Adoption introductions, as the name suggests, is the process that introduces children to their new family. The mechanics of it will differ depending on the age of your child, their needs, and whether they are within your authority or not. This article is to give an idea of how they work.
When introductions start depends on how you’ve been matched with your child. If you’re matched through fostering to adopt from birth, introductions will take place in hospital. Depending on whether there are any health issues, they are likely to be quite quick. Perhaps a day or two and then you bring your child home.
When do introductions start?
If you were matched the “traditional way” after the court proceedings have concluded, they take place usually a week or two after matching panel and start at the foster carer’s home. Introductions for our eldest started just over a week after panel. With our youngest, it was two weeks. The length of time will depend on how long it takes your agency’s decision-maker to approve the match.
With a young baby, introductions are usually about a week long. The older the child, the longer they are. If it’s a sibling group, it’s likely to be longer again. Our children were nine months and five and a half months when we met them. Introductions were seven days for our eldest and six for our youngest. That doesn’t sound like much time to get to know your child but both times felt like the right length.
Part of the role of the foster carer is to prepare children to move on to their forever family. Things like laminated photographs of you, picture books, soft toys, or blankets with your smell on, are all things you can give to the foster carers to help them introduce you to your child.
Helping your child get to know you
We laminated A4-sized photos of us so that the foster carer could stick them around their house for our children to see. I’d forgotten about them until we turned up on day one of introductions with our eldest and saw our faces plastered everywhere. They certainly helped to break the ice!
As both our children were babies, my mum made photo books of immediate family out of fabric. A lot of printers can print onto fabric, so they are easy enough to make, or ShopNotaFictionalMum sells them. Having a fabric book makes it safe for a young babies to explore on their own.
We slept with a snuggle toy and teddy for each child which meant they had our smell on them. This helped the children feel at ease with us. Make sure you remember to wear the same deodorant/perfume for introductions so that the smell is the same.
For older children, you could do a video of your house and their new room. Or you can buy talking photo books where you can record your voice. Immediate family members could be included too.
You should get a plan of how the introductions will work, from your social worker, either just before or just after panel. This will tell you where you need to be and when, how long each session will be and what is expected of you. I found this really useful because it meant I knew what food we needed to take for us and baby. It also meant we knew when we were going to be taking her out on our own so we could plan where to go and what we would need. I find that if I know when I’m going to eat and where the toilets are, I can deal with most things a lot better.
On day one we had a final planning meeting at the council’s offices then went to the foster carer’s home to meet our daughter. You will usually meet your child for the first time at the foster carer’s home, and then gradually transfer to the community and then your home.
The first session lasted a couple of hours. Our daughter’s social worker was there for some of the time, but it was basically just us, baby and foster carer getting to know each other. Over the next few days, the sessions were gradually longer, and we started to take over more of the care of our daughter.
Out in the community
On the third day, we took her out for three or four hours to our local park. We gave her lunch and then took her back early afternoon. We returned early evening to learn her bedtime routine. The foster carer brought her to our house on the fourth day. She stayed for about half an hour and then left us to it for the day. We took our daughter back to their house for her bedtime routine. The next few days were the same.
We had a final review on day seven and as everyone was happy, it was agreed we could bring her home. We picked her up from the foster carer’s house and then took her home for keeps. I’ll never forget driving away with her in the back of the car. I was excited, terrified, shattered, and felt a bit like we were kidnapping someone else’s child.
There’s no getting away from the fact that introductions are tough. They are emotionally draining and full of so many different emotions. You’re getting to know your child(ren) in a stranger’s home who’ve cared for them for months. They know your child, how they react to things, what they like and what they don’t like. As introductions progress, it gets harder and harder to take your child back to the foster carers as they start to transfer their attachment from the carers to you.
There really isn’t any other way of doing it. You have to get to know your child gradually so that they can start to trust you. For a lot of children, the foster carer will be the only parent figure they’ve known. Taking them away from that is hard. But most children will adapt and transfer their attachment to you quite quickly. Some will take longer and may need some professional help, particularly if they’ve experienced multiple moves and a lot of early trauma.
It’s also an extremely difficult time for the foster family. They’ve been loving and looking after your child for at least several months, usually a lot longer. It is their job, but for most foster carers, it is much more than that. So be mindful that preparing to say goodbye to a child that they’ve opened their hearts and homes to, is going to be hard.
The best advice we were given about introductions was to be yourself and to not expect too much too soon. Don’t try to be perfect because you won’t be. You’ll make mistakes. The foster carer is there to help and guide you. They should tell you about routines, likes, dislikes and things like favourite toys.
You might not agree with the way they do things but maintaining the status quo until your child is home is best unless you think something isn’t safe. You might not agree with juice being given rather than water, or that your child naps in their pushchair rather than the cot. But they are all things that can be tweaked in time.
Either yours or your child’s social worker should be in regular contact to check everything is going ok. Don’t be afraid to raise issues if you have any. Say if you think things need to be brought forward or put back. Some children adapt quicker than others. You might think that your child is becoming too distressed at being returned to the foster carer and so move-in date needs to be looked at again. There are no hard and fast rules to introductions. They have to be adaptable to everyone’s needs to make them as successful as possible.
There are several interviews in the magazine with adopters and a foster carer, sharing their experiences of introductions. Head over the introductions section to read them.