I’m an adoptive parent who is quite vocal on the subject. So every now and then I’m approached by friends, or friends of friends, asking about my advice for prospective adopters as they are starting the process. I’m always happy to talk adoption, don’t claim to have all the answers, but do have a few pieces of advice. I wish I’d had this stuff drummed into me when we started the process seven years ago. What follows is an adaptation of an email I sent to a friend recently.
In answer to the main question – should I/we do it? – my answer is yes. Yes, it is often incredibly hard and I regularly question my sanity. But I am still very much in favour of adoption. If reading about child-on-parent violence and the questionable delights of post-adoption support haven’t put you off, then here’s what I think you need to know.
Prospective adopters, start here!
Gather information. Lots of it.
I recommend prospective adopters take these six steps during your decision-making process, so that you have as much information about the reality of adoption as you possibly can. You’re not adopting a child who is a bit sad but can be cheered up with a cuddle and a multipack of Freddos. You’re inviting a small person who has been neglected and abused into your home. They will be processing all that stuff for years to come and often be difficult to help. Regardless of what they tell you at this stage, your agency’s post-adoption support may or may not step up to help you as your child destroys your home/marriage/sanity. You need to be prepared for this.
1. Read all the books
Sally Donovan’s books are amazing. It should be compulsory to read No Matter What and The Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting. While you’re at it you should probably get hold of Billy Bramble too, ready to put on your child’s bookshelf.
I’ve included a couple of books about FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) on my list. A huge proportion of children in care (some estimate 80%) have been affected by alcohol exposure to some degree. You can find out more from the FASD Trust, the FASD Network and NOFAS-UK.
There are also reviews of other adoption-related books on my blog pretty regularly, and there’s a Twitter-based book club for therapeutic parents that theoretically ‘meets’ at the start of each month but has fizzled out a bit lately. Search for #tpbooks or the organiser, @pedallingsolo.
2. Use social media
Get an anonymous Twitter account – anonymous so you’re less easy for birth family members to find. Follow adopters – I’m @hlmeadows and I’m usually about several times a day. Some other accounts to get you started are @sallydwrites, @mralcoates, @gayadoptiondad, @mumdrah, @frogotter, @mizzanels, @meandminimees, @suddenlymummy. There are loads of adopters and it’s a really friendly community. Several of these people experience child-on-parent violence (CPV) so that features in our conversations quite frequently. You might also find this glossary of adoption-related abbreviations helpful.
There are a lot of adoption Facebook groups, many of them secret and reliant on meeting members offline. (I find all the drama and cliques there a bit exhausting and generally stick to Twitter instead.) This Facebook group for prospective adopters is good, though.
3. Follow adoption blogs
The two best places to start are Full-Time Tired’s Weekly Round-Up and The Adoption Social’s Weekly Adoption Shout-Out. They’ll give you a pretty balanced picture of adoptive families’ everyday life. Adopters welcome questions on their blogs, so don’t be shy about commenting.
4. Lurk on the Adoption UK forums – there’s one specifically for prospective adopters, too
They frightened the life out of me before we adopted but it was all good preparation! Find the Adoption UK forums here. This is another good place to ask questions and get honest answers.
5. Listen to podcasts
Start with The Adoption and Fostering Podcast (Al Coates and Scott Casson-Rennie) and The Honestly Adoption Podcast (Mike and Kristen Berry). The latter is American but still very applicable to the UK experience.
6. Talk to lots of adopters
You could come to the Adoption UK conference in Birmingham in November to hear what’s going on for adopters nationally. It tends to be a mixture of discussion of government policy and AUK campaigns, discussion of child psychology and how to parent children with a history of trauma, and stuff that is helpful to adoptive parents. Pete and I will be there, and you don’t need to be a member to attend. (Everyone will look exhausted. This is the default setting.)
If you decide to go ahead…
Having made the decision to start the process, my main piece of advice is not to be in such a hurry to get through the assessment that you make decisions that set yourself up for problems later. Take your time in making these choices, because you’ll be living with them for a long time. The core of my advice for prospective adopters? Talk to lots of people. Ask lots of questions. Don’t be afraid of being a nuisance in your pursuit of honest answers.
1. Investigate voluntary agencies as well as the local authority
We went via our local authority and support has been decidedly patchy.
PACT have a great reputation for support, but there are also Coram, Barnardo’s, Family Futures and others (First4Adoption has a full list). I’d suggest having conversations with several and getting a good sense of what post-adoption support they offer. Also be aware that all the adoption agencies are in the process of being regionalised – joining together to combine resources. This may be a bit of a shambolic business for a while but should ultimately be an improvement.
2. Think very carefully before adopting siblings
We thought we’d save the hassle of going through the process twice and be doing something helpful as siblings are harder to place, but it has been very hard dealing with that dynamic. Ours have different issues and drive each other crazy and fight All. Day. Long.
3. Don’t sign on the dotted line until you have a support package in place
We raced through the process in order for Joanna to have our surname before she started school and didn’t do this. As a result, some of our concerns were put aside and it was then a fight to have them taken seriously. To be honest, we’d probably still do the same thing. But if you have the option of waiting and getting everything ironed out while they are still the local authority’s responsibility, then that’s probably better in the long run.
4. Get your church involved with Home for Good if it isn’t already
Adoption and fostering charity Home for Good runs training for churches in how to support adoptive and foster families appropriately. Their booklet on support is also excellent – I give these out by the armful at every opportunity because it provides a helpful ‘beginner’s guide’ to adoptive families’ needs. Try to take people from your church to the Home for Good summit (annually in the autumn) in order to help them ‘get it’. Don’t do what we did and change churches during the process so no-one knows you and getting support is much harder.
5. Ask questions
No question is too big/small/silly when you’re making a life-changing decision. I promise. So I’m happy to answer anything – leave your questions below or find me on social media.