Next week, on Tuesday 15th March, it is International Social Work Day. In order to mark the occasion, I feel it is the perfect week to blog about the lady who made this whole adoption thing happen for us: our Social Worker.
It’s fair to say that in general Social Workers get a pretty bad press. It is the failings, negligence and incompetence that make headline news. As in any profession, you get the good, the bad and the barely competent. From our experience you also get the fantastic, but you don’t often hear about them.
Our adoption journey did, however, get off to a rocky start when we met a dodgy bloke from our Local Authority. He visited us once, made judgemental comments about our finances, promptly forgot who we were and then did nothing. At all.
Impatient as ever, we decided to try elsewhere and contacted a Voluntary Agency. It so happened that the Social Worker who answered the phone that day would go on to become our worker and would support us throughout the whole process. I will call her Anne to protect her anonymity.
We could tell from day one that Anne was a breath of fresh air. Whenever she said she would do something, she did it. Plain talking and friendly, we always knew where we were with her.
Because we had switched agencies, the first guy had to write a brief report about us. He wrote that he had met Big Bear when he had not. We knew for certain then that we had dodged a bullet. At every subsequent stage of the process we have thanked our lucky stars for Anne.
Right from the start we had a very easy working relationship. Stage 2 was far easier than we had anticipated because it never felt as though we were being interviewed. It was just as though a friend had come around for a cuppa and a chat.
In fact, it feels as though Anne is one of the family. She has met our parents and some of our closest friends as they were referees, and everyone speaks fondly about her. She has done some work with Big Bear too, during the assessment stage. In order to thank him for his co-operation, she went out of her way to get him a little gift. She knew he loved animals and scoured the shops to find something gorilla-related for him (his favourite animals at the time). Thwarted by a lack of gorillas, she settled on a whale story. It was a lovely idea and I’m sure above and beyond the call of duty.
When we were approved to adopt, Anne was clearly genuinely happy and excited for us. It seemed very natural to go for a celebratory cup of tea and cake with her after panel. I wanted to hug her to say thank you but dithered over whether that was overstepping a line in the social worker/ client relationship. I was very grateful when Grizzly just went for it and planted a kiss on her cheek. Characteristically she didn’t bat an eyelid and was quite up for a cuddle.
A very short time later, when we found Little Bear’s profile, Anne wasted no time in contacting his social workers. Due to our panel dates, we were a bit late getting the newspaper in question and there had already been considerable interest in Little Bear – so much so that the powers that be had closed the registration of interest process. I have no idea what Anne said on the phone that day but she must have been very persuasive. Had she not advocated for us so convincingly, we would not have even been considered as a potential match, let alone have had the opportunity to go on to become his parents.
During the matching period, we had to travel hundreds of miles back and forth to meet the foster carers, various professionals and ultimately to attend panel. Ordinarily Anne would travel by public transport and meet us there. However it was hours on the train with a 4am start and we just couldn’t let her do it, so we tentatively suggested that she could travel with us in the car (again, I didn’t know if this was crossing some sort of a line). Anne was worried about cramping our style but in the end we just went for it. The days were always long, with a lot of travelling, worrying if the traffic would prevent us getting to our meetings on time, attending said long and mind boggling meetings, then trekking all the way back again. Despite all that and being shattered, we never felt uncomfortable having Anne with us. We never felt as though we had to wait until she had gone before we could de-brief properly. She was on our team and we were comfortable being honest, sometimes brutally so, in her company. Stopping at Burger King or nipping for a wee together seemed strangely normal, even though she was our Social Worker. I think maybe I kept forgetting she was.
During those days ripe with the potential for stress and high emotions, I think we only had a minor domestic in the car. Grizzly, trying to wind me up as usual, made a comment about someone saying he was “henpecked”. A stern voice piped up from the back “I don’t think so!” and that put an end to that! You see why I like her so much?!
I have written before about the tough time we had during introductions. Although we were staying away from home and Anne was miles away, we still felt as though she was with us every step of the way. There wasn’t a day that went by that she didn’t check in with us. I don’t think she ever turns her phone off – Saturdays, Sundays, 9pm at night – she was still available. Our discussions were frank and when we questioned the future of the placement, Anne listened without judgement. She never makes you feel unreasonable or at fault. Her manner is not chastising. I think she might have had some sleepless nights but she guided us through that period with sensible advice and a listening ear.
In the first weeks back home life continued to be tough. Anne knew as soon as she saw me that I was exhausted. She never made us feel as though we were exaggerating the challenge of our situation as some people did. She was clear in acknowledging that Little Bear was very hard work and that we were doing a good job in the circumstances (a very welcome confidence boost). She was also practical and realistic and told me to get Little Bear a place in a Pre-School for my own sanity. This helped me to skip the guilt when I went ahead and followed her advice.
Now that things are calmer, we don’t see Anne so often. I think we are supposed to be relieved about that but actually we just kind of miss her. We do catch up on the phone sometimes and our Adoption Order is yet to be granted so technically she is still involved. We will definitely invite her to the court celebration when the time comes and I hope that we will stay in touch afterwards.
Yes, we have been blessed with a fantastic Social Worker – and there’s not an ethnic jumper or Jesus sandal in sight!
I should also mention that I have now met a few of the other Social Workers from the Agency and they are all very professional, friendly and knowledgeable. I think, as an agency, they maintain very high standards and provide an unrivalled level of support to adopters. And that is truly something to celebrate on International Social Work Day.