It’s not the family you’re born into, it’s the family you make

Lesbians and gay men can offer a much-needed family for a child, just like any other family. Still, prejudice can often confront them, and even make it difficult for some to be considered for adoption or fostering. Sasha and Jo, a lesbian couple, jointly adopted four-year-old Lucy earlier this year. They share their adoption journey, and offer some useful advice...

We first began thinking about adoption about three-and-a-half years ago. Friends and family were very positive and supportive, and it’s unlikely we would have gone ahead otherwise. We approached our local authority, which is fairly experienced in working with lesbian and gay adopters and foster carers, and attended preparation sessions at the beginning of 2004. Our assessment took roughly six months and we were approved in March 2005.

Although we found our experience with our local authority extremely positive, unfortunately they were not able to find a suitable match for us, so we were referred to our regional adoption consortium, and shortly after that we went national, subscribing to Be My Parent, and Children Who Wait. We had originally decided we wanted to adopt one child, a boy or a girl, ideally aged two to five, but as we were looking through Be My Parent, we began to realise that age is not nearly as important as the child as a whole, their needs and their history. So we started looking at older children, up to the age of about eight.

We made several enquiries about children in Be My Parent, but were often met with an awkward silence from social workers when we said we were a same-sex couple. In some cases, you could tell from their tone of voice that the social worker was not prepared to consider us, and a few were very insensitive, bordering on offensive. If we enquired about a boy they would say he needs a ‘father figure’, as if two women could not provide a child with adequate role models.

Our Form F (now called a Prospective Adopter’s Report) had initially been sent to Lucy’s agency regarding another child, but the social worker immediately thought of us for Lucy. They wanted a same-sex couple for her, and she needed to be placed well away from her local area, due to her past experiences. When it came to matching, the only question the panel had regarding our suitability was: “Do you think you will have enough energy to look after such a young child?” But generally it was felt that we had the right qualities, life experience and attitude to parent Lucy, particularly as the agency identified the need for her to have therapeutic support, and we are both pro-therapy.

In our introductory letters to Lucy we wrote our names as Mummy and Mama, and she began by using those names. After a while, she experimented with Mummy, and now she might call us Mummy Sasha and Mummy Jo, or just Sasha or Jo. We have followed Lucy’s lead, rather than deciding for her what we should be called.

We have a very strong support network which is made up of all sorts of people, including some positive male role models for Lucy. We are part of a lesbian and gay adoptive group locally and we meet at least once a month, when Lucy gets to meet other adopted children and mix with all sorts of families.

Neither of Lucy’s birth parents had negative feelings about her being placed with a same-sex couple. We met with her birth mother, which was a very painful experience, but we are very glad we did, for Lucy’s sake. There will be indirect (letterbox) contact and hopefully, in the future, some direct contact with her older sister and brother. We ask Lucy if she would like to see her ‘tummy mummy’ again and she says “Maybe when I am taller”.

We are both able to deal with homophobia and will support Lucy if and when she experiences it. We have been reading her books about different kinds of families, but it’s hard to know how much she’s taking in, as she’s developmentally younger than her chronological age. When other children ask her where her daddy is, she says, “He’s in Liverpool” and we ask her if she’s OK about that and she says yes. As much as possible we follow her lead with regard to what she wants us to tell people about her birth parents.

Overall, in terms of society’s tolerance to our family structure, it’s been ‘so far so good’. In our local area we have not experienced any negative reactions or felt any homophobia from neighbours, other adopters, or anyone involved in the process. It is good that we live in a city with a diverse population; if we lived in a small village, we might stand out as a different’ family. Lucy has been very supported and, so far, there have been no issues, but as she gets older, of course she’s going to have to deal with people’s prejudices. There may be hurdles such as bullying at school, but children get bullied for all kinds of reasons and, having people in our network who have experienced bullying, we feel able to deal with any issues as they occur.

And our advice to others? Firstly, we would urge family-finding social workers to look at the people in front of you, not at their sexuality or their gender. Agencies, and ultimately children, are missing out on really good families because they are concentrating on ‘labels’ rather than what families have to offer. Look for the right people for the right children, and don’t be prejudiced towards one ‘type’ of family. There is still a lot of work to be done to educate social workers, particularly on the family-finding side, that a two-parent heterosexual family is not always best.

Additionally, it’s important that foster carers have adequate training and support when preparing a child for being adopted by a samesex couple. Lucy’s carers were initially talking about her ‘new mummy and daddy’, but as soon as they found out we were a same-sex couple they were really supportive. They bought two ‘mummy’ dolls for Lucy and began referring to us as mummy and mummy.

As for our advice to other same-sex couples considering adoption – go for it! Find out about your local authority’s track record, ask them how many lesbian and gay couples have been approved for adoption, and ask to see heir equal opportunities and diversity policies. Remember, you don’t have to go with your local authority, you can choose a voluntary agency or a neighbouring authority. Your agency’s attitude can make or break your adoption application.

To us, family means feeling loved and accepted for who you are, sharing beliefs, ideas, and a history together. Lucy has her birth family and that heritage, as well as all that we bring to her life with our heritage. And if you look at it that way, adopted children’s lives are even richer than those of non-adopted children. Family is not just blood relatives, it’s the friends you choose to have around you, the people who are involved in your life through choice and love. It’s not the family you’re born into, it’s the family you make.

As told to Claire Bussey

All names have been changed

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Originally published in the Be My Parent newspaper in September 2007.

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 2666/5/4.

Last updated: 27 April 10

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