6 things you should know about adoption

The author of How to Adopt a Child, who was adopted herself, tells Lisa Salmon some of the key emotional and practical things to consider.

Lisa Salmon
Friday 16 April 2021 09:15 BST
Hands of child holding picture of house covering her face on light background.
Hands of child holding picture of house covering her face on light background.

Most children waiting to be adopted aren’t cute little babies – many are much older children who have been badly treated. But it’s not their fault, and thousands of them are desperate for a loving home.

Around 4,000 children in the UK are waiting to be adopted, and while not all of them have been abused or neglected, Adoption UK says around three-quarters have.

The charity points out there’s been a fall in adoptions in recent years – at the end of last year, official statistics showed the number of children adopted from care in England alone was down by more than a third, from  5,360 in 2015 to 3,440 in the year up to the end of March 2020.

“Many adoption agencies struggle to find prospective adopters willing to adopt the children they’re trying to place,” explains Dr Sue Armstrong Brown, chief executive of Adoption UK. “A significant proportion of the children waiting to be adopted are older, part of a sibling group or have special needs.”

She says many children deemed ‘harder to place’ have been waiting 18 months or more since becoming looked after, and adds: “Clearly, the ideal scenario is to keep every child with their birth family, and every effort must always be made to do so. But when that isn’t possible, it’s essential that adoptive homes are found quickly. ”

And Javed Khan, chief executive of the UK’s largest voluntary adoption agency Barnardo’s, adds: “Adoption changes lives – both for children waiting for their forever families and for prospective parents. Every day we see the joy and happiness that adoption can bring for the whole family, and we know it offers some of the most vulnerable children in our society the promise of a positive future.”

Someone who understands all about adoption and its benefits is Louise Allen, who was adopted herself and experienced an adoption breakdown.


She is now a long-time foster parent of many children, and has written the new book How to Adopt a Child   While keen to get more people adopting, she warns: “Adopters have no guarantee of success – it doesn’t work for all children. But every child deserves the opportunity to be loved and feel loved.”

Here Allen explains key points about the process which can transform vulnerable children’s lives…

1.    Anyone can adopt“The message that adopters can come from all backgrounds can’t be shouted about enough,” stresses  Allen. “All nationalities, single, married, male, female, homeowner or renting, ‘working class’ or ‘middle-class’, with a range of occupations, straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual. It really doesn’t matter who you are as long as long as you can be a good parent by giving a child a loving home and being emotionally resilient, flexible and able to manage uncertainty.”

2.    You’ll need certain qualities

Allen stresses that people who want to adopt will have to seriously rethink what parenting is, explaining: “You’ll be the child’s secure, ‘safe base’, and you’ll need to become an expert at shrugging off platitudes and interference from everyone.” She says close family and friends may see your kindness and patience as weakness, and advises: “Don’t listen – adopted children think differently and they may have had to employ survival skills that most marines would be envious of to get through their childhood so far.”

 3.    You may not get your dream babyAllen stresses that anyone thinking of adopting a child should be aware that only 5% of available children are under the age of one, 13% are aged one to four, 18% are aged five to nine, 39% are aged 10 to 15, and 24% are aged 16 plus. The average age of adopted children is 7.7 years, she says. “There’s more competition for babies yet fewer are available. The first thing a potential adopter needs to do is change their dream to focus on an older child.”

4.  Legal difference between adoption and fostering

Unlike fostering, where the ‘corporate parent’ (local authority), foster carers and to some degree the birth parents are legally responsible for the health, education and wellbeing of the child, with adoption the legal status is ‘you’re on your own’, Allen explains. “There are no separated routes for children who go into care because, for whatever reason, they can no longer live with their family. The children are the same if fostered or adopted, it’s just the paperwork that’s different.”

She says some sibling groups may be separated with some, usually the younger children, being adopted and others remaining in foster care. If an adoption breaks down, the child will return to the fostering system.

 5.  Adoptive parents need to have dealt with their own childhood trauma

Allen says that while there understandably tends to be a focus on the child’s experiences of trauma, it’s important that adoptive parents have dealt with any adversity they experienced themselves during childhood.

“Adopters need to reflect in a coherent manner on their own childhood experiences,” she says. “If you’ve experienced childhood trauma, or situations that were left unspoken with no effort made to resolve them, they’ll have a substantial negative impact and influence how you treat your child. How did you, and do you, deal with illness, rejection, separation, abuse and loss?”

6. The truth is important

child holding hand of adult parent outside in summer park

Adoptive parents should not sugar-coat the truth about their adopted child’s past,  Allen stresses. “You need to know all you can about your child before they join your family. A child who’s adopted will not be returning to their birth family, that’s been legally decided by the courts. Your child is yours and you both need to understand your child’s pre-birth and early life experiences.

“The truth, without prejudice, without an agenda, is the right way to talk to an adopted child.”

How to Adopt a Child by Louise Allen is published by Vermilion on April 22, priced £14.99.

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