When Things Go Wrong

In the current adoption climate adopters being linked with a child and then having that link severed is becoming all the more common. I’m going to revisit the worst part of our adoption journey from a less emotional point of view, in the hope that our experiences will help others that may be going through the same: The time when our provisional link fell through and we managed to retrieve it again.

During our adoption training we were given the impression that there are 3 fundamental things which will help lead to a more stable adoption: Communication, honesty, and trust.

The three things are all interlinked and, in my opinion, go a long way towards successful parenting in general. Trust is probably the most important of the three, but also the hardest to achieve, especially if you have adopted an older child. All you can do is be honest with them, communicate with them as best you can, and show them that they can trust you. Even the slightest lie, exaggeration, or act of forgetfulness can be blown up to be a huge issue of trust. So we always have to be careful to be as honest as possible and to follow through on every promise we ever make.

During our linking process we experienced being let down by one Social Worker or another in all three of these key areas. They clearly weren’t practising what we were being preached, but at the same time we also experienced all three from our own Social Worker who listened, supported and helped us deal with the situation.

At the meeting where everything went a bit wrong for us, I can say there was definitely a lack of communication and by the end of it most definitely a lack of honesty. The end result of which has been us having a total lack of trust in a particular Social Worker.

This was our second meeting about the children and at the first, which had been 3-4 hours long, we had been totally dragged through the mill being asked so many questions about dealing with certain situations surrounding the children that by the end of it we were totally exhausted. We must have given a good impression at this point as they agreed to continue with us and showed us some printed photographs of our children. These weren’t professional photos, but were ones taken by the children’s foster carer.

At that first meeting there was the Family Finder Social Worker and another Social Worker who we later discovered was a manager of a totally unrelated section of social services, who happened to be a former boss of the FF. Not even our own Social Worker (who was also there) knew why that manager had been present, but it had been her who had decided that we could see the photos of the children.

At the second meeting, the same Family Finder (FF) (arriving 20 minutes late) was there along with the Children’s Social Worker (CSW) and our own. Once everyone had arrived and had their hot beverages and cakes delivered, the meeting opened with us being told we could see some photos of the children. That was great, they’d done the professional photos we thought. We must have looked a bit disappointed as the photos we were presented with were the same ones as we had seen at the last meeting.

It was here that the first failing of communication occurred. We made the erroneous assumption that the FF had passed on the details of the things we discussed in the first meeting to the CSW. That meant we did not bring up anything that was discussed at that meeting with the CSW because we thought she already knew it. We relied on her asking us questions if she wanted to know anything about us. Something she did not do, not a single one. We assumed this was because she already had the information she wanted from our Prospective Adopter’s Report (PAR), or from the FF telling her, when actually neither was the case.

We found out that the CSW had not been involved in choosing us as prospective adopters for the children at all, had only received our PAR the week before the meeting, and hadn’t really read it properly. Bear in mind this meeting was nearly 2 months after the first one, so there had been plenty of time for her to have received and read the PAR. Another failing of communication between Social Workers.

Something which we found very disappointing about this meeting was that we asked several questions about the children, but were met with blank faces and no answers. Each question was redirected towards a meeting with the children’s Foster Carer that we were told we would schedule later in the meeting. Both the FF and the CSW gave us the impression that they really knew a lot about the children and had spent a lot of time with them. We have since found out this wasn’t true, the FF visited the children 6 times in the time they were with their foster carer, and the CSW only 4. Definitely not enough time to get to know someone, so no wonder they could not answer our questions. The impression they gave us was far from honest.

The CSW then left, having asked us no questions and answered none of ours except the ones about the children’s birth parents. We had received little to no information about the children except a bunch of documents detailing why they had been removed from their birth family along with a lot of information about the history of the birth mother. We had no idea of their personalities, likes or dislikes. We did however, manage to get a bit of information about how well they got on with their foster family, in particular how well our youngest son got on with one of the Foster Carer’s birth children.

By the end of the meeting we were left with digital copies of the photographs to peruse at our leisure (we were also given permission to share them with our parents), and had pencilled in dates for meeting the foster carer, meeting the medical advisor, going to matching panel and the potential start of introductions. We were asked just before the FF left “What drew you to these children? Why these ones?”, which we couldn’t really answer, as unlike many matches we did not approach Social Services having seen a profile of the children, we were approached by the FF in question with some extremely vague information about them and expected to make a decision on whether to continue or not. We based the decision on the details we knew – their sex, their age and that there were 2 of them with no apparent physical or developmental problems. We knew that wouldn’t be the right response so we said we’d have a think about it and get back to her.

We were disappointed by what we got out of that meeting, but we did not communicate that to the Social Workers. We had hoped to get so much more personal information out of it than we did. However, it would appear that the Social Workers were also so disappointed with the meeting that 3 working days later they decided that they “would not be continuing with the match”. I don’t know whether the FF knew this when she left our house, but given the pencilled in dates, the photos and the total lack of any form of negative communication about the meeting we had no reason to believe that rejection was coming.

What I have never revealed in full before this post are the reasons we were given for them choosing not to continue with us. Some we found ridiculous, some unfair, but in all extremely assumptive and absolutely wrong. I will address how we responded to each one in turn.

  1. The Children’s Room Is Not Ready
    We were less than a month post-approval to adopt. We had stripped down a bedroom and had to reschedule the carpet laying because of the meeting with the FF and CSW, which we explained at the time. We had a blank room ready because we had been approved to adopt 1 or 2 children aged between 0 and 8 yrs old, so we had no idea how we were meant to have the room ready at such an early stage. Our Social Worker addressed this one in advance and pointed out how absurd it was so it didn’t get passed on to us as a reason until later on when we asked.
  2. You Have Dogs
    This was clear in our PAR, so we were a bit confused by it. One of the children had expressed a slight fear of dogs, and we actually picked up on this concern during the meeting, however it was never clearly set out as one. We sent an email telling the FF and CSW how we had a plan in place to address this issue should it arise. This was another one that was headed off before we actually got told we were rejected. I’ve written a blog post about this previously.
  3. You Didn’t Show An Emotional Reaction To The Photos
    We did, just not openly in front of the FF and CSW who were essentially strangers. We may have even looked a bit disappointed when we saw the photos the second time because we had been expecting professionally taken ones and had also been promised a video of the children. Any over the top emotional response to the photos would have been fake and dishonest.
  4. You Seem To Have More Empathy For The Birth Mother Than The Children
    This is because we are human and the information we had detailed far more about the children’s birth mother than the children themselves. We had concerns about her well being because we knew what she had been through prior to having her children removed. We also knew how important Contact was, and if she was well and engaging with social services then it would make this all the more possible.
  5. You Didn’t Show An Emotional Connection To The Children
    As we pointed out to them, all we had was a bunch of court documents detailing how badly the children had been treated. We didn’t know much about them personally and all the questions we asked to help us form a real emotional connection with the children were left unanswered. We had also been told specifically not to get too attached to the children before their Placement Order went through in case their plan was not to be adopted and to be returned to their birth family. The meeting was 2 days after the Placement Order was granted.
  6. You Did Not Ask How The Children Were Coping After Their Experiences
    The children were pre-verbal when they were removed from their birth family, one of them was still pre-verbal at the time of the meeting. We knew from our training which we’d been given by the adoption agency that pre-verbal children may not ever be able to talk about traumatic events they have experienced. Therefore instead of asking how they were coping with their trauma, we asked how they were progressing at their foster carers, knowing that if they had been able to form attachments to their carers then they were starting to be able to trust people to look after them. We had a whole host of questions written down to ask, but when it became clear that neither the FF nor the CSW were able/willing to answer them we stopped asking.
  7. There Was A Bad Atmosphere Between You
    We do not know where this one came from. We think it was from the FF who arrived 20 minutes late for the meeting. There were 3 social workers present sitting on our 3 seater sofa, in order to make a circle for talking we sat opposite each other rather than next to each other like we normally would. This was interpreted as us having had an argument, when that was totally untrue. We were nervous sure, and perhaps our disappointment showed a bit, but there was definitely no atmosphere between us.

All in all with the help of our Social Worker we managed to address each of the points we had been given. Actually, after we heard them, because we didn’t think any of them were valid we actually asked “Is that all? Is there anything else?” because we couldn’t believe that they had made all those assumptions about us, and totally misunderstood us. At one point we even questioned whether there was another unsaid reason behind our rejection, one we’d always feared may raise its head – homophobia. We do not think that this was the case, we will never know. What we do know is that following our response the CSW was removed from the case very quickly and replaced with another Social Worker, who was lovely.

The whole scenario really damaged our trust in elements of social services, in one or two of the Social Workers in particular. We have had dealing with them since then for other reasons and have always had the lack of communication we experienced in mind when emailing them, which has actually helped us get answers to questions more quickly, and has helped us manage our expectations.

What we have learned from all of this is that we should never make assumptions about what Social Workers do and do not know. They sometimes give the impression that they know things which they don’t, and they do not always ask if they want to know something. If you want a Social Worker to know something about yourselves, or how you’re feeling about something, make sure you tell them. It doesn’t matter if you’ve said it before, just say it again. Say it until they listen, say it until you’re blue in the face. Show them the things you are passionate about, show them what you care about.

The worst form of rejection is one which you could have done something about. We were lucky to get a second chance to communicate all of those things which were missing from our meeting. We managed to get that meeting by communicating all of our thoughts and feelings to our own Social Worker, who listened and acted accordingly. Do not ever let a Social Worker tell you how you feel about something without challenging it if they’re wrong.

Many people are not able to have that second chance, so if you are sitting in front of a Social Worker discussing children that you think you will be good parents to: Be honestcommunicate everything that you want them to know even if you’re said it before, and build their trust so that they will feel comfortable placing your future children with you.


    1. It was, it only lasted a week and a half before the decision got over turned but it was a very stressful time. We were lucky with the support our social worker gave us, she recognised there had been failings on their part and addressed them.

  1. I think it is very important for all prospective adopters to understand that the children’s social workers and the family finders may have relatively little personal knowledge of the children. Prospective adopters build up quite a strong relationship with their own social workers over weeks and weeks of preparation and meetings, but children’s social workers visit the foster carer maybe once every six weeks (maybe monthly, but not in my experience). I once had a child moved to adoption whose family finder had only met her once before intros. The social workers will have access to paperwork about the children’s case and history that a foster carer would not have seen, and will likely have spoken to the foster carer to get an idea of a child’s daily life and their likes and dislikes (I am usually asked to complete a written profile for the file) but if an adopter really wants to get to know details about the children, it’s the foster carer they need to speak to. Unfortunately, that won’t happen until the process is quite far along. A thought-provoking blog.

    1. Absolutely, we hadn’t really known what to expect as it had been our first encounter with a children’s social worker. The family finder spoke about the children like she had personally looked after them (she still does when we’ve subsequently seen her). We have an extremely good relationship with our children’s former foster carer now, and she’s really helped us fully understand how it all works. Having knowledge of that would have been very helpful during the matching process I think as it would have given us a better idea of what we could have asked the social workers rather than us assuming they knew everything.

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