The date for our matching panel approached painfully slowly but finally we were there. Protracted negotiations about how long the introductions period would take and whether we would receive ANY financial support at all from the boys’ local authority were still unresolved by the time we arrived at the drab, soulless civic centre to get our match with Kit and Cooper recommended, but more of that anon.
As with the panel to become adopters, a group of adopters, social workers and people familiar with the process are convened by the agency or local authority. It’s their job not to approve the match but to make a recommendation to the agency decision maker about whether the match between adopters and adoptees should or shouldn’t be rubber stamped.
As per with us, nothing goes quite as one would expect, so we were represented at panel not by Louise our social worker but by Jane, our heroine social worker who took us to our last panel and wrote our amazing PAR. This was because the chair of the panel had suggested it might be best if the person who wrote the PAR and knew us best accompanied us on the day.
We had spent the last few weeks making our Introductions books (thanks to Owen for his AMAZING pictures) and our CBeebies style Introductions video (thanks to Dean for his video wizardry) in order to introduce our faces, voices and the house to Kit and Cooper before they met us. We handed these over to Billie before the matching panel began along some blankets, one for each of the boys, that we had in bed with us for the previous week or so in order to infuse them with our scent so that the boys could start to become familiar with us and our smell before we rocked up at the foster carer’s.
We arrived a little bit early and settled ourselves in the holding room before we went in, where Jane was waiting for us. She let us know that, predictably, the LA were not going to give us a penny in terms of settling-in grant (which used to average at around £500 per child before the fu**ing Tories took over and started their “austerity” agenda). A few minutes later Maureen, the LA family finder and Billie, the boys’ social worker arrived. We didn’t have long to talk because almost as soon as we were assembled, the Panel Chair came in to introduce herself and take us through to the conference room where the panel was taking place. We had expected our social worker to be taken in first to be given the usual grilling over Ethan’s mental health, so it was a pleasant surprise to know that we wouldn’t have to sit and fret for a while.
In the room were six panel members (including the chair) and several extras (the panel adviser, the clerk and two observers). As with the last panel, each panel member (except the panel’s medical adviser, who seemed to be there solely for the free lunch) got to ask questions – two each – about us, our PAR and our ability/desire to parent Kit and Cooper. However, unlike the last panel, this felt far less tense than our approval panel. There wasn’t the same sense of anxiety about whether our mental health would be a barrier: we had already been approved to adopt and that wasn’t in doubt. Besides, who could doubt our obvious suitability for these two little ones?
The questions were all reasonable: ‘why these children?’, ‘how will you combat Cooper’s indiscriminate affection towards strangers?’, ‘how will you address any issues of bullying around having ‘gay dads?’ and, of course, the inevitable question about what plans we have in place should Ethan’s mental health deteriorate. We answered each with confidence, each contributing where we felt able, backing each other up and before we knew it, the questions were done. The panel chair also asked about a settling in grant and we made it very clear that nothing at all was being offered to us. We had secretly hoped the panel might recommend the ADM make some funds available but sadly it wasn’t to be.
Unusually (and rather ‘X Factor’ stylee), the panel then went around in turn, each giving their verdict on whether they were going to recommend the match or not and why. Each panel member felt happy to recommend the match, thankfully, and gave us some really lovely feedback on why they felt we were a good match. One member even listed our ‘flamboyance’ as one of the reasons for the recommendation!!! Ethan and I found this hilarious – it was as if we’d arrived in matching technicolour unitards and serenaded the panel member with show tunes whilst crocheting him a faaaaabulous sweater, when in reality we had sat quite soberly and answered the questions as earnestly as possible, but anyhooo….
Jane had never experienced this format before, with the recommendation given immediately and with everyone present, but we all agreed it was really lovely to hear the unanimous endorsements from each member. So that was that, we had our recommendation and now just needed to wait for the ADM to confirm it in writing the following week. We had surmounted another hurdle and it was all starting to feel quite terrifyingly real.
Next came the introductions planning meeting, where we all sat around with pen and paper and planned how introductions would go, with Louise joining in via conference call. Ethan and I both had the impression that the boys’ Local Authority was more interested in keeping costs down than ensuring that the transition went smoothly for the boys (and us) and we were determined to have introductions last longer than the four days the LA were suggesting. Fortunately it became clear during the meeting that the process would last six days, with ourselves and Maureen insisting that a ‘Plan B’ of seven days be available if necessary. This was welcomed by Jane but Billie was noncommittal as to whether the LA would fund this.
After about an hour of discussion, the following was agreed as the format for our introductions:
Which we were all happy with. Now it was just a matter of waiting for the ADM decision so we could get going and MEET OUR BOYS! Oh, and the small matter of finishing work for the next 6 months+ Eeeeeeek!