Anita's Story: Her financial struggle as a single adopter
“As a single, adoptive parent I really struggle to make ends meet. Some people, even my mum, dispute that I’m hard-up because I have a job, a car, a mortgage and I work very hard to make sure my son does not go without.
Before you ask, I earn £29,000 a year – cue the cries of ‘What’s she got to moan about?’ from some. It sounds a good enough salary, but this needs to be put into context. I don’t qualify for an adoption allowance, tax credits or any other hand-outs and never have. I don’t have family or friends who can help out with childcare on a daily basis so we need to use the after-school club. I’m in my overdraft every month and have no ability to save, so yes, I’d certainly argue that I am struggling financially.
My adopted son Kenny, who’s nearly eight, is desperate for a sibling and I’d love to adopt a second child but the social workers I have contacted (around four agencies) made it abundantly clear to me that no financial support would be available unless he/she had complex issues. Why would you encourage a single parent to take on a child whose complexities may lead to a huge increase in the pressures of supporting, loving and providing them with a permanent family? We’re talking about some of society’s most vulnerable children.
...It shouldn’t be about money
When I told Kenny we couldn’t afford for him to have a little brother or sister his response was: ‘It shouldn’t be about money’. That’s hard to argue against. So Kenny is writing a letter to Children’s Minister Edward Timpson to tell him just that.
Living on a shoestring has taught us both some valuable life lessons. A familiar phrase I hear myself say is: ‘If that breaks I can’t replace it...’ and over the years I have noticed that Kenny is very protective over his toys. I can’t just go out on a friend’s birthday (I simply can’t afford a present, babysitter and night out). But it’s also taken its toll on our relationship. A tough lesson was when he had to go to nursery full-time. I didn’t want this to happen but we had no choice. We leave the house at 7:30 every morning and sometimes he’d cry: ‘I don’t want to go!’ so I had to explain that I have to go to work to keep a roof over our heads. Sometimes I’ll shout. I never thought I’d become a ‘shouty mum’. My biggest worry is: ‘What happens if the boiler/washing machine/cooker goes?’ We’ve previously had to go nearly a month without hot water because we couldn’t afford to get it fixed.
When I opted for adoption, one of the first questions I asked was: ‘As a single person, how will I be supported to make this adoption work?’ My social worker told me: ‘It’s all means tested so don’t worry’. But my son came from a different local authority which does not pay an adoption allowance. My social worker never even bothered to check this with my son’s local authority.
How can it not be traumatic to have three mums before you are two years-old?
I was later sent a legal extract from the local authority stating they weren’t legally obliged to provide me with any financial support. Kenny has always been described as ‘straight forward’ and ‘a healthy boy with no additional needs’ and this is because he was, thankfully, under a child protection order during pregnancy and in a mother and baby unit. He was never neglected, abused or went without cuddles. Kenny’s trauma was being removed from his birth mum to a foster mum - and then from his foster mum to me at 16 months-old. How can it not be traumatic to have three mums before you are two years-old? I took this all the way up to the head of children’s services at the local authority who simply concluded: ‘He’s a healthy boy, you don’t need anything’. You end up losing your will to fight in the end.
When Kenny’s adoption order went through my annual salary was £24,000 and yet a former colleague, who was earning £35,000 a year, adopted a child of a similar background to my son and was entitled to £180 a week in adoption support. There is no consistency and it makes you bitter. I also know my son’s foster carers received £700 a week to look after him when he was a baby. All I’m asking for is £50 a week which would go towards childcare and petrol.
I had adoption leave which at the time entitled me to three months full pay so I could pay the mortgage and a bit of time for Kenny and me to bond and attach. If I rented I would have got housing allowance. This still really upsets me. That time was so precious and was weighted down with worries about money. I should have had a year at home with my son before I went back to work.
Second income needed
I try to fit my working hours around my son as best I can but I’m still paying £50 a week in childcare. I really struggle financially in the school holidays. I now need a second income to pay for the holiday camps and clubs as my leave does not cover all the school holidays. This year, if we get away, I have decided it will be during term-time but that said, I don’t know yet if I can afford it. Id we do, it will be a last-minute bargain in Devon.
The difficulty adopters have is that they need such different support to other parents. As a single adoptive parent there’s double the pressure as there’s only one of you. My experience of being a single adoptive parent to my son over the last six-and-a-half years is that it has been an absolute joy but I feel I haven’t been able to give him the time he needs because of unnecessary financial pressures.
Some might be thinking that single adopters are no different to any other single parent; but we don’t have an ex partner in the background to supplement salaries, we don’t get any respite and we are often matched with children who couples have declined due to the amount of complexities. Many adopters are also older than a typical single birth parent, who are also far more likely to have support from their own parents than someone like me, who was 40 when I adopted Kenny.
Fairer distribution of adoption support
I have heard from other single adopters who have had to reduce their working hours, or take on less skilled employment because they are struggling with their child’s behaviour. But I’m one of life’s workers. I’ve been in employment for the last 30 years.
Kenny doesn’t miss out because I’m good at managing the little money I have in advance. I put my expenses in after Christmas so I’ve got money for his birthday in March and I book our annual camping holiday way in advance, so I can save money. I do an annual car boot for spending money and I have just started my Christmas shopping for 2017! Kenny also has swimming lessons, piano lessons and is learning the drum in a marching band, which all sounds very middle class, but they are all therapeutic as they help the regulation of his behaviours.
I'd advise any single prospective adoptive parent is to make sure the right support package is in place before the Adoption Order goes through. I truly feel that despite all of the fantastic investment and changes that we have seen in adoption support, single adopters have not found their way in the way LGBT couples have. A fairer distribution of adoption support needs to be put in place for single adopters to enable us time with our children so they can grow up to be the best they can be."