“The most absurd and the most rash hopes have sometimes been the cause of extraordinary success.”

Vauvenargues, Reflections and Maxims, 1746

Next step, a home study report. Ian had told me to make contact with the Department of Health rather than the Home Office, and he explained that written guidance had just been published, setting out the steps to be taken, with a heavy emphasis on what should not be done. The home study, as I already suspected, was perhaps the most crucial document, which both the Romanian authorities (presumably the orphanage or maybe the mayor, or even the President) and the department would need. Oddly, I discovered that the guidance suggested that the report should not be sought until after a child had been identified, which meant a period of uncertainty and delay which could, I imagined, take months. It seemed to me that it was important to deal with this fundamental building block of the whole endeavour right at the start. If there was to be any problem, it didn’t seem sensible to leave that unaddressed let alone unidentified until after a child had been found but left behind, while paperwork was being assembled at heaven knows what pace. 

And I knew that in the eyes of social workers, I was not young. I was 44 and Carmel a year younger, and no matter that I was active, both in the squash court and on the hockey pitch, I gathered that miles on the clock mattered rather more than good mechanical condition to some local authorities. 

So I put my hand to the word processor and sent off a letter to my local social services office. The reply was short and to the point. Home studies were not being undertaken by this local authority and probably not by others, either. Resources, slim as they were, were concentrating upon the needs of children within the county, and therefore, unfortunately, no assistance would be provided to me.

On reflection, that might well have been a reasonable standpoint, but in my heightened state, I was not prepared to accept no for an answer, and so I pressed the point. I telephoned the author of the reply.

“Can you tell me whether I’m right in believing that you actually have a statutory duty to carry out a home study report?”

“No, I don’t think we do,” she replied. “And even if there was such an obligation, it would have to be balanced against our duties to the children within the county.”

“But children come into the county from all directions,” I said, “both home and abroad, and you are obliged, of course, to carry out your duties under the Children Act in respect of all, and not just those whom you choose.” 

That sounded far more unpleasant than I meant it to be, but before I could mend the fence that I had started to trample down, my contact retorted, “No matter what you say, you can’t tell me how this authority should manage its obligations to our families.”

Clearly I was going to get nowhere but I had a last throw. “Look,” I said, “You and I are not going to agree on whether you should or should not devote resources to this particular task, but I’m going to have to ask you to refer the case to the Director of Social Services. If he maintains the same view that you have described, then I propose to take the matter further, to the department in London, and if necessary to the Secretary of State.”

“Well,” she said, “you’ll have to put that in writing, and until you do and the director takes a different view, I’m afraid that we can’t help you further.” 

Thank goodness, I thought to myself, she didn’t end the conversation with ‘have a nice day’.

By this time, I had built up a head of steam, and I was not prepared to let the matter grind to a halt. In reserve, I had read somewhere that it might be possible to obtain the services of an independent social worker for the preparation of such a report, but as a matter of logic, I wondered whether that would satisfy the British government, let alone the Romanian authorities, given that payment to an independent social worker to compose such a report would be unlikely to produce a negative outcome. At least a local authority social worker would, I took it, be entirely objective and, if appropriate, would say loud and clear if parents could not pass muster. And, of course, the local authority adoption panel would itself be cautious about approving adoptive parents where the documentation before it had been prepared by an expert in his or her field, but an expert in the pay of the proposed adopters.

So the next day, 22 May 1990, I sat down and prepared a letter to the Minister of State for the Department of Health and Social Security, the Right Honourable Virginia Bottomley MP.

I was past caring whether my letter would be greeted with enthusiasm, or indeed if I were to be labelled as some sort of vexatious applicant. Frankly, I doubted that Mrs Bottomley would herself even read the letter, and even if she did, would take a personal interest in my individual problem. What was important, however, was that someone in authority in my local area might not be prepared to take the risk of criticism from London.

And while I waited for the outcome, there were more things to do.

First, Ian Marriott had set out a list of papers which I had to prepare in support of the home study report, and I noted them down in what was to become my travelling dossier:

  • a letter from my mortgagee, confirming satisfactory conduct of our home loan;
  • confirmation from our accountant of our income and solvency;
  • photographs of our home; 
  • a medical report on each of us;
  • references;
  • confirmation by a lawyer that British law enabled us to adopt a foreign-born child in the UK; 
  • a ‘Home Office letter’ outlining the steps from adoption to approval to entry clearance.

This dossier had then to be notarised in England and then translated into Romanian. He told me of a translator in Bucharest, Lily, who would undertake a translation at half the cost and three times the speed of anyone in the UK. Meanwhile, it had to be ‘certified’ by the Romanian embassy in London – quite what that entailed escaped me, but, as Ian and I both suspected, it seemed to be a useful, if modest, source of hard currency for the Romanian authorities. 

As Ian Marriott told me, “They only accept cash.”

While preparing all this, I had to make contact with the Romanian embassy. Again, this was a letter, designed along the general lines described by the Marriotts. I was, they said, to indicate quite openly that I wanted to offer a home to a child or children in an orphanage in Romania and I needed permission to enter the country and an indication of whether or not I could rely on the co-operation of the authorities.

The letter in reply was surprisingly swift, and set out a number of minor stipulations, fees, and an indication of where children could be found. It was the latter disclosure which was the most depressing, for the letter included page after page of addresses, both in town and country, where children were being accommodated. I imagined that these addresses were those which the Romanian government was prepared to reveal, being, I assumed, the least unpleasant of the bunch. Ian had cautioned me that there were far more, but even reading through the enclosures revealed tens of thousands of children, scattered around the country, in the establishments which I knew had only been glimpsed in the television news broadcasts, and which had so distressed not only me but the majority of the British public.

At least I had some certainty. I knew where to go, in London, for my first port of call, I knew what to say, and I knew what to pay. I knew that I would not be challenged about my destination and that the embassy would simply leave it to me to decide where to go. The list which I had composed with Ian’s help still required a number of formalities which were not difficult to overcome. My main problem remained: the absence of a home study report.

Then, a week later, the caravan lurched forward. A letter from my local authority, dated 25 May, written three days after my letter to the Secretary of State had arrived in London.

“I understand that Mrs Maudsley had communicated to you Warwickshire’s policy on adoptions.

I am writing to inform you that the Association of Directors of Social Services have very recently issued new advice, which questions this policy. Essentially it does encourage Local Authorities to undertake Home Studies on children from Romanian Orphanages.

I will ask Mrs Maudsley to contact you as soon as possible after the Bank Holiday.”

I mouthed a silent ‘thank you’. But there was no time to sit back in satisfaction, for the second task which I had set myself was to attempt to find someone who had wider experience of Romania and of the problems we might face. Might I even find a contact who would be of assistance?

Fortune took a hand. The Baptist church in Kenilworth was advertising for clothing and basics of every kind to load up in a regular shuttle service run by the local pastor, Graham Prestridge, who was arranging trips in and out of Romania with, effectively, emergency supplies. With some trepidation, I phoned him and introduced myself.

His response was immediate and charming, but pessimistic.

“I appreciate your motives and how you feel, but you’ll not receive any co-operation in Romania itself. The Romanians don’t care for their children being removed.”

“I don’t understand,” I replied. “Don’t they understand that the children are literally living in a sewer, and that it is vital to remove them?”

“Yes, I think they do.”

“Can they remove them, themselves?”

“No,” he conceded, “they can’t.”

“So why on earth do they resent or object to offers from abroad to take the children into loving and supporting homes?”

“I can only imagine that they are anxious about the children losing their birthright.”

“But, in heaven’s name, their birthright is a pretty long second behind their first right to the unquestioning and loving care of a family which will nurture them into adulthood, when they can, themselves, choose whether or not they wish to examine or fulfil what is rather loosely called their birthright.” I marvelled at my apparent pomposity. 

Fortunately, the Reverend Prestridge was not troubled by it. “You may be right, and you and I could discuss this and even argue it for hours to come without a satisfactory conclusion. The problem is that the Romanian mind-set is not one which is, at least at the moment, amenable to persuasion that there is a better alternative to leaving the children where they are.

“There are charities out there, both from this country and others, who are desperately trying to extract the children into local hostels or into foster care. The government is not impeding them…”

“I bet it isn’t,” I muttered.

“… But the task is huge, and it is little more than a drop in the ocean.”

“So why on earth are we standing by and allowing this to happen?”

I realised almost as I finished the question just how stupid it was. It was, I suppose, simply an indication of my frustration, but I knew that that alone would get me nowhere. What I needed was to establish whether or not Graham had any contact whom he might suggest I should follow up. 

He was extremely reticent. To be fair, he was very probably anxious not to compromise his own attempts to establish some sort of aid route into the country. 

“I’ll think about it,” he said. “I’m travelling to Romania with the next vanload next week, and I should be back in 10 days’ time. I hope I’ll be able to give you a more constructive answer then.”

I realised that I could not really ask for more, and, of course, I knew both that he was himself offering a lifeline to Romania and that he was also being extremely reasonable in our discussions. So I put a lid on my impatience and thanked him as cordially as I could and promised that I would make contact once more on his return. I wished him well for his next endeavour, and underlined my good wishes with the promise of a box of provisions.

Over that weekend, Carmel and I put together a box of soap, toothpaste, T-shirts, socks and household bits and pieces which we reckoned would fit the bill, and I delivered it to the Baptist church for the next convoy. As I did so, I wondered if and when I might follow the box to that unhappy place.


I would have to wait for the next 10 days, I realised, before establishing whether or not contact could be made with some sort of support in Romania. But, meanwhile, we received the promised phone call from Mrs Maudsley of the local authority.

“As you know, the Director of Social Services has considered your case and has decided that he will put aside resources so that you may have a home study report prepared for your proposed adoption.”

“That is remarkably good news and extremely kind of him,” I said.

“He would rather that you didn’t write to the department in London, since he has taken this decision on his own initiative.”

“Ah,” I said. “I have in fact written already and I’m extremely grateful to the Director and I will ensure that if I receive a reply from London, the department is made aware of the local authority’s willingness to help. Anyway, what now?”

“Well,” said Mrs Maudsley, “the requirement is that we come to your home, carry out interviews with you and your wife and look into your background, check references and prepare a report. If the report is positive, we put it before the adoption panel. You’ll appreciate that the investigation that we must undertake is quite intensive.”

“I quite understand that and I can promise you that my wife and I will co-operate fully. When do we start?”

To my surprise, I was promised an immediate start, and our first appointment was made there and then.

“This would normally take about eight weeks but we understand your wish to move on as swiftly as possible, given the reports of the state of the children in Romania, and we will endeavour therefore to wrap it all up for you in six weeks. Then we have to wait for the decision of the adoption panel, which can take anything up to another two months to reach a conclusion, simply because of the queue of applications for consideration by the panel which doesn’t meet every day of the week.”

I avoided voicing my immediate sense of disappointment, realising that steps had to be taken and protocols followed, and that these things could not be done overnight. If we were to succeed in speeding anything up, it would have to be by co-operating fully with the social work team rather than complaining every step of the way.

The important and encouraging thing was that we now appeared to be making progress.

And then, at the promised time, 10 days later, Graham Prestridge made contact. 

“I’m going to give you some names,” he said. “It is important that you keep my name out of it, because I don’t want them to feel that I have betrayed them, and I know that they do not really want to be involved in what Romanians consider to be against rather than in the interests of their children.”

He went on, “Let us meet and I will give you a name and a phone number. Then, it’s up to you.”

Barely able to contain myself, I agreed to get together with him. 

Hours later, eager to obtain as much information but remembering to restrain myself, I listened as he told me of the contact whom I might approach.

First, he had heard of a government official and his wife in Romania who had adopted two children themselves. The husband was, it seemed, a clinician in a position of authority for the region around Bacau, in the east of the country, close to the Iron Curtain. He had responsibility for the oversight of three orphanages. He apparently spoke perfect English. 

In that same city, there was an English nurse, undertaking some form of liaison between that official, the orphanages and visiting volunteers. She would probably know very much better than anybody what was going on on the ground and where I might undertake my enquiries first.

Finally, I was given the name and phone number of Mary Gibson,  the personal assistant of the chief executive of a nascent charity, the Romanian Orphanage Trust, working out of an office in central London. She would be, I was told, the least anxious to be identified, but might well, nonetheless, be prepared to give me some contact details which I could follow up in Romania.

“I’m sorry to bang on about this,” he said, “but I really must ask you to respect my wish that you keep everything you hear from me entirely confidential. Of course, you may use the details I have given you, but I really don’t want to be identified as the source of this information. I’m sure you understand that I want to be able to move the aid convoy in and out of Romania without losing the trust of my own contacts.”

What a curious and depressing overview, I thought. I couldn’t wholly grasp the need for caution, and I still couldn’t understand why it might be that Romanians could have any doubt about the endeavours of those who desperately wanted to help the children. 

“Bear in mind that your motives, and the motives of many others, are entirely Christian and based on the needs of the children. There are others, however, whose motives are sinister – those who have taken children and trafficked them for the most dreadful purposes.”

In my innocence and in my desire for speed, I’d never thought about that, and I had given no thought at all to the sordid and unpleasant behaviour of those who would prey on children and take every opportunity to get hold of a baby or an infant for their own appalling and criminal ends. 

At least, I hoped, a properly authenticated home study report would prove something of a barrier to criminals and a reassurance to the authorities. Graham agreed, but pretty obviously without great enthusiasm. We shook hands and he wished me well.


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