I’ve just come off the radio with BBC WM talking about the fact that nearly half of the children waiting to be adopted in Birmingham are considered ‘difficult to place’ for a number of reasons. It may be ethnicity, disabilities, part of large sibling groups or their age. As an adopter of three siblings who were on the edge of that age bracket (4, 5 and 7) we fall into that difficult to place category.
I was asked by the interviewer why we chose older children, “doesn’t everyone want babies?”….yes many prospective adopters I see at panel do want babies or very small children at least. I can understand the reasons why but there are also misconceptions about this and also about older children. I know I’ve written specifically about this before in my blog from last year’s National Adoption Week – Too old at 4. Take a look at that if you’re interested in this area.
However, this blog is not specifically about older children. I want to introduce you to a friend of mine who happened to adopt a little girl very young at the time. Here are the adoptive Mum’s answers to a few questions that I hope will be helpful to you, whether you are considering adoption, have children placed with you, or work with vulnerable children.
How would you describe you journey to adoption?
Myself and my husband had always wanted to adopt and it was part of our plan many years before we found out about any fertility issues. When it became clear that biological children were going to be unlikely without help we took time out to grieve and decide what we wanted. Fertility treatment was an option but neither of us were drawn to that and adoption became a stronger and stronger thought in our minds. In actual fact the day that we decided that we were going to go for it was the exact day that our little girl was born. We only realised this fact years later whilst looking through some old diaries. We weren’t to meet for another 22 months though. Meant to be…..we think so!!
The process itself for us was fairly easy and enjoyable. We had a very experienced social worker, no existing children to consider and we both had extensive childcare experience. The adoption landscape at that time was quite different to now and there were more children under 2 years old and less adopters. We jumped through the many hoops and were linked to our daughter the day after approval panel. It was incredibly fast and quite surreal looking back on it, we spent that summer getting ready and introductions began in the autumn.
Can you give us two highlights in your adoption journey?
We have been enjoying watching our daughter grow and blossom. After many negative predictions she has become a talented and happy little girl who enjoys life to the full. We both enjoy spending time with her and she is brilliant company with a wicked sense of humour. She has a strong personality and is very pro-adoption. She spends lots of time trying to convince us to adopt a little boy in her class who is waiting for a forever home!
Another highlight has been meeting so many adopters and making some good friends with some very lovely people. They all show incredible perseverance, commitment and unconditional love to their children. The groups of special needs parents that I meet with every week are also an amazing source of support and kindness, sometimes support comes from very unlikely places.
What about the lows?
The lows have definitely been the education system and lack of meaningful support from CAMHS/social care. Our daughter seemed fine at 2 years old and was meeting her milestones. However, she is actually quite severely impaired emotionally and socially and as this came out between 3 and 4 we found ourselves very lonely, isolated and adrift without the support that we needed. Mainstream education let her down badly and it has taken 3 years in a special school to help her to heal and move on. We have been quite shocked by the misunderstanding and lack of knowledge towards traumatised children within children’s services. We have found ourselves trying to educate a vast array of professionals including Heads, Sencos, behaviour outreach services, health visitors, GP’s and so on.
During this time, we found it almost impossible to access any therapeutic support and only started theraplay when our daughter was 8. The gap between needing help and actually getting some help was 3 years and this is way too long to wait for families and children.
What would you say to families considering adoption?
I would say read, read, read!! Know the children that are coming into the care system and understand that younger does not always mean easier. Consider the experiences that the children have had when they were pre-verbal and research how that could impact upon future development. We underestimated the impact of loss on our daughter as a toddler. The only words that she could say at 2 were ‘bye’ and ‘where’s he gone?’ which gives some indication of the internal confusion of a toddler whose primary care givers kept on disappearing. The impact of that on a now nearly 9-year-old is plain to see on a daily basis.
I would also say don’t be put off by professionals predicting a very negative outcome for a child. It is possible to change things for our children but you have to take the long view and think years not weeks/months.
I hope this helps if nothing else to raise awareness of some of the highs and lows of adoption and parenting children who have experienced early trauma. If you are an educator reading this, I know you may also be frustrated by a rigid system that can be difficult to meet the complex needs of children today. There are not enough services out there and those good ones that are around can be near impossible to access.
This year’s theme for National Adoption Week was Support Adoption – meaning support in any way you can, whether that’s actually fostering or adopting yourself, or considering the needs of vulnerable children in your environment, or supporting a friend or family member, that you know may be struggling raising their children, in whatever way you can. We can all play a part to break this cycle and allow children the chance of a brighter, hopeful future.