In the second guest blog from Alexandra @babytismoffire she guides us through how schools and education leaders can support staff who are going through the adoption process. Alexandra is an adoptive parent and a teacher, giving us a great insight from all perspectives.
‘I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you.’
The decision to start a family is a huge one. It is a decision that will have a huge impact on you, your partner, and strangely, everyone within your bubble. You also think that everything will go swimmingly, because after all, that is what we are biologically pre-disposed to do: birth humans and keep the human race alive. For many though, that natural pre-disposition decides not to work and as a unit (or solo flier) start to have conversations about next steps. Do you give up: after all the biology gods have declared it isn’t to be? Do you go down the road of fertility treatment? Or do you adopt? All three conversations are not easy, but you will land on the option that ‘is meant to be’.
You have probably read that and are wondering ‘How is this advising me about how to support staff who are adopting?’ Well, it is to show you how adoption, for many isn’t a Madonna or Angelina Jolie moment: it is a decision that comes with a journey already travelled, and as a leader it is important that you understand that adoption is not a journey travelled in isolation.
My husband and I first talked about adoption shortly after we got married in 2009. It was something I always wanted to do, and my husband, an adoptee, was of course open to it. Our journey to becoming parents through adoption took 9 ½ years; and that is 9 ½ years of delays, waiting, infertility, infertility treatment, delays and waiting, then parents.
‘Normally’ (I am assuming, I have never birthed a human) you do not have to go into the Principal’s office to announce your intention to get pregnant. It happens and you can keep it ‘secret’ until you are at ‘half-time’ if you so choose. But when you go through adoption you need to inform your Principal of your intention to adopt – and with that always comes the silent questions of ‘why?’ I am open about our reasons to adopt: we always wanted to, biology was our back up plan (rubbish plan as I am biologically uncooperative). For a lot of people though, they will have undergone round after round of IVF or ICI, and feel as though adoption is their last resort to becoming a parent.
As a Leader, you need to become ‘aware’ or ‘knowledgeable’ about the adoption process: it means that your empathy goes beyond the ‘awww’ and ‘hmmm’, and more to the ‘how are you finding stage 1?’ to ‘is there anything we can do to support you in getting prepared for stage 2?’ to ‘I understand that the process can be very intense, how are you both doing?’
So, let me break it down for you.
Stage 1 (2 months): Usually 3 face-to-face sessions where you look at:
- the reasons as to why children will be placed for adoption
- understanding the impact of early life trauma on young people
- empathising with birth parents and their journey
- looking at profiles of children waiting to be placed for adoption
- aligning your ideas about adoption, and the children you think you could parent
- impact of moves within the system on a child
Optional 4th session:
- Placement Order
- Resolution Hearings
- Contact centres and requirements
- Self-care through contact arrangements
- Dealing with uncertainty (there is no guarantee that adoption will be the outcome)
- Applying for Adoption Order
- Not being parent, when behaving like a parent
Both stage 1 and stage 2 are a gruelling as the other, and they range in intrusiveness (intrusiveness – deliberately chosen because at times you feel as though you are being scrutinised more than you would expect, and you can be left feeling exposed, vulnerable and questioning).
During stage 2 you will be visited by three ghosts (sorry, I got carried away), I mean social workers, on a weekly or fortnightly basis for a few hours at a time discussing various things from your own upbringing, to your relationship, to finances (yes, you have to share your finances with your social worker, and sometimes provide a detailed breakdown as to how you will afford to parent) and discuss what type of child you think you could parent, and that means discussing addiction, special educational needs, presentations of trauma, behavioural ‘issues’, medical issues and complications, and you are challenged on your views at every point.
When you get to the end of stage 2 you go to adoption panel: this is where your future of becoming a family hangs in the balance. This is where 6 – 8 complete strangers will make a decision based on your social workers presentation of you, and your response to 6 – 8 questions, will determine whether or not you will or wont (ever) become a parent. For that whole meeting you feel as though you can’t breathe out because if you do then your world may fall down – you only breathe out when you get your ‘yes’. Once panel is done and dusted it is then all about waiting – it is more waiting and by the time you get to that point you are so adept at waiting you just roll with it: but now it is a case of when not if. You just don’t know ‘when’ is, and as such your world stays in its position of limbo.
Again, this is a moment when you have to speak to your Principal – updating them on where you are up to, which bit of limbo you are in, all the time knowing that you are not helping your school to plan their staffing or putting provision in place for your department and students. So, your limbo and hope for the future is tinged with guilt for ‘not being helpful and full of answers’.
So, I will go back to the original question: ‘How as a school leader, can you support staff going through the adoption process?’
It is important to know that they won’t be able to provide you with answers or definites. Understand that they will have no control over their process or duration, and the only thing they are in control of is what they can tell you. They will feel raw and vulnerable; hopeful and hopeless; exhausted and revitalised all at the same time.
- Check in with them
As they are travelling their adoption journey, check in with them – ask them how they are doing? Do they need anything? When they have been placed with their child, get someone to check in with them – how are they doing? Are they OK? Sometimes a simple message of ‘How are you doing? Do you need anything? Don’t forget that we are here if you do’ can go a long way. Don’t assume that because they are adopting that adopters can’t have ‘post-adoption depression’, many do experience it to a varying degree, so checking in with them can really help with maintaining some form of ‘familiar’ identity and control.
- Make sure they have someone they can talk to
The adoption process is personal, and sometimes speaking to your line manager isn’t the right person or the ‘comfortable’ person to talk to. Make sure that they are able to have leave of absences signed off without question and by whomever has the station in the school hierarchy to sign off. Don’t challenge them about time off – they don’t have control over it, and remember it is emotional! This is important to them and life altering.
- Have practical information in a pack before they ask
During stage 2 you have to be able to provide various bits of information that hunting for, or asking for can feel awkward – have an ‘adoption’ pack available. In it should be:-
- Adoption and Foster-to-adopt policy (they shouldn’t be the same: Foster-to-adopt could give you less than 24h notice and staff shouldn’t be penalised because of it)
- Sick leave policy (including leave for dependents)
- Adoption leave pay breakdown (if this could be provided it is really helpful)
- Their contract with pay at its current level
- And, if you can a page with information about (just because it is kind, and you aren’t told necessarily as part of the process):
- Child benefit (can be claimed by adopters when a child is placed, before granting of adoption order)
- Tax-free childcare
- Taking advantage of KIT days
- How to apply for flexi-hours or part-time hours upon return to work
- Post placement
Remember that placement does not make you a parent – yet! For those who travel the traditional adoption journey, they must wait 10 weeks until they can apply for their adoption order. For those who travel the foster to adopt journey have to wait 10 weeks from when a placement order has been made before they can apply for their adoption order – this can be a long process. So, more waiting and worry. Be aware of that – keep lines of communication open: people will want to tell you when they get their adoption order, and they will want to share with you that they have their celebration hearing.
The reasons why children become adopted are broad and varied, and for some it will include a protection order or emergency protection order – this order will be superseded by the adoption order, but that doesn’t mean that the need to protect your child, yourselves and your new family disappears. Ask your staff what they need. Do they need to make sure that their name (if easily identifiable) is not published with their image on the school website? Do you need to drop part of a double-barrel on public communication? They aren’t being difficult they are protecting what they have waited a life-time for.
- Returning to work
For some adopters, going on leave (especially if it has been quick) can feel as though they are mourning their work whilst on leave, and returning to work is something that they look forward to, make sure that when they return to work that you are enabling them to re-establish their identity – the world will have continued turning and things will have changed during the time they have been on leave, so make sure that they are able to navigate the ‘new version’ of the school and their ‘new’ working parent self. Spend time giving them a ‘re-induction’ of the changes and what is happening so that they feel equipped, and make sure that they don’t feel silly asking if they don’t know what something is or who someone is.
The biggest thing that you, as leaders can you do, is to make sure that your staff member who is adopting feels comfortable and empowered to talk about it. Acknowledge that they don’t have control and offer support by accepting this. Help make adoption a ‘normal’ parenting conversation at school: it is about inclusion through language and knowledge.
Click here to catch up and read Alexandra’s first blog post: