Across the Bradford district 60 prospective parents are going through a process which will change their lives forever.
They are waiting to adopt children. Every year across the UK, around 40,000 children are in need of an adoptive home. At present in Bradford 71 youngsters aged from birth to seven are on the waiting list. The process comes under the spotlight during National Adoption Week, which runs until Sunday and aims to raise awareness of adoption and encourage potential parents to come forward.
Youngsters adopted through Bradford Council’s Adoption Service have for some time been involved with social workers and family centre staff, who have worked with their parents to solve problems and help provide a safe home.
“Most children that come to us arrive through severe family circumstances, where there may be concerns about their safety,” says Sarah Patrick, service manager for adoption and fostering with Bradford Council. “They may have suffered severe neglect or abuse. It has come to a point where we cannot help their parents.”
Initially, the children are placed with foster carers and retain some contact with their parents, while agencies work to see whether changes can be made to enable them to safely return home or to other family members. “Many avenues are pursued before the adoption process begins,” says Sarah.
The upper age limit for youngsters awaiting adoption is between six and seven. “Children over three are more difficult to place,” says Sarah, adding: “Some will have had a difficult past, and others have specific health needs. It can be challenging.”
The service – which is looking in particular for families for sibling groups and children aged over three – offers rigorous support, working hard to help parents understand their adopted children.
Once formally adopted, few youngsters have direct contact with their parents, communicating instead through a ‘letterbox’ exchange scheme. “We have more than 400 children involved in letterbox,”
says Sarah. “It helps children to learn about their past and lets birth parents know that their children are being cared for.”
Whereas in the past, many children grew up not knowing they were adopted, now each has his or her own ‘life story’ describing how they came to be with their adoptive parents.
“It is not a case of waiting for the ‘right age’ and sitting them down to tell them,” says Sarah. “This is something shown to them from an early age. Adoption is not a secret.”
She adds: “As they grow older they are given more information, and once they are aged 18 or over they may want to find out more, and we can help.”
There is no upper age limit for prospective parents, but the service must ensure that they are able to raise children to adulthood.
- For more information, ring Bradford Council’s adoption recruitment line on (01274) 434331, or visit bradford.gov.uk/adoption or adoptionuk.org.
Catherine and Adrian Smith have an adopted son, aged eight, and daughter, aged 21 months.
The Bingley couple tried to conceive naturally and underwent IVF before deciding to adopt. “We thought that there were children who needed homes, and we didn’t want to go through another medical procedure,” says Catherine.
They approached Bradford Council. “Initially you are given a lot of information about the children and their birth parents. There is a lot of loss in the process – the child loses his or her birth family, and the birth parents lose their child. The preparation and training can be very emotional.”
The couple met foster carers and paediatricians before being matched with their children – who were aged 18 months and 14 months at the time of adoption – through a special panel. The process took around two years the first time, and slightly less the second.
“It is nerve-wracking,” says Catherine, 44, who gave up work as a careers adviser to care for her children. “The waiting was the hardest thing. You go through a number of different stages and Adoption UK runs a support group for adopters. It was a big decision and you have to be certain in your own mind as it can be a long and difficult time.”
She stresses that prospective parents should not look at adoption through rose-coloured glasses. “People need to be aware that there is a lot of waiting and that children don’t always come ready to trust and love.”
The experience prompted former Royal Mail manager Adrian, 42, to retrain as a social worker.