Category Archives: Adoption procedures 1970- – our experience

ADOPTION TODAY – Help/information/support

My last blog ended with this sentence “I have heard that there is more help for adopted and looked-after children nowadays.”

This is good news for people involved in adoption today.

Sam had been with us for one whole year in 1973 before we ever read or heard anything helpful about bringing up a black child as white parents. This was when our Adoption Agency sent us an article from an organisation called “The Open Door Society” in Canada . As I wrote in one of my earliest blogs:

The main thrust that came through to us was that ‘Love is not enough…  Society will see your children as black…  …… The parents have a responsibility to instil in their child, through the media of literature, art and music, a pride and understanding of his racial heritage.” 

 Apart from the only two multiracial families that we met in the North East of England, our support came mainly from the organisation called Harmony that we encountered when we moved to Leicester in the Midlands.

Harmony-badge

Harmony was an organisation for multi-racial families whether by adoption, fostering or through mixed-race marriages. It was at Harmony gatherings in the 1980s that we learned a lot about skin care and hair care, It was a supportive forum where we could share information  for example about books and toys that showed children who looked like our children.

Aurora 006

 

 

 

 

I have written about this before. So what is new nowadays?

  • More books featuring the diversity of our population (even if not yet enough. . .)
  • Recruitment of people from ethnic minorities in most areas of Social Work
  • Adoption websites, discussion forums, blogs, shared Tweets  #Adoption.  THESE CAN BE DISCOVERED VIA GOOGLING “ADOPTION SUPPORT”
  • Greater awareness in schools about the special situation of “looked after” children
  • Training and information for families. See the Pac-UK site:  Here below is information about help that is offered in schools in England.

http://www.pac-uk.org/   “From April 2014, schools in England can receive the Pupil Premium for children adopted from care, or who left care under a Special Guardianship Order on or after 30 December 2005. Schools can also claim the Pupil Premium for children who left care under a Residence Order on or after 14 October 1991.

The Pupil Premium is to help schools raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and close the gap with their peers.  It is paid to schools in respect of disadvantaged pupils in Reception to Year 11. The Government has extended the coverage of the Pupil Premium in recognition of the traumatic experiences many adopted children have endured in their early lives and a realisation that their needs do not change overnight”.

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I wish this kind of help had been available for Jah in the 1980s. (sigh)

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+ A Helpful booklet published in 2014

In April 2014 a group of multi-racial families in Cornwall has published an extremely helpful booklet in partnership with Barnardo’s.

“Children Visible by Colour in Cornwall: Suggestions for parents and carers raising BME (black and minority ethnic) and dual heritage children who are ‘visible by colour’.”

Kowetha doc

Kowetha is a pioneering community group of parents and carers living in the West of Cornwall who are raising BME and dual heritage children who are ‘visible by colour’.

The Kowetha Community group has written a handbook to support other families of diverse racial background, which is also valuable for teachers and practitioners. The handbook has been supported by Barnardo’s and considers the following:

  • How a child’s racial heritage influences their childhood experiences in Cornwall.
  • The importance of moving beyond ‘colour blindness’ and positively educating children in Cornish schools about racial diversity.
  • How schools and agencies might recognise and support the unique social pressures experienced by children who are visible by colour, thus meeting their duties under Ofsted.

The advice, information and shared experiences are applicable for all multi-racial families wherever they live . I can heartily recommend it.

Bringing the good news from London to Leicester. Adoption Day.

I don’t remember much about the journey home to Leicester with the good news about Jah’s official Adoption.

We knew that the children were all waiting anxiously. I don’t know which adult was staying with them – or probably Lucy was quite old enough, so she would have been in charge.

Naturally I shall never forget the children’s reactions.

Jah greeted us with big wide eyes. He looked almost ‘white’ with anxiety, even though we had telephoned them with the good news. Perhaps he needed to hear it from us directly. Instantly his eyes regained their sparkle and he looked immensely relieved and happy. So did Sam, Lucy and Anna.

I was touched by Lucy’s gift to Jah. Many months previously, she had decided to embroider a new shoe bag for him to take to school, complete with his official name – the same family name as all of us. It had been waiting in a drawer for many months until this important day. He cherished that present and used it with great pride for a long time. Amazingly I still have it. The felt of the little footprints has shrunk slightly, but can still be seen quite clearly.

Shoe bag I have no photos of the whole family celebrating, but the following picture conveys the atmosphere in our household on that important Adoption Day. Happy:rejoicingImage courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net (cropped)

Notionally this could be Sam, Jah, Lucy and Anna.

 These reflections will continue. Adoption Day was obviously a significant new beginning, but in another sense it was a continuation. We had been committed to Jah as our adopted son ever since he joined the family just before his fourth birthday.  As with all adoptive parents, it is a commitment for life.

Adoption Day arrived at last.

As November drew nearer and nearer, Jah grew more anxious. We did not want to make a big issue of going to the Court for his adoption, but he himself was quite focused on the idea of being officially a member of the family, sharing the same surname.

Then, shortly before we were due to go to London, yet another solicitor took over the case.

We received an urgent ‘phone call.TelephoneImage courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I had a feeling that the caller was starting halfway through a sentence. She was speaking extremely fast and sounded agitated. It was the new solicitor. She told us in no uncertain terms

“On No account should Jah come to the Court. I understand that you were expecting him to be there! His birth mother has agreed to attend the Court and I think it would be most unsuitable for them to meet after all these years.”

D. and I were instantly relieved and as we explained the new scenario to Jah, we could see anxiety lift from his small shoulders.

And so, the great day dawned.  It was arranged that we would meet Pat, Jah’s social worker, at Euston Station. We would then walk to Aldwych. I remember that it was a gloriously sunny November day. We passed the Inns of Court and peered at their impressive grounds and buildings. We arrived finally at the Royal Courts of Justice – a beautiful building with marble interiors.Royal Courts of Justice

I didn’t have time to take in the architectural features of the entrance hall of the Court, because almost immediately we were face-to-face with Jah’s birth mother. She looked very like him, tall and light skinned and her face resembled his. She was quite calm. I suppose I had expected her to be somewhat nervous. She had one request. “Tell him one day that he has two brothers.” We said we would do that.

What happened inside the court room is indelibly fixed in my mind. Firstly we sat down a few rows behind the birth mother, but someone asked us to move to the other side of the room. That was mildly unsettling. Were they expecting trouble? Or had we just been tactless or naïve and unwise in not thinking of a more suitable place to sit?

To our surprise, a barrister whom we had never met, did the talking, but she was so forthright. She read out in a loud voice so many incriminating things about the birth mother. I feared that this would cause the birth mother to walk out in a huff and jeopardise the whole situation.

Fortunately, the judge was a person of kindness, stature and evidently a man of great experience and understanding. He reprimanded the barrister and said that since she and he both had the papers in their hands, she only needed to refer to the relevant paragraph by number. Then he would consider each paragraph.

Finally permission was granted to us to be Jah’s legal adopters.  It is hard to describe the feeling of relief we both experienced.

One thing I regret is that I never wrote and thanked the judge for his consideration, but my excuse is that we were always so busy. (No real excuse I know.)

After the hearing D. and I went and celebrated beside the fountains at the Barbican. In those days we were very much visitors to London and it felt good to be celebrating in a smart venue in our capital city. We shared a glass of wine between us, because we never had much money and that seemed quite extravagant enough. The air was cold, but the sun was shining and we sat outside. This legal step was a milestone.  It had been a long time coming, but now our family was complete.BarbicanImage courtesy of vegadsl at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

(Sometimes in the future Jah would ask “Can we ‘dopt a little brother?” We replied. “We did. And You are IT!”)

Continuing with Jah’s story

Recently I have been doing what this blog title suggests and indulging in ‘Adoption Reflections’. Now I’d like to continue Jah’s story.

To re-cap where we were with Jah’s situation.

  • He was now five years old.
  • We were all waiting for an adoption order to be granted.
  • An alternative barrister had been lined up to present his case
  • Amazingly, his birth mother had been located.

    She had turned up at a hospital giving birth to her third child.  As the birth was by Caesarian section,  Jah’s birth mother had to stay in the hospital for a while and a hospital social worker had spoken to her at length about the advantage of her giving her consent to the adoption. The really good news was that she was going to agree to this. Sadly, we heard that this new baby was suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome and was born with learning difficulties. The social worker was trying to enable the mother to look after him. The alternative would be for him to go directly to a foster home. This would then be the third child she would have given up to the care of others. (Jah was her first-born. The second son had been adopted by a couple who took him to live in the United States.)

Jah was due to start school in September. He longed to have the same surname as the rest of the family, but we tried to make light of this and said that things would soon work out.

At last the day dawned when Jah could start school. He set out confidently.

Jah looking important with new haircut

After he had been at school for a couple of weeks, all parents had an interview with his teacher. She was very experienced and due to retire soon. To our surprise she said that Jah was quite a slow learner, although she did have confidence that he would get there in the end.

This did not sound at all like the bright, lively child we knew. We knew that he did have some strange learning blocks but we thought it was more to do with a lack of confidence. The teacher agreed. I asked whether they had any books that showed children that looked like him. They had none at all, so we suggested some that the school could use. (Reminder. This was c. 1981 and long before people had given much thought to representing diversity in books.

As I have mentioned earlier, books are still not representative enough. But they were even WORSE then!).

Jah soon made friends at school and was often invited round to other children’s houses. He grew in confidence. Things began to move on the legal front and we were told that there would be a hearing at the High Court – the Royal Courts of Justice – some time in November.

By mid-October we began to talk to Jah about the adoption day, because we had always been given to understand that he would accompany us.

We all waited anxiously for a date to attend the Court.

Jah’s name continued. Little progress on the adoption front. Then an interesting proposition.

To update readers on Jah’s choice of name, following the criticism we received for continuing to use this special name.

He was keen to add a second name and liked the sound of Joshua.  He gradually adopted that name.  However, for the purpose of this blog, I shall continue to refer to him as Jah.

Of course there was no question of him being able to use our family surname.  That could only happen once a formal adoption order had been granted. He was old enough to understand that.

Adoption procedures

We appeared to have come up against a big administrative block, caused by the disappearance of Jah’s birth mother.  However, the local authority Social Services Department did what they could.  They appointed a solicitor and she came to visit us.  She explained to us again that – although reluctant to do this – they would eventually go ahead and grant the order without the birth mother’s signature if they could not find her.  She seemed to be very impressed by the barrister the authority planned to use.

The case was going to be heard in the High Court of the land – The Royal Courts of Justice, because he was a ward of the court.

Royal Courts of JusticeSo far so good. . .  Then the solicitor went on extended maternity leave.  This was good news for the solicitor, but It didn’t feel like such good news for Jah, as no replacement solicitor came to take on the case. Months passed. Nothing happened or was said about a date for the anticipated adoption order.

We were left with a small boy who wanted to be “properly ‘dopted” before he started school in September. This began to look increasingly unlikely. However, our job was to help him to settle and not to dwell on problems.

Then we received an interesting letter from my brother and sister-in-law.  They asked: Would we be able to have our nephew to stay for a period of about three months?

Robert, our nephew, was ten years old.  He was academically far ahead of his schoolmates in Sweden and getting a bit bored at school.  His parents thought that it would be good for him to come over to England, to attend a local school and spend time with our family.  This would mean that our household would consist of three young boys and two teenage daughters.  It would also mean that there would be special times to plan and enjoy.  Naturally we would want to show Robert some of our best tourist attractions in London and in the countryside around Leicester.

We had rarely visited London as a family and there were many places we wanted the children to see.  We would all benefit in many ways.

We hoped that Robert’s  visit would take Jah’s mind off the slow progress on the adoption front and all looked forward to his arrival.

 

 

 

 

Back to reality and our Leicester home

I counted recently and I reckon that In my long lifetime I have moved home eleven times, but always with family members,  except when I was in my first job.   In Jah’s short lifetime of only four years, I reckon he had already changed homes about six times.  That is counting protracted stays in hospital and always the change had involved living with people he had never met before.

After the first holiday away from my new home, I always really appreciated coming back and looking all round the house, garden and neighbourhood.  It was like “nesting” or rather feeling that the current “nest” was still fine and acceptable. We were relieved to see that in his way Jah was happy to return to the Leicester house after our holiday away.

summer daysIt was lovely seeing  him walk solemnly round the house and garden, checking that everything was as he had remembered it.  The sunflower plant that he had brought with him was now as tall as D.  Jah was very impressed.

sunflower“I gave you a lovely present, didn’t I?” he said.

The weather was still warm and the boys carried on with games they had invented.  All our children have enjoyed making make-shift tents.  Anna and Sam used to make a cosy tent-home, but I see that Sam and Jah played more outside their tent.

2 musketeers

When he had been with us for the required length of time, we were given permission to set the adoption process in motion.  The Local Authority’s Social Services Department assured us that although the process was going to be lengthy and complicated, they would pay all legal fees.  They would have to use a barrister, as the case was not straightforward.

One of the main reasons for the problem was that Jah’s birth mother had moved and nobody knew how to contact her.  The Local Authority would at the end of the day apply to have the adoption legalised without her written permission, but this would be the very last resort.  They said that it would be so much better for him to know that his birth parents had agreed willingly to the adoption.  It would not mean so much to him now, but it might when he grew older.

O & J off to playgroupJah would still accompany me to the Playgroup during the winter and spring terms, but he was due to start school in the following summer term. He was already beginning to ask aloud when he would be “properly ‘dopted” and have our family surname.

That was a question he would ask again and again: and as time passed, so would we.

Introducing Jah to our wider family ‘Down South’. The long summer holiday.

The long summer holiday is a time when children can be free from formal school learning.  If they are fortunate, they can learn about the world around them, as they visit the countryside, as they follow their interests, as they meet people and spend time in summer sunshine and in the open air.

Jah had a lot to learn about all aspects of his new life.

Before we went away, a very dear life-long friend came to visit.  Someone took a photo of her playing bubbles with Jah.  It is embarrassing to note that once again a person’s head was ‘cut off’ in a photo.  (Sorry S!)

S and JThe point about mentioning this is, that many years later this same friend reflected. “Jah is no longer attention-seeking like he was at first”.  That surprised me because I did not remember so much ‘attention-seeking’.  It is probably because I expected it.  These were days of re-adjustment for all of us, but of course especially for him. I suppose it would have been more worrying if he had been passive.

Following the discovery that Jah was still a bit confused about many things, we told him carefully about the family members we were going to visit.

D’s mother and sister lived in Surrey – quite a long way from Leicester.  We went on outings together with the Surrey cousins.  We let the children play in their gardens and enjoyed outdoor picnics.

My parents and grandmother lived in Somerset. The children enjoyed themselves very much.  My grandmother commented, ‘Jah has merry eyes.  He looks as if he might lead you a merry dance’.  We thought of those words a few years later . . . .

ScotlandOur next trip was to go camping in Scotland.  I have heard it said that many people of ethnic minorities do not travel widely in the English countryside.  I myself know of many people of Caribbean origin who truly appreciate and love visiting parts of Britain, so I am not sure how true that is.

Anyway.  We went camping in the North West Highlands of Scotland.  As far as I could see, we were the only multiracial family around.  This did not matter to us.  We all enjoyed a restful time together by the sea and in beautiful countryside.

beside the sea As we had hoped, the holiday had indeed given us time to renew our batteries, before returning to home and school and the inevitable challenges that lay ahead.

 

Sam asks Jah “What does it mean to be 4?”

Jah’s fourth birthday was due three weeks after he came to live with us.  He had a lot of fun with his brother.

Tug of warHe enjoyed the Playgroup.  His big sisters were lovely and spent time with him.  In fact he had so many things to get used to that his birthday did not appear to feature much in his consciousness.  However, we talked to him about our plans.  They were fairly low key.

The main thing was that Pat his social worker would be coming.  She was going to bring presents from herself and the foster family.

She was also going to bring the Life Story she had been working on.  It wasn’t quite finished, as she had more photos to obtain.  She had, however, managed to track down his birth mother and obtained her permission to include a photo of her in the book.

His birth father had been most obliging and had listened with great attention to everything Pat reported about Jah’s life and how he was settling down with us.  His photo shows him with a beaming smile.  He wrote the words “to Jah. With love from Daddy” at the bottom of the photo.  However, it was a Polaroid photo and the paper was shiny so the words could only just be deciphered.

Jah and hobby horseOur present to Jah was a hobby horse. He loved it, which was fortunate.

At the Playgroup he was allowed to pass round the plate of fruit before the singing-in-a-circle time.  Every child did that on their birthday and then the whole group sang “Happy Birthday”.  Jah looked both surprised and shy, but I think he quite enjoyed being the centre of attention.

When Pat came, she brought an amusing book where you could interchange the head, shorts and feet of ‘Goofy’.  He loved making crazy combinations!  (“Because his shorts fell down” being the most popular.  It usually featured in all his combinations.)

Goofy

Fortunately the weather was fine. We had made a sandpit in the back garden.  Jah enjoyed playing with the sand and with Pat before the others came back from school.  All together we felt that everything had gone well.

Imagine our surprise, when Sam reported at breakfast the following morning that Jah had whispered to him at bedtime. “Sam. What does it meant to be 4?”

We felt guilty.  We thought we had covered as many aspects as possible of this small boy’s life and the changes he faced.  How come we had not adequately explained the passage of time? There are plenty of ways that we could have done this, for example we could have asked him whether he remembered his third birthday with the foster family.

At least this feeling of failure had the positive result of reminding us to be as clear as possible in future.

The next thing that lay ahead of us was the summer break.  We explained carefully to Jah where we were going and which members of the family we would be visiting.  I am sure that he could sense how much this meant to us, but of course we were slightly apprehensive about all the travelling and the visiting.  We would just have to hope that all would go well.

Jah settles in. “He ain’t heavy. He’s my brother”.

So now, after about eight months of waiting, Jah had come to live in our family.  He was considered as a foster child, with a view to adoption.

Sam was extra delighted. He played a lot with his new little brother.  They certainly had a lot of fun and games together.  It was heart-warming to witness.

Piggy backLucy and Anna were both helpful in their own ways.  Jah needed a lot of attention and there were a few of us around to give it at different times. I know that D. and I were very busy!

Below are two photos of Jah setting out for the Playgroup.  On looking back, I realise again how fortunate I was to have found a job that I could do where I could take him along.

O & J off to playgroup        Off to Playgroup

Getting on with daily life

 We were very touched when Sam said to us “I  do my work quicker now at school because I’m thinking of getting home and seeing Jah!”  On another occasion he said “I feel more triumphant now I have a little brother who looks like me.”

At the playgroup Jah managed pretty well considering I was one of the leaders.  I sat next to him during the circle time when we all sang action songs.  He did not know them at first, but soon picked them up.  He loved “Mr Fat and Mr Small” and made himself look bloated for “Mr Fat” and extremely tiny for “Mr Small”.  One child stared with incomprehension at Jah’s brown, matted Rasta locks and wondered aloud whether the new boy was actually a ‘scarecrow’.  I was pretty sure that Jah had not heard that comment and was very relieved.

Jah’s hair was quite an issue.  Strictly speaking we could have had it cut, but his social worker was in touch with Jah’s birth father and had said that we would keep the Rasta locks if he wanted.  Once Jah became legally ours, the father would no longer have a say in this matter.  He was going to hand over the responsibility to us.  However, this was bound to take a long time.  (We had no idea how long.)

We had regular visits from both our social workers and Jah was happy to see them, especially Pat, whom he had known most of his life.  She told us that she was busy compiling his Life Story.  I know that these Life Story books are quite common nowadays but we had not heard of that idea before. (We had nothing  like that for baby Sam when he came to us.)  It is a wonderful idea and provides an adopted or fostered child with a back history, so that they can begin to have an understanding of why and how they have moved from house to house and family to family.  Pat was gathering photos of his birth parents and other people who had played key parts in his early life.

After Jah had been with us for one week, we had to start planning his fourth birthday party.

Pat was going to be with us.  It was good to observe that she seemed to be genuinely fond of him.  This continued link with her was very important, especially in those early days.  Together we planned his day of celebration very carefully.  I shall tell you about it in my next blog post.

A new beginning. Jah joins us in our Leicester home

Our first day out alone with Jah had gone fairly well, but reality was drawing near.  He was very soon going to be our responsibility. We were going to be his new family.

I welcome comments on this blog and I received a comment on my last post, reflecting on the sense of responsibility we must have felt.  Yes.  That is very true, but I suppose we had been prepared as well as possible by everybody and now we just had to get on with this vital next stage.  It was what we had been working towards.

(Once somebody remarked to me that our other children must have been “very tolerant” as we added to the family.  I hadn’t thought about it that way, but they certainly were great – and they still are!  Maybe I’ll write a post about this one day. )

I do not remember a sense of mounting tension on the morning of our departure.  Jah’s foster mother said that she remembers feeling tense and stressed as she waited for all the paper work to be completed by the social worker.  It was extra-hard for her, as they had all grown very fond of Jah. He had been with them over eighteen months. She said they were entirely happy about him coming to live with us. She knew that he needed a ‘forever family’. They themselves already had four children and they could not look after him ‘forever’.  However it was still going to be a wrench letting him go.

My memories centre more round his little red suitcase that held all, or most of his belongings – clothes and toys.

red-suitcase-200It was more like a toy than a travel case.  It served its purpose, but it was rather touching that these were the only possessions he brought with him. Obviously, one cannot see or measure – or put into a suitcase – the value of his past eighteen months’ experience of love within the foster family but we knew that it was invaluable for his sense of self-worth.

The children of the foster family were all going to draw Jah lovely pictures and would send him other things as time went by.  As regards clothes, however, it had been decided that it would be best for us to go shopping for the new clothes he would need as he grew.  For this reason he did not travel with a whole lot of clothes “to grow into”.  We saw this as an example of their sensitivity and good preparation for the handover.

Another thing I remember was the “mystery” present for us that Jah was very pleased about.  It was wrapped in a big tube of newspaper.  He would not let us discover what it was until the car drew up outside our house in Leicester.

We had bought a present to divert Jah’s attention as we drove away from the foster home. It was a toy monkey.  It had an appealing face and he took to it immediately.  He  played with it on that long car journey and also for quite a few years.

monkey like Jairo  For some reason it was christened ‘Jairo’ and he loved it.

 I have a photo of the family walking up our garden path in Leicester.

Arriving Leicester

(A badly taken photo. My apologies to D. and Lucy for cutting off their heads.)

Here you can see Sam carrying Jah’s mystery present for us.  He had unveiled it with a slightly shy smile and entrusted it to Sam.  It was a little sunflower plant. We watched it grow and flourish during the summer, as indeed did Jah.

 When we opened the front door of our house  Jah looked all round him quite solemnly, perhaps to see if everything looked as he remembered from his initial visit. He seemed satisfied and took his little red suitcase upstairs to the bedroom he would be sharing with Sam.

red-suitcase-200I do not pretend that all was “sweetness and light” from that moment on, but it was a great feeling to realise that at last we had begun this new phase in our family life.