Adopting Older Siblings... Our Story
In our guest blog in celebration of national adoption week, an adopter shares their experiences of adopting 'older' siblings...
This years National Adoption Week (16th-23rd October) focuses on the national and local need for more people who would consider, with our training and support, adopting brothers and sisters who should stay together. So this month we have handed over our blog space to our colleagues in the adoption team and an adopter who has shared their honest experiences of adopting a brother and sister...
Thinking about Adoption
We thought we would have a family easily, so the first miscarriage was a real shock. We were devastated. Over the next six years I had three more miscarriages and various medical investigations. IVF was recommended as our best option. By this time, we had read up on it, on what the process was, and on the chances of it being successful.
At this point my partner and I were already considering adoption somewhere in the back of our minds. We wanted to share our lives with children and to be a family. IVF was unsuccessful and we decided to stop the treatment. So we took some time out to grieve the loss of the birth child we would not have, took care of each other and, when we were ready, we decided to look at adoption properly.
Making the first move
After a lot of soul searching, we phoned our local Adoption Team. This was a big deal – we were starting the process and making a commitment to our unknown child or children; committing to what we knew would be a long process before one or two strangers come to be part of our family. It was so exciting and so very scary. We attended a very useful information evening, had a home visit from a member of the Adoption Team, started the checks and references and signed up for Preparation Groups.
Turning up to Preparation Groups was pretty scary! Even though we knew everyone else was in the same boat, I felt very vulnerable. But I needn’t have worried. We got to know each other and the group felt very supportive. There was so much to explore and so much information. We covered such a lot of ground, including looking at the losses that everyone involved in the adoption process may go through - the child and their birth parents as well as ourselves. We looked at the significance of early child development and the importance of attachment, and how this is affected by poor parenting and separation. We drank lots of coffee and ate lots of biscuits. The sessions were really interesting, sometimes emotional and we even had some fun! The best bit was hearing from actual adopters who were willing to share their experiences of adoption really openly with us. They told us about the joys and challenges!
Home Study Assessment
People worry about the home study but we actually enjoyed it! It’s not often that you get the chance to talk about yourself! The home study with our social worker gave us a chance to reflect on what we could offer to a child, what our limits were and who we could turn to in our own circle of family and friends if we needed support. We also enrolled some of our family and a local friend on the Friends and Family adoption workshop which they found invaluable. It gave them a real insight into the needs of adopted children and why we would need to parent our children in a slightly different way to the norm. We talked about what my partner and I brought to our relationship and how our own backgrounds and experiences (the good bits and the bad bits) could contribute to our ability to be parents. We needed to be very honest and think about the way we each reacted to stress.
Towards the end of the home study we began to look more closely at what kind of child we might like to adopt and how many! We knew we wanted two and, based on our previous childcare experience, availability and multitasking skills, our Social Worker also felt we could manage two. We ideally wanted children under school age. We knew what issues we might cope with, and what we might not deal so well with but we also knew that a child’s future issues might not be apparent at such an early age. Our social worker wrote up our report and shared it with us. We were ready for the Approval Panel!
The Approval Panel
Approval Panel was nerve-racking but went well. The panel was made up of social workers, adopters, and a children’s counsellor who asked us questions based on the report our social worker had written. The panel were friendly and polite and there were no ‘surprise’ questions. The panel recommended us with advice that we could adopt two children and, after a wait of about two weeks (which seemed like forever) we were finally approved!
It took us a while to be matched with our children and the wait is really hard. After the busy assessment and panel process we were just….waiting – it felt like we were in limbo. During this time there were some potential matches that turned out to be not quite right, and, although we were quite emotional about these at the time, it was for the best. ‘Matching’ is a two way process. Our social worker told us that we had to make these decisions with our heads and our hearts, and she was right. We used Linkmaker and attended local and national Activity Days and eventually our perseverance paid off.
Finally, our Social Worker presented us with the details of two siblings, with some reservations, because one was older than we’d initially wanted. But their details (and especially the details of the older child) really spoke to us, in a way I hadn’t expected. We found that the details of older children convey more of their personalities and interests because they have more developed characters. This made us think more positively about adopting an older child. So we asked for more details about these two children – a girl of seven and a boy of four. The more we read, the more got interested until we realised we could imagine them living with us.
The Social Worker for the children came to visit us at home. Our own social worker was also there and made sure that we asked all the right questions and had all the information we needed. It’s easy to get carried away with the excitement and gloss over the potential difficulties that the children will bring with them so it’s important to hear what your social worker has to say. After the meeting my partner and I talked and talked together but we knew we had already made a commitment to these two children! A couple of days later we heard that the children’s social worker also wanted to proceed with the match and we were over the moon!
We read more reports about the children, we met up with the children’s foster carers and visited their school. We also talked with the Medical Advisor about some health issues the younger child had and she made sure that we understood the potential long term implications of their early experiences, which included birth mother’s drug use during pregnancy.
We went to Matching Panel not long after that, and, after some tough questions, the match was unanimously recommended and then agreed by the Agency Decision Maker. Then came the moment to finally meet our children.
Meeting the children
We will never forget the moment we knocked on the door of our children’s foster home and this little girl opened it. It was so surreal. She looked different from photographs, but the same! Our little boy was really over-excited. He could barely sit still and his foster carer kept apologising for him. Our little girl was very quiet, just watching and taking it all in. It was a short meeting but it sealed the deal for us – these were our children.
The transition of the children from their foster carers into our care had to be very carefully planned. The children had endured a very unsettled life but had made a really close bond with their foster carers and the thought of disrupting this was very hard. We wanted to build up the children’s trust in us before the foster carers started to withdraw and to make sure that the foster carers stayed a part of their lives into the future through occasional skype or whatever.
As the days went by, we all became more comfortable with each other. They stated to visit us and we gradually took over from the foster carers. Finally, the day came when we were to pick them up and take them home forever.
Taking the Children Home!
It was still a massive shock to the system (for all of us) when the children finally moved in with us. Life changed forever, as we got on with the practicalities of being parents to two children, with two very different personalities and needs, who were still basically strangers to us! We had lots of information from the foster carer and others but it was still overwhelming. We enrolled our daughter in a local school but she didn’t start until the new term so that she had some time to bond and feel safe with us first. We tried very hard to stay at home and make sure that the four of us had time together. We fended off friends and family and explained to them that the kids needed to understand that we were their family. Our social worker popped in every so often, but although I felt very, very tired and slightly frazzled, everything was going well. We had a honeymoon period, where the kids were as good as they could possibly be, but it didn’t last! We read lots of books on adoption and attachment in bed at night, even though I’d read them all before, and tried very hard to be great parents! At some point we realised that we needed to let the housework go and that we also needed to ask for help with the grass cutting and some precooked meals. Family were only too happy to help – it turns out they had been waiting to be asked! We were exhausted, all of us.
Things settle down – but they take time. Both children had night terrors or nightmares for a long time, and still do if there’s any sense of unsettledness. I learned that I could sleep when the kids were in bed and that they would still be there in the morning! A sense of humour is essential to parenting our kids – for example, their responses to any event was way over the top at first (whether that was excitement at a present or denial of a wrongdoing), but they have become calmer and we talk through appropriate responses to them, or laugh about it!
There is a definite sense of ‘reparenting’ our little boy, now six. He has gone through the emotional stages of a much younger child with us, from tantrums (he’d never had them before he came to us, but they’re an essential part of development) to ‘playing’ at being a baby. It really helps to know that he’s just revisiting the baby stages he never got to have. He was quite angry for a while. He couldn’t remember his birth parents and didn’t want to be taken from his foster carers. But although he likes to try and be in control, he’s becoming such a happy, contended and clever little boy who loves us to bits and he pushes boundaries in much the same way as all his friends. We’re discovering that as well as love, consistency, empathy and all those other therapeutic parenting essentials, strong (but generally kind) boundaries are also necessary.
Our daughter, now almost nine, had learned to cope with life in her birth home remarkably well. But she came to us very over-compliant and absolutely terrified of any hint of trouble due to the domestic violence she had witnessed. She also had some eating issues and needed reassurance that she would be fed, always. She was quite behind at school. She was used to caring for her little brother and found it very hard to give up that role and trust us to be responsible for him. He resents her interference at times and they often squabble (which is hard for adopters like us who had idealised the loving and supportive sibling relationship!) All of these have improved hugely, although they’ve not disappeared. Overall though, it has been so rewarding to adopt a sibling group of slightly older children and to begin to see their real personalities shine through now they are in a loving and stable home.
We got our adoption order nine months after they came to live with us. It was a special day for all of us.
We have our ups and downs and I find it very useful to stay in touch with other adopters who understand the special issues our two face. However, I can’t express the joy that our two children give us. I cry at every achievement. I admire how much they’ve come on, how much they’ve achieved for themselves, how much they’re thriving. I love them to bits. We’d do anything for them, because they’re our children.
Adapted from original articles from a Coventry Adopter and from Adoption Scotland. 2017
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