Tag Archives: #NAW

Too old at four?

We’re delighted to bring you a guest post from Charlie, an adopted adult with her thoughts about the theme of the recent National Adoption Week…4th birthday

Do you think you were too old?

A few years ago my parents asked me: ‘do you think you were too old?’.

I answered: ‘yes and no; it depends on what you mean’.

This year the theme of National Adoption Week has been ‘Too old at 4?’. This is a reference to the fact that older children in care for whom adoption is the plan tend to wait longer than younger children for adoptive parents. I met my parents when I was 10 and the Adoption Order went through a year later. As someone who was much older than 4 when adopted, I’m going to attempt to answer the question of whether or not I was too old.

The first thought that comes to my head is ‘too old for what?’. People often mean different things when they ask whether a child is ‘too old’ for adoption. I want to think about this question in broader terms than the question(s) meant by the National Adoption Week campaign committee and think about all the questions encompassed by my parents’ question.

I also want to give my answer as succinctly as possible and without disclosing too much personal information.

I will therefore answer some of the questions that I think the question hides.

Some questions have more than one answer.

  1. Was I too old to be written off?

No. No human being should ever be ‘written off’.

  1. Was I too old to be appealing to prospective adopters?

Yes, I was too old. It took years to find adopters willing to adopt me, which may have been in part (if not wholly) due to my age.

No, I was not too old. My parents eventually adopted me, and older children do get adopted.

  1. Was I too old to love my adoptive parents as my parents?

No, I was not too old. My adoptive parents are my parents and anyone who puts the word ‘adoptive’ in front of their names other than for the purposes of clarification will have to deal with some very sharp words from me.

This has nothing to do with age but depends on many factors.

  1. Was I too old for the adoption to last and not break down?

No, I was not too old. We are now over 20 years in and we are still going strong as a family. We were never near disruption or dissolution at any point.

This has nothing to do with age but depends on many factors.

  1. Was I too old to not have problems / be successful / be an independent adult?

No, I was not too old. I have been independent since 21 and have always lived a rather unexciting existence.

This has nothing to do with age. It has far more to do with a child’s history, their personality, their age when they experienced things, chance, their relationship with their adoptive parents, and so many other factors.

Let’s ask this question again.

When I was younger, if the topic of older child adoption came up I was always keen to use myself as an example that older child adoption could work out well. I had not been too old for adoption. However, I now realise that I was answering the question and assessing my adoption according to the sorts of questions that I thought other people were asking. Thus, I would point out that I loved my parents, but wouldn’t speak about the daily cost to myself or about how I hadn’t wanted to be adopted. This was, I think, a defensive reaction against the negative stereotypes I have always had to fight against, first as a child on a council estate and then as a child in care and then as an adoptee.

But now that I’m old enough to think for myself, the questions that come to mind when I’m asked ‘do you think you were too old?’ are very different. Here are just some examples:

  1. Was I too old to be adopted without my consent?

No, I was not too old. It went ahead without my consent, so my consent clearly wasn’t required.

Yes, I was too old. Considering the fact that I didn’t want to be adopted, that it ‘worked’ is something of a miracle. Perhaps if I’d been 12 people would have thought to ask me.

No. There should be no such thing as a prospective adoptee being ‘young enough’ for their consent to be dispensed with permanently. For an adoption to continue into adulthood, the adult adoptee should consent, even if this is the passive consent of not dissolving the adoption. There is a lot of discussion about birth parent consent, but not about adoptee consent. Why should someone else get to consent as to whether or not I spend my entire life under an Adoption Order?

  1. Was I too old to love my adoptive parents as my only parents?

Yes, I was too old. I consider myself to have more than four parents.

This has nothing to do with age but depends on many factors. Some people adopted at birth may consider themselves to have more than one set of parents whilst others adopted at fifteen may consider their adoptive parents to be their only parents.

  1. Was I too old to have no contact / for my adoption to be carried out how it was carried out?

Yes, I was too old.

Is there such a thing as being ‘young enough’ to have no contact? Is this the same thing as being ‘young enough’ for the adults to get away with it (for a while at least)?

Whether or not an adoptee should have contact has little to do with age but with all sorts of other factors. However, serious questions have to be asked if an older child has not a single pre-adoption relationship with a foster carer, foster sibling, wider foster family member, birth parent, birth sibling, wider birth family member, neighbour, friend, teacher, social worker or anyone else that can be sustained post-adoption because more harm would be caused by keeping the relationship than ending it.

  1. Am I too old, in my 30s, to be subject to an Adoption Order that was put in place for child protection reasons?

If I am still alive at 100 I will still be subject to an Adoption Order. I could serve a life sentence and be released before my Adoption Order is overturned. I have not been a child for more than a decade, which makes me ask: is adoption only performed for child protection reasons, or are there more factors at play? According to the law, I will never be too old for child protection reasons to necessitate that I be adopted. Or something.

  1. Am I too old, in my 30s, to have anything relevant to say about adoption?

Adoptees are rarely consulted about adoption and when they are, it is usually adoptees under 21 or under 25 who are consulted. I have worked out that the period of time in which my opinion as an adoptee was most ‘valuable’ was between the ages of 18 and 25. When I was under 18 I was too young to understand or know what was best; once I was over 25 I was no longer relevant (or too outspoken perhaps). My opinion on adoption was irrelevant at 10, and some consider it irrelevant at 30. It can be very difficult to get this age thing right when you’re an adoptee.
There are notable exceptions, however, and The Adoption Social hosts posts from adoptees of all ages (and from adopters and birth parents and others) and The Open Nest recently put on the Adopted Voices conference at which only adult adoptees spoke. At this conferenced Liz Blakey launched her research project Growing Up Adopted.

  1. Are children old enough, at 4, to consent to their life stories being paraded in  the media?

No, they are not old enough.

There is only one answer to this question, and that is that they are not old enough.

To return to the question ‘do you think you were too old?’, my answer is still ‘yes and no; it depends on what you mean’. I don’t know if I was too old to be adopted, but I was too old for what happened to me. And I’m finally old enough to talk about it.

#NAW2013 Barriers to adoption

These days all sorts of people adopt – it’s not just for middle class childless couples. But there are still ideas out there about who can actually adopt. We’re hearing from adoptive parents this week about some of the perceived barriers out there that didn’t stop them being approved, but today is the turn of Melissa, a student social worker…

barriersAccording to one of my many long and (extremely) interesting social work textbooks (!) the most important characteristics for an adopter or adopters to possess are as follows:

Positive regard;
Sensitivity to the child;
The ability to set clear boundaries;
And the use of authoritative (rather than authoritarian) discipline delivered in a way that helps children to learn to control their own behaviour (Sheldon et al, 2009).

Nowhere in that list does it say that the ideal adoptive family are a man and wife, with clean bills of health, who have paid off their mortgage and, in a philanthropic act of goodwill have decided to build their family by adoption. Essentially, what is most important is the quality of the relationship between the adoptive parent and the child (Rushton).

I’d say another important factor is awareness of the need for transparency during the long assessment process, and an understanding of why it is necessary for social workers be delving around in your personal life, asking questions about your childhood and obtaining references from your previous partners before you can be approved to adopt a child.

A long time ago I was the subject of a Kinship assessment, to determine whether or not I would be a suitable carer (in essence foster carer) for a child in my extended birth family who was subject to a child protection plan. (Incidentally, in the end the assessment was stopped midway as the plan was revoked due to a change of circumstances, in case you’re wondering).

I can remember sitting in the initial assessment and being so puzzled as to why the social worker would want to know about my childhood, my experiences at school, the drama of my teenage years etc etc. I felt very much in the hot seat, as if I was the one on trial, and felt an intense pressure to give the “correct” answers. Like I say the assessment was stopped midway, so I never got the chance to fulfil that role, but I still vividly remember the feeling of interrogation brought about by the assessment process. I imagine this is somewhat similar to how potential adopters might feel during assessment, and possibly what puts some people off even applying to adopt.

It was only recently, while I was on placement within a Children and Families team, that I realised the purpose of all the questioning. The social workers hadn’t been trying to catch me out or expose me as incompetent or nutty after all. Children who are adopted, or in foster care, more often than not require a more intense and therapeutic style of parenting than children who stay with their birth families. Therefore, when assessing potential carers and adopters, it is important for social workers to ascertain that the individual has a certain level of life experience, has overcome difficulties of their own, and would therefore be well placed to support a child in overcoming their, albeit more serious and potentially traumatic, personal difficulties.  So actually, having some previous experience of difficulty, whether that be of poverty, previous illness or problems in education, could be perceived as a strength.
A parent who has successfully overcome childhood bullying, self-harming behaviour as a teenager and a period of unemployment as an adult might well be better placed to meet the needs of a child with complex needs than a parent who sailed through school with straight A’s, got a job in the family business, has stayed there ever since and expects their beloved offspring to follow in their footsteps.

Of course, there is an element of risk management within the assessment process, and workers will be looking for any obvious barriers to adoption or attitudes that need to be challenged, but I feel it’s important to emphasise that they are not trying to catch you out!

There is no perfect family, just as there is no perfect child. If you’re thinking about adoption, there is so much to consider and weigh up, but please don’t let feelings of inadequacy or the sometimes interrogative assessment process be the thing that puts you off becoming a child’s forever family!

NAW#2012 Too young? Too fat? Too poor?

Today’s National Adoption Week special is from The Adoption Social’s Vicki (from The Boy’s Behaviour) who shares some of the points that she had to think about when being assessed to become an adoptive parent.

When Sarah and I were thinking about what sort of posts we wanted on The Adoption Social for National Adoption Week, it felt fairly obvious that in order to help find more people to come forward and adopt, we should try to show that some of those things that are perceived as barriers, really needn’t be.

For me, writing about those barriers comes quite easily because I’m one of those people that might have been seen as unable to adopt – and for a number of reasons. You might have seen that we have several posts this week concentrating on a particular area – adopting as a single person, a same-sex couple adopting, but I couldn’t choose which thing to write about, so forgive if I’m a bit self-indulgent and look at several areas – these are all things that the NC and I had to consider, although perhaps naively we never saw these as barriers before we started our homestudy, so didn’t give it too much thought until we were questioned about these things…

You can’t adopt if you have a long-term illness.

blood sugar testingI’m diabetic, although I’m not insulin dependent. This was covered in my medical examination (which occurred during the middle of our homestudy), and my doctor confirmed that it is controlled and I regularly attend diabetic check-ups. In our homestudy we did explore what would happen if my diabetes worsened, or if I did have to take insulin in the future, and how either could affect our future child.

We used my diabetes as a positive point too – our future child would not have a sugar-filled diet because I don’t buy sugary things so much. And in order that I know how much sugar has gone into ANY meal, I home cook from scratch which could be seen as a benefit.

Here our social worker was trying to establish whether my illness could prevent me from being an active parent and whether it was life-limiting. The last thing they would want is to place a child and then have me end up hospitalised within a short period of time – this could be very damaging to a child who needs stability.
I know of other adoptive parents who are physically disabled or living with an illness – they had to demonstrate that they were still able to parent, but it wasn’t a barrier to them becoming adoptive parents, and hasn’t had an impact on their parenting skills.

You can’t adopt if you’re overweight.

I am overweight, and coupled with Diabetes our social worker initially had some concerns, but I was happy to detail all the active things I do. I did confirm that I was trying to lose a small amount of weight, but this was in order to help keep my Diabetes under control. Our social worker wanted to be sure that I could lead an active life and keep up with a child.

If you are very obese you may be asked to try to lose ‘some’ weight, but your weight should be considered as part of your overall health alongside your blood pressure and cholesterol.

In our case, our agency’s medical advisor had some additional questions at panel around my weight and how I was intending to stop putting on more. (Despite the diets I think I lost more through nervous energy in the first six months after placement, but I’m now back around the weight I was when we were approved, and I’m still here and still keeping up with two children!)

You can’t adopt if you are on a low income or have debt.final demand

When we were being approved we were in the middle of an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA), with a lot of debt. We were also about to lose my income as I would be going on adoption leave for a minimum of 12months, and in actual fact, before Mini even moved in I discovered I would be made redundant just 3 months into adoption leave. This would mean our family income would be limited. Even knowing about my redundancy we were still matched with Mini, because we were able to provide all of our financial documents and show how we’d manage.

You need to be able to show that you can financially support a family. You will have to consider a reduction in income if you will be taking time off work, and you can’t rely on receiving an adoption allowance – not all local authorities offer this. Although if you take adoption leave you are entitled to some adoption pay.

Incidentally, since Mini’s placement I have not returned to work at all, and we’ve endured my husband also being made redundant, then having a long, expensive commute to a different job with a reduction in earnings too. It’s been tight, but we’ve survived and now we’re in a much better position.

You’re too young to adopt.

I can’t say if the rules/guidance are still the same, but when we were approved, the minimum legal age to adopt was 21, and there was no upper limit.

I was approved when I was 27, and at the time was the youngest ever approved adopter in our local authority. This was more of a concern to our social worker than all the other points above. Did I have enough life experience? Had we been married long enough? Had we lived together long enough? Would I manage to parent well? Had I exhausted other possibilities (IVF etc)? Would I regret it? Would I feel too young compared to other mums?

Like all the other points above, I had to demonstrate (verbally) that I was old enough to build a family through adoption, and that I could effectively parent a child, despite *only* being 27! There was shock that I was even considering adoption at such a ‘tender’ age, as most adoptive parents are older, but as I explained – I was ‘lucky’ enough to establish quite early on that having children was going to be…a challenge, and that IVF wasn’t for us. Thus adoption was a natural consideration.

This seemed to be more of an issue for our social worker than panel, but she did eventually get over it, and it hasn’t proved a barrier at all.

It goes without saying that this is my personal experience, and it’s not to say that all young, overweight, diabetic people on low incomes will be able to adopt. But these things in isolation and sometimes in combination should not stop you from applying to become an adoptive parent. Much of the approval process is about demonstrating how you will deal with, manage or overcome situations – whether they are parenting scenarios, school battles, disability, letterbox contact or your own health worries.

If there is any aspect of your life that you think could be a barrier to adopting, then call your local authority or voluntary agency and ask their advice prior to proceeding.

And if you are diabetic, overweight, young or in debt and want to chat further, then please do drop me a line at theadoptionsocial@gmail.com