Monday, 30 July 2012

A “real boy”

Jeannie Mackenzie adopted Gordon when he was 10-years-old and living in a psychiatric hospital. Here she describes their emotional and life-changing first meeting.

I was quite unprepared for the shock of recognition when I met Gordon for the first time. Of course, I recognised him from the photo albums and videos I had been shown, but this recognition was at a much deeper level – I felt as though I had known him all my life. He was not only instantly loveable, he was immediately someone I felt I could understand, with whom I could share feelings and dreams.

I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility for him; a drive to protect him and to nurture him. Friends have told me of “falling in love” with their babies when they are born – that instinct was as strong in me as it was in them, though this “baby” was a fully grown 10-year-old boy! I can only imagine how strange and terrifying it was to meet me for the first time, but he showed no sign of fear, he simply got out of his social worker’s car and walked up the path calling out, ‘Hi Mum!’ as he walked past me into the house.

When I showed Gordon the bedroom that was to be his, he cried out, ‘It’s just as if I was a real boy!’ The bedroom was not that special – it was only a small bedroom in a tiny semi-detached bungalow and furnished very simply. Delighted that I was that Gordon liked his new bedroom, I was sad that he felt himself not to be a “real boy”. What I knew already of the first 10 years of his life made me understand why he regarded himself as different.

He had suffered years of abuse and neglect in his family home, had been bullied in a children’s home and locked up in a psychiatric hospital. Yet he had also experienced love within his birth family and had strong feelings for family members he had lost through death and separation. And there were staff within the care setting who had become important to him. It was a complex story, a twisted knot of incidents, experiences and people. From this snarled mess, Gordon was struggling to build some sense of who he was and where he belonged. I think it was when I heard his heartfelt cry about being a “real boy” that I decided that one of my top priorities would be to let him have as normal a life as possible

You can read more about Jeannie and Gordon’s life together as an adoptive family in their book As if I was a Real Boy.

Monday, 23 July 2012

A family at last

Stevan and Elly Whitehead adopted two children – Veronica and Osvaldo – from Guatemala. Here, in an email to their friends back in the UK, they describe the day their family came together for the first time.

Dear friends

Well, here we are in Guatemala having met the two most beautiful kids in the world – and that is now official and irrefutable – we know, we were here!

We waited until just after 5pm this evening to meet them and Silvia, their foster mother, and Guillermo and Diana, our lawyer and his wife. When the moment finally arrived we went off to the lift with our hearts in our mouths. The lift doors opened as we got to the ground floor and there waiting were Veronica and Osvaldo and the rest of the party.

To say we were overwhelmed is an understatement, but being very British we kept a stiff upper lip or two and greeted all the adults and got to work getting to know our kids. We all went back up to our room – a little cramped but at least it gave us some privacy – and got out a few toys and offered coffee, juice and biscuits all round. We then got down to the serious stuff of playing on the floor with some of the presents we had brought.

I fell in love with Osvaldo the very second I saw his photo for the first time, and have always felt a special bond with our little boy. Well, real life is better and hundreds of times stronger. From the first time I picked him up it felt as if we had always been together. Meanwhile Elly and Veronica were hard at it getting to know each other – and it appeared to be pretty much instantaneous as well. Veronica is a much more reserved child than Ossie but Elly soon had her laughing and playing games.

Veronica mellowed into the situation, assisted by the fact that Ossie had fallen asleep and was snoring quietly on one of the beds. She was now the star of the show, receiving undivided attention and playing to the crowd unashamedly. She walked – well, OK, she staggered like a very well oiled sailor – from Elly to me, laughing and smiling all the time. She made a toy out of a piece of hotel notepaper, playing peekaboo, blowing kisses to it and with it, and making hats.

Finally Guillermo and Diana took the children away to sleep and dream happy dreams and come back tomorrow. We went off to a tearful supper, with all the pent up emotions finally coming out, and now just six hours after they arrived and three hours after they left, here we are celebrating and sharing our happiness with our friends.

Have we got any doubts or regrets? None. We are a family at last and forever and words cannot describe how good that feels.

Stevan and Elly
Hotel Marriott El Dorado, Guatemala City

You can read more of Stevan and Elly’s story in Finding our familia

Friday, 20 July 2012

Statement on DfE consultations on sibling groups, contact arrangements

Martin Narey and the Government have today launched an important debate around contact arrangements for children and placing children in sibling groups for adoption.

Contact and plans to keep siblings together or to place them separately are key and complex parts of the child welfare system. When decisions are made about these issues, the child’s needs and long term welfare must be our primary concern. We need to ensure that this drives policy and practice.

Contact Arrangements for Children

We welcome the fact that the call for views recognises that most children in care come into care for short periods and are soon reunited with their families and that most children who come into care are not adopted. It is absolutely right for all these children to maintain contact with their birth families where it is safe for them to do so. In our experience for children who are adopted contact can be an important way for those children to maintain positive links with members of their birth family and may even help them to settle into their adoptive home. However, any contact arrangements after adoption will have a different purpose than for those who are returning home to their families and it is important that legislation and policy and practice encourage a clear assessment of what is right for the child and will assist the child in establishing themselves in their permanent families.

BAAF has however, been advocating for a change in practice in relation to the level of contact that is being agreed for some babies and children – daily contact sessions in some cases often accompanied by long journeys – this cannot be good for children and is contraindicated by research. For this reason we particularly welcome the suggestion that statutory guidance should be strengthened to ensure that more consideration is given to the purpose of contact for infants. Indeed contact for all children needs to be purposeful and should only be agreed when it is in the best interests of a child.

We look forward to responding to the call for views on behalf of our membership.

Placing Sibling Groups for Adoption

Again we welcome this call for views. The decision whether or not to place siblings together or apart for adoption is one of the most profound decisions that a local authority can take. It is a decision that will impact upon a child and their siblings for the rest of their life although for some children we agree that separate placements will be the right decision. It is a decision that must always be taken with great care and on the basis of sound assessment evidence.

BAAF’s greatest concern in this area is that we do not have enough adoptive families in the system that are ready and willing to adopt children in sibling groups where assessment has established that it is right for them to be placed together. This problem is getting worse.

We know of many adoptive families who have successfully adopted sibling groups and we hope that this call for views will provide a springboard for national awareness raising work about the need for more prospective adoptive families for children in sibling groups to come forward. There are currently hundreds of sibling groups waiting for adoption in England but we believe that there are also hundreds of families who could adopt and keep these children together and if given the right support would find great rewards in doing so.

Again we look forward to responding to the call for views on behalf of our membership.

David Holmes, Chief Executive

Monday, 16 July 2012

Adoption blog: a tale of two siblings

(c) Sunshines.Silhouette
Today on the blog, we hear from a young woman who was adopted aged 4. Here she gives a frank account of her adoption experience, including her close relationship with her birth brother.

I was adopted when I was four and my brother was seven. We were taken into care because our birth parents could not look after us properly due to their drug abuse. At first we stayed with our auntie and uncle, but they all ready had seven children of their own. So we were placed with a foster family.

We knew that we were getting adopted. We were told by our social worker through play therapy that we would have a new forever mummy and daddy. It was explained that our birth mummy and daddy couldn't look after us as they had grown up problems, but as I got older I was told what this implied. My brother and I both had life story books which explained everything from birth to being adopted. As I look at it now I realise how much my life story book helped me. We also had a welcome book that was all about our adoptive family. It had photos and written pieces about the whole family, even the pets, which really helped, I liked reading about our new family.

Being adopted was very emotional. I was scared, excited and nervous. At first I didn't like any one having my adopted mummy's time and attention and my brother was sometimes an angry little boy. But my mummy and daddy were very patient and open with us. My brother did art therapy which really helped and we settled in. I had always wanted a mummy, but was not very fussed about having a daddy which my adopted dad understood. Then one day we were at the park and I was scared about a motor bike coming across the field and I screamed and ran to 'my daddy'.

My brother amazes me. He was the one who fed me when I was a baby when my birth parents were out of it. He looked after me like I was his child even though he was just a toddler himself. It amazes me that he had the knowledge and took care of me and I still think that's amazing today.

Three years later we found out we had a baby sister who was adopted into another family. Me and my brother decided to meet her. She was adorable. I loved being a big sister even though I was still young. We all got along and decided between the families to have regular contact and we still do today and it's great. Like any other little sister, she can be annoying, but I love her to pieces.

We had letter box contact with our birth parents which carried on till I was 15. A letter come from them saying how much they loved me and missed me. I will admit it stressed me out and really upset me. So I told my mum 'no more contact' - it made me too sad. I was a teenage girl with teenage girl problems and that was making it worse, so the contact stopped.

I want to help other adopted kids by sharing my story or listening to theirs as being an adopted child I know what they are going through. There are a lot of different emotions in the situation from upset and angry to being excited, happy and settled, but I was never ashamed to be adopted. I'm not saying adopting a child is easy, but having a child naturally isn't either.

If you need more info or advice about adoption, please visit the main BAAF website. For more personal tales about adoption, head to the blog homepage.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Adoption story: It is a year since a tornado ripped through our lives

Today on the blog we hear from Kathryn, who shares an honest experience of what happened when a "whirlwind of sparkly pinkness" came to be her adoptive daughter.

It is a year since a tornado ripped through our lives.

I remember the day our little girl came home like it was yesterday; the first day we became a family.

She was a tiny blonde princess, dressing her daddy up in bunny ears and play jewellery, whilst she carefully dressed herself, layering princess dress after princess dress on top of her day clothes, and turning the house into a fairy castle.

We were ecstatic. It was everything we had wished for and dreamed of but didn’t dare think would be reality.

We had four days of this whirlwind of sparkly pinkness and a child that was beyond 'good'. She was a quiet, 'busy' girl; always racing around and willing to help out (I found her one morning making our bed!) Doesn't it sound perfect? But we were worried. She was too compliant, too independent, never sat still and it just didn't feel right.

On Day Five, the tornado was replaced by a volcano and boy, did she erupt. All the grief, confusion, anger and fear she was feeling spilled out. She could tantrum for hours on end and responded with aggression if we tried to get close. She also completely rejected my husband, to the point where she would physically turn her back on him or claw at him. We were prepared for the rejection of one of us (expecting it to be me as the mother figure is often a target for anger), but this was on a completely different scale to anything we were expecting and it put a strain on our marriage and we’d bicker between ourselves. Our daughter was an expert 'splitter' and she tried to manipulate this weakness so she could feel in control and therefore 'safe' and at the beginning she managed it rather successfully.

We realised then why so much time was taken up during Home Study, talking about the strengths and vulnerabilities within our relationship and the importance of presenting a united front and having a great support network. We are not a couple to struggle and we asked for help.

Our LA was magnificent and we had lots of face-to-face and telephone advice and they set up CAMHS support which was tremendous. We've also done lots of research about attachment ourselves and have learnt a great deal about the reasons behind her behaviour and also the reasons for our reactions.

A year on, she is a different child. Yes, she still has her moments but we recognise her triggers and we have lots of strategies in place to help.

She has blossomed into a funny, clever, affectionate child who is a bundle of energy. Our relationship has gone from strength to strength and the love we feel for her is indescribable.

And her relationship with daddy? Well, if I tell you that this morning she told me she was looking forward to spending a day with daddy because she loves him sooooo much, that just about covers it!

For more info and advice on adoption and fostering, please visit the main BAAF website. If you would like to share your story on the blog, please email

Friday, 6 July 2012

Early Permanence for Babies and Children - a response to David Cameron's statement

Early today, Prime Minister David Cameron announced a 'foster to adopt' plan which would see new-born babies being taken into care fostered by people who want to adopt them. Here, BAAF's Chief Executive David Holmes responds to the Government.

"The British Association for Adoption & Fostering (BAAF) fully supports the policy objective of aiming wherever possible to place babies and young children with carers who may become the child's potential permanent carers as early as possible. We know that this is in the developmental interests of vulnerable children and will minimise any disruption to the child as long term decisions are made.

"All children in care need clear plans for permanence and this policy has the potential to be applicable to a wide group of children. BAAF thinks that there is a real advantage in the Government consulting on a change to the law that places a duty on local authorities to place with carers who may become the child's permanent carers. Such a placement will always in the first instance be a temporary foster care placement with family and friends carers or 'stranger carers'. Only when the court agrees, will that placement be secured through an adoption order, special guardianship, a residence order or for some permanent foster care. It is also important that return to the child’s parents is always the first option wherever this is possible.

"These proposals will be demanding to implement responsibly. They will require well trained, knowledgeable and well-resourced professionals, properly informed and supported carers and the support of the courts and judiciary."

For more info and advice on adoption and fostering, visit the main BAAF website.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Finding the son I'd never met

As a teenager growing up in the 1960s, Andrew Ward fathered a child who was immediately placed for adoption. Thirty years later he set out to find the son he had never met.

I learned about the baby by chance. My parents and I returned from holiday abroad and called in to see old friends in the town where we used to live. I borrowed my parents' car and went to visit Carol. It was 10am one Sunday morning and the curtains were closed. That was very unusual. It was normally an up-and-at-em, crack of dawn household. Maybe there was a death in the family. I knocked on the door and nobody answered.

I went away and then returned an hour later. This time the door was opened. Her parents seemed sombre as they escorted me into the lounge. I felt like I was going into the headmaster’s study. I sat down and they told me that Carol had just had a baby.

A wave of shock dropped from the ceiling. It tied my hands behind my back, stuffed cotton wool into my mouth and pinned my stomach to the chair seat. The quiet lingered.

'Can I see her?' I asked at last, when I'd learned how to talk again.
'No, that wouldn't be for the best.'
'Boy or girl?' I asked.
'Boy. Do you admit that you're the father?'
I didn't see Carol. I never saw, touched or smelled the baby. It became clear that the notion of adoption was uppermost in the minds of Carol's parents.

My memories of the adoption aftermath are hazy. It was as if I was hypnotised. I was incapable of putting up a fight. I was expected to be like a cuckoo rolling someone else’s egg out of the nest with no concern about whether or not it would land safely. The adoption decision was presented to me in such a way that I had to be very strong in order to scupper that decision and find another option. I had a dearth of information and insufficient experience of life. I ruled out the prospect of Carol and me jointly raising the child because I assumed that she was going along with the adoption and that our relationship was over.

A fortnight later I borrowed my father's car and drove 200 miles to see a social worker in the town where I’d first met Carol. Carol's parents had told my parents that I had to be adamant about the adoption and adamant that Carol and I would never get married. I'd had to look up the word adamant in my dictionary. It wasn't a word that suited my personality at the time.

The social worker was jolly and friendly. She asked me questions about my school and my A levels. Then she looked for ways to describe me.
'What are your hobbies?'
'Bridge and chess.'
'Oh, chess. That's good.'
I never wanted to play chess again after that.
'Are you willing to sign a consent form?' she asked.
'I suppose so.'
I didn't understand what was happening. It didn't really matter whether I signed a form or not. Carol's signature was all they needed to crank up the adoption process. The family adopting the child had the right to change Christian names and surnames and thereafter the path to my son grew mistier, murkier and muddier.

You can read more of Andrew's story in The Birth Father's Tale. If you need info or advice about adoption search and reunion, please visit the ASR website.

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