Thursday, July 25, 2013

Don't ask, don't tell

As well as calling our own county council, I also emailed a few other locally (for some reason, we live in an area with an embarrassment of riches in terms of councils) and a couple of them have been back in touch. I have ascertained that they would definitely be interested in taking on prospective adopters of a baby under 1, and that we don't really need to start applying now (though perhaps in 6 months time). They also sounded very positive in particular about our interest in continuing to meet birth family. 

I literally just spoke to a social worker who is finding a family for a 5 month old baby. Literally. And in US terms, this is a legally free baby.  As she and I both said, adoption in the UK has changed a LOT in the last 3 or 4 years.

I have not, however, told them our ages. One further council is calling back next week and I'll see what they say, or ask. I am assuming (perhaps wrongly) that if they wanted to know and it was an issue, they'd be asking. Or perhaps they assume that, with an 18 month old, we aren't going to be any more than 2 years older than "the right age to adopt a newborn", in 6 months time. Which isn't really rocket science. So I'm not mentioning it till I'm asked.

So we will see. These aren't routes that are definitely open to us, but they are possibilities. From where I'm standing, I look at Baby Spouse's tiny baby pictures and am sad that we might not have that again. But then I think about how annoying our county council are being and wonder if we'd get over that if we wanted to go with concurrency.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In which I am a bit calmer than I was

So, last week, post holiday, I decided to call our Local Authority (council - in our case a County Council) which is the largest assessor for adoption from foster care in our area, and the only one that does concurrent planning (if you've been keeping up, you'll know that's where we would be foster carers and if things didn't work out for the baby to go home, we'd adopt them).

We discussed our reasons for adopting from the US, Baby Spouse's family and medical history, contact with birth family etc. The social worker seemed really interested in the system there and in our decision to keep contact and how we were managing it. I actually rang now because I was worried that they didn't hold their preparation courses very often but apparently that isn't an issue. At the end I just threw in that I thought I'd check about our ages. Not sure, said the social worker, quoting a guideline I'd heard before which I'll come back to, I'll talk to my manager and call you back.

So she did, when she said she would. But not with the news I'd been hoping for and expecting. Apparently we are both too old. It's bad that Mr Spouse will be retiring while Baby Spouse is still at school and it's bad that I'll be incredibly ancient very soon (though I will still be working when he, and indeed a younger child, leaves school). We don't really want to wait and adopt an older child (younger than Baby Spouse but older than a baby) but that would be a no-no too apparently. At least they're consistent.

So I was not very happy. I came home and looked at his baby pictures and cried. I ranted on Twitter and was given lots of lovely comments and advice (and apologies if I sounded ungrateful to some people). One good idea was to contact BAAF for advice.

They were also lovely and suggested we write back and say we'd like some sense please, and that they shouldn't reject us on paper without an assessment. They suggested we write to the council and ask them to reconsider, so we have done (at least, the letter may still be on the hall shelf). We were not too ranty, honest.

We quoted BAAF who were annoyed that the council said that they (BAAF) have a guideline of a maximum 45 year gap between child and younger parent. They don't have any such guideline and say they want to include, not exclude.

We have further ideas up our sleeve (we already enquired to some smaller councils about adopting a baby who is legally free for adoption - one who has been in foster care). None of them has yet sucked their teeth in and said "ooh no babies" and one asked for our dates of birth. We would likely make a bigger fuss at the county council too. Mr Spouse surprised me by being very positive about the whole thing actually. He is sensitive about his age and in the past has said "am I too old for this?". But now he feels like we just spoke to the wrong person and they will change their mind when they are having a better day.

So we will see. And I am calmer.

Friday, July 12, 2013

On names, and being a snob

This is in response to a Guardian article and also part of Adoption Social's Weekly Adoption Shout Out.

When we were being prepared for adoption, we did talk about names with our social worker. It seems to be pretty much taken as given in international adoption within the UK that parents will change their newly adopted child's name. I'm not quite sure why this is accepted and changing a UK-born child's name isn't. You'd think it would be the other way round if it were a case of retaining a child's culture.

Most UK families who adopt from China have changed their child's name for the reason that it's just not possible to pronounce them properly if you are a native English speaker.

The family we know who adopted from Guatemala kept their child's original first name as a middle name (I can't remember if they anglicised it or not) but gave him an English first name, which I think was a family name. But given their son's appearance, and the ease of pronunciation of Spanish names for English speakers (their son's original name was a very easy, culturally ok name - not Jesus or anything like that), I was a bit surprised at this. At the time we'd been reading around adoption but hadn't done our home study, so we didn't really know what our social worker's attitude would be.

Baby Spouse's two older birth siblings were named by Nella. The older one would, if she lived in the UK, be marked out as, at least, the child of someone who liked weird names, and there is a strong cultural undertone to her name. She would, at her age, have to explain her name a lot here. The second sibling might also meet the same when older (and we would do too with a young child with his name) though funnily I've met a child here with the same name but a different spelling, so it doesn't scream "not British" as much.

We thought it was a bit mean to carry on calling Baby Spouse "Baby Boy" though, so gave him a name as soon as we met him - as Nella hadn't yet. We suspect she was leaving it to us, rather than that she just hadn't decided, but we also think she liked our choice. His first name is old-fashioned but unusual, his second name old-fashioned and common (they are both our fathers' names) and she liked that his first name is unusual, plus his middle name is her dad's middle name (also a family name), so there is that nice coincidence.

Our social worker asked us if we'd thought about names, and on hearing the other two siblings' names sighed. She just assumed we'd name him, and thought the other two siblings' names were odd or even unwise names - she put them firmly in the same class as a lot of UK adopted children's names.

I am not sure if the author of the Guardian article would feel the same as our or other social workers involved in international adoption, but for me, changing a child's name is not just about their security but about their privacy. Children shouldn't have to tell everyone they meet that they are adopted, and when they are too small to answer for themselves, their parents shouldn't have to either. None of the internationally adopted children I've mentioned are at any risk from their birth parents. But all of them (including the child with the easy Spanish name) would spend a lot of time answering questions about their name.

I think this is true of UK-born children too. I certainly answer a lot of questions about Baby Spouse's name, even though it's English in origin and quite middle class. I can see if we foster a baby in the future we'll get those questions too, even if the name is more common, and some names almost constitute a breach of a child's privacy in their own right.

I know to some adopters we are not typical and will not face some of the difficulties other families do. Our child has not been traumatised and won't suffer attachment difficulties, unless something goes badly wrong with us in the future. No members of his birth family are searching for him, that we know of. But his birth parents did put him at risk, and we did remove him from his birth culture, which to be honest, though it's technically my family culture, it's probably as dissimilar to our culture (even with my family background) as a North of England working class council estate family is to a professional family from Surrey.

But culture is a lot more than names - as international adopters know, as do those of us brought up between cultures (even if these are two different British cultures). It's visits to your birth area - whether or not anyone you can see still lives there. It's the food you, or your parents or grandparents, grew up with: you may eat pasta with pesto, but your grandparents can remind you about the chippy tea. It's places your family visited as children, and stories they can tell you if they are still around. It's famous people who came from your birth area, and its history. And if you don't have a direct link through birth family, it's up to your adoptive family to provide that. All adopted children are going to need and want to know where they are from - geographically and culturally, as well as genetically.

If the only link an adopted child has to their birth culture is a name that they have to explain every time they meet someone, or spell constantly, probably fudging its origins ("it's a family name" is the usual suggestion, but for many names that's highly unlikely in a professional family in Surrey), that seems pretty sad to me.