The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives in so many different ways. Social distancing has meant a lot of things have moved online. Adoption assessments are no different. A lot of meetings and training session are now done via video call or online.

This week’s interview is with Cat who shares her experience of the adoption assessment being done with no face to face contact. I think this is how things will be done for a long time to come, so I’m really grateful to Cat for sharing her experience so those of you starting out have a better idea of what to expect.

Introduce yourself

I’m Cat, I live with my husband Mike and our two dogs Elton the English Bulldog and Tallulah the Shar Pei. You can find me on Instagram @notatummymummy.

What area of the UK do you live in?

Blackburn in the North West of England.

Was your agency a local authority or voluntary agency?

We went through a local authority agency called Adoption Now, which covers Blackburn and other towns in the North West.

How many agencies did you consider before you found the one you wanted to go with?

The honest answer is none! We typed ‘adoption agency North West’ into Google, Adoption Now was the first one that came up and we went with it. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that approach, but our journey has been very smooth.

From the initial registration of interest to being approved at panel the process took around six months. We are really pleased with our decision to go through a local authority agency, but we honestly didn’t realise there was any other option or so many agencies out there.

Did you read any adoption stories before you started? If so where?

We didn’t read any books before we started the journey, but we did follow a few accounts on Instagram. The first account I followed was @thejoycesjourney I still love their account and it’s been a pleasure watching their adoption journey.

What was your biggest worry before you started?

Our main worry was that the process would take years! We knew Stage One was supposed to take around two months, and Stage Two should take around four months. But we thought that was ‘best case scenario’. We were prepared for the process to take a good year or so and were pleasantly surprised that we managed to keep within the proposed timescale. We also have some more personal concerns – my health (I have a chronic illness), and the fact I had lost my mum in September 2019 (we were worried the agency might not think I was emotionally ready to begin the process).

Had your assessment started before lockdown? If so, what stage had you reached when lockdown was announced?

We’d contacted the agency and completed our initial registration of interest when lockdown was announced. We then received a phone call from a lady (who later became our social worker) to say that the agency were not accepting any potential adopters onto Stage One at that time. She said they were concentrating on getting other potential adopters through the process.

This soon changed, and we received a phone call maybe a week or two later saying that the agency would be adapting to new ways of working (virtually) during the Covid-19 pandemic. This meant we could begin our journey!

How was your assessment affected by lockdown? Has it made things more difficult or just different?

Our assessment was completely affected by lockdown, but I would say it just made things different and not more difficult. Firstly, our agency followed guidance to combine both stages. This meant that we were allowed to begin Stage Two whilst waiting on things which would typically be essential in Stage One (namely our local authority checks, our DBS check and our medicals).

We were asked to complete a disclosure each related to our criminal history (or lack of!) and our health and wellbeing. Our in-person preparation training was also cancelled. We were due to have a three day training session which we were really looking forward to. It was a chance to meet social workers and other prospective adopters, so we were really disappointed when this was cancelled.

The training moved online with a combination of pre-recorded videos, a workbook to complete, and live video call sessions with social workers. There were also guest appearances from people who had completed the adoption process. We found this move to online training meant that much of the learning was self-directed.

We read widely, listened to podcasts, watched videos and documentaries and learnt a lot from the wonderful adoption community on Instagram. One big difference between how the process was for us and the pre-Covid process, is that we’ve only met our social worker virtually. Even now we’ve been approved, we still haven’t met her in the flesh, which is a shame.

Did you feel your agency and social worker kept you fully up to date about how things would be done as a result of the restrictions imposed due to Covid-19?

I think our agency and Social Worker kept us as up to date as possible about how things would work as a result of Covid-19 related restrictions. I also think it was a learning experience for them as they were adapting and implementing new ways of working as they were going along. For instance, there was talk at one point that we would be allowed to have our medicals completed by video call, but this never materialised.

We’ve been told our agency will continue to use many of their new ways of working even when the world gets back to normal. For example, undertaking some aspects of the assessment process virtually and holding virtual panels.

Was the assessment content as you expected it to be? If not, in what way?

The assessment content covered all the aspects I expected it to – and more! I knew it would be intrusive and thorough, but I perhaps didn’t anticipate just how many aspects of our lives would be assessed. The assessment covered our journey to adoption, any losses we’d experienced, health and wellbeing, education (including checking our degree certificates), our finances (including any savings, incomings and outgoings), our home and garden. Our lovely dogs were assessed too by an ex-police dog handler!

Local authority checks were undertaken at our current and previous addresses, and Mike had to have a fingerprint check through the FBI for his time working abroad 11 years ago! Our employers completed references and so did family and friends. At some points I felt a little discouraged that we were having to prove ourselves in so many ways that biological parents do not have to, but I completely understand why the process has to be so thorough when the children have already been through so much.

What has been the most difficult part about the assessment?

For me, the most difficult part was the individual assessment. This meant I was on my own when asked questions about the death of my mum and about my health status. These were the two things I was really worried would let us down in terms of being approved. I didn’t want to lie and pretend I was ‘over’ my mum’s death, when it was all still so raw having happened less than a year before.

I would encourage other prospective adopters to be open and honest throughout the assessment process. Anything you perceive as a ‘weakness’ or ‘flaw’ in your past can actually be seen as a huge strength and sign of resilience to social workers. Our social worker once said that ‘perfect parents are no good for our children’, and I think this speaks volume. 

How did your panel take place – virtually or in person? If virtually, how did it work? Did the technology work ok?

Panel took place virtually via Zoom. With virtual panels some agencies (ours included) have started sending the questions to prospective adopters in advance of panel. We received our questions around 7pm the evening before, so had a little while to look over them and to prepare our responses.

Our panel was at 10.25am, which we were really pleased about so we didn’t have to wait around all day for it. That would have made us more nervous. We had to join the panel virtually at 10.25am but were held in the virtual waiting room while our social worker answered questions about us. We were then invited in and the panel members introduced themselves.

I was stunned by the wealth of knowledge of everyone in attendance. There were about 10-12 people (I should have paid more attention!), and even the medical advisor had adopted two children herself. We were asked five questions, four which we had planned for and one which we had to answer on the spot.

We were on the call for around 30 minutes and were told to leave and then re-join the waiting room while the panel made their decision. It was a unanimous yes and we were in a lovely happy bubble for the rest of the day / week. Prosecco and chocolate followed!

What advice would you give someone considering adoption who is concerned about how social distancing rules will affect their assessment?

My advice would be to ask the agency (or agencies) you have identified up front about how the process has been adapted due to Covid-19 and what plans they have in place for another local or national lockdown. You want to see that they have strategies in place to keep your assessment and approval process going.

I also want to pass on some advice my Instagram idol @mollymamaadopt told me when I asked for advice about how to get through the process quickly. Get any paperwork sent back almost as quickly as you receive it. Always email and never post documents. Ask for confirmation that any important documentation or email correspondence has been received. Think ahead. If you have a health condition, ask for a letter from your consultant rather than waiting to be asked to provide one. Never be afraid to chase up if you haven’t heard from your social worker.

These things can cause delays to the process in normal times, but more so during a global pandemic!

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