We’re living in unprecedented times at the moment due to Covid-19. Social distancing rules turned life as we knew it upside down. One of the many things affected by lockdown has been adoption assessments. For some, they’ve been put on hold. Others have had meetings and training courses move online.

A lot of agencies are now doing things virtually so Panel, linking and matching meetings can still go ahead. But what are they like? How can they replace meeting someone in person? This article is written by @mollymamaadopt and gives us an insight into how linking takes places virtually. Thank you Molly for sharing your experience.

Virtual linking

Becoming an approved adopter during a global pandemic is something completely unexpected. Being linked and matched with your child during is on mind blowing.

My husband and I became approved adopters in May 2020 and found out about a potential link six weeks before panel. We instantly fell in love after reading their profile and then their Child Permanence Report (CPR) a few weeks later. Our social worker sent their social worker a final draft of our Prospective Adopters Report and we were told they wanted to meet us. We were over the moon!

We had to wait until we were approved before we could proceed to what their social worker called a ‘linking meeting’. Due to the pandemic, we were told this would be virtual. The meeting was going to be attended by our social worker, the link’s social worker, her team manager and their family finder.

I had no clue what to expect having never heard of a linking meeting before. Google didn’t shine much light on it. The fact that it was going to be held online brought a whole new level of anxieties. Could they get a real feel for who we are over webcam? How would we do a house tour virtually? What if there are technical issues?

It turns out, it was absolutely nothing to worry about. However, we felt there needed to be more information available about what to expect so we could feel better prepared. That’s why I wanted to share our experience so others know what to expect.

We logged onto the virtual meeting and after fifteen minutes of technical issues (which actually broke the ice), all parties were present. Everyone introduced themselves and the family finder began to chair the meeting.

The meeting began with our link’s social worker giving us an update on their development which was just magical. She told us about development changes, information about birth family and discussed any other changes since their CPR. The family finder then explored the reasons why we were pursued as a link and highlighted our strengths. It was fantastic to hear their views and gave us even more confidence that this was the right match for us.

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The first question we were asked was what drew us to our link. My husband and I discussed the reasons we felt we could meet their needs and what initially made us fall in love with them. Our social worker had warned us that they would probably ask questions on the more challenging areas of their CPR, so we were prepared to discuss these. They did indeed ask questions about the challenges we would face as their adoptive parent. Having already discussed this between ourselves when considering whether or not to pursue this link, we felt confident discussing this with the team. The discussion was very open and not formal like Panel.

After their questions, we were able to ask questions. We had already written some questions for their social worker after reading the CPR. Their social worker was more than happy to answer our questions. We had some fantastic conversation about their future and how we see them in our family.

The family finder then took us through how matching and transitions have been adapted to work virtually. Matching Panel, life appreciation events and all pre-Panel contact with foster carer would be done virtually.

Before the meeting ended, we were asked to tour our house virtually. I’m no property agent so this was rather comical. I walked my laptop awkwardly through the house and the garden and then we sat back down to have our final conversation. The family finder explained that they would have a conversation between themselves and we would need to speak to our social worker about whether or not we wanted to progress the match. We were due to speak again after the weekend.

There were no doubts in our minds whatsoever. We were absolutely beaming throughout the meeting and kept tapping each other to say ‘this is amazing!’ My husband and I were absolutely buzzing. We went out for a walk to debrief about the meeting and discuss our thoughts. It didn’t even take us an hour to decide that it was a big YES!

We let our social worker know immediately that afternoon. She let us know that evening that the family finder had already contacted her to confirm that they wanted to progress the match. That was our weekend made!

Since then, everything has progressed full steam ahead. Matching Panel is booked. A telephone meeting with the medical advisor is booked in and we are meeting the foster carer over Zoom. Their social worker is setting up virtual life appreciation meetings instead of a full day of face to face events.

I’m so thrilled that this local authority have found a way to work through the pandemic. We have been sent a carefully thought out risk assessment regarding transitions and how they will work with the virus. There is a lot of talk about self-isolation, no family and friends contact for the foreseeable and of course, lots of hand sanitiser.

The one thing we’ve learned from the virtual linking meeting was that it was just as much our decision as the link’s team. The purpose of the linking meeting is to ensure all parties wish to progress. The family finder made it very clear that if at any point we didn’t want to progress, we must speak up and let them know.

The life appreciation meetings are conducted to give as much of a realistic picture of the link as possible so we can be confident in our decision. For us, we are more than confident and cannot wait to get to matching Panel and bring our little one home!

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