Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Daily Mail Guide to Adoption

I have been hearing some myths around so thought I'd clear a few up... These are things I've heard about adoption in the UK.

(One point to note is that many local authorities ("social services") have very few resources available for assessing adopters. They focus their efforts on front-line child protection and tend to be very slow and look for ways to exclude adopters - because otherwise they'd be looking at 2 years or more in some cases even before prospective adopters can go on a preparation course. But some local authorities place most of their children through charities ("voluntary agencies") and the variety of adopters approved through these agencies is much greater.)

"You can't adopt if you don't own your own home"
Plenty of people who are renting their home adopt children. If you move every 6 months it might not be the most stable situation for a child who has, up till now, moved every 6 weeks.

"Your finances will be scrutinised and you have to earn loads of money".
We had to submit one month's bank statements. They care more about us because we have to be able to afford the fees. You can be on benefits and still adopt.

"You can't adopt if you have a significant health problem".
I think that might be true if you have a life-limiting illness and have little prospect of seeing your child turn 18. Mr Spouse has type 1 diabetes. I have a friend who has an adopted child who has MS. People have adopted post-cancer.

"You can't adopt if you have a history of mental health issues".
As our social worker says, "going to see a therapist is a Good Thing. We like you to get help when you need it". If your mental illness is very very poorly controlled (multiple long stays in hospital) then perhaps not. If you aren't comfortable talking to a professional (the social worker) about your mental illness, it might be better to get more comfortable talking about it to other people before thinking about adopting.

"You can't adopt if you are older".
Some agencies prefer there to be a maximum 45 year gap between the younger partner and any child. From what many second-time adoptive parents have said, this only seems to apply to the first child (I have heard of several situations where a second child, under 5 or even under 2, has been placed with couples of whom the younger was in their 50s). So, if you are in your early 50s (the younger of the partner) you'd be looking at a primary school aged child. Yes, there are situations where you are unlikely to be matched with a preschool child or an under-2.

"Lots of children are given back".
The general rate of disruption for adoptions in the UK is, I think, about 15%. That is not great but most people are on the good side. I've read 30% for adoptions over 5 (most adoptions in the UK are under 5 - the vast majority - the average age is in the 2-4 year age range with about 6 months to a year between placement and adoption - so placement at 12 months to 3y). Our agency's disruption rate is 5% and they mainly place children over 3. Do your homework and find an agency with decent post-adoption support.

"Everyone you have ever met will be police checked, medical checked, and financially checked"
No-one but you and your partner will have any of these checks. The only exception is if you are single and regularly relying on specific family or friends for childcare (and then it's only police checks). I have heard that some social workers ask you not to let your child go on a sleepover if the parents in question haven't been police checked - but I have also heard this has been discontinued even for foster children because otherwise their lives are pretty abnormal. But once your child is adopted, they are YOUR child and you make the decisions.

Social workers do get in touch with former live-in partners and any children not living with you (taking with a pinch of salt anything told them by disgruntled exes). This is because there have been cases of adopters whose former partners could have told them they were violent nutters, had they been asked.

"You can't adopt if you have a criminal record"
You can't adopt if you have a criminal record for offences against children. Doh. Also violence. Doh. Not drugs, speeding, and a huge variety of other things. It is probably better that adopters not be perfect little middle-class couples who've never strayed and have no idea what their child's birth parents' lives could possibly be like. When your child draws a lovely picture of a needle and a syringe it is helpful not to freak out.

"You can't adopt a child of a different ethnicity to yourself and all the children available for adoption are black"
It is true that a disproportionate number of children in care are non-white. But it is not true that no inter-racial adoptions take place in the UK. If you are a white couple who ring up an agency or your local authority and ask about adoption, it will be assumed you want a white child and wouldn't be interested in an inter-racial placement. Some social workers are still a bit iffy about inter-racial placements but they happen and they can be successful if the adopters are properly prepared. Find a different agency or social worker is my advice.

"You can't adopt if your house isn't perfect. You have to spend thousands on renovations before being approved".
Basic safety checks appropriate to the age of the child being placed are needed before placement. It's likely your social worker will run through what might need doing while visiting your home, and that when you are matched with a child their social worker will check you have stair gates/a lock on the liquor cabinet/know a small amount about Facebook (dependent on age).

"You can't adopt if you smoke".
You can't adopt a child who is asthmatic and sensitive to smoke, if you smoke. Doh.

"You can't adopt if you have pets"
Some children ask to be placed with a new mum and dad who have a dog/cat/stick insect. But you have to be prepared for the reaction of the pet to the children and vice versa.

Basically, if you want an under-2-year-old without a significant disability, you will be waiting for ages but you should be able to find an LA that will approve you eventually (though maybe not your local one - in some cases as a matter of policy due to proximity). We didn't want to wait that long. If you are happy to have a 3-year-plus - or a couple of them - you will find VAs are more flexible and quicker. We wanted to have a go at a baby this time - hence our going overseas. We have not been "rejected" by the UK system, though doubtless the Daily Mail would see it that way - we just want to do it differently.

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