Yesterday we went to panel. It was scary. A roomful of strangers read every detail of our lives and then sat and talked about us. We were invited in for a few minutes to be scrutinised before sent back outside to wait while they decided whether or not we were allowed to be parents. I would like to say it was actually quite fun, but it wasn’t. Or that it wasn’t as bad as I expected, but it was.
We planned to set off really early and have time to compose ourselves in a nearby Costa. Instead we drove around for a long time looking for somewhere to park, and then we walked around for a long time looking for the door! It was quite a helpful distraction, however, from where we were actually going. When we arrived we were shown to a room where we could wait. From there we could see our Stage 1 Social Worker at her desk; we were brought a cup of tea by the Social Worker who ran our prep group; and then The Lady who came to our house right at the start to fill in paperwork came to sit with us and distract us. It was nice to see all of these key people again at, what felt like, The End Of All Things.
After forever, our Social Worker came in with The Chair. It was a relief to see SW who we knew had been in with the panel fighting our corner. I suppose it was a big day for her too, she was recommending us to the panel and that is a big responsibility. The Chair introduced herself – she seemed friendly – and then made small talk for a while. I think it was to help us feel at ease, but it just felt like a test!
When we were left alone with SW, she told us that the panel were feeling really positive about us so far and that they’d struggled to think of questions to ask us, which I suppose means she’d done her job well and written a thorough report. She said their main concerns had been around my history of Anxiety, and our age – did we understand the enormity of what we were doing? I quickly mentally deleted any jokes I could possibly be tempted to make. I don’t think she stopped smiling the whole time we chatted, I’m not sure if it was her nerves, or an attempt to relieve ours. Either way, it was comforting to be chatting with her. The questions they wanted to ask us were:
- How would we cope with the stress of parenting two children?
- How had we come to choose our criteria?
- What were we looking forward to about being parents?
As we read them I was sure I wouldn’t be able to say a single word, and so my husband jotted down notes as SW reminded us of all of the things we’d previously said that would be helpful. My mind was completely blank.
Then The Chair came back and we were led through windy corridors, outside, back inside, and finally to The Room. The Panel did their best to put us at ease, they offered us water and introduced themselves, which gave us time to adjust to the new environment. The Panel were a mix of social workers, adoptive parents, adopted adults and a doctor. I instantly identified the most intimidating panel member (The Doctor) and did my best to make eye contact with him the most.
As they asked each question my husband would start answering from the notes we’d made; and as he tailed off I would add anything that he’d missed, or that I suddenly thought of. I found that the chance to fight for our right to be parents meant I could speak after all. I tried to talk honestly, without being over the top. To say what I thought they wanted to hear, without sounding like I was. I wanted to shake each one of them by the shoulders and somehow make them realise the enormity of what they were doing.
I don’t know if it’s normal, but it felt like they laughed a lot, that was reassuring. At one point The Doctor commented on my ironing and I thought he was being sarcastic so mumbled a long defence about how my husband had actually ironed his own shirt and I’d told him it wasn’t OK to wear, on and on I rambled. Anyway, apparently he was trying to be nice.
Finally it was over! We were taken out of the room and The Lady sat with us again to offer distraction. Eventually SW came out and straight away said it was good news! I’m not sure what reaction she normally gets, but we just sat stunned. I didn’t quite understand what she was saying, or what it meant. We are actually going to be parents. A roomful of strangers trust us enough to give us children. SW said one of the panel members had said she’d like to live with us herself. Slightly weird, but a compliment I’m sure.
As we were leaving, still in shock, SW gave us a big hug and told us she’d be in touch soon. And that was it. As we walked out of the building it felt like we had a big rubber stamp across our foreheads: APPROVED. We wandered around the shopping centre for a while, every so often I lost the ability to walk and we’d just stand for a few seconds as the realisation washed over us. We tried calling each other Mum and Dad – my husband tried Mother but it just reminded me of the film Psycho. After a coffee in Costa and a quick ring around our family, it seemed the only thing to be done now was Nando’s.
Panel Day was a scary day, a special day. I’m thankful that so many people care about the wellbeing of our children to put us through that. I’m thankful that our SW believes enough in us to stand up for us. Most of all, I’m thankful that it’s over.