Meeting with the HSE Panel

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Another important letter arrives

Two months ago, we completed our home visits with an allocated social worker in an attempt to adopt our son through stepparent adoption. The next stage is a meeting of the local adoption committee, who study our case and then give a positive or negative recommendation for our application. This recommendation is then sent onto the Adoption Authority, who review the findings and then decide whether or not to issue a declaration of suitability. The declaration then prompts the all important adoption order. We think so, anyway. We have been given different accounts of what happens next from various professionals who have been involved with our adoption. There is no clear documentation available to prospective stepparents on the stages involved in the process, so it’s a case of waiting and seeing what’s in store for us.

Before our application went before the committee we had to update both our local garda clearance and child protection clearance, as a year had passed since we had initially obtained these documents. We also had to arrange a letter from our GP informing the HSE that our health had not changed since our first medical exam. My husband had not attended the GP in this time so his letter was straight-forward. Because I had seen the GP for personal reasons over the course of the year, I had to pay to see the doctor again so that they could confirm once more that I was fit enough to care for my own child. Despite being his primary carer since birth and my insistence that I was in good health this second visit was mandatory. We ended up with another bill to add to the 1000 euro we have already spent on this process so far.

We were hoping that our case would go before the panel in October, but more administrative delays meant that we had to wait until November to be allocated a slot. Our social worker invited us to attend the panel. Although this was not compulsory, we were anxious to move our application along. We decided that if we were present we could answer any questions that the committee may have in person.

The committee consisted of ten members.  I had met the Regional Adoption Officer to discuss our complaint a few months back, but apart from that I had never seen any of these people before in my life. While we were being briefed for the panel a few days before the meeting, we were informed that the group consisted of a medical professional, a psychiatrist, a principal social worker, an adoptive parent, a birth parent and a person who had been adopted. All these people had been given our personal file without our consent and we had no idea who they were. Because the meeting was located in our home town we were half expecting to walk into the room and recognise someone we knew. I was furious. Surely we had our right to privacy and if we had to waive that right then surely we should have been asked permission? These people now knew everything there was to know about us and we didn’t even know their names. I didn’t voice my protests, however. I’m learning to pick my battles with the HSE.

When we entered the room, all eyes were on us. Many members, in an act of kindness, were trying to smile and make eye contact with us. I wished they didn’t. It was so horrifyingly awkward that I wanted to run away. The chairperson introduced herself and asked that all those present do the same. Great, I thought; at least I’ll understand why each person was sitting there with my life in front of them. Everyone told us their name. That was it. We were supposed to guess what they did and how they were qualified to pass judgement on our ability to raise our son as his legal parents.

They had advanced copies of our notes to digest all the information so our social worker gave a simple, short account of our family. She said that she didn’t need to go into detail as it was clear from the report that we were suitable candidates for the adoption. The chairperson then asked each person present whether they would recommend our application to the Adoption Authority. Each person smiled at us and gave a resounding “Yes”. It was as if we were auditioning  and we had managed to impress the judges. When we reached the final affirmation, the chairperson then congratulated us on receiving our positive recommendation. The rage boiled inside me. Why did I need anyone’s approval to raise my own son? Was I supposed to be happy that it took almost two years for us to get to this process due to an ineffective system? Was I supposed to be delighted that complete strangers had read about every facet of my personal life without my permission and given myself and my major life decisions a “positive judgement”?

I felt like Alice. I had fallen through the looking glass. There was no going back, however.

The chairperson then went to sign the single page form that confirmed our positive recommendation. After a few moments of rifling through our documents, she turned to our social worker and told her that this essential document was missing. We were surprised that no one no one realised this before the meeting. We were assured that the form would be signed as soon as possible and then our application would be sent to the Adoption Authority without delay. It turns out that the form was in the pack all along and they just didn’t see it. It took two weeks and three phone calls before the application was finally sent into the Adoption Authority. We are hoping that we are close to the end but the Adoption Authority have no set time frame to approve applications and “don’t like” receiving calls based on individual cases(in the words of our social worker).

So we have been left in the dark once more.

It’s hard to believe that it has been two years since I made the initial call. We have endured a huge amount in that time we still have not achieved legal clarity for our son. But we’re hopeful that we’re at the beginning of the end.

On a positive note, my husband and son have begun reading his “special story” almost every night. My son can happily tell me who helped to make him now. He says his biological father’s name with a cheerful certainty and without the strain of what we have endured these past few years. I am so proud to have protected him from the harshness of our situation while undergoing such an arduous process to ensure that he has a legal link with his dad. We will always be smiling and positive when we talk about how he was brought into this world. He deserves to feel like the gift he has always been to us.

Telling him his story has also been helpful for me because I am beginning to see the wood for the trees. The negative parts of the adoption stung but those injuries will heal over time. I am so grateful to have my son in my life. His biological father is not “getting away” with anything by not being involved; he is simply missing out on knowing a wonderful little person. I will recover from this adoption process and enjoy watching my son grow with love that makes my heart fit to burst. I will be the person to gets to hold him, chat to him, wave to him on his first day of school. My life is so full of love. This challenge is just a tiny part of our family’s story. It has made me stronger and more aware of the joy I have in being his mother.

And now, we wait once more.

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