounce popularist rules at the detriment of potential families.
    I wish you luck in your quest and I assure you that it will be worth the journey regardless of how long it takes.

    • Thank you for such an engaged and interesting comment. I’ve seen the view regarding the role of the IRM before – and also that the “absoluteness” of the Stage 1 vs Stage 2 cut off is related to incurring costs.

      I agree entirely that the system needs to be set up to work at the best possible pace and the highest quality for the individual potential adopters and ultimately for the children placed with them. The financial cuts LAs are facing cannot help any of this in my view, but one has to hope that despite the barriers ways are found to do the best for the children at the centre of it all.

      Thanks for your good wishes, I am determined to do all I can. As you so rightly point out, if I am not approved I shall need to think long and hard as to why and manage myself and my emotions through that rather than jumping to any conclusions.

  2. Seems to me that it would be better to start on stage 2 at the beginning and try to get it done within six months, while doing paperwork concurrently. I, too, had to travel to an embassy in London (twice!) to get paperwork for my backgrounds checks, and this did delay the process. On the new model, it would have meant that I was in limbo for ages. As it was, we were able to continue home studies while we waited for it to come – and it still took nearly a year! Having said that, I agree with the commenter above that 6 months may not be right for everybody, and it should be possible to slow down if needed without fear of reprisals. I know of people zooming through the new, faster, adoption process who are still clearly very deeply in grief over lost babies and failed fertility treatments. As you say, there is plenty of merit in a period of preparation for parenthood and that time shouldn’t be dismissed as merely ‘waiting’.

    • Al Coates says:

      Many agencies just won’t take the financial risk of starting stage 2. For the smaller independents the time and money are enough to jeopardise the work they do so they play safe and it’s hard to criticise that.
      We were deferred at our first panel in 1998 (we weren’t invited to attend and that was perhaps part of the issue) however we took 16 months from prep groups to placement. Seemed like an age but we got the right kids.
      Often people have a staggering lack of self awareness regarding the pain they carry. I have good friends who were placed the same year as us but carry the grief still.
      Hey ho.

  3. Must clarify – when I said it still took nearly a year, I meant that the adoption process took nearly a year, not that it took nearly a year for the piece of paper to come! 🙂

  4. underbrella says:

    Speeding up the process for adopters really worries me, for the reasons outlined above .. Prospective adopters have so much to learn, and the home study (stage two now?) was really valuable for that. I think it is far more important to speed up the processes for looked after children, and I’m not hearing so such about that. It doesn’t matter so much if it takes 12 or 18 months for an adopter to go through the system. It really does matter if it takes that long, or longer for a child. For me that is where the focus should be. Maybe it is, and I don’t know due to coming at it from an adopter perspective?

    Good luck to you PS, loving your reflective posts and general contributions to the adoption ‘social network’. 🙂

    • Sorry re belated reply – but yes, I agree that the children and their needs must be at the heart of all this. I really do hope that – without ever losing the crucial proper assessment and prioritising of their options to stay with family or kin whenever possible and appropriate for their long term wellbeing – the process really does act as fast as possible to decide the long-term right place for the children.
      Thanks for your comments too – will try to keep on between all the SW visits and homework!

  5. underbrella says:

    Ahh, don’t worry about replying! Where you are in the process is really intense

  6. underbrella says:

    Oops, sent too soon! It is intense now, then it’ll go quite for however long it takes, then .. Well then everything will change. All of it is OK! 🙂

  7. Pingback: Tales of assessment: all about Stage 2 | Pedalling Solo

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