Middle-aged parents are targeted in adoption drive

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Parents in their 50s, whose offspring have grown up and left home will be encouraged for the first time to adopt young children.

Parents in their 50s, whose offspring have grown up and left home will be encouraged for the first time to adopt young children.

A campaign launched tomorrow - and backed by the Government - will urge 50-something "empty-nesters" to provide new homes for more problematic children who currently struggle to find younger parents willing to take them on.

The Department for Education and Skills, which oversees adoption, said: "Many children waiting for adoptive parents are older and are at school. Older, prospective adopters are urgently needed to care for these children and offer them the chance of permanent family life."

A report published tomorrow by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), which, from next month will be running the national adoption register, will show that one in four children waiting to be adopted do not receive a single inquiry from families interested in adoption. "What you learn from bringing up your children prepares you for anything. It would make a huge difference if more people in their 40s and 50s were to adopt," said Felicity Collier, chief executive of BAAF.

Last year 3,500 children who were in care were adopted, up from 2,700 in 2000. But there are currently 4,000 children still waiting to be adopted, the report says.

Ms Collier said: "Our study shows that the same children are being left behind, year after year, with little hope of being included into a family environment. We urgently need more adopters to come forward and especially people from ethnic minority families."

Last year, Margaret Hodge, the children's minister, said that adoption needed to be made "fairer and friendlier", and introduced new measures that aimed to increase the number of children adopted.

Ruth Fasht, director of the adoption charity Norwood, agreed with the change: "Agencies used to employ age limits but the new guidelines say people cannot be excluded because of age," she said.

Dermot McCann, a social worker at a fostering project run by the children's charity NCH, agreed: "Older people have life experience that will make a more mature parent."

Linda and Malcolm More, aged 49 and 48 respectively, adopted Thomas, aged five. Mrs More has two grown-up children from her first marriage but the couple decided they wanted to raise another child together. "I was concerned that I am older but what is important is I will see him into a secure adulthood," Mrs More said.

But there are drawbacks. A couple adopting a child of primary school age while in their 50s would be drawing their pension when the child was a teenager. "Obviously there can be some challenges," said Ms Collier, "but it is better than not having a family at all."

'Adoption is amazing and if you are older, you're prepared'

At the age of 42, and suffering from mild multiple sclerosis, Alison Jones thought she wouldn't be allowed to adopt. A school counsellor from east London, Mrs Jones and her husband Paul, a structural engineer, put themselves forward expecting to be rejected.

"We thought we would be turned down because of my MS," said Mrs Jones. "We were worried that it would be difficult."

But they were pleasantly surprised when social workers cleared them to adopt, citing their life experience as an important factor in the decision.

"Adoption is amazing," said Mrs Jones. "It changes people's lives. But you've got to be flexible. If you are mature you will be better prepared."

The couple adopted two brothers, Ryan, who was then six and is partially sighted, and Darryl, eight. The boys had spent their childhood in foster care. Attempts had been made to reunite the brothers with their birth mother, but this failed and they were moved back to a care home.

It took two years of searching, and six different homes, before they were finally placed with the Joneses.

The couple had previously adopted two boys when they were in their 30s after discovering they were infertile. But second time around they were worried that their age and Mrs Jones's health could count against them.

Children who have spent much of their childhood in care, such as Darryl and Ryan, present different challenges for parents. "Ninety per cent of our time is ordinary parenting," said Mrs Jones, "taking them to and from football, swimming lessons, taking them to visit friends, doing homework. The rest is different, dealing with their problems.

"Social services tell you they experienced neglect, but it's not until you get to know them that, for example, you realise there were days on end when there was no food in the house. The effect of that doesn't go away."

Both boys have settled into their new lives. Ryan, now 11, plays football for Arsenal's visually impaired children's team and is an avid Millwall fan.

"We have no regrets though," said Mrs Jones. "They feel part of us."