21. Baby Tinder

Well what a week that was, approved and engaged, messages of love and goodwill from all over – it was all very emosh and overwhelming, in a good way, like an all you can eat buffet, when you take it that plate too far…

Now we’re approved, the matching process begins, and I think it might be the strangest yet.

There is a website called Link Maker, which is an online catalogue of children in the UK awaiting adoption. It contains photos (in most cases) and profiles of well over 1000 children at any one time, which you can order, search and refine in the manner of a dating app. It is fascinating, distasteful and heartbreaking.

Cara and I have a profile, which covers everything from details of our home, favourite foods, hobbies and pictures – anything to help endear us to children’s social workers, in they hope they deem us a suitable match for their kids. We have two link workers: a newbie called J who is lovely and a terrifying woman called H – who is excellent at her job, but cutthroat! They have full access to our account and are responsible for searching on our behalf and liaising with social workers. We are under strict instructions not to speak to any directly and let J&H manage all conversations and requests. There are RULES. We can ‘show interest’ in a maximum of 6 children (or sibling groups) at once. We can’t express an interest in two children in the same, or neighbouring, local authority. There is one local authority which terrifying H refuses to work with (I am dying to know which, but she won’t say). There’s a whole new set of rules when it comes to social workers visiting us, but we’ll face those when we get to that stage.

J&H send over potential matches to us, we can search the database ourselves and children’s practitioners can send us details of children on their caseload.

The profiles are a mixed bag, some detailed and articulate, some poorly written or copied and pasted; some give scant detail, some include videos; some have professionally taken photos; some blurred pictures, whilst some are protected with only initials and no images.

It is possible to sort by ‘date posted’ and it’s notable as you scroll through the hundreds of pages how the needs of children become more complex as you delve further: birth defects, chromosomal disorders, physical impairments and behaviours that challenge. These are the children who wait. As I said, it’s fucking heartbreaking.

The details are relatively basic at this stage, but stories of children hoarding food, sleeping and eating on the floor are not uncommon. ‘Anxious’, ‘withdrawn’, ‘fearful of men’, ‘displaying sexualised behaviours’, ‘needs firm boundaries!’ jump out from every page. But there are also rays of hope – ‘thriving at nursery’, ‘has formed good attachment with foster family’, ‘sleeping through the night’, ‘no longer requires speech and language intervention’.

Social workers are masters of the ‘shit sandwich’ methodology: “B has beautiful eyes and long eyelashes, he can hit and bite when frustrated, his smile lights up a room…”

when we first began looking, I quickly became upset, Cara and I deliberately had to turn off the laptop and go watch something mindless on TV, but it’s frightening how quickly we’ve become desensitised. I won’t say we find it easy, but we soon recognised that if we didn’t feel a connection with a photo, or came across certain phrases in profile, it was time to move on. We’ve had some children referred to us and we’ve had to be very frank with J&H and say we don’t think they are for us. H is quick to remind us that they will be somebodies children, and we’ve got to go with our gut.

We’ve got a couple of sibling groups ‘bookmarked’ and we’ve asked for more details for a group of three boys. This is called a Child Permanence Record or CPR and gives full details of the children, their needs, reason for removal from the family, parental health records (where available) and reports from hospital/health visitors etc. We’ve seen a couple of examples and know they can be heavy going. If a child’s history is particularly difficult and their needs present as too complex, J&H will recommend we don’t read their CPR because they are so harrowing. I find that hard, really hard. These are babies ffs and adults have treated them so horrifically that we might find it upsetting. What a world.

But I want to talk about these boys, three brothers – C (5), O(3), G(1) (these ages are not precise as the profile was written a while ago – something to be aware of when reading profiles). They are beyond beautiful, the two younger brothers are dark haired and olive skinned, while the older lad is slightly fairer, and oh so handsome. They are reported to be social, intelligent, meeting milestones, confident and lovely to spend time with. They haven’t had an easy start, but they are resilient and beating the odds. The cynic in me hears H saying “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” But my heart says otherwise. We’ve requested more information and haven’t heard anything in 36 hours, J says this isn’t unusual, but it’s hard not to read a lot into this.

Cara and I keep reminding ourselves that all we are doing is asking for information, there’s no commitment and these are very early days. But these boys are on our minds. Right now they are out there somewhere waiting for their forever family. It’s a funny thought.

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