Our Agency Experience
I apologise in advance because this has turned into an essay!
We started our journey with our LA in late 2013 and it all seemed to go well for the first part. We sailed through Stage 1 with only a tiny delay as they wanted the medical adviser to see me due to past health issues (She cleared me within 5 minutes and told them they had nothing to be concerned about), had our DBS checks and completed all the training with no problems whatsoever. All our reports were very positive and we waited to be assigned a social worker to begin our home study. Unfortunately that's when it started going wrong...
We were finally assigned a social worker from our local team four months later and it was clear from the off that she (and her manager) considered that there was a problem. They turned up on the first visit 1 1/2 hours late with no apology, pulled us and our house apart, said they would come back in a month to review things and left without telling us what they were planning on reviewing, or indeed even which one of them was which as they didn't even bother to introduce themselves. They then turned up unannounced two weeks later (where we were finally able to work out who was who). The letter that they had sent telling us they were changing the date arrived two days later and had only been posted the day before. It was only by chance that we were even in! However, we had apparently made some progress in whatever it was they were looking at and dates were put into diaries with a panel date pencilled in and we finally thought we were getting somewhere. Wrong!
Of all the dates that were put into diaries our social worker only ever turned up to three of them and each time she was over two hours late without bothering to either let us know or apologise. On at least two occasions the appointment was cancelled completely without her bothering to let us know, which really annoyed us but because we were aware that she didn't much like us we didn't want to rock the boat any further by complaining, especially as her manager was of the same view.
We knew things were not going well, despite our best efforts. Little snide comments like "People from your town don't adopt children, people from your town have their children adopted." and my personal favourite from the manager when asked what the problem was with a particular room "Well if you had children, you would know." rather gave their views away, so it came as no surprise when they both turned up one day and told us they weren't continuing with the assessment but we could go to panel with a short report. They then proceeded to say some of the nastiest things I've ever heard, all with really irritating little smiles on their faces. OH was told that he didn't care that his terminally ill mother was sick and I was told that the medical advisor clearly didn't know what she talking about - this from someone who couldn't even get our names right let alone the name of my former illness!
So we decided enough was enough and left the LA, feeling as though we'd been put in a barrel and dropped down a cliff. We took a few weeks to mentally regroup and then started nervously looking into VAs instead, worried about the sort of reception we would get. We found one via First4Adoption and from the first email exchange, we just seemed to click.
We met someone from the VA in person in July and we had a good chat with them about them and what they could offer and they asked us lots of questions and when they left we had a really good feeling about them. They got in touch saying they would love to work with us and after doing our DBS checks and medicals again we were assigned a social worker, almost a year to the day of us starting the process with the LA.
We couldn't believe it when we met our new social worker. She could not have been more different and it was a real pleasure to work with her. We actually looked forward to her visits! She gave us great advice and pointers about what was to come and was a massive support when we finally got to panel earlier this year, where we were approved. Cut to two and a half months later and we have just been linked and a view to matching panel in June. We have been well supported so far by our VA and they are always at the end of the phone if we need them and I would happily recommend them to anybody.
Sorry for the length of this post, but we've had such diverse experiences! Our LA was really good until it got to the local team, who were worse than awful and then we have our VA, who have been outstanding. I think we've had the lot!