August 19, 2022
She became pregnant four times in three years, but each time it ended in sadness.

She became pregnant four times in three years, but each time it ended in sadness.

‘We didn’t call ourselves mum and dad for 10 months’

When babies are taken into care they live with foster carers – sometimes a series of them – until they are adopted. Occasionally they’re fostered by people who themselves hope to become the adoptive parents… but know that they may have to hand the baby back.

Nina and Steven hadn’t thought it would be difficult to start a family.

“I suppose we were quite blasé,” Nina says.

She became pregnant four times in three years, but each time it ended in sadness.

“I ended up having four miscarriages over the course of about three years, which was obviously quite an emotional time for both of us,” she says.

Beginning to think about adoption, the couple did some internet research and stumbled across information about “early permanence placements”.

This is where people become foster carers to children under two years old but may go on to adopt them later “if the courts decide they cannot be cared for permanently by their birth family,” says Hannah Moss of Coram, a group of children’s charities which also runs a regional adoption agency.

The first early permanence placement pilots in the UK were run at the end of the 1990s, but the system has since become well-established in England and Northern Ireland.

In an adoption strategy published in July the government said it would provide an extra £500,000 for early permanence schemes in England in 2021-22.

It noted that they “offer the child stability, reducing the negative impact of placement changes” and help to forge a stronger bond between carers and children.

In Scotland early permanence placements (often known there as concurrent care) are said to occur infrequently, while in Wales they will begin next year.

With Coram, Nina and Steven began several months of training sessions, written work and personal interviews. Once they had finished, their social worker began to show them profiles of children – including an unborn baby, Leah.

It seemed likely that Leah would be taken into care as soon as she was born, on the grounds that her mother wasn’t able to look after her, but it was impossible to know whether the courts would decide in due course that another family member was a suitable guardian.

Nina and Steven decided to go ahead, even though they knew that parting with the baby after months of court proceedings would be heart-wrenching.

But the training helped take the focus off them and put it on to the child, Nina says, “so it was less about us losing a child and more about what is the best thing for the child”. They accepted that it would be best for Leah to be cared for by a member of her birth family, if the court gave its approval.

Nina and Steven first went to meet Leah when she was two weeks old.

“Imagine you’re on a train and then you’re just going to meet this person that somebody’s given birth to but you know nothing about,” says Nina.

“I would say if I was ever doubtful of what we were doing it was on that train journey, just thinking, ‘What have we taken on?’ It was quite petrifying really. Although Steven was pretty calm about it, inside I was really panicking.”

Leah was in a neonatal ward, and they discovered she would have to stay there for five weeks.

“You’re told you start looking after them from day one, which means you have to go and visit them as much as possible so that they get to know you and your smell,” Nina says.

As they lived quite far away this meant a lot of travelling backwards and forwards.

Then suddenly they were told to stop going to the hospital, because of a legal technicality. But this hitch was overcome, and ultimately Leah was moved to a hospital closer to their home.