15 Things You Should Know About Adopting A Child

Helen King

Are you thinking about adopting? There are probably a million and one different questions and concerns that you are working through.

A lot of the worry comes from stepping into the unknown - if you have no friends or family members who have adopted the process can seem overwhelming, but while it is important you give the decision plenty of thought, there really isn't anything to be scared about.

Helen King, 37, from Newcastle, works as a regional manager for Adoption UK. She also has first hand experience of being a 'prospective adopter' as she and her partner adopted a 14-month-old boy in 2013 and are currently in the process of adopting an 11-month-old girl.

Helen has shared 15 things she has learned about adoption

1. You don't have to be a 'traditional' family unit to adopt.

'When myself and my partner decided we wanted to start a family we explored a number of different ways that we could have children as a same-sex couple, and we came to the conclusion that adoption was the best option for us.

'Our only anxiety at the beginning was around how we would be received. We didn't know whether - as a same-sex couple - we would face any kind of discrimination or prejudice.

'But throughout the whole process we didn't experience anything along those lines. In fact we were positively encouraged, which is a really important message to get out to the LGBT community: your sexuality won't count against you in the adoption process.'

2. You should 'shop around' for a local authority or voluntary organisation.

'Once you've decided to adopt there isn't one organisation that you have to go to. You can adopt through a local authority or a voluntary organisation.

'You can find a list of agencies on the Adoption UK website or on the government-run First4Adoption.

'For the safety and security of the child you shouldn't go to your own local authority, as you don't want to potentially bump into the birth parents in the future and it will help the child to adjust if they can draw a distinction between the places that they saw when they were with their birth parents and when they are with you.

'All local authorities are trying to recruit prospective adopters so you're in a good position to pick and choose.

'Before you decide which organisation you are going to go with, do your homework. Contact different local authorities and voluntary organisations and just have a chat with them to get a feel for who they are and whether you think that you'll be taken through the process in a supportive way.

'Don't just go to your neighbouring local authority because it is close. You are going to have to really open up about your lives during the assessment, so it's very important that you have a good relationship with your social worker team.

'We approached about five local authorities and we chose one that we got a really good feeling from. They were very welcoming, friendly and very enthusiastic to come out and visit us. We rang them on the Monday and they were siting on our coach on the Wednesday, talking us through the whole process.

'Next we went on a preparation course, where over two evenings and a weekend you learn more about the adoption process. Then you start your home study, which is where you are allocated a social worker who will come to your house and ask you all sorts of questions to find out more about you. The aim of this is for them to put together a report that will help the adoption panel judge whether they are going to approve you as adopters.'

3. The social worker is on your side.

'The social worker will want to speak to you about your finances, who you are as individuals, what your interests are, about your relationship, how you operate and how you work through problems.

'You do need to be very open and honest, but you shouldn't feel threatened or that you need to put on an act, because at the end of the day the social workers are going to be the ones that present you to the adoption panel, so they need to know you inside-and-out so that they can best represent you.'

4. Being perfect isn't important – being resilient is.

'You may feel the urge to try to say what you think the social worker wants to hear - and that's absolutely understandable. Of course you want to present yourself as absolutely perfect with a squeaky clean past, but realistically the number of people out there who are actually like that are very few and far between. Everyone's got skeletons in their closet, everyone argues with their partner, life happens.

'Social workers are extremely well trained at being able to sniff out whether the responses you give aren't the whole truth, and if they pick up on that they will ask more questions about it, so they can get to the root of the matter.

'They don't expect you to be perfect, they are far more interested in how you work through problems. One of the big words within adoption is 'resilient'. They will want to know how your family is resilient. Are you able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off when things don't go as planned?'

5. Skeletons can't stay in the closet - your ex will need to be contacted, but don't worry they won't be allowed to sabotage you.

'If you already have children then they'll have to be involved in the process as well, as will any ex-spouses or long-term partners.

'For a lot of people that might be quite concerning, especially if that relationship wasn't very good or there is animosity. But the social worker will need to contact these people, so it's always best to talk it through with them, so they can manage the situation sensitively.

'Social workers are trained to be aware of any references that might come in written to jeopardise the process for the prospective adopters and they'll be able to whittle through that.'

6. Timing is key.

'Sometimes a social worker might tell you that you are not currently in the right place to adopt. For instance, if you're still grieving for not being able to have a birth child, then now isn't the right time for you to adopt.

'That might be a difficult thing to hear, but it's important that you are emotionally ready to adopt and it doesn't mean that you never will be, you may just need to wait another six months or so.'

7. The age of the child you want to adopt may affect how long the process takes.

'During the home visits you will also be asked about the kind of children that you would be open to adopt. A lot of it comes down to age - would you want to adopt a child under three or over three?

'We wanted a child as young as possible, as we felt that we would be better able to to meet the needs of a child that was younger, and we were approved to adopt a child of either gender aged three and under.

'That category is the most sought after, so adoptive parents will be up against quite a lot of competition to adopt children from that age group. But there are a lot of older children out there who also need their forever home, so it is important to consider whether you would be well placed to adopt an older child or a sibling group, before making your decision.'

8. It's important to recognise difference.

'We're a mixed heritage couple. I'm white British and my partner's black Caribbean, so from the outset we wanted to adopt a child who reflected both of our heritages.​

'We were lucky in a sense, as due to our heritage mix the process was quite quick for us, because there are a lot of children within the system from BME groups, particularly boys.

'You can adopt children from a different heritage to your own, but your social worker and the child's social worker will really want to understand your motivations and they'll want to ensure that you will be able to meet the needs of that child.

'It's not as simple as just making sure that you talk to them about their place of origin and feed them food from there, it's about making sure that their heritage is embraced and promoted as part of your everyday life.

'It's important to recognise that people will potentially respond differently to your child than they would do if your child was white and that his experience of the world might be different to your own.

'If you've got people within your family from a different heritage or you've got close friends from a different heritage that will be taken into consideration.

'The social workers will also want to make sure that you are able to cope with any potential conversations that will come out.

'For example, my son's now three-and-a-half and at the moment he's having quite a lot of conversations about his skin colour. He recently said to me that he wanted to have white skin like his mama.

'I replied 'Your skin is absolutely beautiful. You've got beautiful brown skin and you should be proud of that.' And we talked about all the different people in his life who have also got brown skin, and he seemed quite happy with that. But I know it is a conversation which will come up many times over the years, and so it's always important to be prepared to talk about these issues in an age appropriate manner.'

9. The adoption panel are unlikely to turn you down.

'It will take a maximum of six months from your first contact with the local authority to the date that you go to adoption panel.

'There were 14 people on our adoption panel, which is made up of experts in the field: adopters, adoptees, representatives from education and children's services, doctors, solicitors and possibly local counsillors.

'They read the report from your social worker (which you will have already seen, so there won't be any major surprises) and come up with a list of questions that they'd like to ask. These may be just about expanding on something that was in the report or just talking through the process with you.

'I liken it to going for a job interview, where you prepare yourself but you don't know what the questions are going to be, but at least you will know all the answers to the questions as they are only about you!

'Try not too feel too nervous as they approve the majority of cases. If you've got to this stage, then the chances of you getting turned down are low (although it is not unheard of), as there's plenty of stages earlier in the process where the social worker would have told you if they thought you wouldn't be approved.'

10. The hardest part is...

'You might think that the home visits and the adoption panel are the hardest part and that once you've been approved things will be easier, but actually I think this is the most difficult time for adopters, because up until now you've had a lot of interaction with the social worker and then it all goes quiet.

'They'll contact you every now and again just to keep in touch and see how you're getting on, but until they have a profile to share with you, there is absolutely nothing you can do.

'Some people only have to wait a very short time to be matched with a child, but for others it can take a number of years. There's no way of knowing how long you'll have to wait so it really is a hard process, especially if you know that you're up against other families.

'Everyone's their own worst critic, so when you learn that you haven't been matched with a child because there was a better match then you can't help but think 'oh it's because of x, or because of y', but that line of thought is fruitless as x and y might be strengths in terms of a match with another child.

'If you don't believe in fate or destiny when you go into this process you certainly do when you're going through it!

'With our first child we were approved at the beginning of June and were matched with him at the end of November, so it wan't that long a wait. But with our second child we were approved in July 2014 and we were only matched two weeks ago (February 2015), and I found it really difficult. There have been plenty of times when I've been in tears, but you have to try not to put your life on hold.

'It's like if you're looking for love: it's only when you stop searching that you find someone. That's what happened with us the second time around. I was getting myself into a right state about it all, as we'd had a couple of potential matches not go through and I'd got to the point where I was thinking maybe this isn't going to happen for us and then literally the next week we had the phone call from our social worker saying there was a little girl.

'There is plenty of support out there for people who are struggling,Adoption UK have support groups across the country, an online forum and a helpline.'

11. It's OK to say no.

'When you're matched with a child it's important to remember that you don't have to say yes. You should speak up if you don't think this is the right match.

'I think a lot of people feel scared to say no, especially if they've had to wait a long time for a potential match. But at the end of the day it is really important to get this right.

'Take your time to work out your feelings and make the best decisions for your family based on the information that you get about the child.

'Your head and your heart could potentially be wanting two different things and if you have any doubts it's always best to talk to your social worker about it. Sometimes it's not an easy decision and sometimes you do have to say no. But in the long run doing so will be better for you and the child.

'The worst thing would be to for a prospective family to just say yes to the first profile that they receive without working out if it is right for them and then there's what we call a disruption - where despite all the best efforts, the placement doesn't work out and that affects the child and the adoptive family. So it is very important to know that you can say no to a potential match.'

12. You will learn a lot about yourself.

'The first time I met my son, I was not expecting to react in the way I did. It's only through this process that I've learned how I react when I'm really nervous and that's to go completely silent! I just stopped talking, but in my head all I was thinking was, "Oh my gosh he's really ours!"'

13. It's OK to be overwhelmed - it doesn't mean you've made a mistake.

'The day after we brought our son home, my partner had a massive meltdown, and then I had mine a few days later. That's completely normal with any new parent: All of a sudden you've got this child and you need to be the best you can be to meet their needs, but you don't yet know them well enough to always get it right straight away.

'You're knocked sideways at first and then - just like every new parent - you just get on with being parents and all of the sudden everything is normal.'

14. Unlike with a new baby, you can't be inundated with visitors.

'For the first two weeks they advise you to keep the child from meeting anybody else, as this helps them to bond with you. That's quite difficult because your family and your friends will have been as much a part of the process as you have, and you'll be desperate for them to meet your child.

'But it's important to only introduce people really gradually, because the last thing anybody wants to do is create extra anxiety for the child. Bless him, he's just been taken away from the family he's known for all his life and he's with a new family, so when he first meets someone new he might not be sure whether they're going to be taking him away again.'

15. It is the best thing you'll ever do.

'Both me and my partner love being parents, which is why we've gone down the adoption process for a second time. Our son brings us so much happiness and we can't wait to bring our daughter home too. If you are considering adoption I can't recommend it enough, our family was well worth the wait.'

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