December’s “Spotlight On” feature is Coram. This first article is written by Sue Lowndes, managing director for adoption, with tips and information for people considering adoption. There’s a second article from Coram on Friday about adoption activity days.
Beginning your adoption journey
Many people are motivated to adopt because they want to offer a loving, permanent family to a child who has, or is likely to have, a plan for adoption approved by the court.
Children awaiting adoption will be living in foster care and will need love, time and patience to help them settle into their new families. Adoption makes an enormous and life changing difference to a child.
An adoptive parent makes the commitment to wholly empathise with the child and their circumstances and adapt to whatever challenges may arise throughout a child’s life and beyond. If you have the love, energy, time, health and patience to make a long-term commitment then adoption could be for you.
Who can adopt?
Despite the growing interest and understanding in adoption, there are still a few myths and misunderstandings around who can apply to adopt and what the process is.
You must be over the age of 21 to adopt but there is no upper age limit. Provided that you are healthy and have the energy to raise a child to adulthood, age is no barrier to adoption.
You can adopt whether you are single, in a partnership or married. There are many people who successfully adopt and who find adoption a very rewarding experience as a solo parent. One single adopter, Sophie, says that while solo parenting can be tiring, it ultimately brought her closer to her son as they are “a team of two”.
Similarly, your sexual orientation, whether you are heterosexual, lesbian or gay is not a factor in any application to adopt. Bruno, an LGBT adopter says: “Put your fears and doubts aside – the acceptance we’ve had as LGBT adopters has been incredible.”
You don’t need to be a homeowner but need to be living in suitable family accommodation. Your financial circumstances and employment status will be taken into consideration. Having a low income or being on benefits doesn’t rule you out, but you will need to show what financial resources you have to bring up a child.
You can be from any religious or ethnic background. While ethnicity is taken into consideration when considering a potential match, it’s not the only deciding factor. It’s possible to consider adopting a child from a different ethnic background to your own, especially where you have strong links and networks within a different ethnic background. This is something that your social workers will discuss with you.
Katrina, a white adopter with a mixed race daughter says: “My daughter’s heritage is important to her. I’ve always made sure she has access to diverse toys, books and films, and she’s in a very diverse school. We’re very open about identity – I’ve supported her in this and have said that if she ever feels awkward talking about things with me, there are friends and teachers to whom she can reach out.”
Families who already have children can still adopt. Consideration will be given to the age of your existing children and any needs they may have. They will be involved in the adoption process and speak to the social workers guiding you through.
Catherine and her husband Adrian had older birth daughters when they adopted two sons: “We have found it so helpful to have had birth children first. The girls have been nothing but supportive and have been an amazing part of the boys’ well-being as they’ve grown up.”
How do I apply to adopt?
In the UK you can adopt through a Voluntary Adoption Agency or through a Regional Adoption Agency or your local authority. You can find out more here. In your application, you’ll need to provide all the basic information such as your age, ethnic origin, occupation and details of any other children you may have.
You’ll also have the opportunity to include details of the type of child you think would be best matched with you. At Coram we’re actively looking for adopters of children of all ages, for siblings groups, adopters from the BAME community, adopters for older children and those with more complex needs.
Rebecca, who adopted older siblings, said: “We found out that older children can often wait longer to be matched. We felt determined that all children should have the same opportunities to find their forever family and as a result we chose to adopt older children.”
The process of applying to adopt involves having police (DBS) checks, making sure you have the appropriate space (usually a spare bedroom), and the time to care for the child. You will also be expected to attend a preparation course (training course) to help prepare and to learn more about the backgrounds of children awaiting adoption and the impact of adoption on yourselves and your wider family. You’ll also need to provide three personal references and have medical checks to ensure that you are fit enough to look after the child.
It’s important to remember that many adopted children are likely to require some help and support during their childhood and beyond. Along with your social worker’s support, this is where your adoption preparation and training will come in useful. Many adopters come to value the informal support network of adopter peers and regular training and updates on adoption matters of interest from their adoption agency.
Sophie, whose son is now 18, said: “I still remember and use a lot of the tips I was given in my prep group, even eight years on. I’m a better parent for all the help I’ve had and I’m able to understand my child better than some of my friends who have birth children.”
The Adoption Support Fund was also established to provide extra therapeutic support to adoptive families. To access the fund, your family’s needs will be assessed by your local authority. A variety of therapies are funded to help strengthen family relationships, support regulation of emotions and behaviour and engagement with learning.
Following adoption, it’s not just the adopted child’s life that changes. The experience can be transformative for the whole family.
Andy, who adopted two siblings said: “I would encourage anyone who feels they can adopt to do it. Adoption isn’t easy, but the benefits more than outweigh the difficult moments. Life changes completely but we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s amazing.”
Sue Lowndes is Managing Director of Coram’s Adoption and Permanent Families service. Find out more about Coram Adoption.