My husband Pete and I adopted our two daughters in 2013, when they were 4 and 3 and we were in our late 30s. The process from initial enquiry to adoption order took just under two years.
It felt like an eternity and involved about eight long meetings with a social worker, four days of training on the experiences and needs of adopted children, medical assessments, and masses of paperwork covering our previous relationships, the state of our finances, our upbringings and family relationships, and more. They also spoke to our friends and family to make sure we weren't misrepresenting ourselves and to check they would be willing to support us through the challenges to come. The object was for the social worker to get a full picture of our lives to date and our lifestyle, in order to compile the report about us that was presented to the approval panel, and later the matching panel.
Did it prepare us adequately for the challenges of adoptive parenting? Well, yes and no. We talked a lot with our social worker about what we were getting ourselves in to. There is a form adopters have to complete where you tick boxes saying what you will and won't take on, including various disabilities, life experiences and types of contact with birth family. We were very open to pretty much everything, but knew we wanted two siblings. Pete and I were diligent in our research and read more than 30 books on adoption, and attended all the classes our local authority ran for adoptive parents on a range of therapeutic techniques and specific challenges. I also spent a lot of time on the Adoption UK forums, talking to people who'd been there before us and listening to their advice. We were as prepared as we could be. We were also very proactive, and it turned out that I found our daughters online rather than the social workers finding a match for us. We'd thought we wanted boys, but as soon as I saw their faces and read their profile I knew they were 'the ones'. We then met their social workers and read everything that was known about their background and needs. Finally we got the go-ahead to start introductions with a view to adopting them.
Nothing quite prepares you for that moment when the foster carers open their front door and you see your children face-to-face for the first time. It was surreal – these two little girls our lives had revolved around for so long, that we had committed to, were now in the same room! After some initial shyness, we were soon playing together with their toys, and had a trip to a local soft play where they fearlessly leapt into our arms shouting 'Mummy!' 'Daddy!' and beaming from ear to ear, as we tried to look confident and competent in front of them, the foster carers and the other parents! Ten days later our children were moving into our home and we were getting on with being a family!
Five years later, with the benefit of experience, would we do it all again? Most days, the answer is yes. I love my daughters and am really proud of them. But it would be inaccurate to represent adoption as a happily ever after story. It is relentless hard work, all day, every day. It is coping with very challenging behaviours, including their violence towards us and each other and smashing up our home. It is advocating for their support needs to education, health and social care systems that don't have either the budget or the inclination to help, despite the promises we were given in the beginning. It is home educating them while we fight for a specialist school place that is the right match, our eldest having been excluded from mainstream due to violence as a result of her PTSD. It's fighting for diagnoses when you know something is wrong (so far, between them, the girls have been diagnosed with autism, ADHD, depression, PTSD, attachment disorders, and partial foetal alcohol syndrome, and we're on a waiting list for more diagnostic appointments). It's taking them to psychotherapy appointments every weekend which will ultimately help them but they often violently resist. Everything is a battle requiring dozens of emails and forms and meetings over a course of many months, and it's exhausting.
But is it worth it? Yes. Our girls are now 10 and 8, and despite the challenges, doing really well. It's great to see them learning and growing in confidence, feeling more secure and knowing that we are here for them.
The bottom line is that after all they went through, which caused them to have these extreme behaviours, they need a family to love them unconditionally, to advocate for them relentlessly, to be there and to keep on forgiving and carrying on. Thousands more like my girls still need permanent families. So I'd encourage potential adopters to take the plunge, yes, but to do it with their eyes open to the realities. Read lots, talk to other adopters (lots of us hang out on Twitter and Facebook and are very happy to chat), and make sure you have plenty of support in place.
About the Author
Hannah Meadows blogs about adoptive parenting at hannahmeadows.com, where you can also find relevant free resources (such as template letters and holiday planners) and reviews of books and products to save parents' sanity. She runs the Facebook group The Adoptive Parents' Self-Care Club, and you can also find her on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.