Adoption is a wonderful thing
There are many children of all ages and backgrounds in the UK care system awaiting adoptive families. Emily Pearce speaks to single adopter Karen about her adoption journey and her impassioned wish for more families to come forward to adopt.
Karen and her daughter Crystal
“Aunty Karen is not her real mummy, but she is her mummy”, Karen’s nephew said about his
two-year-old cousin, Crystal. His older brother added, “Crystal’s name should be Special because she’s a very special little girl and she got given to my aunty”.
Karen, 38, is a black British single mum who works full time as a school chef. She has always wanted to be a mum and, sadly, following a number of miscarriages and a divorce, she turned her mind seriously to adoption. Karen is keen to tell her story because she hopes that more people will start thinking about adoption. She knows that many types of people from all kinds of backgrounds can adopt.
However, there are often many preconceptions. For example, some people think that you will be ruled out if you are disabled, if you are gay, if you are a couple but unmarried, if you are single, if you are on a low income, if you are an ‘older parent’…but this is untrue.
Karen is particularly a champion for single adopters. “So many single people think about adoption and say ‘no I can’t because I’m on my own’. It can still happen to you because they do seriously look at you for who you are and what you can offer the child. Once you show that you can fit the child in your life, then it happens.” With less than ten per cent of adoptions by single people1 and with around 4,000 children currently in the UK care system waiting to be adopted, she wants to encourage more single people to go for it. As a single adopter, Karen is lucky that her family and friends make up a supportive and close knit support network for her, with many living close by, including some of the nephews who now dote on her daughter Crystal.
Karen is also proof that people aren’t ruled out of adoption because of their financial situation or needing to work. “You don’t have to be on mega bucks. I’m certainly not. I’m not a high earner, I’m a single parent and I work full time. I’d have thought those things would work against me. I explained [to the agency] I couldn’t give up my job because I’ve got a mortgage. I couldn’t gain a child to lose my home”. Karen advises families to be open and honest with their agency about their financial situation, especially in the current economic climate, with many families facing uncertainties. Once Crystal was placed with her, Karen’s agency paid her an adoption allowance so she could stay at home and look after Crystal for a year. “If you’re open with the agency, they will let you know what they can and can’t do financially.” And while Karen herself is a home owner, it’s not a prerequisite if you want to adopt, you just need to have a tenancy or lease that is secure – and lots of energy, love and understanding.
Karen also wants to promote adoption amongst black families. “I don’t think enough black people adopt. Or even consider it – really consider it – taking the step from thinking about it to finding out more information. I would like to encourage people to do so.” Supporting and developing a positive sense of self-identity is particularly important for children who are adopted. Ethnic, cultural and religious identity is an important part of this self-identity, and therefore agencies will consider this aspect of a child’s needs in an adoptive placement very carefully. With black, Asian and minority ethnic children waiting the longest for adoptive families, it is important that more mixed ethnicity, Asian and black families come forward and consider adoption.
These days, the majority of children waiting to be adopted have been removed from their birth family through a court process, following concerns around neglect or abuse. Young Crystal’s adoption story is therefore an unusual one. She is a ‘foundling’, and was abandoned as a baby. The story made the local news, and amazingly, Karen, who was at the time going through the adoption approval process, saw Crystal on the television news and told her mum: “That little girl is going to be my daughter.” She says she just had a feeling that Crystal would be hers. Months passed. Karen finished the adoption approval process and successfully went to approval panel. After three months she began searching for her child, including within the pages of Be My Parent. She advises prospective adopters to do the same to search for their child: “You can be proactive, you don’t have to wait [for your social worker to find a match within the agency].” And then, Karen was told that her agency had indeed found a match for her. Miraculously, the child was little Crystal, whom she had seen on the news, seven months earlier.
Karen wanted to meet her daughter straight away, but that special day took four very long months to arrive, which was all in all just under three years after Karen had first approached her agency and begun her adoption journey. Karen describes her first emotional meeting with Crystal at her foster carer’s house. “I was apprehensive about whether I would actually love her and feel everything that I thought I would. But for me it all clicked into place, which I was surprised about.” Two weeks of introductions followed. Then the day came for Karen to take home eleven-month-old Crystal forever. “She’s been the best child I could ever hope for and imagine. On day seven, she called me ‘Mum’.” This was Crystal’s first word.
Karen’s story is even more unusual in that Crystal was under the age of one when she was placed with her. There are some babies who are waiting to be adopted in the UK, but very few. Of the 3,050 looked after children who were adopted in 2010-11 in England, only 60 (just under two per cent) were babies under the age of one2. The average age of a child at adoption is around three years and ten months, and the biggest age group of children adopted is age one to four (70 per cent)2. This reflects many adopters’ wishes to adopt a pre-school age child. Many of the children who wait the longest for a family therefore include children over the age of four, as well as brothers and sisters, children with physical or learning disabilities, and as previously mentioned, black, Asian and minority ethnic children. These are many of the children who you will see profiled in Be My Parent.
Asked what she would like to say to those considering adoption, Karen is calm but enthusiastic: “There are so many children of all ages that need a ‘forever’ home, if you feel you can make that happen, go for it. Speak to someone about adoption, ask all the questions you need to ask, be as honest as you can be when you initially make that call, and then wait and see. It can happen quicker than you anticipate.”
Finally, when asked how adoption has changed her life, Karen pauses thoughtfully: “From the moment Crystal stepped into my life, I haven’t been happier. I live for her. I feel like I’ve had her from the moment she was born, she feels no different. Adoption is a wonderful thing.”
Crystal's name has been changed to protect her confidentiality.
Originally published in the Be My Parent newspaper in November 2011.
This article is published with the kind permission of the people involved. You may download it for your own reference but if you wish to use it for any other purpose, please contact Be My Parent for authorisation: Be My Parent, BAAF, Saffron House, 6-10 Kirby Street, London EC1N 8TS. Telephone: 020 7421 2666.
Last updated: 26 March 13