The Final Letter

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The Final Letter

This Christmas was an unusual one. We had completed our panel hearing in late November,  where our adoption application had been approved and forwarded to the head honchos at the Adoption Authority. The time frame for the next and final stage was undefined and varied considerably depending on who you asked. We were excited, therefore, when we received a “declaration of suitability and eligibility to adopt” within two weeks of attending the panel. It sounded very promising despite being us unsure as what happened next. The letter stated that if we had any questions we should contact our regional adoption team. We called. Although they confirmed that it was a positive sign to have such a quick initial turnaround on the application, we were told that the letter meant very little in terms of an approval. Apparently the Adoption Authority could still take issue with our application and we had no idea when our adoption hearing would take place. We both held a faint, quiet hope that we would be given some information before the holidays. On December 18th we received a phone call from our regional adoption worker. She needed confirmation on a few minor details as requested by the elusive AA. We were hoping that it meant a much anticipated letter through the door within the next few days. Unfortunately Christmas and New Year’s Eve passed and we heard nothing.

Throughout early January, every time I heard the letterbox open I would race towards the front door. My heart would sink when all I found were bills. We had mastered the art of waiting during this adoption, however, so I managed to curb the initial disappointment and continue with our day. Our little boy remained blissfully unaware of the tentative expectation his parents shared. We continued to read his special story every night where each fact of his life was presented with happiness and love. Soon he could tell us who made him and who his parents were. He knew that he was created differently from his little brother and he couldn’t care less. His acceptance and comfort with the situation assuaged my doubts and anxieties. My own perception of the circumstances around his birth shifted; the anger and hurt began to lose its grip. I started to realise how much I had gained from such a difficult time. I had faced fears, endured a succession of enormous ordeals and now I could hold my head high without the shame or doubt that once consumed me. I proved my love for my son twice; the first time by giving birth to him and the second time by then adopting him. The closer we got to the finish line, the happier I was that we had started this process two years ago. Looking back now, this was the only option for our family.

Then the letter came.My hands shook as I opened the envelope; I ripped the pages by accident from nerves. I gasped, wiped a tear away and rang my husband repeatedly until he answered. The hearing was scheduled in ten days time at the Adoption Authority. The adoption would then be finalised. It was overwhelming.

Our days of waiting were finally coming to an end.

You can read about the adoption hearing here

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.

Home Visits with The Social Worker

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Our son’s boots

We have almost completed another stage in this long, drawn out process. The home visits with our social worker were intensive but have finally reached the finish line. We have a final, brief appointment tomorrow that consists of dotting i’s and crossing t’s. This will be the fifth visit from our social worker. Apart from obtaining the biological father’s consent, this aspect of stepparent adoption was what I was most nervous about. I was also feeling resentful at the thought of a strange person entering my home and evaluating our relationship with our son. Following our complaint and subsequent transferral to an independent agency, a freelance social worker was allocated to our case in order to move the process along. We had no idea who, or what, to expect.

Luckily for us, our social worker was a lovely, kind woman. From the outset she made it very clear that her role was to work for us and not against us. Once she had listened carefully to our story, she understood our frustration at the system and disappointment that we had still not gained legal security for our son. While she agreed that the visits were somewhat an exercise in futility, she still expected us to take them seriously. The process involved going through every aspect of our lives with a fine tooth comb. We had individual, joint and family sessions with her.

We had to disclose our personal history from birth to the present; education, relationships, family, interests, religion, philosophical beliefs and more. We were expected to relive significant and sometimes painful memories. We then had to revise our relationship as a couple from the moment of its inception to the present day. We gave long, detailed descriptions of each of our children and how we have approached parenting from pregnancy. We had to answer questions on future scenarios, like how we would deal with the teenage years and protecting our children from abuse. We had to disclose family history of our parents, siblings and extended family. Each session lasted from 2.5-4 hours. I was always drained after each visit. Our son was present for some of this time in order for the social worker to evaluate his relationship with both myself and his Daddy. She was discreet and tactful and our son grew quite fond of her. We always had biscuits out when she arrived so he knew he was due a treat whenever he saw her face. The child in question is usually interviewed regarding their view on the adoption, but because our son is so young this was not appropriate. She simply noted his level of contentment within his current family set up. Needless to say, he “passed” with flying colours. Two parents who adored him, and an annoying baby brother thrown in for good measure. A lucky, loved little boy.

The social worker also had to conduct interviews with our nominated guardians and referees as named in our original application. They were expected to communicate their opinion on both our individual characters and our relationship with our son.

When all this information had finally been compiled we then have to review our original application. Because the process had been delayed for so long, our medicals and our financial statements are now out of date and needed to be renewed at our expense. They have not been assessed by anyone so far.

The process is incredibly thorough and this is entirely appropriate when you are adopting a child outside of your family. It is heartening to see the HSE take their role of a child’s advocate so seriously. When you are adopting your own child, however, it is simply bizarre and unfair. Having to explain my life, including some incredibly personal moments, in order to prove my worth as a prospective parent for the child I gave birth to and cared for is just wrong. These visits were so intense and incredibly difficult. As soon as the social worker left I had to return to caring for my young children without any time or space to mentally process what felt like a passive interrogation.It feels like we are being punished for stepping outside the mould in order to secure my son’s place with his Daddy.

We are still intact, however.

Finally, I’d like to sincerely thank those of you who have either commented or e-mailed and empathised with our situation. I am genuinely delighted that what I am writing about is somewhat helpful to others who are also being dragged through such a ridiculous process. If you’d like to get in touch, my e-mail is adoptingmyownson@hotmail.com. I might take a few days to respond, but I will! Although it feels like this will never end, I am hoping we will get our piece of paper soon and an account of our experience will be left online to inform and assist other prospective candidates.

Onwards and upwards.

 

Irish Times Article On Stepparent Adoption

irishtimesThe Irish Times published a two-part article on Step Parent adoption last Saturday.  We are in the middle of our home visits as part of our own application. While it is positive to see the issue getting coverage in a national paper, it’s close to the bone. The home visits are intensive and scour every last detail of our personal life, past and present. I am mentally and emotionally exhausted at this stage, and we’re not even halfway through.

My curiosity eventually won over the anxiety of being unhappy with the content and I read the piece. It’s both vindicating and frustrating to see how ridiculous the situation is to the rational, impartial mind. We know how unfair it is but we must continue to play the game regardless. The first article highlighted the injustice of having to adopt your own child. There is mention of changes being made like allowing a non-biological parent to become a guardian without having to adopt. But these changes will have arrived too late for our family.

“Ireland is unique in Europe: that a woman would technically have to give up her legal rights to her child in order to have joint legal rights with her husband” I didn’t realize how alone our country was in its outdated, unreasonable laws.
“Of 116 domestic adoptions last year, 86 were step-family adoptions, meaning 86 natural mothers became adoptive mothers to their own children”
Later in the article, the spokesperson for Child and Youth services describes the situation as an anomaly. 86 women in one year is not a legal peculiarity, it’s a systematic failure.

The second article, an interview with a mother who is refusing to adopt her own child, lacked some very necessary information in my opinion. This topic is rarely covered in the public eye and there is little information on Irish stepparent adoption available online. If a couple are considering the possibility of stepparent adoption, they need to have a full picture of the situation as it stands.

Milana Kearns, the mother being interviewed, states from the outset that it is unacceptable for her to adopt her own daughter. She worries that because she would have no birth certificate if she were adopted, her daughter will ask questions about her “real mother” and she would have no proof that she was her birth mother.
She does not want to be subjected to Garda clearance and home visits. Her daughter refers to her husband as “Dad” and she believes that he should be able to adopt her independently. She said that even if she went ahead with the paperwork, once she arrived to the point where she had to adopt her own child she couldn’t go through with it.
“It is very sad that the law is so unfair to mothers”.

End of article.

I share her outrage at the situation. I admire her lobbying to the Minister for Justice. I respect her decision to not go ahead with the adoption. Her reasons are perfectly valid and resonate deeply with me, too. What needed to follow this personal account was a honest description of where Milana stands now because of her refusal to adopt, however.

Her husband has no rights to her daughter. Under Irish law, the biological father is still able to apply for access, guardianship or even custody. If he is successful in achieving guardianship, he has to approve any step parent adoption application in future. If Milana dies, her daughter has no legal guardian and a pathway for her natural father has been left wide open. Her husband will have no say because there is no legal relationship between him and her daughter without stepparent adoption.
There is a serious risk being taken here. There is a reason why 86 mothers swallowed the injustice of Irish law and adopted their own child last year. It wasn’t because they were any less outraged that they would be forever known as an adoptive mother. It was that they had no other choice in securing their child’s place within the family.

I am just as angry, but I must continue with this adoption. We could wait for a change in legislation, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Ireland is slow to change.

Meeting with the HSE after the complaint

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Our meeting request arrives

The plot thickens.

We received a call from the HSE within days of sending our complaint regarding the delays and miscommunication we had experienced so far during the step parent adoption process. They suggested a meeting to explain things from their side and to explore “other options”. We were intrigued, to say the least. Both my husband and I attended. We were unsure as to what to expect.

The meeting with two HSE officers lasted over an hour. They were understanding towards our situation and listened carefully to what we had to say. They said that some of the changes we suggested would be implemented immediately, like the availability of information about stepparent adoption without having to attend an open information evening. They also said that the vital information regarding police checks from foreign countries would be included in the application park from now on.

The explanation for the delays we experienced was a little vague, however. Apparently some of it was down to timing. All applicants of inter-country adoption had a document from the government that only lasted three years and they were all due to expire around the time that our application had been received. Because it was urgent that all intercountry applicants had a fresh copy of this document, stepparent adoption applications were put to the side for a number of months in order to deal with this.
The HSE officer explained that intercountry and domestic adoption used to be separate departments until a few years ago when they were all brought under the one umbrella of the HSE. The staff were handed huge caseloads and promised extra resources to handle the new workload. This never became a reality. Their existing resources are overstretched and step parent adoption is still a relatively new and uncharted territory for the teams who acquired them without much preparation or guidance. Our government clearly values the children involved!
Although I understand that this delay was out of their hands, it would have been appropriate to inform waiting families of the issue. There were also delays that could not be explained, like the four months it took to inform us that we needed to change our son’s birth certificate.

Towards the end of the meeting, we were told that our waiting time for the home visits had changed again. We could be seen as soon as September 2014. While this was an improvement on Christmas 2014, it was of no use to us because we are planning to move after the Summer to a new catchment area. When we explained this, the HSE suggest another option. We could have our case transferred to an independent agency who usually deal with intercountry adoption but who were also willing to take on stepparent adoption. They currently have no website so we had to call to obtain some more information. We were told that the waiting time would be considerably less if we went down this route.

Confusion set in.

We thought that the only organisation allowed to process our adoption was the HSE Regional Adoption Team. That is what has been stated on every official government site regarding adoption. Turns out you have to apply initially via this route,but then you can ask to be referred to an independent agency. Because they are accredited by the Adoption Authority it is the same process. When we rang this independent agency and asked what our wait time would be, they said that they could assign a social worker to our case within two weeks.

Why were we not told this before?
Why did we have to complain in order to obtain this information?
Why are we only being referred now, a year and a half after we started this process?
What is wrong with the HSE?
Why was my child not considered worthy of a speedy process to ensure that his best interests were met?
How many other families are waiting in vain, simple because they haven’t been told that there are other options?

We met our new social worker today. She is a lovely woman who wants to work with us in order to get through this as quickly as possible.

Bizarre, we agreed over our first cup of tea. Utterly bizarre.

Creating An Adoption Book For Our Son

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A rough sketch from the book that we have created for our son

While we await the outcome of our complaint, we have created a book for our son that describes his story so far.

I’ve always wanted our son to understand his origins and to be honest with him from a young age. I’ve heard many stories of people only learning about their adoption as adults. They often describe what a huge shock they felt when they were informed. Although a person’s family are those that love and care for them, every child has the right to understand where they came from biologically. It’s a difficult one, though. How can I explain the actions of an absent father when I cannot understand them myself? And how do I protect my son from any feelings of rejection when I explain everything to him?

We decided that in order to tell his story in the best way possible, we had to leave our personal feelings about this adoption aside. We must separate our difficulties from our joy of his entrance into the world. After all, the outcome was the best I could have imagined. I am raising my beautiful boy with a man who loves him just as dearly.

We wanted to start explaining his history as soon as we thought he was old enough to understand and remember the facts. We are gradually arriving at that point in his development. He adores books and reads every night before he goes to bed. After he has read a story a couple of times with us he then instructs us to be quiet while he tells us the story. We decided to write him his very own book, which in very basic terms explains who made him, who loves him and what it means to be a family. I wrote the text while my husband created some basic sketches. At some stage in the future we hope to commission an artist to create some simple drawings for us.

This storybook is all the explanation and information he will need for a while. I am nervous for the day when his perfect face turns towards me and asks me “Why?”. But we will cross that bridge when we come to it. Until then I am happy that we are facing each stage with the love and openness that my son deserves.

 

More Delays and Complaining to the HSE

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Time ticks on

The shadow of step parent adoption is looming over our house once more. Three months after obtaining the birth father’s consent, we were expecting to commence our home visits with a social worker this month. When we rang to check the progress of our application, we were told that our three month wait was now going to be at least nine months. There was no apology or explanation. It left me outraged and anxious, as any communication with the HSE regarding this adoption usually does. This time, however, my husband and I decided to act. We have written a complaint to our local adoption team, and if we are not satisfied with their response then we will keep going until someone listens to us.

I’ve decided to publish it here with the hope that it may encourage others who are feeling frustrated with their adoption process to act. Change will happen if enough people are unhappy with the current system and its ineffectiveness. I have removed the names of any individuals involved in our case.

To Whom It May Concern,

We would like to make a complaint regarding our experience so far while in the process of step-parent adoption with the Regional Adoption Team. We are frustrated at how long the process has taken so far and how little is being communicated to us throughout.

In December 2012 we rang the adoption team requesting an information pack on step parent adoption. We were informed that we had to attend an open information event before we could make the application, where several other prospective couples would be in attendance. We were incredibly uncomfortable with this arrangement, because we had to forfeit any right to confidentiality just to get some information on the process. We were also told that there were not enough couples to host the event before Christmas, so it had to be in the New Year. After a month of no communication I rang the team again to enquire when the event would be held, as I was due my second child soon. I was then informed that there was a backlog of couples requesting information so we had to wait until the next seminar to secure a place. This was the opposite of what we were told in December. We eventually attended an information evening in February, three months after requesting information.

We submitted our application and received written notice of having all documents in order in May. Previous to this submission, there were more administrative issues. After weeks of trying to obtain Garda clearance from countries that we had lived in as children and not getting anywhere, I asked whether the adoption board could assist us in our search at all. They responded with the fact that we did not need these documents as we were juveniles at the time of residence; this is not stated anywhere on the application pack.

We had to wait for our Garda clearance in order to proceed to the next stage. In August I rang to check on the status of our clearance. It had been received, but the adoption board deemed our son’s birth certificate inappropriate because it contained my husband’s name and insisted that we get it removed before they continued with our application. This took another three months as it is a tedious process to change a birth certificate. Had we been given this information when we originally submitted our application, we could have arranged the change while the remainder of our application was being reviewed.

When the birth certificate was finally submitted in December 2013, we were then informed that we would be placed on a waiting list for the next stage, which is informing the birth father of our intent to adopt. The estimate time for us to be allocated a social worker for this was seven months. We considered this unacceptable but we were told that there was nothing that could be done. We then contacted the supervisor to pursue our complaint. We were told that if we could get the birth father to sign a consent form ourselves we would not have to wait to be allocated a social worker. I don’t understand why we were not given this information when we first raised our objection to the prolonged waiting time, and why we had to pursue information that was vital to our application.

We contacted the birth father ourselves and the submitted the signed consent form. We received notice of this in January 2014. This was quite a difficult and challenging experience for us, but we were intent on progressing with our application. We were told over the phone that our estimate waiting time for the final stage of the application, the home visits, would be three months.

After three months, I rang to check how we were progressing on the waiting list. We were preparing ourselves mentally and emotionally to having a social worker spend time in our home and with our children while assessing our personal circumstances. We were told that we would receive a call back within the next week to gauge when our visits would commence. We received a call on May 7th 2014, informing us that it will be at least Christmas 2014 before we are seen. There was no apology or explanation as to why the initial waiting time had been incorrect.

We have secured a place for our children in our primary school of choice in Dublin, and we need to be in their catchment area in September 2014. It was explained to us that our case will have to be transferred then when we will be slotted into the waiting list so that our waiting time is not affected. I still feel that this is unacceptable for us and unfair to those who will be beneath us on this new waiting list.

We are simply trying to formalize our son’s situation legally so that if I were to die, his placed with his dad would be secure and unambiguous. Personally, we consider the process is invasive, expensive and a waste of HSE resources, but we respect that it is acting within current family law. 
The lack of communication and the consistent time delays are not acceptable, however, and have caused stress for our family. At no stage have we felt supported in our efforts to ensure our son’s legal safety.

My son will begin school in September 2015, and I have huge doubts now as to whether the process will be complete by then. This means that when we submit his birth certificate, his surname will officially be mine, and not as we wish with a double barrel joining my husband’s name. His dad will also not appear on the certificate; for a man who has been present since the birth of my son, this is incredibly hurtful and untrue as to the reality of our son’s family.

Step Parent Adoption is supposed to act in the best interest of the child involved. Waiting two years(or more) to complete the process leaves our son in legal limbo, and he is left exposed because of this delay. In our opinion, this is not acting within his best interests. At the end of this process, if there was a issue with our application and we were deemed unsuitable to adopt, our son has been in our care since birth and would remain with myself as the sole guardian and my husband regardless of the outcome. Therefore, it is a bizarre and nonsensical situation we find ourselves in, and we cannot see how anyone benefits from this process.

We would request a meeting with the head of the Regional Adoption team to address the concerns outlined in this letter, particularly our prolonged waiting time. We look forward to receiving your response.

 

Watch this space!