What happens at a linking and introductions workshop?

Yesterday we spent the day at our council’s offices for a linking and matching workshop. It was not the highlight of our encounters with social services, shall we say. Frustrating is one word I’d use to describe it. Big waste of time is another accurate account. I’ve generally been pretty upbeat about all the meetings and form-filling, but the novelty of actually moving through the assessment process has finally worn off.

Communication meltdown
Our social worker had emailed me a couple of weeks ago to tell us about the course and I’d said we were interested. I then received another email from the department with a full list of workshops for the next few months. I repeated my request. We had no letter of confirmation, no details of the content of the course, not even a start time. I emailed again and had a decidedly brief ‘all workshops run from 9.30 – 3pm’ in response. That was it. So we turned up in good time, only to discover

(a) we weren’t on the list of participants, and

(b) everyone else had been told it started at 9.45.

Not a great start. Thankfully the course leader recognised us from our adoption preparation course, and said it was fine for us to join the group. Phew. Then we sat around until the course actually got started at 10.00. Hmm. Half an hour wasted so far…

Course content
First, we were shown a complex flow diagram of the linking process, starting with the linking meeting, via such things as ‘information shared with prospective adopters’, ‘decision to proceed to adoption panel’, ‘meeting child/children’, and through to introductions, placement and review meetings.

Adoption: linking process

Then we read an anonymised version of a child’s permanence report (CPR). It was about 40 pages long. This is the document which is completed by the child’s social worker (a bit like the adoptive parents’ PAR). It includes all the known details about the child’s life so far – who their birth parents are and the background that led to them being removed from them. There should also be a medical report attached but we weren’t allowed to see one of these for confidentiality reasons (or, if you’re cynical, because no one has bothered to make up a fake/anonymised one yet).

Next was the tiresome but seemingly compulsory ‘get into groups and discuss it’ session. We were supposed to be looking at the child’s needs and considering what we needed to know to make a decision about whether to proceed.  Because so much information was lacking at this point (there was no information from the foster carers, no medical details, and barely any information at all on who this little person was in terms of her personality, interests, and development, this was difficult (and arguably pretty pointless). I do hope that the reality is rather more useful, because it was simply impossible to visualise who she was just by reading about her parents’ troubled history.

Then we looked at linking reports and the form we’ll be asked to fill in which talks about why we think we will be able to meet the child’s needs, what we have to offer, and what we think about it all. It was odd. Surely, we thought, this information is in our PAR, and it’s a match suggested by social services, so they should be telling us why it’s a good one!

Finally we learned about introductions and the typical structure and timescale. It’s usually just two weeks, the first one spent in increasingly longer visits to the foster home, then the second one starting to get them used to your home and moving their things in. I was less delighted about the fact that the child’s social worker will visit every week for the first 8 weeks of placement, and our own social worker every month. I understand that they need to check the children are OK, and that there’s no adoption order at this stage, but I hadn’t realised it was quite so intense. I was naively just looking forward to having them in our home and getting to know each other, playing with the train set, feeding the birds, that kind of thing. Making sure we all had clean clothes and I’d done the hoovering ready for an inspection every week for two months wasn’t really on my radar. Oh well.

When all the course content is written out, it looks like it was quite useful, and yes, though limited in scope, it was interesting and helpful. But did it need to take more than 6 hours? A whole day’s leave, when we are already squeezing in 8 social worker visits at 3 hours a time, and trying to save two weeks for introductions, two days for each of the panels, miscellaneous other days for the linking information-sharing bits and pieces… and fit in a bit of a holiday before the children arrive? It seems a bit unhelpful to require us to add four or five of these courses to our schedule when the content of each one could be delivered in written or online form, or in a two-hour presentation in an evening, or they could all be done in one Saturday. Sigh.

Workshop post-mortem
We finished just before 3.00, and staggered out (as is usual for any encounter with social services) feeling drained and in distinct need of chocolate. Behind us, on her way out of the door, a single adopter who’s been waiting months for a match was stopped by the course leader and told in a rather patronising tone, ‘Don’t worry, I’m sure there’s one for you out there somewhere…’. She smiled sweetly, walked round the corner and joined us and another couple who were having a bit of a rant about the day. Such was the level of grumpiness amongst us that this gathering lasted a good 20 minutes as we dissected the fobbings off we’d received when trying to ask intelligent questions beginning with ‘Why…’.

Nearly 24 hours later and I’m still feeling dazed and exhausted by the experience. I’m very glad we don’t have a visit from our social worker this week as well. I was always prepared for lots of waiting, form-filling, and being interrogated at length, but I really wasn’t expecting to find it all quite so mentally tiring! It’ll be an early night in our house tonight.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear other people’s stories of adoption training sessions and workshops. I hope yours have been more positive! Please leave a comment below.

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