Adoption: Dispelling the myths

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The Independent Online

Recent adoptions by Madonna and Angelina Jolie have put the spotlight on adopting from abroad, but it's important not to forget the 4,000 children, in need of a permanent loving home, waiting to be adopted in the UK.

Such high-profile adoptions could lead people to believe that you have to be married and wealthy to adopt and a recent National Children's Home (NCH) survey reveals that more than two-thirds of people wrongly think they aren't eligible. The survey exposes a number of myths surrounding who can adopt: 67 per cent of people thought that being too old was a barrier to adoption; 39 per cent thought that if you were single you couldn't adopt; and 27 per cent thought that if you were gay you couldn't adopt.

Adoption agencies such as NCH and local authority adoption services are doing all they can to dispel the myths that surround adoption in a bid to encourage more people to consider opening their home to a vulnerable child. Sue Cotton, adoption agency manager at NCH says: "At NCH we are open to adoption applications from people from all walks of life. There are many myths out there surrounding adoption and we need to dispel these as they are preventing prospective parents from coming forward.

"We are interested in hearing from people who have their own children, as well as those without children. Single people, married couples, same-sex couples and those living in unmarried partnerships are welcome. The children may well have already suffered a lot of changes, uncertainty and unhappiness in their lives. The most important thing is that families can offer commitment, flexibility and security. We believe that children need families who can help them grow up feeling good about themselves, with knowledge of their own culture, language and religion. So we are looking for adopters who reflect children's ethnic and cultural backgrounds."

Research carried out by NCH shows that it is harder to find families for children from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds; for every prospective black or mixed heritage adoptive home, there are three children hoping to be chosen. It is traditionally much harder to find potential adopters from BME communities, yet there are hundreds of children from this community desperately in need of a permanent home. To help fill this void, NCH set up the innovative London Black Families project in 2003 with the sole purpose of recruiting adopters from ethnic communities.

It 's also much harder to find families for older children and often the children referred to NCH tend to be a bit older. "At NCH we do find families for older children," saysCotton. "The average age of a child placed with a family through us is around four- to five-years-old, although on occasions we do place children who are older and younger. Children from BME communities referred to us from local authorities tend to be a bit younger."

There are a number of reasons why children are placed for adoption; mainly it is because birth families are unable to provide the care and security they need to help their child grow into healthy and stable adults. They may be young babies, older children or disabled children who require special care. The majority of children who need adoptive parents have been removed from their birth parents' care by the courts. They may have suffered severe abuse - physical, sexual or emotional - or may have been neglected. All of these children will need patience and understanding to help them settle into their adoptive family.

Clare Elliott is a media relations officer at NCH

Get in touch

How do I become an adoptive parent?

* Contact NCH's adoption line on 0845 355 5533, or contact your local authority's adoption service, many of which hold information evenings where you can meet people with experience in adoption

* You will go through an adoption assessment where you will work closely with a social worker to discuss issues. The social worker will get a clear picture of your family life: who the different members of your family are; how you get along with each other; and your feelings about such matters as discipline and protecting children from harm. You will also need to attend preparation groups with other potential adopters

* The social worker will write a report on you, which will be presented to the adoption panel who will make a recommendation on your suitability to adopt

* Once approval has been completed, you will care for the child for 13 weeks before the adoption application goes before the courts to make it official

PROFILE

Local authority profile: Brent

Satwinder Sandhu is team manager, Brent Adoption Team East

"Nobody needs reminding that the intensification of social and financial challenges to UK families is putting increased pressure on parenting - particularly the capacity of parents to protect their children and equip them with the qualities they need to survive, never mind thrive, in the increasingly competitive global society.

At Brent Council's Adoption Service, we value the parenting skills which have been honed in practice by parents, who know what it means to support and encourage their own birth children through school and education.

Children who are placed for adoption acutely need that kind of support, because so many of them are unfairly disadvantaged, through no fault of their own, by the circumstances of their early upbringing. For them, anyone who can help level the playing field is saving their young lives, giving them the opportunity to achieve independence and self fulfilment.

We urge parents who have watched their own children grow up - and indeed anyone interested - to try and gain early experience of what it means to adopt someone else's child by, for example, undertaking respite care."

Brent holds an open information evening every month at Brent Town Hall. Call 020-8937 4525 or 4451, or e-mail adoption@brent.gov.uk

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