“I am a social worker and work with children who’ve experienced the care system and moved to adopted families. It has been in my heart for a long while that I’d like to adopt. However, as a couple, we wanted to try for birth children in the first instance. We have been blessed with a boy and a girl, now aged 14 and 12. It was many years before we felt ready to discuss the subject of adoption as our time and energy was being spent on the children, our careers and community life.
In April 2017, we felt ready to explore the possibility of adopting a third child. We felt we were in a position in our lives where we could offer a home and family to another child. Our birth children were established and our family very close and we knew adding another child into that mix would be complicated. Financially it would involve me taking time off work and that would put pressure on us as a family. Our parents are a huge part of our support network and we had to consider how they would understand and adapt to having an adopted child in the family.
We were linked with Families for Children via a charity called Home for Good. We wanted an independent agency who would be sympathetic to our Christian values. It felt like Families for Children were interested in a holistic approach- considering the needs of the families and adopters they support as well as the children they placed. We didn’t have a very positive experience of the placing authority. They were very focused on the process and ticking boxes rather than us and our family. This left us feeling very sad, frustrated and disappointed.
We understood adopting a child would have many compromises and challenges, but we also felt it was something we could do. I was more driven and motivated to explore adoption as I’d seen first-hand the need of so many children having been removed from birth family situations. Owen is a headteacher and was also very aware of the needs of some children and although he was initially less motivated, he was prepared to explore the idea.
The process is very unusual and one that we will be unlikely to experience at any other time. It’s a very intrusive process as the social worker has to ask lots of in depth and personal questions. However, she acknowledged this from the outset and was considered and respectful in the sessions. Our social worker was very experienced and used this experience and knowledge to help us to really consider what would work best for our family.
As we already had birth children, we had to consider their needs and wishes. In the end they really decided on the age and gender of our child. We knew we could realistically only offer a home to one child. I also knew from my professional experience some of the complexities that I felt we could manage as a family and others we wouldn’t be able to. So, in the end we were quite narrow in what we could offer but having said that we found our daughter within three months of our adoption approval, so she really was just waiting there for us!
The first thing professionals ask you after meeting or seeing your new child is whether you love them or feel a connection to them, and really the answer is, ‘no!’ How could we? We had some information about her, but as it turned out the local authority social worker didn’t know our daughter that well and so there was masses and masses about her it has taken us years to learn. What I can say is that she had a beautiful smile and physically looked like she could belong to us which was an important factor for us in matching.
The introductions went as well as they could as our daughter lived with experienced and sensible foster carers who have been through the process of placing a child for adoption previously. The child’s social worker puts together a plan for the introduction period but we had to adjust and adapt this as the days passed to take account of everyone’s needs.
Our daughter was terrified the whole time. She was pre-verbal and couldn’t understand what was going on. The professionals in the placing authority weren’t helpful at this time at all and so we all had to make the best of it and muddle through the weeks. The first night our daughter was with us was so weird! We didn’t really know how to be around her. She was very angry and upset and it was very challenging to try and settle her. At the time our social worker warned us it would be hard work with this child- although we didn’t have all the information from the placing authority about her needs. Our Families For Children social worker had the experience to predict how it would be… and it was very, very hard! In the early months our biggest shock was our adopted child’s extreme behaviours. We weren’t prepared for the levels of distress, fear and grief she experienced after moving in with us.
Our lives now are unrecognisable from pre-adoption and that 12-18 months after she joined us. I got my daughter ready for school this morning and she was doing something silly and it made me laugh and I told her how precious she is to us and how much joy she brings us. It is like we have a different child. She really is a miracle! She has gone from a scared and helpless little thing to a blossoming beautiful funny and joyful child. She is happy and settled, she is quirky and fun, and she has this amazing desire to learn and be loved.
We have a good routine that we’ve worked hard to achieve where we have a good balance with our older children. We try to offer them the life, experience, time and energy they need whilst managing the complex needs of our adopted child. She still isn’t easy at times. We have to think ahead all the time and plan everything to ensure we can support her to manage her emotional dis-regulation and fear. There are places we can’t go because of her and we have to manage the disappointment and at times frustration of the older two. We have had to go back to early mornings again which is exhausting at times and one of us is constantly on duty for her. However, there is no way that anyone could ever doubt that our daughter was anything other than ours. We believe she was destined to be with us and whatever life holds, through tears, frustrations, challenges, laughter and joy we will manage what is to come.
There is no substitute for time- someone told me this right at the beginning and it is a golden truth. We are the living proof of time healing and moving on. We have developed a fabulous relationship with our daughters foster carers. That relationship has been highly significant for her to know she was loved and has not been forgotten. In the beginning she asked for them many times a day and wanted to live with them again. Now, they are like grandparents. We meet up a few times a year and they offer love and acceptance.
We asked for therapy from the beginning. We were linked with a fabulous adoption therapy agency and had a variety of input and support. This has quite honestly been our lifeline and we couldn’t have managed without it.
Owen and I, and the older two ensure we have time together. We have amazing family and community support which enables us to have time to relax and enjoy things that a four year-old couldn’t manage or for us as a couple to be together without any children! It took us a long time for this to be ok and not feel guilty. But it has been hugely significant in being able to manage over the past 2.5 years.
Be prepared for it to be hard. Parenting is hard! Having an adopted child brings many of the same challenges as having birth children but the intensity and complexity of the child and situation means it will be exhausting at times- so enjoy the small moments. I remember the first time my adopted child chose me, said ‘I love you’ or sought me out when she was upset. Small wins but they build and grow until now everyday is a win filled with joy!”