Resilience and self-confidence...

As an assessing and supervising social worker in the Brighton & Hove adoption team, Carol has placed three children with gay or lesbian adopters over the last four years, and is about to take another couple to panel. She talks to Isabelle Rameau about her experience…

Daddy's boy
Carol is well aware of how nerve-racking it can be for gay and lesbian adopters to make the initial enquiry to an agency. “They wonder, ‘How will we be met?’,” says Carol. “Some of our families have reported that, when they approached their local authority, they had not always received a very positive response,” she explains. “Not necessarily prejudiced as such, but not a very friendly first contact.” Carol points out that it is important not to make assumptions, for instance asking about someone’s partner, rather than using ‘husband’ or ‘wife’.

When assessing gay or lesbian carers, Carol is very open from the start. “Often, people will ask me, ‘Are you going to be assessing us differently to a heterosexual couple?’, and I answer, ‘Yes’,” says Carol, confidently. “I explain to them why that is, and can even refer them to BAAF’s good practice guide on assessing lesbian and gay adopters.” Carol goes on to explain how, with gay and lesbian carers, she puts more emphasis on their sexual identity: how they have developed this in adolescence and into adulthood, managed their ‘coming out’, handled their relationships with friends and family.

Looking at a person’s capacity for reflective thought is also essential to the assessment process, stresses Carol. This should provide a good indication of prospective adopters’ capacity to have considered their life experiences, reflected on how they have processed these, what they have learnt from them, and how this has led them to being the person they are at that moment.

Carol is looking for gay and lesbian prospective adopters to have arrived at a place where they are feeling fine with who they are and very positive. “It is important to look at this, as it can have a psychological impact on how they build relationships and on their self-esteem,” stresses Carol. “With a child coming into their home, we need to know that they can help a child manage any difficulties in the future, for instance, any prejudice the child may encounter about having gay or lesbian parents.”

In addition to this, Carol explores with applicants their social and support networks, just as she would do with any adopter, especially those who are single: who will be there for them during the whole process — assessment, panel, being matched — and also once the child has been placed with them. She also looks at who will be complementary positive role models for the child — for instance, female ones for gay carers — and how these role models will be involved in the child’s life.

Carol will discuss with families their understanding of adoption, and any childcare experience they have had. “We need to know that they will be confident with children who may have had a difficult background,” she explains. Some applicants may offer to do voluntary work in nurseries so they can get this childcare experience.

Working with children to prepare them for the move to their new family is a really important part of the process in adoption. If the family is a gay or lesbian couple, children will be prepared for the fact that they will have two daddies or two mummies, using books and play, explains Carol. If the children are older, it will be important to talk to them about their understanding of their new family, and explore how they feel about having two mums or dads. Carol’s experience has been that children are very accepting and don’t hold prejudices the way that some adults can do.

Carol is very enthusiastic about the support group which exists in Brighton for gay and lesbian adopters. Originally started by the council, the group has been so successful that it now runs independently. “It’s a very valuable resource for people new to the adoption process,” says Carol, “And we encourage new applicants to join and find out about the experience of others.” It can also be a useful source of support for those who have adopted, and an opportunity for their child to meet other children with gay and lesbian parents. The adoption team also runs events throughout the year for all their adopters, which helps introduce children to a diversity of families.

Resilience, good communications skills and self-confidence are strengths which Carol has found in many of the gay and lesbian adopters she has worked with. “Often, gay men and lesbians have to manage in a society where they can be seen as ‘different’ by some people due to their sexual orientation,” explains Carol. “Having had to deal with these prejudices means they will be better equipped to help a child manage their status as an adopted child, and any difficulties the child may experience in the future.”

Originally published in the Be My Parent newspaper in May 2009.

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: 30 April 10

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