Adoption: dispelling the myths and realising the reality

21 November 2016

Topic: Adoption, Permanence
Author: Fiona Aitken

It’s Adoption Week in Scotland. The rewards of adopting can far outweigh any barriers, as Fiona Aitken, Director Scotland at Adoption UK explains.

An adult and child in a garden

Being a parent is never easy. For adoptive parents, the challenges can be even greater. The support needed to care for a child who hasn’t had the best start in life cannot be underestimated. Despite this, becoming an adoptive parent can be one of the most rewarding and life changing decisions that you will ever make.

Adoption Week in Scotland

Today (Monday 21 November) marks the beginning of Adoption Week in Scotland. Championed by my own organisation, Adoption UK, the week is a chance to showcase the range of service and opportunities available for prospective adoptive parents. In my daily role, I meet with adoptive families regularly and there is nothing more powerful than hearing directly from them as to the hurdles they have overcome and the successes they have had.

Early decisions in pursuit of permanent homes

If a child’s wellbeing is compromised in the home, there needs to be early decisions made about what support they require in pursuit of a permanent and stable home. In Scotland, permanence can mean a number of things including: foster care, kinship and reunification with their families following an episode of care. Adoption is also a route to permanence. There are, however, still some common misconceptions surrounding adoption. I feel it’s important to dispel them here, to help encourage the next generation of adoptive parents:

  • It’s all about babies. In fact, the likelihood is you won’t get a young baby when you adopt. Adopting an older child more often than not means that they will have multiple and complex needs but fear not, there is support available and a rigorous matching process that makes sure adoptive families can flourish.
  • Age matters. In Scotland, you’re never too old to adopt. You need to be over 21 and fit and healthy, so never discount yourself because of your age.
  • Disability is a barrier. You can adopt regardless of having a disability or not. What matters is that you are able to care for a child regardless of disability.
  • You can’t adopt because of your sexual orientation or gender identity. Since 2009, same-sex couples and transgender individuals have been able to adopt in Scotland. I met with a same-sex couple recently who were initially apprehensive about the process, but they were treated equally to heterosexual couples. They have been matched to a fantastic boy called Jamie.
  • Adopting as a single person. Single people can adopt. Whilst this may be challenging, with the right support from family and friends it can be a life-enhancing decision. A recent example of this is Pam who thought that parenthood wouldn’t happen for her when she turned 40 with no partner. Once she had thought about it, adoption was the natural choice for her. She now has now adopted 7-year-old Gemma, and says “it has been amazing”.
  • When a child enters a new family, their past doesn’t exist. It’s never as easy as that. The child will always be dealing with the fact they aren’t living with their birth families – this impacts on their identity. Families need to learn to cope, and to pull upon the range of services and support available to them – be it social work, extended family, friends, the child’s school for example. The appropriateness of the child’s contact with the birth family needs to be assessed by social services. Life story information, in the form of letters for instance, can enable a child to understand their heritage, identity and why decisions were made on their behalf.

Adoption Week will not only dispel these myths, but will also raise awareness about the range of support available to parents once they have been matched with a child. Training workshops, factsheets, a telephone help line, and peer support groups are just some of what we are providing.

Adoption can be transformative

Adoption, as a route to a permanent home for some children, can be transformative. ‘Therapeutic re-parenting’ is the term used to describe the parenting style pioneered by clinical psychologist Dan Hughes. It’s appropriate for children who have experienced separation from care givers/birth families, early trauma, abuse and neglect and are required to build trust and attachment. The technique is often used by adoptive parents to bond with their child.

A colleague of mine, Alison, recently summed up the journey of being an adoptive parent beautifully when she said:

“I saw photos of my twin son and daughter then aged 5 for the first time on my 40th birthday, sent by their foster parents. At last, an amazing end to over two years of preparation and waiting! Now they are both 18, taller than me, and my son is away at college and my daughter is working in the south of England – I am so proud as to what we have achieved as a family. We did have difficult times at the start, but with support and by learning the techniques of therapeutic re-parenting, we managed to turn things around. It was difficult to parent differently to the way we had been parented ourselves and sometimes against our instincts, but it worked. I would say to anyone considering adoption to just do it!”

Visit the Adoption UK website.

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.

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