This day, 6 years ago, my son and I became a family. I stood in the hallowed halls of the Russian Family Court and heard the words, "The Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation and the City of St Petersburg now award you CT permanent custody of the orphan child XX"
Believe me I could hardly believe those words. I had to look over to my colleague and friend Andre, for him to give me the thumbs up, to clarify what I had just heard was true. A totally unbelievable feeling - one of joy, relief, surprise, excitement, disbelief, honour, happiness - everything. After so long and such a hard journey, I was now a Mum! I was now totally responsible for the life of this little adorable child. Together, forever, we would spend our lives. So daunting and yet so welcome. Such a beautiful gift I had been given by the City of St Petersburg and its people. Such a precious gift I had been offered by my son's birth parents. One that I will honour and treasure for all of my days.
So today we celebrate - with a movie and a good feeling, in the knowledge that we are a family that has been made. A family that loves and cherishes each other. A family that will be together through tough times and happy moments. But it is not all plain sailing - because as with all adoption situations, happiness is always touched by a little sadness. Sadness that my son is not with his birth family, that he had to be in care in the first place, that no matter what, that sadness will always be there. So, we too acknowledge that sadness and send kisses and love in the wind - so with the autumn leaves it may travel over the seas and into the heart of a woman who today may not be celebrating, but who can be happy in the knowledge that her child is receiving love, care and comfort and who now has a chance to reach his potential, a gift she was unfortunately, not able to offer.
This complex dynamic is so well understood by Martin Narey and it is so encouraging that he has reached out and caught the ear of the present government. How amazing that adoption is now top of the agenda. How amazing that it is finally getting the political will and backing that it so desperately needs. How wonderful that there are plans to 'pull it up by the boot straps' and motivate the lax, lazy and indifferent attitude that has overcome adoption agencies.
It is absolutely my conviction, that as soon as the government believe in adoption as a positive option, and that the media changes its perception, and society begin to honour adoption - then people will flock forward to give homes to our children in need. There are so many beautiful families that can accept the gift of a child and give them a loving, kind and secure home.
And they have come forward, and they have opened their hearts - but they have been turned away. The reasons are many, petty and not profound. Still ongoing issues with an ex-wife, too many stairs in the house, parents that live too far away. It has always irked me that social services can be so flippant about potential adoptive parents. The way they are treated is appalling. There is a desperate lack of understanding about the needs, wants and desires of potential parents - in fact if you 'want a child' you are frowned upon. People have been rejected because they are 'too desperate' and one has to curb the joyous, happy, celebratory feeling about wanting to become a parent, just in case it is misconstrued and will be a big red flag to the social workers who hold your future in their hands. Adoption has become so bureaucratic it has lost its meaning and purpose. Social workers want to find any reason why you should NOT adopt and never look at why you should adopt.
Maybe this now will change? Maybe with a big stick they will turn things on the head and think - wow this is a great family, one of our children is going to be very lucky. And then they do everything in their power to ensure that that happens as quickly as possible. We live in hope! I am encouraged by the new changes, they are the first move on a seismic shift. One hopefully that will lead us down the same path as the US where adoption is celebrated and rewarded. This, though, will take time and I think if Cameron does want to see the change in his term as Prime Minister, there is a quicker and easier way to increase the rate of adoptions in the UK...scrap the inter-agency fee.
I have heard whisperings of this fee before, but have never been able to establish exactly what it is and what it is for. Until last Wednesday, at the conference 'Adoption: The Next Headline'. Over 200 people connected with adoption gathered in the same room to debate the issues facing the day. Positive moves we made on almost all sides, the Judiciary still falling behind on making the desperate decision to permanently remove a child from a neglected and abusive home. An open arena to talk, offered at the champagne reception. And the shocking truth revealed about the exorbitant inter-agency fees.
This is how it works. There is a child in, say Ealing, who desperately needs a family, but there are no suitable families in Ealing. However, just over the railway line, in Hammersmith and Fulham, there is the perfect family. Simple put these two entities together and everyone is happy. No. Ealing has to PAY Hammersmith for the family. (I am not sure what for, I am assuming the assessment process and the administration?). And the sum that they have to pay is £27 000. Yes, you read correctly, 27 thousand pounds! And the person who I spoke to, said that the local authorities just do not want to pay that money. They do not have £27 000 lying around to give to another borough. And so, they don't. And that Mr Cameron is why so few adoptions happen.
Interestingly enough, in the debate, the question "Children in care are the nation's children, will it not be possible for the government to pay the inter-agency fees" was not answered, simply overlooked? This I believe is the nub of the present domestic adoption crises. A fee, a fine, for a family.
I am hoping that the reforms will be far-reaching, that children who find themselves, for whatever reason, without loving arms around them, will be able to find a family, so that they too, every year, will be able to celebrate that wonderful moment when they became a forever family.