Give me back to Mummy!

A few days ago we had our first post placement reunion with our daughter’s foster carer and her children. It’s been about 11months since we last saw them, so I was quite nervous as to how it was going to go….

The good news is that it went really well, couldn’t have really gone any better actually. I’ve kept in contact with the foster carer, let’s call her Susan (not her real name) since placement last September. In the early days she was really helpful and I would email/text for advice/help on how to manage certain situations/behaviours. More recently, the contact has been more to share updates and photos of our daughter, as she was very much loved and part of their family whilst she lived with them. We wanted to keep the lines of communication open to facilitate direct contact if at all possible as we knew how valuable it would be to our little girl. Our daughter has not been fully aware that Susan & I email/text every now and then, we considered FaceTime/skype, but felt that it would probably confuse Little One. Susan and family live a few hours drive away, and Little One doesn’t really understand distance. Susan and her children happened to be sort of in the area, so agreed to pop in on their way home. Little One was told the day before, as like the contact with the family member, we felt that a little bit of time to let the news sink in would be beneficial. It worked well, and she went to bed and slept pretty much as usual.

Now I know there has been lots in the news about foster carers this week, but I just wanted to take the opportunity to say a huge big thank you to Susan and her family for being so amazing for our little girl. Thank you to them for taking such good care of her until her Mummy & daddy were found. Thank you for loving her as if she was their little girl/sister. For including her in their family. For giving her maybe her first taste of stable family life. For all the life experiences they introduced to her (holidays, birthdays, nursery, playgroups). I’m pretty sure her positive experience of foster care will have a life-long impact. She came to us a happy, confident, loving little girl, and this must have been in part due to their excellent care. I don’t think she could have been anywhere better.

Our little girl talks a lot about Susan and her family, always happy memories. However, it was clear from the visit that she see’s us as her family and where she belongs. There didn’t seem to be any desire to go back to them (even if she has said that a couple of times before). She seemed ok with them leaving at the end, appropriately missing them, but equally happy to be staying with Mummy and Daddy. She was very excited when they pulled up outside our house, but also appropriately unsure when they got out the car and said hello. She accepted and was comforted by cuddles from me initially, but soon was excitedly running around and talking to them. She was so proud to show them her house. She introduced them to Daddy which was cute, “this is my Daddy”. She had a great time playing with the children (all teenagers now I think) They were so good with her too. I can’t imagine it’s easy being a foster carer’s child, so they were amazing. I heard one of them say to the others ‘she’s still adorable’, aww, cute! We were able to take some lovely photos, which we’ll have available to Little One so that we can reflect and talk about the visit. She has photos of them up in her room, because they really are like extended family to her. We also finally got a better picture on Susan, and some of the two of them. We didn’t have a good photo of Susan & it was a big regret that we didn’t think to get one during intros as it would have been so helpful.

One thing we’d advise anyone about to go through intros is to ask for photos of the foster family and their home, as well as any significant places/activities they did with the child/ren. We have very few photos (apart from some in the excellent memory photo albums from Susan), and they would have really helped to be able to talk to Little One about what she did with her foster carers. Also, ask to spend some time with the rest of the foster carer’s family or significant people. I don’t think we properly met Susan’s husband, children, or the other foster children whilst on intros, and it would have been really helpful too. Little One talked a lot about them initially (actually still does), and we don’t know what they were like to really join in the conversation. It really was a big regret of ours, but going through it all, we just didn’t think about how important it would have been.

Anyway, back to the visit, it was lovely to see that Little One is clearly well attached to us, and well settled with us. I think this visit just highlighted and re-inforced both, and made me think, yes, we’re doing a good job and we’ve got something right. She demonstrated this best and most clearly herself when at the end Susan was giving her a goodbye cuddle. Little one said ‘give me back to Mummy’, and reached out to me to passed back. She clearly knows who her Mummy (and Daddy) are, and where she belongs. Also, we were expecting some fallout and unsettled behaviour afterwards, but several days later and it hasn’t really happened yet. It may well be still to come, but she seems pretty settled at the moment all things considered. She did ask if Susan was coming the next morning, but hasn’t seemed too upset when she was told she wasn’t. Hopefully the visit has helped to re-assure her that Susan and family are still ok, and that they still really love her too.

Hello! (And goodbye, for now…)

This week we’ve had our first yearly contact with a Birth Relative. Thankfully it went as brilliantly as we could have wished/hoped, but it did get me thinking about how complex post adoption contact all is….

When we were matched with our daughter we agreed to once yearly direct contact with a Birth Relative as they had been very involved in our daughter’s life pre and during care. They (lets call her Kate – not her real name), had actually cared for our daughter, but had decided it was not going to be right for either of them long term. Kate had also  (and continues to be) been a key figure in our daughter’s Birth Mum’s life. Kate wanted our daughter to have the best chance in life, and this is why she agreed for the plan for adoption. It was agreed that there was minimal risk of Kate having direct contact with our daughter. We thought long and hard about agreeing to direct contact, but felt that it if was hopefully going to benefit our child, then we couldn’t say no. It is not court appointed, so if we feel it’s not working, we can have discussions to change it. We hope that in the future it will help our daughter make more sense of who she is, her story, where she came from. We hope it keeps the lines of communication open, and she can choose when she’s older whether she wants to continue or not.

We knew about when the contact would be happening for some months before it was scheduled to take place. We thought about when we would tell our daughter about it, and decided to only do it a couple of days before. We normally only announce plans for the day on the day, but felt that this needed a little more prep and time, although not too much as our little girl is too young to understand time. Now Kate is already part of our family, in that we have photos of her up in the living room, and in little one’s room, as we do other family members. We don’t talk about her often, but her picture is there to prompt discussion if Little One leads it. We have been talking a bit about adoption and why she came to live with Mummy and Daddy, so naturally Kate is talked about as she was quite involved pre-care. I was worried how we would start discussions around birth family, but actually it’s been quite a natural process, and so far we’ve been very matter of fact, with simplified, but truthful explanations. The recent celebration hearing for adoption and the birth of my niece have helped prompt these discussions a lot. So, in the couple of days before contact we talked a bit about Kate, and what they used to do together. Little One seemed excited and happy to be seeing her again. She seemed reasonably settled in that we didn’t have any additional challenging behaviour or sleep disturbances. She woke up early the morning of contact and seemed extra bouncy, it seemed to be just excitement. she was calm and settled during the drive, but did ask if we were nearly there a few times.

The actual contact went really well, and we’re so grateful that our daughter will have hopefully  happy memories of this occasion. We have some lovely photos which will help with further discussions. She made a card for Kate, and enjoyed giving it to her. I know Kate will treasure it for a long time. We got there and they were already there, waiting in the car as we pulled up. For these few moments, no one really knew what to do, so we got out and said hello. I think little one was a bit unsure initially, excited to see Kate, but needing reassurance from us. She was briefly shy and clung to me. This was actually a lovely experience for me as it meant she needed me, and wanted me. It was an appropriate response, and an indication that she had transferred that attachment from Kate to us. (She hadn’t seen Kate for a year). She quickly started interacting with Kate and both seemed very comfortable and relaxed in each other’s presence. We had some time playing in the park. Again it was lovely to see the two of them enjoying each other, but equally lovely to observe how little one needed and wanted her Daddy to be with her in their play.

Kate handled the situation amazingly, she clearly loves our daughter, and also wants whats best for her, even if this means not seeing her grow up (apart from a yearly letter and yearly meet up) She said how glad she was that little one was away from the situation she came from, and how happy she was that little one had a Mummy and Daddy to give her what she needs. It was really helpful (although very sad, and not surprising) to hear about how Birth Mum was doing. Birth Mum didn’t respond to letter box, so it will be helpful to indirectly hear where she’s at if possible. Kate was able to give Little One space when she needed it, and let Little One interact with her on her terms, so it went at her pace. She was appropriate with physical contact, and let us do the parenting. She clearly found goodbye hard, so this was a quick process, which in this case was right.

Even though everything went well and as planned, and  I came away feeling encouraged that this could work long term, I also felt a lot of sadness for Kate and our daughter. I’m happy and grateful they have a seemingly positive relationship that they can continue and maintain to some extent, but really sad and almost angry that adoption has changed it forever. If adoption hadn’t happened, they’d probably have much more of a relationship than they have now. I’m sure there will be some discussions around this when Little One is older. However, I still think that adoption was the best option for her. The situation she was in pre-care was harmful, and long term foster care would not have given her the permanence and stability she needs. Kinship care would have kept her in contact with the people who were causing harm, so even though it would have allowed this relationship to remain the same, it would have also caused ongoing harm. I’m grateful that we can help to facilitate and maintain this relationship as long as it is beneficial. Although it went well this time, I am prepared for it to be more difficult as Little One gets older and questions and understands her story a little more.

Today (the day after) has been a normal day for us. I’m not sure whether to expect some fall out from contact as I’m not sure if our little girl really understood the significance of it. To her it was possibly just a nice time when she played with Kate, and ate cheese toasties and ice-cream. She may ask to do it again, and it will be difficult to explain that we won’t be seeing Kate for another year as she has no concept of time. There may be more questions once she’s had time to process it a bit, but currently her main concern is that Kate didn’t eat pudding.

Big thanks goes to the placing LA for being so organised and willing to work with us to arrange something we felt was best for our child. It was agreed to meet somewhere between us and Kate, which was great as we didn’t have to travel several hours with a 3year old. It was fully supervised, but the ladies were really good at giving space. This enabled us to spend time with Kate without feeling watched all the time, but they were available and would have stepped in if needed.

So, Direct Contact number one is done, a year is a long time, and who knows what might happen before the next one, only time will tell……