Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A family like ours - siblings by adoption

Elizabeth was nearly five when her parents adopted her younger sister. In a direct an honest account of her life she explains what it means to be siblings by adoption.

Nearly five years after I was born, my parents adopted my younger sister Kara. Twenty-five years later, and for the first time, I’ve come across a book about a family like ours.

When Daisy Met Tommy recognises that adoption means huge changes not only for the child being adopted and his or her new parents, but also for birth children gaining a new sibling.

My sister Kara was about to turn two when she became part of our family. Because she was born in Colombia, and I’m a pale freckly Celt, we’ve got used to comments like, “You don’t look anything like each other!” or “No…do you mean half-sisters?” Some people try to insist it’s the same as being biological siblings, as though to reassure us that we really are sisters. I think there are differences, but none that diminish our relationship.

Like most siblings, we grew up with the same parents, same pets, same homes, same extended family. If she starts a story about our early years I recognise it immediately, and vice versa: her impressive range of I’m-not-going-to-bed-and-you-can’t-make-me techniques when she first arrived; my habit of bossing her around (her view) or looking out for my little sister (my view); the endless hours she spent drawing and I spent reading; the car journeys during which our alternate giggling and squabbling would drive our parents mad. Although we each have our own individual recollections – and I’m sure there are things we’ll never agree on - those stories are drawn from a shared childhood.

But I think there’s also something special about becoming siblings after separate starts in life. Maybe it’s knowing it might not have happened - that if our parents had been approved as adopters a few months earlier or later, we might not be sisters. Although it sometimes seems a difficult concept for others to grasp, Kara has every right to find out as much as she can or chooses to about her origins without feeling that in any way threatens her relationship with our parents or me. And while being from different ethnic backgrounds certainly doesn’t define our relationship, it does matter. Not least because when people realise we’re sisters, adoption tends to come up pretty quickly. This can lead to complete strangers asking personal questions about Kara’s background and feelings.

As adults, although we have of course argued and hurt each other’s feelings at points, she is central to many of my favourite times - from visiting her during her extended trip to Colombia to our daily chats on the phone or by email. Six months ago we bought a flat together (a home for me, an investment for her and her partner) and we’ve spent hours furnishing it, findings lodgers and planning renovations.

Being siblings by adoption – particularly intercountry adoption - brings aspects that can be difficult to describe to people who haven’t experienced it. But for the most part it’s pretty straightforward. I have a kind, funny, talented sister and I am incredibly proud of her. I can’t imagine my life without her, either now or growing up. If ‘Daisy’s’ experience turns out to be anything like mine, she’s a lucky girl.

When Daisy Met Tommy is available now from the BAAF bookstore.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Collection of adoption blogs brings National Adoption Week to an end

During National Adoption Week we posted several blogs, each telling a unique story of how adoption can affect people in different ways. Although this year's campaign is now over, here is a final selection of our favourites:

Half an inch of dust is a compelling account of an adopted person whose teenage pregnancy resulted in giving her own child up for adoption. Able to empathise with her birth mother, she went on to trace her and describes their reunion. Later on she too has been fortunate to be reunited with her own birth child.

Tigerlily-Tigerlily is a blog that reflects on the moment that changed her and her husband’s lives forever: when their social worker told them the news that they had been matched with baby Grace.

Now a grandparent, Jean re-tells her story of being an inter-family adoptee. Surprisingly there are over 300,000 inter-family adoptions in the UK and this blog reveals a few of them.

Read the Chandler’s heartbreaking story which lead to their decision to adopt. Finally there is a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel.

Nicola has a sister who she has never met and is not supposed to know exists. National Adoption Week inspired her to share her secret….

Read this story written from the perspective of a prospective adopter who is anxiously waiting for a child to join her family.

A selection of blogs written for National Adoption Week including a particularly moving story told from a birth mother whose daughter was taken away from her many years ago. Also a tribute to an adoptive mum following her recent death.

Sam relates the touching story of re-visiting her old home with her newly adopted daughter and all the memories that this conjured up from her past.

‘Positive about adoption’ takes a different spin on the adoption process, claiming that it should be hard work and a challenge, as you are being selected for the most important role that life can offer.

Read about an adoptee who defends her decision to refuse to trace her birth parents, touching on the nature v nurture debate.

If you have read any other adoption blogs that we have not included, please post them below in the Comments section.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Champions of all ages promote adoption

Elsie, one of BAAF's older Adoption Champions. She was adopted in the 1930's and here shares her story.

I was adopted at eighteen days old. I have always known I was an adopted child, I believe this has been really important that I have had this knowledge. In my memory I was about three when my mum told me for the first time what seems like a fairy story, of her desire to have a baby girl (she already had a son of her own, age fifteen). I loved this story and enjoyed it being retold time and time again. This made me feel special and loved. As I grew older I realised what the story meant and what the word adopted meant. Very wisely my mum added the information that she had of where I was born and to whom and she gradually answered my questions as I asked them over the years. I know the way in which I was told made me feel special, wanted and loved and consequently I have never had a serious problem with the fact that I was adopted.

I was between the age of four and five when I started to wish I had a sister. I recall hearing some of the conversations between my granddad, mum and dad as this was discussed and the result was that my parents adopted another baby girl. We have always had a loving relationship.

There have been many times during my life when I have thought of my birth mother with curiosity especially on my birthday and wonder if she has thought of me. As a mother myself, I feel she must have. I have often hoped and prayed that she knew I have not been affected in an adverse way by being adopted.

There have been many occasions in my life when other people’s comments regarding adopted children have been momentarily hurtful. But I believe that because of the security in my upbringing these comments have affected me no more than any other thoughtless comments that one encounters in life.

My story is a positive one due to the security of love I experienced within my upbringing

Friday, 5 November 2010

Adoption survival tips

Being an adoptive parent isn’t always easy. Adoption Champion and mum of three, Fiona Strachan, shares some tips on how you can keep your self well during even the most challenging times.

Being a parent through adoption presents its own set of unique challenges and you can get so caught up in trying to meet everyone else’s needs that you forget to look after yourself. But, like that cliché of the safety routine, where parents are asked to put their oxygen masks on before looking after others, you too need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of others in the family.

So here’s a few reminders of things we know we should be doing but sometimes forget to...

Sleep – anyone who knows me will laugh at this one. As the children have got older and bedtime a bit later, I go to bed later because I want a bit of time in front of the tv or computer with them safely tucked up in bed. So I get less sleep but when I do take a sensible turn, and get to bed earlier, I feel so much better and more able to deal with things.
Eat – often if we’re stressed we don’t nourish ourselves properly. We might spend so much time thinking of nutrition for our children but end up eating on the run or skipping meals. Even if things are busy try to make time for regular meals and stock up on healthy snacks if you are pushed for time.
Time out – before you panic, I mean for you not your children! Even if it’s just to go into another room/sit down for a cup of tea/read a magazine, a short break can re-energise you...
• Think about the family routine – is there anything you can do to make some of the stressful times less stressful?
Talk to someone who understands
Ask for help – another thing that we can be bad at, especially if things are difficult.
Have fun – often we get so caught up in dealing with the hard stuff, we forget to have fun – it can take the pressure off and helps everyone to see each other in a different way. Keep it simple and don’t expect everyone to show that they’re having fun!!
• Remind yourself of the positives and the progress you’re making as a family – if things are difficult it’s easy to forget what has gone or is going well

There’s loads more that you can do – exercise, get outside, play some music etc. The important thing is to pay attention to your needs as well as everyone else.

Do you have any top tips you’d like to share?

Fiona runs AdoptResources and has recently launched an ebook Boosting Self Esteem in Adoption, with Naomi Richards, The Kid’s Coach. The ebook is free to download during National Adoption Week from www.adoptresources.co.uk/ebooks.html.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Adoption Can Be A First Choice

Day four of National Adoption Week and we bring you a very different tale of adoption. Byrony, her husband (and her cat!), decided that they would like a family. However they decided on a non-conventional route to parenthood. Here's her story.

Like most couples, starting a family is something we have thought and talked about lots and we have decided to adopt, rather than try to have biological children. There are so many children in need of a good home and we feel that is something we can provide. Perhaps not the first reason that springs to mind when people think of adoption but one we thought would be valid and accepted.

I was prepared for peoples initial reaction. I knew they would presume we had problems conceiving. However the second reaction was one that I wasn’t prepared for. That is the question: “Aren’t you a bit young?”

We're 25, have been together 7 years, married for 2, with our own house. I never thought we would be considered a “young” couple. To get this reaction from friends of a similar age that have children of there own makes me think the problem isn’t our age at all, but the idea about who adopts. I'm certain if I told them I was pregnant my age would not have crossed their mind.

When looking into adoption before we applied I found it quite hard to find information about younger couples adopting. This goes hand in hand with the idea that adoption is generally a second choice. If you are unable to have biological children, the time it takes trying to have children, realising there is a problem and perhaps trying IVF before coming to the decision to adopt, will inevitable notch up the years. The legal age to adopt is 21. However the message I got from some of the people working to find adoptive families is that they didn't believe someone in their mid 20's is capable of adoption, although it seems to be an accepted age to start a biological family.

Some of the agencies I spoke to were extremely negative from the moment I mentioned our ages, making the decision that we were not suitable to adopt from a five minute telephone conversation. We have been accepted to be assessed by an agency who are very positive about us being a “different type of family.” But the whole fact they we are considered different makes me feel a little disappointed as well. Although adoption seems to have got a lot more open it is still considered second best to having "your own" children.

I'm not so naïve as to think that adoption is the same as having biological children and therefore should be the first choice for everyone. Adopted children will have a different set of needs to other children. But I do think that adoption needs to be promoted as being a choice not a last resort. I believe the best way to do this is for people starting their family through adoption by choice talk about their experiences. Although they might not be considered the norm, they are certainly not alone.

If you are interested in adoption visit www.nationaladoptionweek.org.uk

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

30 years of adoption

As we celebrate our 30th birthday our Chief Executive, David Holmes, reflects over the changes in adoption over the past three decades.

Today we celebrate our 30th anniversary, fittingly during National Adoption Week. Over the years that we have been in existence we have seen some major changes in adoption, from the way we understand the child’s experience, to the role and contribution of adopters as well as the particular needs of birth families.

In the past the focus of adoption work tended to be more on helping people who had not been able to have their own children to build a family. This has completely changed. Although infertility remains an important reason why people come forward to adopt, we now view adoption as primarily a service for children. Over the last 30 years we have seen this understanding really take hold and adoption has become a very child-centred service. In a recent survey with adopters and prospective adopters subscribing to BAAF's Be My Parent service, nearly two-thirds said they felt the adoption process has the child’s best interests at its heart.

We have also seen a massive shift in the reasons why children become adopted. Changes in society mean that these days young or unmarried mothers rarely feel forced to relinquish their babies. Today adoption is not about finding families for healthy babies but about children who have experienced significant early adversity. Sadly, of the 4000 children who require adoption every year in the UK, around two-thirds have been removed from their birth families because of abuse and neglect.

At the same time it is now widely recognised that adoption is a key route to recovery from early adversity. We understand how damaging delay can be, and that finding a family as early as possible is essential. It is vital to match the children with adoptive parents and other support services who can both meet their assessed needs.

Despite the difficulties many of these children experience, we know they can grow up to be happy and resilient adults. There are so many examples of adopted children who have flourished due to the wonderful quality of care provided by their adoptive parents. And it is now recognised that in order for adoptive parents to meet their children’s sometimes complex needs they must be properly supported themselves. This understanding led to the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which gave adopters the right to ask to be assessed for post adoption support. Sadly these services remain under resourced, and parents can sometimes find themselves in a postcode lottery when it comes to accessing appropriate support.

One of the biggest changes we have seen over the last 30 years is the recognition of the needs and entitlements of birth relatives. Adoption is no longer a secret to be swept under the carpet, with birth parents left forgotten, isolated and ashamed. And adopters are now actively encouraged to be open and honest with their adopted child about their adoption. This has resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of adoptees left shocked, angry and confused when they discover the truth about their origins in later life.

Today adoption is an open process. We know the importance of access to information about genetic origins, and most children are aware of their ‘life story’ from an early age. In addition most will have some form of contact with their birth relatives - either direct, in the form of visits; or indirect, in the form of an occasional card or letter. While resources to support birth relatives may not have kept pace with this change, it is a drastically different picture from the days when birth relatives were left to struggle alone.

We hope that the next 30 years will see even more investment in the resources needed to support everyone involved in adoption; as well as more being done to find adopters for those children who still wait the longest. This is especially true for older children, sibling groups, disabled children and children from some black and minority ethnic backgrounds who still often wait too long for a family. We know that adoption works and we must ensure that every child who needs adoption is helped to achieve it without unnecessary delay.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Adoption comes to life in Child Appreciation Day

Life or Child Appreciation Day give prospective adopters the opportunity to meet with people that have met the child that they are soon to be matched with. At this stage the prospective adopters have not met the child. The Child Appreciation Day is an opportunity for them to make the next all important decision. Prospective adopter, Ali tells us about the Child Appreciation Day they went to recently.

We started our day very early in the morning and with a very long journey ahead of us. We were looking forward to making the journey as we felt it was important to meet the people that knew the child we are hoping to adopt, who we simply call “Junior”.

Even though we had read Juniors Child Permanence Report (CPR), back to front, and upside down, there is nothing that can replace meeting the people that have worked or lived with him. It was planned that we would meet Junior’s foster mum, his family support worker and teacher. His social worker was also there.

The meeting started with a cup of coffee and the various people arriving at staged times. We started off by talking with the family support worker, who has known Junior for the longest time. She explained about the family situation, and how Junior ended up being in care. Most of what she had told us was in the CPR, but there were little tit bits that we hadn’t known before (e.g. his grandmother hadn’t said goodbye to him!).

Then the foster carers arrived, not just foster mum but foster dad too. They were very friendly and we asked for a warts and all version, not the rose tinted glasses one as we were already sold on. That’s what we got!! We got to ask them lots of questions that only they would know the answers too, like what he eats for breakfast & what are his favourite toys, as well as listening intently to what else they had to tell us about him.

Finally we were very lucky that his teacher was able to join us. We felt very privileged as she is with Junior for probably what is the biggest chunk of his waking day. She described him as being bright and friendly, easy to get on with, a little naughty at times, but able to take criticism and politely know when to back down.

We found the whole meeting invaluable. We really did appreciate all the time that the foster carers, social workers and his teacher had given up to come to chat with us.
The meeting ended with just us and juniors social worker. She looked at us expectantly once everyone else had gone. We both looked at her and said, almost in unison: “Don’t worry, it hasn’t put us off.” She breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Matching Panel – here we come!!

Hear more about Ali's adoption journey at: http://www.juniorcampbell.blogspot.com/

Monday, 1 November 2010

Failed IVF leads to a heart warming story of adoption

As part of National Adoption Week we will be sharing adoption stories every day, starting with Ros and her husband Garry, who adopted a two year old boy. Ros shares with us the highs and lows of adoption and parenthood.

Ten years ago, after three failed attempts at IVF, we asked ourselves if we could love a child that wasn’t our own. We knew the climate for adoption had changed – it was no longer a case of newborn babies being relinquished by young mothers. Many of the children up for adoption are older, with troubled family histories. So we thought long and hard about it and, in the end, decided that we could.

For the next year we investigated adoption agencies and talked to social workers. We attended workshops in overheated rooms with name tags and flip charts, taking part in embarrassing role play between coffee and biscuits. We heard difficult, painful, stories about how some children came into care. Undaunted, we signed on with a voluntary agency and spent the next six months being asked deeply personal questions by our social worker for the home study. I didn’t mind, in fact I quite enjoyed it. It made us realise how committed we were.

After we were approved by an adoption panel we were thrown into limbo. It was a strange, occasionally distressing time. We were sent details of children whose life stories gave me a glimpse of a cruel, hellish world. Others just didn’t feel right and it felt awful turning them down. Friends around us began to have children and our vision of becoming parents seemed to be slipping away.

Then, in March 2004, our social worker rang with details of a little boy. We’d found our son. We were sent a photograph – he was wearing pyjamas and a huge grin, his hands clenched in excitement. We’d say ‘Hello’ to his picture every morning.

After being approved by the matching panel, we spent an introductory week with him in the small coastal town where he’d lived with his foster carers since birth. It was a surreal experience. He was an early riser, so we’d be round there by 6am, barely awake. When we took him out for the day I felt as if we’d kidnapped him: we were in charge of a child that wasn’t ours, and didn’t quite know what to do with him.

He was funny, bright and easy-going but by the end of the week I was gripped by fear. I felt as if I was about to do a parachute jump but couldn’t throw myself from a plane. In a tearful conversation with our social worker I was reassured that it was a perfectly normal reaction and that I’d get through it. In many ways adoption is like an arranged marriage. You don’t instantly love the child you’ve been matched with. You have to wait for love to come.

He came to live with us the week before his 2nd birthday. The first few months were exhilarating and exhausting. My overriding feeling was one of inadequacy – I didn’t have a clue. I winged it, and hoped no one noticed. It didn’t help that for the first six weeks he called us both Garry (my husband’s name), which he’d call out loudly in swing parks.

But slowly we fell in love and six years on and he is at the heart of our life. There may be challenging times ahead – he’ll have to come to terms with his history and what has happened to him – but hopefully we’re giving him the confidence and understanding to deal with it. I can’t remember life before him and I can’t imagine life without him.

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