Leah reflects on adopting her son as a baby through Early Permanence after adopting her daughter.
Why did you decide to go down the Early Permanence route?
The reasons for considering and ultimately choosing Early Permanence are rooted in the adoption of our first child. We adopted her when she was two and a half and we were home number five. She had experienced neglect, and physical and emotional abuse before coming to us and suffered trauma from the constant moves. Our daughter has an attachment disorder, sensory processing disorders and social and emotional difficulties due to her difficult early start. Having said this, we are keen to stress that being her parents is an honour and a privilege every day and that we feel unbelievably lucky to have her as our daughter. The progress we have watched her make over the years is unbelievable and we have so much joy from having her in our life.
However, it was our daughter’s experience that lead us to Early Permanence (EP). We know first-hand the impact that multiple moves and separations have had upon our first child. We wanted to minimise this for another child, even if they didn’t end up staying with us, which we could do by offering an EP placement. We hoped if they did stay, that some of the difficulties our daughter experienced would at least be minimised, if not removed. In addition, we felt that although losing a child placed with us would be traumatic, we were already parents and so might find it easier than if we were childless, as we would still be parents whatever happened. Finally, we felt EP offered us the chance to parent a baby and this was something we wanted the opportunity to experience.
How did you find the assessment and training with CCS?
The assessment period seemed to go smoothly and quickly. We built up a friendly relationship with our social worker and felt that this enabled her to get to know us and to understand our strengths, our weaknesses, our support networks and what we were hoping for to complete our family. Our social worker was a constant source of support and information throughout the experience.
We already knew others who had experienced EP placements, some of these in which children had returned to the birth family. We found it useful to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of EP and again, it brought home to us that for the child, it was a win-win situation in difficult circumstances. Through much discussion between my husband and me, we became more and more convinced that EP was the right path for us.
Waiting for a placement
Once we’d been approved the waiting game began. We prepared the room in advance, to some extent to prepare our daughter. We placed a cot in the room, explaining that hopefully soon we would be fostering a baby and that they would need somewhere to sleep. It was important to us that our daughter was prepared for an arrival beforehand, as we knew we would only get a limited amount of notice. We had ensured that the concept of EP had been explained to close family, who supported our decision with reservations as they worried about the emotional pain for us if the child did not stay. Over about six months, we received information and declined interest in many children. This felt difficult, as it had when searching for our daughter. But then, we knew it was important to find the child that fitted our family so that we could ensure that we were the best fit for the child’s needs too. There were also children in whom we expressed more interest, only to wait in tantalising silence and then hear nothing, or learn that they had been placed with another family. This was frustrating, but being a great believer in fate, we felt that the right child would come at the right time.
Can you remember hearing about and then meeting your child for the first time?
The right child did indeed come at the right time. Halfway through August, we had an email explaining that a 3-month-old boy was looking for a home. It explained that his birth mother had died a few weeks after his birth, that no family on the birth mother’s side was able to care for him and that they were currently establishing paternity. We were moved by the story and wanted to know more We felt in our gut that this was the child for us. Within a week, we were meeting with social workers at our house to discuss what was known so far and what the next steps would be. It was unknown how many people would need to be assessed. We were aware that depending on the identity of the father, potentially several siblings or grandparents could step forward to be assessed if the birth father was unable to care for his son. However, we still felt that this baby needed a home, he could not remain where he was past August 30th and we felt that we could really help him, regardless of whether or not he became our son. We were incredibly excited and happy and hopeful that this could be the right child for us. At the same time, we were apprehensive and nervous about the upcoming months and about potentially losing him. Additionally, we felt some guilt, because for us to become his parents, would mean we were wishing failure for his birth family and to wish for someone’s failure felt difficult. Having said this, we knew it was not our decision to make and that ultimately, any decision would be made in the best interests of the child.
We had two days of contact with him before bringing him home. The foster carer was a delightful lady who was a mother of four. She had cared for him since his mother passed away 5 weeks after his birth. She shared information she knew about him and how she had been present on the day his mother died. Having the opportunity to hear these stories was so useful and we knew would be very valuable for him one day. We had the opportunity for cuddles, kisses and play and to take him out in his buggy. Our daughter was very much involved in this process and enjoyed getting to know her new foster brother. We made it clear that we were not ‘Mummy and Daddy’ but would be called by our first names.
The following morning we brought him home and began the process of settling him in. We stayed in touch with the foster carer, letting her know initially daily how he was doing and then lessening this as time went on.
What were the early days like?
The delight from the beginning was in getting to know and developing an ever-deepening bond with the most gorgeous, adorable little boy. He had the most cheeky, engaging personality, slept well, drank well and was an absolute joy to be with. Feeling love for this child was not difficult at all.
Of course, we knew that he might not become ours and that remained a constant worry throughout this time of joy. We never held back from showing him love and affection though, reasoning that the damage from distant and remote parenting would far outweigh any grief we had from losing him.
We also ensured that during this time he was known to all as our foster son.
Does your child have contact with the birth family?
During the Autumn his paternity was established and the assessment of his birth father took place. This required me to drive him for 1 hour twice a week to a contact centre and then back for contact sessions with his birth father. Emotionally though, it was extremely hard to do. We were foster carers and paid to be so, but we were adopters emotionally. To sit in a room while a child you want to be yours is carried out of the room to allow someone to bond with him who ultimately could take the child for good is emotionally draining. I was fortunate to always have someone with me during the hour of waiting to talk to and to cry with when I needed it.
Early Permanence is often compared to a rollercoaster and that is the challenge. We felt helpless, waiting for decisions to be made and knowing we had no part to play in those decisions. On one hand, we desperately wanted to have that control. On the other, we knew logically that the decision to remove the child from his birth father could not be our decision. We knew we would need to be able to tell the child one day it wasn’t our decision if he became our son. But logic and love didn’t sit comfortably together. We felt anxious, exhilarated, hopeful, hopeless, devastated, helpless, joyful, and tense….. swinging from one extreme to the other. Never relaxed. Often awake at night, worrying. We’d known it would be hard, but not just how hard until we were in the situation of waiting and hoping. No words can adequately describe the miseries of this time, as well as the joy.
At the end of October, we were told that the baby might need to enter a residential setting with his birth father. The setting was to be a 24-hour watched setting, with specially trained staff. For a week, we believed this would happen and we would lose him and this was our darkest time. Our support network was on hand and we needed them. We cried a lot, whilst putting on a brave face around the children when they were awake.
After a week, it was decided to step up contact instead and the birth father was asked to meet his son 4 days a week, 3 hours a day. Ultimately, this proved too much of a commitment and he went missing for several weeks. From deep despair to wild hope, we swung.
A delight during this time was also the opportunity to meet with and develop a relationship with his half-sister and later, with his maternal grandmother. Initially, these meetings took place in a contact centre, with a contact worker present. But after a few months, we were allowed to move to meet at soft play centres, cafes and local parks. We are honoured to have these family members as part of our extended family. We know for our son, that these relationships we have now built up will allow him to remain in contact with part of his birth family and that through them, he can learn more about his birth mother than we could ever have told him. We feel incredibly lucky that we can have this relationship with them and that we all agreed that the adoption of the baby was in his best interests, as is the decision to embed this part of his birth family as an extended part of our own family.
The final decision
The Placement Order was granted in early December, which meant that for us, Christmas had come early and we could begin to dare to hope that this wonderful little boy might be ours. We were aware that until the Adoption Order was granted and until the appeal period had lapsed, the possibility of his leaving us remained.
In January, we moved from being his Foster Carers to being his Adoptive Parents after the Matching Panel. The Adoption Order was granted in April and our son is now a happy, lively and active 2-year-old. He is securely attached to us and is making good progress. We are a happy family of four who has now remembered how to relax again and who can look back on this difficult time knowing that for us, it gave us the most beautiful, adorable son.
What is family life like now?
We feel incredibly lucky and blessed to have him as part of our life. Having had him at such a young age, we do feel that we have had the opportunity to develop a secure attachment with him and know the value of this, as with our daughter we did not have this opportunity.
The memory of the rollercoaster has faded somewhat, but we do remember how emotionally draining it was to live in such uncertainty and helplessness. But we continue to see the utter certainty of the win-win for the child and for this reason, wholeheartedly support EP.
Advice to others thinking about offering EP
I remain actively involved with the STEPs Early Permanence Support Group offered by CCS Adoption. Both during the time of fostering and afterwards, I have continued to speak at Early Permanence Training about my own experiences. I feel that it is so important not to go through this experience alone, but to seek help from your close support Network and from those who are also going through or have gone through EP.
Be clear on your motivations for wanting to offer an EP placement, including what will have been the benefits if the child does not stay with you.