Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes I made during the adoption process is not paying enough attention during Teens Panel.

Never heard of Teen Panel before? To this day I’m still not sure whether it’s a common step in the process or some weird experiment conjured up by our Local Authority. In case you haven’t heard about it before, let me explain.

Towards the end of the adoption process we were invited to attend a panel made up exclusively of adopted teenagers (technically from 6 to 16 years old).

What is great about Teens Panel is that you get the chance to ask them questions you may have about being adopted. All questions have to be communicated in advance so that the panel can work out who’s most suitable to answer each.

What is slightly less good is that the children get to ask you some questions too, and these are not scripted. At all.

After having been through Adoption Panel and Matching Panel, I can confidently conclude that Teens Panel was the most terrifying of all.

Despite the panic, we fully understood what a brilliant opportunity it presented. This was a group of children whose life stories are in many ways similar to Ben’s. It was the opportunity to ask questions to a version of Ben a few years down the line. It was important. It’s clear that none of these children were Ben and that each of them had a different life, but that’s the closer we could get.

So, what did we asked? I know what questions we asked because, as I mentioned before, they had to be written down. What their answers were, well, that I remember much less. I feel like I’m back at school all over again and I’m not prepared for a revision. I simply can’t remember. Hey, it’s not just me, Laura was there with me too, and she’s not more prepared.

It might have been the settings, the panic, or the fact we had gone through Matching Panel in the morning of that very same day, literally a few hours earlier, that it was like we were never really there.

Here is the little I do remember of that afternoon:

Have you ever been teased at school for being adopted?

We are not old enough yet to have forgotten how mean kids at school can be, and how little it takes for a child to be victimised. We weren’t going to lie to Ben about his adoption, but at the same time we didn’t want to ask him to keep the adoption a secret to others. Children should never be asked to keep secrets. We didn’t want him to think that being adopted was something to feel ashamed about.

To my surprise, teasing had never been a problem for most of the children on the panel (10 or so of them). A nice girl told us she had been teased once for being adopted, but that was an isolated incident. I found that comforting.

What kind information you would have liked to know about your birth parents?

That’s not the most inspired question we could have asked, as a result we didn’t get very much out of this one. The feeling I got was that however much they knew about their birth parents they didn’t need or – more often – didn’t want to learn more. I wonder if knowing the reasons why they were separated by their birth parents had any weight on that.

Have you ever been worried about asking your adoptive parents information about your birth parents?

More than one teen on the panel wanted to chip in on this, it was by far our most popular question. Many praised their parents for being very open about their birth family, but I remember one boy in particular who told us that he always felt he couldn’t ask his mum about his birth family for fear of hurting her. I remember taking a mental note of never giving Ben the impression that the subject of his birth family is an unwelcome one, and I fully intend to follow through with it.

Do you have any siblings, and what relationship do you have (or wish to have) with them?

Many children on the panel had siblings, some of whom they met. But none of the children seemed particularly interested in their blood siblings. One child had more fond memories of other two children who lived with him in his foster family, which at that time I found curious. Thinking back at it now, knowing how long those kids might have lived together as brothers, it’s not all that surprising.

What your adoptive family has done really well, and what could they have done better?

Now, that’s a fantastic question, don’t you think? I really wish I could remember what answers we got, but unfortunately I can’t, nor can Laura.

They asked us questions too. From their questions you could tell how much they empathised with Ben, even tho they never met him. They weren’t so much interested in us, or how the adoption could affect us, and really why should they be? They wanted us to reassure them we were going to do the right thing for our child.

At the end answering all their questions wasn’t harder than any of the other panels before. I must concede that the work that our Social Workers had done must have had something to do with it. By the end of the process we could have answered most of these questions in our sleep. There were other questions tho, for which we had no answer. Teen Panel was the perfect opportunity then, but I’m not sure we made the most of it.

Or maybe we got the answers that were important to us at the time.

There should be a Teen Panel every year. I have many more questions I’d like to ask now, and I’ll think of many more in the future. It’d be nice, from time to time, to ask them how well we are doing too.

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