Chapter 38 – LAC Review and Court Chat
Well it’s been another week of extremely good team work on the parenting front, learning that we don’t both always have to do everything, but instead are taking turns with the whole bath and bedtime routine, to give each other a much needed break. Today, we have a very important meeting with a group of social workers including Gemma, Dawn, the boy’s health visitor and the IRO who is otherwise known as the independent reviewing officer, which when said out in full, always sounds so much scarier, but she is lovely really, as we met her after the first 4 weeks the boy has lived with us and hoping today she is in agreement that the official court papers actually get sent off. The meeting itself is known as a LAC review meeting, with LAC standing for ‘looked after child’ which is just one of a million abbreviations that you just seem to get used to when going through the process. The meeting in simple terms, is basically a chance to bring together those people who are closely concerned about the boy, to touch base about out how he is settling in with us, talk about and just ensure that everything is going as it should. As we have already sent off the documents following the ten week settling in period we were keen to find out when this could potentially be as we were both very keen to move with family life. Thinking back to when we first started the adoption process and how far we have come is very surreal and there is still hard work to continue with, whether this means a delay in the court hearings or even when the boy starts to ask questions about his adoption. This doesn’t go away just because the legalities of it are finalised, adoption will always be a main discussion in our house and we want to be prepared to answer any of the question the boy decides to ask us.
The only thing about the IRO visiting, is that we don’t really know her and feel as if she is the one person who gets to really pull the strings on everyone, so we revert back to those worried and crazy people we were during the first couple of weeks of the process and clean the house to a standard worthy of any show home, even though we have been parents now for about 10 weeks and coping really well, we still get petrified that something will go wrong. Although the chances of the boy being taken away from us now is extremely slim, it’s still enough to make us very uneasy and want to impress all these people. The house is beyond clean and I almost fell like I need to rough up some of the sofa cushions, as in the back of my mind I am thinking they will feel we are too perfect, so there must be something wrong or something to hide, I’m sure we all get this feeling sometimes. Rich is taking a half day from work and working from home to make sure he is here and I don’t have to deal with the anxiety and stress of it all on my own. I also made sure he popped into Marks and Spencer’s on the way home yesterday to pick up a box of the “posh biscuits” to distract them, in case they were not happy with anything we have been doing. The boy will be awake when they arrive and hopefully will be on his best behaviour, as they are coming around just as he should be waking up from his morning nap, so fingers crossed the luck is on our side today. The meeting is set for 12:30pm and Rich is finishing at twelve and not a second later, the boy is playing with his vacuum cleaner toy and mimicking me as I hoover the front room for the second time this morning. This was fine by me anything to keep him active and in the process of making sure he gets tired and sleeps as soon as he should, to ensure everything goes like clockwork.
The time is 10:30am and the boy is having a morning snack which of course is his current favourite of blueberries, dates and buttered toast, the pure delight on his face when he is eating is so adorable. This is probably the face I make when my large extra cheese pizza is delivered or when Rich goes to an all you can eat Chinese buffet, just pure indulgent happiness. The morning snack time now complete, with my plan running perfectly like an operation, I get the boy out of the highchair and put him down to play with his stacking cups, which he doesn’t actually stack anymore, as he prefers to bang them against the breakfast bar stalls as that creates a lovely loud chime noise which he really laughs at, as I always act so surprised and shocked when he does it. Treats for Nutter are ready and waiting to be given, which we feel Nutter has worked out means someone is coming, so he purposely creates havoc with one of the visitors just so he can blackmail us into giving him some treats to calm down. I notice the boy rubbing his eyes and a few cute yawns start to come regularly, which means he is perfectly on schedule and ready for his nap to hopefully wake up just as they arrive. He is really easy to put down for a nap now and it’s not so much of a military mission as it once was, but we have kept the routine the same so he knows when I say “nap time boy” it’s time to go upstairs and he even crawls to the bottom of the steps. I pick him up and take him up to his room and literally kiss him on the cheek before putting him in the cot and say “goodnight boy, sweet dreams and remember I love you to the moon and back” and press his musical caterpillar, which has some hypnotic effect on him and sends him straight off into dreamland. I then text Rich, who is working away in his office at the bottom of the garden, so it’s safe for him to come in if he needed a drink or go to the toilet, we found that the boy gets upset if Rich pops in and out on the days he works from home, so to not disturb him I have banned Rich from coming in when working from home. We do have a way of distracting the boy where I will take him upstairs or shut myself and him in the front room so Rich could sneak in and do what he needed, but this is only when Rich is desperate to go outside of nap times. We have actually made a joke of it now, by sending messages as if we are using walkie talkies ‘is the boy out of sight, over’ to which I reply with ‘the coast is clear, GO GO GO’. I really do worry that we are already turning into those embarrassing parents, but we do have a laugh with it and if you cannot have a laugh then what can you do.
While the boy is sleeping, I make sure the last bits of housework are done and set all the “posh biscuits” out on a plate, as if I am about to cater for the Queen’s birthday. We have thirty minutes before everyone arrives and Rich should be signing off his work laptop and coming inside in case they’re early. The time 12:15pm and no sign of Rich so I text him in capitals “ARE YOU JOKING? SIGN OFF THEY COULD BE HERE ANY MINUTE” to which he replies “calm down love” and I smirk slightly. I can see Rich from the garden back doors and mime in hand signals the best way to repeat my text message to get inside to which he just closes he blinds but opens them straight away laughing, sometimes he really does think he is funny when playing the clown. Rich then does come back into the house and jokingly says “wow we should have a LAC review more often, it’s not been this clean in a while”. Just as I finish giving him the look of ‘how dare you’ with a bit of a grin on my face, the doorbell rings and they are here. Rich opens the door whilst battling Nutter to get down, who is of course going crazy thinking everyone is here to see him, which of course they are not, although Gemma has taken such a liking to him. Everyone has arrived on time, two social workers, health visitor and two other members of the adoption that team we have been working with. Rich ushers them into the front room and takes drink orders but as I don’t drink tea myself, I never make it any good according to everyone I have ever made it for, so I get the best job and bring in the biscuits like I am a contestant on ‘The Great British bake Off’ to be judged by all in the room.
Everyone including myself and Rich are ready to get started and the boy makes a noise on the monitor, “Ah he must be awake from his morning nap, I’ll go get him”. This was clearly to the delight of everyone in the room, but secretly I was thinking “just as I planned it”. The boy was fully awake, sitting up holding his seahorse toy and immediately gives me the biggest smile when we make eye contact and holds his arms up to be lifted out. I pick him up and make a fuss whilst smoothing his hair around to control his bed hair and make my way back down. I carry him into the room to meet a sound of everyone making “cute noises” on how sweet he looked. I sat on the floor with him on my lap and he buried his face into my armpit looking very shy, which makes total sense as the room was filled with five adults with only a couple he even knew. “Oh look at that, great attachment” the IRO said smiling, which I took as a compliment and slowly he got more used to everyone and started playing with his toys and bringing them to show the adults he knew like Gemma and Dawn, but still didn’t approach the strangers to him. We mainly spoke about how he settled in and if we have noticed anything to be concerned about since we last met around 6 weeks ago and if there were any problems we now have. The health visitor explained that he is healthy and meeting all of his milestones at the rate he should be, with some things of his milestones being achieved a little early.
The IRO then says, so we are at the 10 week stage later this week and are you ready to fill out the forms and get it underway. To which Rich quickly responded by saying, well the forms have already been filled out and Gemma has them ready to go. Acting a little shocked the IRO sarcastically says “no way, you two would never be that organised” which everyone laughed at, knowing that Rich does have some crazy issues when it comes to paperwork and always having it done in good time. The IRO then goes on to explain that once we have a court date, the birth parents will be issued with a document to explain that the court hearing of the boy is to take place and this would be their final chance to contest the adoption and put to the judge any evidence to change situation. Of course, this is very hard to talk about as it brings back to reality the possibility of this actually not going through, as the judge may decide there is a chance the birth parents could again be in a position to take back parental care. The main job of a social worker and the team is to do what they can to help a birth parent keep their child and work with the family to help keep them together, which we know and understand why it is so but this isn’t always possible in every case and sometimes the decision is best for the child for them to be place elsewhere and like in our case adopted. There are many reasons why a child is placed up for adoption but this process takes a while and the decision is not easy, there are a lot of factors and evidence that goes into the case which then is left to the judge. At the court hearing the judge will once again review the previous reasons, all of the evidence and then take on board any new information provided by the birth parents if contested before making their decision. In the back of my mind, whilst this was being discussed my stomach was doing flips, how could we even think about the boy leaving us but at the same time we could understand that if there is a chance he could be raised by his birth parents then he should be allowed to, however heart breaking this would be for us and our families. The rest of the meeting we discussed the contact agreement with the birth family, which consisted of a range of suitable options dependant on the situation, which included letterbox contact and some direct contact with a sibling, to which we fully agreed.
Finally they all said how lovely it was to see how well he has come on in such a small amount of time and that they are really happy with everything we have been doing in terms of his attachment and settling in, before the IRO confirmed “so we look forward to you making your application to the courts and are all in support of you doing this”. The flips and turns that my stomach was making have now quickly turned into butterflies, as this is all I wanted to hear today and now I have heard it, I could jump for joy but instead remain calm and smile uncontrollably for the next few seconds.
We say our goodbyes and the IRO wishes us good luck, having provisionally booked in the next review but potentially this will not be required if the court hearing goes through first time. Gemma stays behind, just to go over any questions we may not have wanted to ask in the meeting but we don’t have any. Gemma being so lovely and knowing me so well by now says “Lewis, I know you are going to be worried sick now and I saw your face drop when we were talking about the potential chance of the boy returning to his birth parents, but I am hear whenever you need, but we just need to wait for the court date and just put it out of your mind until then”. Unable to really reply with anything constructive, other than the look of a worried parent who would do anything for their child, Gemma gives me a hug and gets her stuff ready to leave. As soon as the door closed, I burst into tears and say to Rich “what if we have to say goodbye to him, I just wouldn’t cope” Rich tearing up as well at this, but trying to remain strong said “let’s just take him to the park, feed the duck and carry on as normal” and with that he picked the boy up and for a minute we just have a little family cuddle and then put our jackets on to head to the park, trying our very best not to worry.