Frankie had been exploring adoption for a number of years but it was in 2019 that she first discovered early permanence and felt certain it was something she wanted to do.
Frankie cared for baby Sophie from three months old through Coram’s early permanence scheme, going on to adopt her in May 2021. Frankie and Sophie have direct contact with Sophie’s older sister Olivia and her grandparents who look after Olivia as her special guardians.
The Early Permanence process
Early permanence enables younger children to be placed with carers who are approved to adopt them later, if the courts decide they cannot be cared for permanently by their birth family.
Frankie was instantly drawn to the benefits of early permanence: “The court process takes a long time and so it seems like a good idea for younger children to be able to bond with a family who may then go on to become their permanent parents. It gives them stability and straight away I realised it was something I wanted to do.” Frankie became aware of Coram’s expertise in early permanence and went to an open evening at Coram in May 2019 to find out more.
In January 2020, Frankie started the training process at Coram. Early permanence carers are approved as adopters but also receive additional high-quality and intensive training and support from Coram to help them prepare for the process of being a foster carer as well, which involves working with the professional network around the child, contact meetings with the birth family, and managing a return of the child to their birth family where this is the outcome.
Frankie recalls: “I really enjoyed the process and it was especially great to meet other adopters and early permanence carers. I’m still in touch with the group today. It’s really important to have a network of people, particularly as a single adopter, who understand the process and know what you are going through.
“The process is of course quite hard, you do have to talk through all of the possible challenges but it’s essential to be prepared. I was never swayed to change my mind about early permanence, I knew I definitely wanted to do it, despite the possible risk of a child being returned to birth family.”
The training at Coram was completed just before the start of the first national Covid-19 lockdown, and Frankie was approved as an early permanence carer in July 2020.
Frankie remembers that the matching process was more of a challenging period for her: “There were quite a few children I had expressed interest in but these didn’t progress the whole way through so it does play with your emotions. Life is a bit limbo-like for a while, you can’t make any long-term plans because you never know what will happen. My social worker was great though, she was really good at giving me the ‘no news’ news, so I knew why things had gone quiet and it helped to manage my expectations.”
Caring for Sophie
In early December 2020, Frankie was told about Sophie, a three-month old baby. Frankie felt excited but tried not to get her hopes up too much in case it didn’t progress. But less than two weeks later, just a few days before Christmas, Sophie came to live with Frankie.
Frankie remembers the first few days were challenging as she adjusted, with support from her parents who live nearby: “Sophie hadn’t had much stimulation in her first three months and she was brought down to me on the train, so everything was overwhelming for her, it was a big change for her to be in such a different environment. She had bad separation anxiety and would only let me hold her.”
“But our bond felt immediate. I’d been preparing myself for the challenges so was surprised by how positive it felt. Sophie felt like my daughter straight away and I know it doesn’t always happen like that, but I knew I didn’t want to hold back my love for her, even if I could. Even if I wouldn’t go on to become her adoptive mum, I knew how much she needed to be loved.”
Sophie's birth family
Early permanence carers are supported to have contact meetings with a child’s birth family members. Contact with Sophie’s birth parents was not possible, however contact meetings were arranged with Sophie’s maternal grandmother and Sophie’s older sister Olivia (aged three at the time).
Olivia is cared for by her grandparents through a special guardianship and it had been a very tough decision for them when Sophie was born as to whether they would also be able to look after Sophie too. They had wanted the sisters to stay together but decided that due to their age, they would struggle to cope and be able give Sophie the best chance in life, and that it would give her more stability to live with another family.
Frankie and Sophie’s grandmother met in person for the first time in March 2021, as the lockdown measures were easing. Frankie says: “It was a very special and emotional day. When she spotted Sophie, Olivia ran over to her squealing, examining her as if to check she was real. Sophie’s grandmother and I were both in tears.”
Six months after Frankie became Sophie’s early permanence carer, the Adoption Order was granted. Frankie was keen that contact with Sophie’s grandparents and sister continued and so Frankie and Sophie’s grandmother met with the social workers to set out a contact plan and agree some rules and how often they would meet to manage expectations.
Frankie says: “Sophie’s grandmother and I share similar values and we’re on the same page about raising the girls. It’s reassuring for me that Sophie will have a similar upbringing to her sister. Sophie’s grandmother has also said how grateful she is to have Sophie in her life – she knew there was no obligation and had been worried about not having a relationship with Sophie, but I’ve told her she’ll always be Nanny.”
Frankie and Sophie have since met up several times with Sophie’s grandmother and sister and they keep in touch with messages and swap photos of the girls. Frankie says: “It has been lovely to watch the girls’ bond grow. Sophie’s grandparents were among the first people I told when she took her first steps and said her first word.”
The benefits of contact
Frankie says that the contact has been hugely beneficial for all involved and is so important for Sophie: “It’s so nice for her to have a link with her sister who is the spitting image of Sophie, they look so alike and have the same expressions. They’ll have that shared experience in life that they’ll be able to talk about later on."
“It means that Sophie can also have a good relationship with her grandparents and ask questions as she grows up. There will be less mystery for her or feel like a huge part of her identity is missing. These are many things that adopted people say they yearned for growing up. We feel so lucky – more people to love Sophie can only be a good thing.”
Sophie also has a great relationship with Frankie’s parents and siblings, and has two cousins a similar age that she loves to play with. Frankie says her family have been really supportive and involved through the whole process.
Frankie has conversations with Sophie about adoption and knows that contact with her grandparents and sister will help Sophie’s understanding of her life story as she grows up. Sophie is now two and is thriving, as Frankie explains:
“Sophie has changed so much, she’s less anxious. She is doing really well, she is so smiley and bright and has an incredible capacity for learning, picking things up so quickly. She talks all the time and makes me laugh everyday. Life has changed so much since Sophie came into my life – all completely for the better. She’s amazing.”