Family matters: Human faces of the adoption crisis
Only 60 babies were adopted in England last year. So is the system fit for purpose? Charlie Cooper asks those who have been through it
Friday 30 September 2011
Jono Lancaster, 26, learning disability support worker from Normanton, West Yorkshire
Given up for adoption as a baby. Featured in BBC3 Documentary called "Love me, love my face", about search for birth parents, now looking for his biological siblings
"I was given up for adoption because of the way I look. I have a condition called Treacher Collins, which affects the way the bones in my face developed. I was taken in by a lady called Jean Lancaster when I was only two weeks old. I consider myself dead lucky to have been adopted – my family have been brilliant. I don't remember ever being told I was adopted – it's something I've always just known. When I was younger it was something I boasted to my friends about – that though their parents had been stuck with them, my mum actually chose me out of all the other babies. Through my life, my feelings for my birth parents have changed. The fact they've given me up for adoption because of how I look made me wonder how could anyone else love me if they, my own parents, couldn't. As I grew up I thought about how they must have felt – that this was supposed to be the happiest day of their life and turned out to be a nightmare for them. It must have been tough. I wanted to let them know that I was ok, that I was happy, that I have a beautiful girlfriend. An adoption service helped me get in touch with them. I sent them a letter offering contact, but they declined, which was heartbreaking. I owe my happiness to my mum, Jean. She's an amazing person. She didn't have to take me on, she had grown-up children who were about to move out but rather than settling down, she adopted me and raised me. She still fosters now, though she's nearly 69. I hate to think where I'd be without her. She says as soon as she held me she felt that bond. It is essential that children have a healthy, happy, safe home. Too many children get passed from foster care home to foster care home, never settling, building and breaking relationships all the time. I would have hated that. Consistency and a loving family meant the world of good to me. Children need that – for someone to be there for you no matter what. I would love to adopt. It's an amazing thing and I'm shocked to hear it's in decline."
Dan Johnson, 39, south London, armourer
Adopted as a baby, recently reunited with his birth parents
"I was adopted when I was eight months old. I always knew I was adopted – I'm mixed race and my family is white. I've got two other adopted siblings. There's a great openness about adopting in my family. We were probably quite a handful though. I became interested in tracking down my birth parents. I didn't feel like I knew my background and my roots and found it difficult to move forward. There's also the problem of not knowing enough about your hereditary medical history. Between the ages of 18 and 37 I was actively looking with the help of an adoption service. Then in 2008 I tracked down my birth mum to Atlanta in Georgia. She helped me track down my birth father, who was in Paris, and also the rest of my biological family. They're all amazing people and I'm happy to say I have a great relationship with both my families. It's been strange, going from the youngest in my family to having four younger siblings – Christmas has become very expensive. My parents were able to clarify why I was given up for adoption. It had a lot to do with my mother's age – she was 19. Also, it was 1971 and they were a mixed couple. It was tough for them. She thought adoption could give me a better life. I think it was a hard decision for her. I always saw things from my perspective until I met her."
Deborah Murphy, 47
Cafcass service manager and former family court adviser
"A family court adviser with Cafcass [the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service] is the voice of a child in the legal side of the adoption process. We safeguard children in the family justice system. We take evidence from social workers, doctors, police; there's a range of families and issues that will present themselves in court.
Sometimes there's an injury to the child, where the police have intervened and the family situation has to be addressed urgently. Sometimes there are questions of neglect or a history of children not being parented well, where it's decided the courts have to step in.
Since the Baby Peter tragedy, there's been a greater awareness in the public and the profession about safeguarding children within families. Local authorities are taking greater steps – their threshold of what is considered a risk has lowered. From my experience, I don't think I've ever seen an application brought before the courts where the local authority wants to remove a child from a family, that hasn't been the appropriate course of action.
But the decision to put a child up for adoption is an irrevocable one – if you're going to take away a parent's rightful responsibility for a child, you have to be absolutely certain that it is the right course of action.
There's so many things to assess – parent's capacity to parent, understanding of the issues, potential problems with drugs and alcohol, the possibility that an aunt or uncle could step in to be a carer and, of course, the timescale for the child.
All the while these decisions are being taken, the child is developing an attachment to temporary carers, which is painful to then sever."
Paula Bennet, 47
Social worker with The Adolescents' and Children's Trust adoption agency
"I assess prospective adopters, train them ready for adoption and also provide support, after placement. When looking for adopters, I intuitively like to experience someone having warmth – alongside more formal criteria such as parenting experience, a support network and an understanding of the needs of children who have been in care.
Adopters need to be emotionally available. Prospective adopters often hold the view that babies will be less complicated to settle in to a family, but I don't think that's correct. There may be mental health issues and drug abuse issues that have an impact on a child, prior to a baby even being born. The background of a child in care is always complexe.
Too often timescales around putting a child up for adoption do not fit the timescale of the children. But when it comes to choosing adoptive parents – that is a process that should take time."
James Johnston, 43, full-time parent, Manchester
Adoptive parent of three children
"My wife, Marie, and I couldn't have kids. One day we read an article about After Adoption and just said – 'Shall we have a go at it?' Now we have three cracking children – and life is more fun! We had a lot to go through to get here – a lot of courses and education, about the process, about child behaviour and development. The adoption agency were brilliant. It takes a long time – about two years for us – but I think it's important that it does. It's hard work – two boys and a girl, who were two, three and four when they came to live with us just over a year ago. The eldest remembers things from her life before. We have a booklet all about it, with a picture of the hospital she was born in, and of her birth mother. We explain that that's her tummy mummy, who couldn't look after her properly and that we're lucky that she's come to live with us."
Helen Nicolle, 34, from Leigh, Lancashire, council worker
Applying to adopt full-time
"I made my first enquiry about adoption in May 2010. I had been voluntarily supporting a woman who was a foster carer. I saw the difference a stable environment had made for the children. It led to me think that, even though I'm on my own, I can offer a child the same thing. The children she'd had were young, aged under four. They'd been through a hard time, but love and support had really brought them on and they were doing well. I got in touch with social workers at an adoption agency. There was a long waiting list with the local council – 18 months just to get on to the preparation course. The adoption agencies tend to place children who are considered harder to place – sometimes older ones. I knew from the start I didn't want a baby. I work and I'm single, and I didn't want to give up my job, or adopt a baby just to put them in nursery care every day. So a child who has just started school was a child that would fit into my life. I was told from the start that there could be some stigma because I'd be a single mother. But I was very lucky that my daughter's social worker actually thought she'd be better with a single mother. She's been with me for eight weeks now – she's five. It's going really well. After 10 weeks of fostering I will be able to apply for full adoption."
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