At last we’re no longer under the parenting microscope. We had our adoption visit at court last week which marks the end of professional involvement in our lives, hopefully forever. The hearing itself was not what I expected, and the significance of will take a while to sink in.
The court process part of adoption is often the one that adopters know nothing about. It has the potential to be the most stressful part though. The stress comes from 2 things. Firstly, the lack of control and information about the process. The second is due to the way adoption hearings have to take place.
In the early 2000s, the Government brought in new legislation which changed the way adoption hearings were conducted. Previously, if the court made a care order where the plan was for adoption, it also made a freeing order. This did as it says on the tin and freed the child for adoption. Once the appeals process had been exhausted for that order, birth parents didn’t receive notice of the adoption hearing. That meant it was just for the adopters and the child and the order was made at that hearing.
The new legislation changed things massively. It meant that freeing orders were replaced with placement orders. It also meant birth parents had to receive notice of the adoption hearing. This led to a major change in the way hearings were conducted because of the risk of everyone being at the same place at the same time. Effectively, they are now dealt with in 2 parts. The first part is the hearing that birth parents are given notice of. They can attend and if they do, they can ask for permission to oppose the adoption order.
I think this change is unfair to birth parents. It gives them false hope that they have a realistic chance of bringing their child home. The sad reality in the majority of cases is that they don’t. Even if they are allowed to file a statement, the bar is extremely high in terms of what they have to prove to show their circumstances have changed sufficiently. Even then, the court can say it’s in the child’s best interests to stay where they are.
Birth parents didn’t attend the hearings for either of our children. In one sense, I was relieved. But I was also disappointed. I was disappointed that mum in particular didn’t fight for her daughters. I haven’t walked in her shoes and suffered the experiences she has, but I don’t understand why she didn’t fight for them. That’s something that’s going to be difficult for our daughters to understand in the future.
Once the adoption order is made, the court fixes a second hearing where the adopters and the child attend. This has become known as the celebration hearing. It’s proper name is an adoption visit. The visit for little Miss felt like a big thing. Some of our close family and friends came along and it really felt like a celebration. It marked the end of professional involvement and I felt like I was finally a mum. Until then, because in theory our application for the order could be refused, I didn’t feel properly like her mum.
This time the hearing was very different. Despite it being May, the weather was awful. We had a 10 minute walk from where we parked to the court and we got absolutely drenched. The only thing that made me smile was seeing my husband using little Miss’s Elsa umbrella because that’s the only one we have!
We had to report to security at the back of the building, rather than going in through the main public entrance as we’d done last time. I sometimes work in the court building where our hearing was held, but going in the back way and being taken straight into the court room meant I couldn’t get my bearings. It was very dark and miserable and felt like we were being hidden away. I understand why the procedure has changed due to security issues, but it made me feel like we shouldn’t be there.
It didn’t feel like the big celebration the first one had been. In some ways, it should have been more of a celebration because we didn’t expect to have a second child. She is an absolute blessing to our family, but it felt like the hearing didn’t reflect that.
However the hearing was, it is the end of social services involvement. That’s a big thing. I’ve really struggled over the last few months to come to terms with the enormity of what we’ve been through to become a family of 4. I know part of the problem is that I think about it all too much, but that’s just the way that I am. We’ve been so incredibly lucky to have been chosen to be parents to our beautiful girls. And although the hearing wasn’t quite what I’d hoped it would be, it was still a celebration. It’s the end of one chapter and the start of a new one as we try and work out how to be a family of 4.