Monday, 10 December 2007
In January 2006 I was at a Christmas lunch hosted by Social Services for Foster Carers (yes, we do tend to run late). As is my habit whenever I meet my own social worker, I asked if they had any spare babies for me yet. Imagine my suprise when, instead of falling off her chair and changing the subject, my social worker instead grabbed another social worker, who handed me a little picture of a totally gorgeous little baby. Three paragraphs of info about the child, spina bifida, multiple complications, short life expectancy, and a pair of beautiful blue eyes. Fluffy baby hair scrunched into a pineapple at the top of her head.
As these things do, it took time. By July we had more or less finished the Adoption Assessment (Form F), just missing the deadline for the August Panel (Panel being the group of experts who have the job of reading all the paperwork and deciding whether or not to approve prospective adopters and fostercarers). So we hit September Panel instead. Unusually, Little Fish was staying with me in September when we went to panel; her fostercarers had booked a holiday with the expectation that LF would be gone by then, so she came to me for a fortnight's respite. Lovely for me to be able to meet her, especially as it allowed me to meet her back in July, so I did get to see some of her babyness which was great.
Panel have only recently agreed to allow adopters to attend. They haven't quite got the hang of this yet; instead of using the adopters' presence as a chance to learn more about them they instead found two questions to ask; it was very obvious that these questions had no real relevance to the decision in hand but had been thought up to give them something to ask. The first question was "why adoption, why not continue to foster?", which had been covered in huge detail as a part of the form F - I had no intention of stopping fostering but I also felt that the time was right to take on a child without having to run all decisions past the social workers first. And the second "How do you go camping with children in wheelchairs?". Answer: simple, tents don't have stairs or steps so what's the problem?
I was approved. For some reason it then took three months for us to get to Matching Panel. This is the panel which takes the lists of children waiting for adoption and the list of parents wishing to adopt, and checks for a good match. I understand that there was initially another family interested, but that the local authority had already decided I was the family they wanted for Little Fish, so this Panel meeting was, I think, pretty much a formality. They did have to agree the adoption support package though; in the UK financial support for adoption is not automatic.
It's bad practice to move a child just before Christmas, so the introductions were delayed until January. I can understand this; you want the child to associate Christmas with Christmas, not with the loss and confusion caused by moving from the people you think of as parents.
Introductions were interesting; Goldy and Mog were here of course, and I also had another fosterbaby just on short-term loan. He ended up moving out the day Little Fish moved in, so for parts of the introductory period I had four children at home. Not necessarily the most relaxing of times! We had a fortnight of intense visits, building up from a few hours to full days, with me helping her fostermother put her to bed at night too, to get used to her Nippy Ventilator.
Little Fish seemed to enjoy this time, although it was very confusing for her. She had lived with her fostercarers since being discharged from hospital age 3 months. They called themselves Mum and Dad, she had brothers and sisters and a whole life which she was being removed from. She was extremely clingy with her fostermother, screaming whenever fosterMum left the room or put her down. I don't think Little Fish enjoyed the leaving and returning bits - what she did enjoy was the chance to make a mess here. I have dozens of pictures of her emptying my drawers, spilling toys out onto the floor, scattering plastic bags. She also managed to collect a bump on her nose (fell out of a chair), scrapes on her legs (pulled something on top of her), and various other marks. She came each day dressed impeccably in ironed frills with a pineapple on her head. And left each day battered, scruffy, coated in food and spilled milk, tired and confused.
But at the end of the two weeks, on her final visit, I walked into the fostercarers' house. This had always been a cue for her to begin crying and clinging to her fosterMother. There she was, sitting on the floor in a beautiful baby girl pink and purple outfit with black patent leather shoes and ringlets arranged in that inevitable pineapple. To the suprise of all of us, she reached her arms up towards me for a cuddle. I scooped her up, she kissed her other family goodbye and was perfectly happy to be carried into my bus and driven home. There were tears when she realised we had gone, of course there were, but in those two weeks her fosterCarers had managed to move her on from relying solely on them to being able to trust and attach to me. I wll be forever grateful to them.
Little Fish came home at the beginning of February.
At that time, we were expecting Goldy to be moving out to her new home in the next few weeks. This was delayed, and she did not end up moving out until July. This in turn delayed Little Fish's formal adoption, since I did not want to send in the application until Goldy had moved on. I knew that if something went wrong whilst I had three children at home I would need the support of Social Services, and that this would be more easily obtained with Little Fish still fostered. I don't regret the fact that Goldy stayed for longer; Little Fish had a chance to get to know her as a sister, and Goldy loved babies and small children, so they (and Mog) were happy.
The papers went in to court in September, and after a couple of small delays (minor complications, nothing worrying just irritating), we went to court this morning, where a judge declared us officially Mother and Daughter. And Sister; he didn't leave Mog out.
When Little Fish moved in in February she had one word "Dat". She pointed to everything, shook her head for no, and during introductions began a wobbly "Mumma" for me which was lovely. Her disabilities mean that she should not be able to talk. She's now using four word sentences.
Litle Fish's disabilities mean that she was not expected to be able to sit up. She can sit, she can get herself into and out of a sitting position, commando crawl along the floor, and operate both powered and manual wheelchairs.
Little Fish ought to have significant learning disabilities. She doesn't.
Little Fish was put onto a palliative care regime as an infant. She failed to be palliated. We're still now picking up on treatments which were discontinued at that time and need to be reinstated. Her life is still likely to be significantly shorter than the average. But she is, in general, a happy, healthy, solid, active and busy child.
She is a very different child to the one who moved in in February. Her hair is shorter and definitely less polished. Her clothes are more jeans and t-shirts than frilly ruffled ironed princess dresses. She generally has a cut or a scrape or a bruise or some other reminder that she is an active two year old. She has glasses, she is fully mobile (and lethal) in her wheelchair. She can feed herself, and create more mess in less time than any other child I know.
Welcome (officially) to our family, Little Fish.
PS Thank you Trina for doctoring the photo at the top of this page. Isn't it beautiful?