Chrissie is mum to a 17-year-old daughter, whom she adopted ten years ago. Exclusively on Up All Hours she tells her story of the adoption process. In this first instalment, we find out how it all started...
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I have a clear memory of being a twenty-something singleton reclining on a friend’s sofa in San Francisco, reading a trashy holiday novel. The book centred around three couples unable to have children and the routes they took to become parents. I decided there and then on that green velvet sofa that IVF wasn’t for me and that I would be open to adoption.
I think that’s the point, being open to adopting. It’s not necessarily a conscious decision 'we will adopt', but, as I found out much later as I discussed my plans with married friends, it’s definitely a decision if it's 'adoption isn’t for us'.
Skip to my thirties, single again, and a risky move to the beautiful southwest [UK] coast, leaving behind my London life, home, friends and career – thankfully it turned out to be a fab move!
A couple of years later I made my first steps with social services into seriously considering adoption as a single parent. To be honest I think I was spurred on by the age criteria, which at the time had a cap of 38 – now of course there is no upper age limit for adoptive parents.
It was exciting and I was raring to go, but fully aware that it wouldn’t be a speedy process.
After lots of filling in forms I was allocated a social worker, a lovely lady called Penny, who would stay with me and represent me throughout the whole adoption process. It became real at this stage, so I began to tell friends and family what I was doing, and was inundated with support.
I remember calling my parents and asking mum to tell dad as I didn’t think he’d approve. He called straight back and asked if I could afford it, if I’d thought it through and really wanted to do it, and then said to put him down for babysitting – that was the seal of approval!
The first hurdle was to get approved as a prospective adopter. To achieve that involved a series of home visits with Penny. There were about eight sessions in total, each two to three hours long, where she questioned me on everything from my upbringing to the way I was parented, education, my views on religion and culture, family life, disciplining children, how I would parent, my relationship history, what would happen if I met someone, my job, financial status, and what sort of support network I’d have.
I rather enjoyed the sessions, it was a chance to talk all about me and was quite therapeutic. In hindsight, it was probably a less intrusive process than it would be as a couple being questioned both together and separately.
Additionally I had to appoint two adoption referees. Penny visited both of them, to discuss me and my suitability to adopt.
The purpose of all the sessions was to establish I was going into adoption for the right reasons, I’d really thought it through, and that I could handle everything that would come at me. It was also to gain all the information Penny would include in my Form F, the official application for me to become an adopter, and what would be presented to the board when I went before the adoption panel.
Part of this process also involved attendance at a number of weekend parenting meetings. These were strange, all so theoretical, and of course nothing you would do if you were thinking of becoming pregnant! My first one was weird, the room was full of couples, although interestingly I wasn’t the only single woman there. The air of anticipation was electric, with an underlying current of desperation – for many it was their last chance at a family. For me adoption was my first choice – although ironically years later I was diagnosed with endometriosis, which can lead to infertility. Over the weekends we all got to know one another really well, and it was incredibly supportive.
As Penny neared the end of her assessment of me, about seven months later, a key task remained. Working from a checklist I had to respond yes, no or don’t know to a host of questions about the child I would be prepared to adopt. It was brutal and really made me think – Penny advised that I should be very realistic and totally honest with myself about the type of child I was choosing to adopt. This would set the criteria for which I would go before the deciding panel, and upon which a child would be matched with me for adoption.
Eventually Penny’s assessment report was finished – she was recommending me for adoption for a child up to the age of three. She sent her report to the independent adoption panel and a date was set for my application hearing. I chose to attend the panel, with Penny, to answer any questions.
The day of my ‘interview’ eventually arrived – I was so excited and nervous, and did a lot of pacing before taking myself off for a walk on the beach! For support I took my mum and dad with me. I drove us over to County Hall where we met Penny, who had already done the first stage of the assessment earlier that morning. She said it was going well and the panel’s questions were as anticipated – mainly centring around my ability as a single parent to work and what would happen if I met someone.
There was much waiting around in the main reception, and then a small ante-room, before I was called in before the panel – a group of about 14 all sat at a horseshoe-shaped boardroom table. It was so formal. They asked their questions and it was all over pretty quickly, then I was asked to leave the room. More waiting in the ante-room, then a knock at the door and in walked the chairperson to announce it was a unanimous decision – and I was approved to adopt.
I was thrilled and I guess slightly shocked. He shook my hand and then turned to congratulate my parents, saying they’d never had grandparents come to panel before!
That was it, there would be a formal letter recommending me for adoption. I was elated, and full of excitement for the next stage, actually finding a child whom I’d be mummy to.
We drove back to mine, and began calling and texting (ten years ago social media didn’t exist!) friends and family to say it was a yes, I was approved to adopt. We celebrated with fish and chips and champagne, and let the news sink in.
The adoption approval process complete, now it was onto the next stage – being matched with a child for adoption…