There are over 2000 children waiting to be adopted in England. 61% of these children waiting to be adopted are in sibling groups and desperately need a family to adopt them. During National Adoption Week First 4 Adoption will be working together with the Mirror to do just that.
This week I have been interviewing my beautiful friend Anne-Marie who, along with her husband, agreed to share their journey into adoption.
Hi Anne-Marie and Chris, thank you so much for agreeing to help raise awareness of adoption during National Adoption Week. Could you start by introducing yourself?
AMR – I am Anne-Marie, I am 39 (!!) and live in North Yorkshire with my husband Chris, 41, our 9 year old daughter Harriet and our 2 year old son Austin.
I guess we should start by talking about what led you to initially consider adopting?
CR – When I was about 20 I watched a documentary about a couple with 3 children, aged 16 and over, who decided to adopt a young Peruvian boy. They happened to comment that the little boy had gained 5 parents n a way, as the older children doted on him. The idea of adopting a child after my own children had grown up seemed like a great thing to do. That’s not how it eventually happened, but it was that documentary which first got me seriously considering adopting.
AMR – I remember when we first got together and Chris mentioned this documentary and his thoughts on adoption. It really stuck in my head as I thought it was unusual for a young guy to feel this way.
We had lots of infertility issues prior to having our daughter and were told the chances of us conceiving naturally were 2%, this obviously hurt us both a lot. After a failed IVF whilst licking our wounds, we found out we were pregnant naturally…a miracle baby!
When our daughter was 2 we decided to try for a second baby but it never happened. We felt so blessed to have her that we never considered IVF again. When our daughter was 5 we started to discuss adopting and that’s how it came about.
How did you both feel about it, were you on the same page? Did you speak to Harriet about it before you started the process?
CR – I was actually the “driver” of our adoption, so was up for it from day one. We did quite a lot of research into what the process entailed before we spoke to Harriet as we didn’t want to mention it and potentially get her hopes up prior to having an idea that we would at least be eligible for adoption.
AMR – It was actually Chris who led it all, we talked about it and I felt if he wanted it that badly he would get the ball rolling. He did just that, we had agencies round within a week!
Did you have any concerns about adopting before you went into the process?
CR – Plenty! But the agency we chose to proceed with (Barnado’s) and particularly our allocated case-worker were great at answering all of our countless questions. Nothing was off limits!
AMR – Absolutely! I think you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t. I personally had concerns about our daughter bonding with the new child and how I would feel about the new child given I already had a child I’d given birth to.
What was the first step you took into adopting
CR – A lot of googling before speaking to a selection of agencies (you can only select one to proceed with).
AMR – As Chris said, we also went to an information evening which wasn’t that helpful to be honest so we got on the phone and met with 3 agencies.
Did you go into adoption knowing whether you wanted a son or daughter, or with a specific age in mind?
CR – We were open with regards to sex. Regulations dictate that you can’t adopt children older than any ‘birth children’ (their phrase not ours) you have. So as our daughter was 6 and they also insist on a 4 year age gap, we could only be considered for children 2 years and younger, but this suited us at the time.
AMR – In my heart I wanted a baby but I knew that the chances of that were slim, I didn’t care about the gender of the child. As Chris says, our daughters age dictated we could only really consider children under 2.
Was there any point in the process where you felt that perhaps this wasn’t the right path for your family
CR – Honestly, not for me. But that came as a surprise!
AMR – Yes, I had more reservations than Chris, I think more with my head then Chris, he is all heart. I was scared of the ‘what ifs’ but then if you live like that you’d do nothing. I also put a lot of trust in Chris and he was so positive about it all, I knew we would be OK.
Can you tell us a little about Austin and the first time that you met?
CR – Austin had been identified as being at risk and an order made by the courts that he would be placed for adoption before he was born. As such, he was placed into foster care at birth.
We met Austin for the very first time on day 1 of our ‘Intros Week’ and at the end of which he’d be coming home with us for good! Up until that point all we had were Social Services reports on him and his background and a few photocopied photographs. This initial meeting took place in his foster home, with his foster parents and a couple of social workers also present. It was all a bit surreal!
AMR – I was so nervous and excited all rolled into one that day, it went by in a flash! He was just as gorgeous as he appeared in the photos. It was weird having never met him before to him coming home with us after 7 days!
Did you instantly feel that he was your son, or was that something which came with time?
CR – I think it was different for each of us. I sat holding him that first morning and he fell asleep in my arms. That was it for me.
AMR – I didn’t, I have to be honest, and it’s good to be truthful as to not set unrealistic expectations for others. I was scared that I didn’t but then I didn’t with my daughter either. It took about 3 weeks for me to fully bond with him and see him as our son. It’s hard for me to admit this as I love him so much now!
(I asked a group of parent bloggers if they had any questions about adoption…)
How long can it take from start to finish in the adoption process? It seems there are a lot of myths that it can take years, is this an honest reflection?
CR – There are a whole host of factors to take into account – social services workload, your own circumstances, the amount of children currently in the system, etc.
In our case the “approval process” (us being approved as adopters) took 10 months and once we had been approved the “matching process” (us being matched and approved for a specific child) took at further 9 months.
AMR – It was about 18 months from start to finish, they have really streamlined the programme so children are not kept in care as long as they once were. I know they are still trying to get this down further.
I’d love to know if they considered long term fostering as opposed to adoption and what she thinks the differences are, aside from the legalities?
CR – We looked into “Fostering to Adopt” but as we had our daughter to consider we didn’t want to take the chance of fostering and forming strong bonds with a child whom ultimately could be returned to his or her “birth family”.
AMR – Yes, and also on a practical level you need to give up your job to become a full time foster carer, this is not something I could do at the time.
I would like to know what long term support is offered to adoptive parents and the child once the adoption has gone through?
CR – In our experience – lots! Barnado’s have a great post-adoption support system in place that is always be available to ourselves and Austin should we need them.
AMR – There is so much support – if you want it! We are not pestered by social workers through they are there should we need it. There are training courses, meet ups, family days, parties, so much support on offer!
Friends of mine have had to go through ridiculous rounds of questions, is it always like jumping through never ending hoops?
CR – There’s no denying that the approval process comes across as pretty intrusive. There really are no stones left unturned. However, we soon had an appreciation as to why the process is so thorough and learned not to take any of it personally, or at least that’s what we kept telling ourselves!
AMR – Oh yes, there are a lot of questions, but there needs to be. It’s all about safeguarding and we understood that. There are times when you get tired of the questioning but then you remember why you entered into this and you carry on.
I’d like to know if people’s backgrounds really do make a difference. A lady on an adoption panel once told me that because I came from a fostering environment and had previously had depression, I would be rejected for adopting?
CR – Of course backgrounds can make a difference (serial killers need not apply!), however I have personally met people who have suffered with mental health issues (including depression) who have been approved to adopt. It was raised in a group session we attended and the Social Worker hosting the group commented that the experience of such issues, and the process of managing them, can be seen as just as much as a positive in prospective adopters a the negative a lot of people expect.
AMR – They do dig into your background and rightly so, I have had issues in the past with my heath, these were brought up, discussed and handled with great care and compassion. I don’t think you can lump every health condition together, they need to be addressed on a case by case basis.
When is the best time to let your child know they are adopted? And how did you go about it?
AMR – You are advised to tell your child from an early age so it isn’t a shock when they find out. You receive a life story book to share with your child which contains pictures and stories about their first years. Austin is just getting got an age now where we are introducing these stories on a “drip fed” approach. Chris has started to tell him a bedtime story about how we wanted a little boy and how we chose him to be our son. We will add on to this story in an age appropriate manner as time goes by.
How can you best prepare your children for adopting a sibling?
CR – Our daughter had once commented on a single friend we have saying that she thought it was a shame that this friend lived alone and “hoped she had someone to look after her” (six year old logic!). We asked if she remembered talking about this and told her that sometimes there are children who perhaps need a family like ours to love and look after them. That was it as far as she was concerned, she was in!
AMR – We wanted to balance involving our daughter in the decision as early as possible with not getting her hopes up if we weren’t able to proceed. Once we were confident we met the basic criteria we decided to tell her. We chose to do it at the start of a 2 week holiday, that way we knew we would be on hand to answer any questions Harriet would have there and then rather than her thinking about it at school and having something on her mind all day before being able to get the answer. It worked really well.
Is it more difficult to adopt if you already have children?
AMR – I don’t think so, I think it’s encouraged. I don’t think people think they are allowed to do it but of course they can. You obviously have to consider your existing child but our daughter met our social worker on a number of occasions and did lots of learning through play to prepare her for what was to come.
Is there support offered to the adoptive grandparents on how to adjust to the growing family or is it just focused on the parents?
CR – Yes. Both Anne-Marie’s and my parents were visited by our case-workers and support was, and still is, available if needed.
I always get the impression it’s all about how much money you have? Can someone on a lower income adopt?
CR – Absolutely. Obviously Social Services have to be confident that you can provide for the child’s needs but they put just as much emphasis on what you can offer a child on an emotional level as they do on a material level.
AMR – I don’t believe this is true at all. In our classes mixed we mixed with people from all backgrounds, working class as well as middle class. We also trained with same sex couples, single people and people from all different religions.
What advice could you give me for finding the right agency, I have no idea where to start?
CR – We met with several local authority agencies before we approached Barnado’s. We found their approach to be far more “user friendly” and they really couldn’t have done any more for us. I recommend them highly!
AMR – I agree with Chris, Barnado’s were far more inclusive!
If things were to fall through, how close can this happen to the day the child actually comes home with you?
CR – You can only be matched with a child for whom an adoption order has been granted by the court and these orders aren’t reversed once granted. Once your match with a child has been approved, the only reason for it to fall through would be due to either the prospective adopters or the child’s social workers deciding that the match wasn’t progressing as they anticipated. I am led to believe that this is extremely rare.
Thank you so much to Anne-Marie and Chris for being so honest and open in their answers, and for educating me, and I’m sure many others, on adoption.
I am so happy that my beautiful friend has her two little miracles in her arms and that she and Chris have the family they always dreamt of.