For over the past six months that people experience the effect of the pandemic, there is one lovely thing that is happening. More people, perhaps already released from commuting, confronted by the threat of loss and with more time to reflect on what is really important to them, are now expressing their interest in adoption. It’s the exact opposite of what might have been expected. Maybe it’s precise because security is down and uncertainty is up that people are reaching for meaningful change.
This week, the adoption agencies’ #YouCanAdopt campaign kicks off in England, rolling out a welcome mat of adopter recruitment activities in the build-up to National Adoption Week, aimed at encouraging future parents to come forward. The particular hope is that more adopters who can offer homes to black, Asian and minority ethnic children in care will be found.
Recruitment is a sensitive subject in the adoption community. As well as playing into the naïve narrative of a parent looking for their perfect child – adoption is about finding parents for children not about finding children for parents – there is the happy-ever-after conundrum.
Every film and fable tells adoption as the end of the story; the resolution of the struggle that went before. But every adopter knows that the adoption is only the beginning. The critical importance of telling, and hearing, the rest of the story clashes with adopter recruitment messages. There are many whose discomfort with the flaws of the whole institution of adoption means that the simplicity and optimism of recruitment strike the wrong note.
Is it right to encourage hopeful prospectives to come forward, when adopters face daily battles to get their traumatised children the medical, social and educational support they need? Should adoption be promoting, when adopters are giving up their jobs to home-school excluded pupils, having their home lives shattered by violence, or finding that their child will never be able to live an independent life? I think we should.
Adoption provides the main route out of care for the minority of children who cannot return to their birth families. It may be becoming unfashionable to say it, but adoption is transformative. Adopted children do better than children who remain in care, catching up educationally and socially, having a better chance of a brighter future. Adoption provides the one thing that every child needs, over and above everything else, and that is a stable, loving family to grow up in.
Across the UK, this amounts to around 5000 children every year. That’s 5000 opportunities to begin to recover, 5000 children starting to learn to trust, to feel safe, to experience love.
That isn’t to overlook the many ways in which the adoption sector must keep developing. For one in three adoptive families, the adoption order really is the start of the happy-ever-after, at least as much as a new child is for any family. For the other two, ever-after is punctuated by significant challenges requiring outside help, and for one family in three these will be severe and ongoing.
Advocating for a fit for purpose modern adoption system is the day-day work of Adoption UK, and we won’t stop until every adoptive family and the adopted person receives the service and support they deserve. But I don’t see that we shouldn’t do that while also welcoming new parents into the adoption community. The children are there, needing a family. The parents are there with space in their hearts and homes. And they will add their voices, and their experiences, to the case for a better adoption system in due course.
The happy-ever-after conundrum is only a problem if recruitment is done badly. No prospective adopter should be sold a fairy story. But it’s perfectly possible to recruit adopters honestly, being open about the needs their child may have and transparent about the challenges they’re likely to face. This doesn’t always happen – but the more we can discuss the issues openly and confidently the more it will.
Our prospective adopter groups allow interested future parents to meet and talk to experienced adopters, who are dealing with the legacy of early childhood trauma every day. Anyone interested in adoption should make sure they take as many opportunities as possible to speak to adopters about life after the adoption order.
But the main reason I’m happy to support recruitment and celebrate adoption is because of what adopters themselves tell me. Adoption UK is about to publish its second Adoption Barometer, the UK’s biggest snapshot of adoption. We’ll be using it to show decision-makers just why adoption support is so vital.
But what the Barometer will also reveal is that the overwhelming majority of adoptive parents would recommend adoption to others. It will show that adoptive parents are resilient, optimistic and dedicated to providing the love, care and nurture their children so desperately need. It’s crucial we find more of these people who can transform the lives of vulnerable children.
Adoption needs to change so that families created from trauma have access to lifelong, integrated expert support as needed. Adopted young people need to be able to grow up secure in their life stories, with no mystery or shame attached to their early childhood. And we need to do much, much better at preventing the social failures that lead to the need for adoption in the first place. But we also must keep recruiting adopters, so that those children who need forever families can find them.
Without adopters, there is no adoption. Adoption UK is working to ensure that adopter recruitment, preparation and approval values the people who come forward by treating them honestly and respectfully throughout. Anyone interested in exploring further can contact Adoption UK or visit #YouCanAdopt website. There is no happy-ever-after, but there is a child with a chance of a brighter future.
Image credit: Freepik