Panel Vision

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Today we had our last information gathering session with Stef, our assessor. Next week she’ll have the first draft of the Form F for us to look at and comment on. It feels like we’re coming to the end of something, but I know that it is in fact the start line we’re approaching. There is a huge blank canvas stretching before us and I am at once excited and terrified.

There is of course one thing to get through first – panel. Appearing in front of the approval panel is a daunting experience for anyone. For me it is no different despite the fact that I have served as a panel member.

Now that the information on us has been gathered, everything is about presenting us to the panel. The first thing that will happen will be that the completed Form F will be sent to each of the five (minimum) panel members. They will attempt to stay interested for long enough to read it. I joke. They will read it and probably reread it. They will pick out any areas that they feel are of potential concern or that they feel they need to know more about. They will be thinking about what they’d like to grill us on at panel. On the day of Panel, before we arrive they will close themselves into a room and agree which questions they are going to ask (usually about five or six but there may be more if there are areas for concern). Then Jim and I will be called in to answer them in a suitably convincing way. This concerns me. If I could somehow engineer Jim to come down with a voice-jacking form of laryngitis or if the use of duct tape was permitted or perhaps even if we could answer questions using the medium of interpretive dance, I would possibly feel better. But the answering of questions is an unavoidable fact of the panel experience. More’s the pity.

Winning friends and influencing people…

Let me just explain. I have no doubt that Jim will make an excellent foster carer. He is a brilliant dad and a fantastic person – truly. But Jim has this “thing”. It’s to do with job interviews or indeed any situation where he is called upon to impress someone. He’s had numerous disastrous interviews (not as numerous as the disastrous dates but that’s for another time) including one for which he was a month early and one that was called to a confidence-shattering halt after five minutes (a mercy that very few of the date disasters afforded him). What happens in these situations is that Jim starts to act as if he’s featuring in his very own multiple choice personality quiz. You know, the ones that list a choice of actions, none of which any sane person would ever select even in the most desperate of circumstances:

Q: You are in an interview scenario and feeling incredibly nervous and unsure of yourself. Do you:

a) Behave in a way that suggests extreme arrogance topped with a liberal sprinkling of cock-suredness?

b) Make ridiculously inappropriate jokes that in no way reflect your character in an attempt to “win them over”?

c) Adopt the “I don’t give a rat’s backside what you think of me” stance with stunning effectiveness?

d) All three?

So the Form F needs to be good.

And this is what is behind Stef’s thinking at this final fact-finding session.

Go with the flow

Over the last couple of months we’ve covered a good deal of ground with respect to the form F. We’ve answered endless questions about our childhood, our views on parenting, our relationship, our children, our values, our faith, our mental health, our highs, our lows. We’ve also done lots of work on the theory of fostering, working through the Skills to Foster material. We’ve read books and articles and attended training. Stef has been diligently collecting all of this and cramming it into the Form F with undiminished enthusiasm.

And now she is looking at it through the eyes of a panel member. She’s asking us some of the trickier questions to fill the gaps. She’s asking us to elaborate on some of the answers we’ve given. As well as giving Stef the opportunity to produce a really thorough Form F, this also gives Jim and I some much needed practise for panel. We fall into a pattern, which can be expressed rather nicely in a simple flowchart.

Stef asks Jim a question > Jim says “I don’t know” or “I can’t remember” > Lucy prompts Jim with a few well placed cues > Jim responds with eloquence and feeling > Stef looks pleased > Jim looks even more pleased > Lucy mops her brow

Is it a panel proof flowchart I wonder….