Amidst the aftermath of the trampoline flinging storm shhaaaa Ciara shaaaa Ciara and flood wielding Dennis the Menace, Britain braced itself for the next force to be reckoned with in the shape of storm Ellen. I can now officially report that during our introductions (courtesy of said storms) we were caught up in the rain, gale force wind and even hail stones, however despite the unpredictable weather outside, inside the Foster carer’s home things were surprisingly calm. A calmness that can only be attributed to the preparation our baby had received.
Now some people might raise an eyebrow at the prospect of preparing a very young child for an adoption move, however you may be surprised to learn that it can be done and when it’s done well it can make a world of difference to the child and their new family. This is something that we discovered during our very first adoption process with our eldest daughter. So, let me take you back there (to adoption number one – post matching panel) to the bit where we were asked to provide preparation materials for our daughter’s Foster carer……
Picking up in the CPR (child permanency report) that she liked a bit of TV (and funny enough still does) we decided to create our new addition an introductions DVD. Not one to keep things simple I devised this elaborate plan which involved my husband dressing up as one of her favourite cartoon characters (at the time) Post Man Pat. Sourcing a costume – which comprised of a giant Postman Pat head and a blue all in one (I wouldn’t want you to miss out on that image) one morning we set the alarm clock ridiculously early in order to successfully complete our secret mission ‘operation Jess the cat’.
Standing in our front doorway in my dressing gown much to my amusement I watched (and filmed our opening scene) as hubby (aka Postman Pat) walked into our cul de sac and delivered a letter to our house. Well, all I can say is it’s a good job that we ran the Post Man Pat theme tune over the footage as all you could hear was me howling with laughter at the hilarity of it all. Could you imagine pulling your curtains back and witnessing this behaviour from the young childless couple next door? Thankfully it transpired to be well worth Hubby’s pain as the film went on to be a hit with our little girl and by the time we met her for the first time she knew that we were her Mummy and Daddy, we had a tiny little dog and obviously our postman was the real life Postman Pat!
There are of course various playful ways in which you can help to prepare a child for an adoption move, you just need a Foster carer who shows willing and as our current adoption story has already unexpectedly highlighted, sadly not all Foster Carers are able to put the need of their Foster child above their own when it comes to the crunch. Having heard no end of introduction horror stories professionally and from some of our closest friends, I think it’s important to recognise that not everyone’s experience is a positive one.
It’s also very important to recognise that all children are different and as a result the preparation needs vary from child to child. Our newest addition is eighteen months, has no interest in TV and there are some uncertainties surrounding her vision. As a result this required some ‘blue sky thinking’ on our part when it came to the preparation materials we were going to send to her. Buying a voice recorder from Amazon we made the decision to send her a special introductory message. Enlisting the help of bear surgeon Nana, she deftly went to work on the little bear by cleverly opening him up and stitching the bear back up with our pre recorded message inside. Now not all of my hare brained ideas run smoothly (for example the other week when I attempted to make slime with a bunch of year 8’s and ended up making what looked and felt like colourful yoghurt) however on this occasion (thanks to Nana) the results superseded any expectations I had.
Basking in the glory of our success I decided to take our preparation a step further by making the bear smell of us. (Smells are really important to small children and as a result are considered heavily in the transition planning). In my infinite wisdom I explained to hubby that the best way to achieve a Mummy and Daddy smelling bear would be to put it in our bed for a night…..and what a terrible idea that turned out to be!! Being the fidget that I am, I continued to roll over the bear and set off what (in the dead of the night) appeared to be an excessively loud, drawn out message of us all. Every time the voice recorder fired into action, I would sit bolt upright and yell in bewilderment “WTF”! This continued into the wee hours of the morning until bear flinging storm Jo Jo sprang into action and flung the furry white dog across the room……ahhhhhhh silence…….and sleep Zzzzzzzzzz until he who should not be named woke up at 4.30am!!!
After our unanimously positive panel result we passed a box containing some blankets a baby’s first photo album, some large pictures of us and of course our little bear onto the social worker. Now if only our bear could talk – as I’m sure he would have an interesting tale to tell about the adventurous journey he went on (stuck in the social worker’s boot whilst she was off sick) before he ended up at his intended destination.
Knowing full well that there had been a hold up on the delivery we waited patiently to hear of his arrival. Then, just before introductions were due to start an unexpected message landed in my inbox and there on film was our little girl wearing a pink tutu sleep suit, dragging the little bear around the living room at her Foster carer’s home. Every time she set the message off she would stop and laugh or wave, point and even say ‘hiya’ in response. It turns out that we got lucky as she wasn’t interested in anything else in the box and the Foster carer told us it was definitely the bear that made a world of difference.
Arriving nervously at the Foster carer’s home on day one of intros this difference was plain to see as our baby tottered out of the house to greet us. Taking us both by the hands she walked us up the path to the house and it was as if she knew exactly who we were and why we were there.
I guess this leads me nicely on to talking about introductions and how they work. Post panel we were invited to attend a placement planning meeting, this is an opportunity for all parties to discuss and plan the next steps. It is at this meeting that a plan is put in place for one to two weeks (depending on the age and needs of the child/ren). This plan involves adoptive parents slowly being introduced to their child, learning their routine and gradually taking over their day to day care. So with our three children in tow (and Aunty Tea Bag for child care) off we went to to our rented accommodation for a week.
Now some words of advice (if you are going through the adoption process or are about to embark on the introduction stage), for this week / fortnight (no matter how experienced you are) your Foster carer knows best. This might be hard (for some) to swallow however the reality is at this time they know your child better than anyone and can be a useful resource. This requires prospective adoptive parents demonstrating a level of empathy with regards to what it must feel like to love and to let go. As someone who has fostered newborns myself I can tell you that during this week your Foster carer will be internalising their heartbreak in order to support you and whilst it is their job, trust me when I say this, you want a carer who has displayed love to your child as opposed to one who just believes that they are doing a ‘job’. If you and the Foster carer can create a relationship (it’s not always possible) then this will be less traumatic for your child and as the carer relaxes into the week the child will see that they are supportive of the decision and are giving their permission for a new attachment to grow. In my opinion telephone contact with the Foster carer should be encouraged just prior to introductions in order for this relationship to start to develop. Your social worker will be with you every step of the way and if things are not working out with the carer they will be able to guide and support you. The reality is there were things my carer did that I wouldn’t necessarily do or say as a parent however it would have served no point to bring this to her attention, the most important thing was that we were working as a team and baby was responding well to this. When you are home you can make the decisions with regards to how you parent and if you would like ongoing communication with the foster carer.
My second bit of useful introductions advice is – when you have your initial meeting with the Foster carer (before intros start) find out what your new child likes and put together a bag of tricks. This could be useful to calm your little one in the event they become distressed. There is nothing more painful than having to listen to a young child (you are caring for) crying inconsolably for long periods of time. This happened to me on our final set of introductions as Foster carers when a prospective adopter let their pride get in the way and would not allow me to intervene during a bath time which went horribly wrong. What I can tell you is that as a result of how these introductions panned our baby left us in traumatic circumstances (when the relationship broke down between ourselves and the new carers) and this is likely to have had a significant impact on the way she now views adults and builds future attachments. Needless to say, in my nappy bag I had an emergency stash of balloons, pots of bubbles, a small ball and some squirty bath toys.
So back to our intros and a brief run down of what this looked like:
Day 1 – We went for cuppa at the Foster carer’s house (without our children) for two hours. A social worker was present for the first ten minutes or so. We took a little ball and within minutes were playing peekaboo and playing ball (remember playfulness is key to forming attachments with children of all ages). As suggested by our Foster carer we took some outfits for the baby to wear during the week and for the carer to wash in addition to new bedding. The Foster carer gave us a gift and a card (which made me a bit emosh) and we left when the baby looked so tired she didn’t know what to do with herself.
Day 2 – The plan was to observe our baby and her Foster carers routine, however on the day an element of flexibility was required. This process should be child lead and as a result common sense needs to come into play. If your child is bringing you the nappies and wet wipes as ours did (and you Foster carer is supportive) it would be silly to refuse to change her nappy based on ‘the plan’. As a result by the end of the day we were helping out with the routine as and when our baby dictated.
Day 3 – We said goodbye to Aunty Tea Bag (who looked like she was going to have a nervous breakdown after two days alone with our kids) accompanied by a life sized dog and unicorn to keep her company on her journey home. It was time to introduce our cherubs. Taking them to the same soft play area where we had our chemistry visit we were overjoyed to see all six children (Foster carer’s children too) running around having a brilliant time together. A social worker nipped in to ‘observe’. Things went so well that we even braved a shopping trip with all four children (which may see us remortgaging our house) before returning to the Foster carer’s home for dinner bath and bed. The first bath is always a bit tricky as this is something that is usually only ever done by your main carer/s. This is where my bubbles and squirty bath toys came into play (I spared the Foster carer bath crayons which turn your tile grout multicoloured). The baby was soon having so much fun, she didn’t appear to be bothered that we were bathing her…..Mummy and Daddy got very wet!
Day 4 – And by this point we were arriving at the carers house to get our baby up, give her breakfast and complete her daily routine including taking her out for a short period of time. I’m not going to lie this was the day that we all just wanted to go home (and obvs take baby with us). This is not a poor reflection of our Foster Carer as she had made us feel so welcome – there just comes a time where you just want your own bed and home comforts. Be warned this experience is exhausting!
Day 5 – Our introductions review was held to see how things were going (the less said about this the better). Having cleverly prepared my children for what was going to happen I became confused and anxious myself when all the professionals walked into the house (straight past my kids without saying hello) and went off and had a meeting without us. Of course one of my children then picked up on the fact that it wasn’t going how I had envisaged it would and before I knew I was dealing with a full blown anxiety attack – needless to say Mummy let rip!! Turns out that they were just discussing changing the plan due to travel fears relating to storm Ellen and no doubt the flipping Corona Virus. As a result we found ourselves having to extend our stay at short notice as opposed to going home (and the baby visiting us there) as initially planned.
Day 6 – Knackered, knackered, knackered! We leave baby after the morning routine so that she can have a farewell get together with her carer and family. Our baby gets her shoes as we are leaving and tries to come with us. This invokes mixed emotions for all as we leave her behind.
Day 7 – Shattered, shattered, shattered – we take baby out in storm Ellen and Mummy becomes deliriously happy in her state of exhaustion when a rainbow forms in front of us and points towards the soft play area where we first met our baby girl. Later that evening we have a beautiful farewell dinner with the Foster carer at the local Harvester. The Foster carer gives my daughter a beautiful book about sisters and my boys a rose to plant in the garden to remember the experience (Mum I may need your help to revive it, as I think I’ve killed it already!)
Day 8 – Broken, shattered, knackered, battered, tired, exhausted. We said a very teary goodbye to the Foster carer and finally we got to take our baby home…. and during storm Ellen came our very own rainbow. 🌈 👶 🍼
Whilst baby did indeed come home with a virus we are not in isolation I promise, we are just taking some much needed time to bond as a family – a process which I will bore you with in my next blog.