Children cost money - even other people's

Adopting children comes at a price, but the rewards are great, says Kate Hilpern

Whoever said the best things in life are free has never brought up children. Earlier this year, research found that raising a child costs more than the price of the average house. From birth to university, found the study, parents spend about £164,000 feeding, clothing and educating a child, compared with the £146,000 cost of a home in Britain.

Whoever said the best things in life are free has never brought up children. Earlier this year, research found that raising a child costs more than the price of the average house. From birth to university, found the study, parents spend about £164,000 feeding, clothing and educating a child, compared with the £146,000 cost of a home in Britain.

For people who raise children through adoption or fostering, the financial implications can be greater still. "When people first think about adopting, I think they are blissfully unaware of the extra outlay compared to bringing up a natural child," says Jonathan Pearce, director of Adoption UK. "But for starters, there is very often an expectation from the agencies involved in adoption that at least one parent should be available to provide childcare themselves, rather than using other arrangements like a nanny or childminder. That's because of the attachment difficulties that many of today's adopted children have."

Indeed, gone are the days when adopters take on newborns relinquished by their birth parents. The 4,000 children awaiting adoption in the UK tend to be older and with more complex backgrounds.

Suzanne Crenshaw, an adoptive mother of two young daughters, was shocked at being encouraged to give up her job. "I was an HR director and a career woman and my salary was good. But it was made clear by social workers that I should give up work. I wanted the choice that a birth mother would have."

With hindsight, she does not regret it. "My older daughter, in particular, had been seriously neglected and came with so many emotional problems. She needed time invested in her and anything that she could perceive as abandonment could have been fatal. She has been able to mend and is now loving and wonderful and giving up work no longer feels like a sacrifice."

Felicity Collier, chief executive of the British Association of Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), says that many adopters do continue to work. After all, it's not just couples who adopt - single people do, too. And staying in work has become easier since the introduction of adoption leave, which can be taken by one partner and lasts for up to 52 weeks (26 weeks at £100 per week or 90 per cent of a weekly wage if this is less, plus 26 weeks unpaid).

"Nevertheless, the reality is that for many parents, it would be very difficult to manage full-time jobs immediately after their adoption leave has run out," she admits. "Some of these children need a lot of time with their new family and to settle in school, and there are children for whom normal childcare facilities are not an option."

Another potential cost for adopters is the extra tuition that these children may require to catch up at school, she says. "Some children have also had their health needs neglected and many need to have contact with previous foster carers or birth families, who may live some distance away," she adds.

Few adoptive parents begrudge such costs because the rewards of adoption are so great, says Ms Collier. "But that doesn't negate the fact that many people need financial help in order for adoption to become a reality."

Mr Pearce agrees. "Lack of finances can affect the success of a placement and also an adoption agency's ability to recruit adopters," he says. "This is particularly the case for people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, who are often less well-off than white families. Children from these backgrounds are over-represented in care and we desperately need adults to adopt them."

The adoption allowance can help, he says. This weekly payment may be considered if a child falls into certain categories such as having a disability or illness, or they need adopting with siblings.

"The problem is that it's a postcode lottery as to whether you receive this kind of help and how much you get," he says. The adoption allowance can range from a few quid a week to several hundred pounds. The Government is currently working towards bringing in a more consistent and fair service.

Looking overseas is the most expensive option when it comes to adoption. Pat Wordley, information officer for AFAA (Association of Families Adopting from Abroad), says that the initial costs vary widely depending on what country you're adopting from, but you're unlikely to pay less than £10,000.

While fostering is a world away from adoption, in that it generally aims to be temporary rather than permanent, the motivation for people to do it is often similar. "The similarity lies in adults opening up their home to provide children with a loving and family-oriented environment," says Jackie Sanders, spokesperson for the Fostering Network. "The difference is that fostering is a way of offering children a home while their parents are unable to look after them, whereas adoption provides children with a new family for children who can no longer live with their own."

All children in foster care remain under the official care of the local authority, she says, and as such that local authority - or independent fostering agency, if they use one - has a duty to pay foster carers an allowance that is expected to cover the costs of that child's needs. "But it's another postcode lottery and whilst many carers are given an adequate amount of money, others are forced to put their hands into their own pockets," she says.

Rhys Hughes, a foster parent in west Wales, says: "Today, we try to keep families together which means that children coming into care are the victims of higher levels of abuse.

"Some of the young people are deeply disturbed and it's not just a matter of keeping them warm and safe. It's a professional job that should be treated as such, in terms of payment, support and respect," Mr Hughes adds.

At the very least, argues Ms Sanders, the UK governments should implement a national minimum rate. The Fostering Network publishes its own recommendations based on the age of the child, as well as if they live inside or outside London. This rate starts at £108.49 for 0-4 year-olds outside London and goes up to £191.37 for 16-year-olds and over. But new research has found that 46 per cent of local authorities in England pay less than these recommended rates, along with 50 per cent in Wales, 91 per cent in Scotland and 100 per cent in Northern Ireland.

The good news is that because fostering is increasingly recognised as being a career, the more realistic local authorities and independent fostering agencies have started paying carers a fee for the work they do, in addition to the allowance paid for the child. But, points out Ms Sanders, around half of all foster carers still don't get paid a fee, and a further 20 per cent who do get one receive less than £100 per week.

Anyone interested in fostering should find out all local authorities and independent fostering agencies in their area and ask what they offer, both in terms of allowances and fees. Likewise with adoption, the general advice for anyone with financial concerns is to ask local adoption agencies as early as possible what is the likelihood of receiving any assistance.

National Adoption Week is 1-7 November.

BAAF: www.baaf.org.uk, 020-7593 2000.

Adoption UK: www.adoptionuk.org.uk, 01295 660121.

The Fostering Network: www.thefostering.net, 020-7620 6400

'Money is a worry, but I wouldn't change a thing'

Esme Atiya-Alla has six adopted children and lives in Torbay, Devon

"My adopted children - some of whom have special needs - range from five to 19. When I adopted the first two, I was married, and the adoption allowance I got for each of them helped. When I separated, it became crucial. Now, I get about £2,000 per month, but I spend a lot more than that on them. One boy has such severe special needs that I have to pay for a special childminder if I go out for the evening. And I've just had to buy an eight-seater car and had to get a loan. I don't have time to work, so there's no income coming in. One of my main gripes about the financial assistance I get is that each borough varies enormously. And if you get an adoption allowance, it prevents you claiming income support and getting help with council tax, school meals and water rates. Despite my financial concerns, though, I love my family and wouldn't have it any other way. Adopting has been a wonderful experience."

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