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What’s life like for a social worker at SFCS?

July 11, 2022

Donna and Michelle

We often talk about the adoption triangle at SFCS, which refers to the adopted child, their birth family, and their adoptive family. You’ve met Sue, who deals with birth families, and you’ve met Kate, who supports adopted children in reconnecting with their birth families later in life… now meet Donna-Marie and Michelle!

Donna-Marie has worked in adoption social work since 2019, and Michelle has been in the sector since 2017. They both support potential adopters on their journey to adoption – from enquiring with SFCS right through to welcoming their child home.

We sat down with them to learn more about what that process looks like…

What does your role typically look like at SFCS?

Donna-Marie: “We’re involved in recruiting and supporting families who want to become adoptive parents.

“We get involved in different parts of that journey. We start working with applicants when someone’s enquiring about becoming an adopter; they may just be thinking ‘is adoption for us?’ but we will always take each case extremely seriously and talk them through the preliminary requirements.

“From there we will do an initial visit so we can answer any questions they may have, and we can make sure they’re ready to begin such an important journey.

“If they go further into the adoption process we get involved again as potential parents will need a variety of checks… if someone is going to start their journey with us and they’re having background checks we will support them to make sure everything we need is coming in at the right time.

“We generally give a couple of months to get this information together, which includes medical assessments, local authority checks as well as any references or information on any voluntary work they’ve already been doing.”

How do the applicants find the process?

Donna-Marie: “It’s very interesting when we’re assessing an applicant or couple, and the piece of work takes about four months in total. Everything from medical checks to home visits are carried out.

“It’s sometimes like a This is Your Life situation, as we literally talk through the applicants’ birth experiences right through to adulthood, and look at what shaped them into who they are today and how they feel they can adopt a child and give them a good future.

“It can get more challenging, or more complex, here as you don’t know what’s going to come out. Oftentimes applicants don’t know either because they can share something with us and think it’s just a throwaway sentence, but we think it should be explored further.

“It’s very rare people get to talk, or need to talk, about their lives in such intricate detail and it’s one of my favourite parts of the process. It’s also the most stressful part as you then have to write up what you’ve spent all those months working on!”

What do you have to write up?

Donne-Marie: “We have to put a report together for panel members to read and make a decision on whether they believe the couple or single applicant is appropriate and suitable to become an adoptive parent. That’s the biggest part of our work.”

Do these reports have to be completely unbiased?

Michelle: “No, and that’s really the main part of our role. We’re putting our names on the fact that, as social workers and in our professional view, these people are suitable to adopt.

“For me it’s probably one of the most important things in the sense that I have to be completely confident that I’ve heard every piece of evidence to suggest what I’m concluding.

“I think that’s something people can forget about – our job is very much evidence-based. Potential adopters can tell us things but we’re always looking for it to be backed up by something.

“Sometimes there are parts of the report people won’t agree with, and sometimes we have to say tricky things like we don’t think someone is quite ready for adoption.”

That must be really difficult.

Michelle: “Well, I think one of the things we are is diplomats but we also believe in relationship-based social work.

“To be able to assess people, you’ve got to be able to build relationships with people. You’re going to take them through what’s one of the biggest changes in their lives.”

So what happens after the report goes to panel?

Donna-Marie: “We go into what we call ‘Family Finding’, which is when we help applicants be matched with a child.

“Here we get to work more widely with local authorities across the country, and it can be the most challenging part of the journey for adopters because there’s lots of waiting and they’re almost auditioning. We tell them they should just be themselves and showcase their qualities and strengths of what they could offer.

“Once the family has been matched, adopters will go on to lodge their adoption order application with the court. We then have to submit supporting paperwork again to the court, and this can be another stressful moment for applicants because birth parents can appeal here.”

What happens if birth families appeal?

Donna-Marie: “It can delay the whole process, and we have to deal with the disappointment of applicants feeling let down. We have to continue to consider their emotions in all of this; as a social worker, you always have to stay sensitive while dealing with the more objective side of the journey.”

Michelle: “It’s an emotional process for us, too. The moment we place children, I hold my breath because I think ‘has everything I’ve written now going to come to fruition?’. Those bits are sometimes as nerve-wracking for us, but in a different way as it would be for the adopter.”

Donna-Marie: “Definitely. It’s a very nerve-wracking moment. We’ll always tell adopters to contact us 24/7 with whatever they need.”

And how long do you offer that contact for?

Michelle: “In terms of cases being open to us as adoption social workers, it’s normally around three months until we close the case as long as everything is going smoothly after we’ve got the adoption order.

“We generally stay checking in, though. Parents are always able to pick up the phone and speak to us but also, depending on where the child was placed from, for the first three years parents can go back to their child’s local authority too if they need any adoption support.

“In a child’s lifetime these are going to be different needs for that child, and we need to be there to support them.

“There’s no shame in picking up the phone!”

Donna-Marie: “Adopters know we’re there in the background if they need us, and there’s a true wraparound support for life from SFCS. It’s very rewarding.”

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