#YouCanAdopt is the theme of this year’s National Adoption Week for England. With children waiting for adoptive homes outnumbering prospective adopters by more than 2:1, there’s an urgent need to encourage more adopters to come forward.

So what should a potential adopter in the #YouCanAdopt blizzard of National Adoption Week be thinking about?

Adoption is challenging but rewarding

Adoption UK’s Adoption Barometer 2019 shows that four out of five adopters would recommend adoption. It’s a massive vote of support for the institution that created their families, brought their children home and gave them a future. It captures the general resilience and optimism I see in Adoption UK members every day. And it reflects the fierce and protective love that adopters conceive for children they didn’t.

It’s rewarding in part because it works. A child’s fundamental need for a stable, loving home is impossible to overstate, and adoption is one of the best ways to provide it for children who cannot remain with their first families. Adopted children do better than their peers in care at school, in employment, and socially.

It’s challenging because an adoptive family is not (completely) the same as a biological family. Adoption doesn’t erase the past. The scars of early childhood trauma may last a lifetime. But for many adopters, just knowing how much their children have to bear increases their commitment to giving them the homes they need and deserve.

So if parenting in general is challenging and rewarding, adoption is challenging and rewarding squared.

The child who most needs you might not be the child you first imagined

The children who wait the longest, and tragically are most likely to ‘age out’ of their adoption plans (ie have their permanence plans changed to long-term fostering or residential care), are black, older, in sibling groups or have special needs.

At a recent count, there are about 2.5 children waiting for every approved adoptive home. If they are all to find new families, there is an urgent need for more adopters to come forward.

This makes it a great time to talk about who can adopt. Straight, LGBTQ+, single, couples, disabled and older people are all eligible and encouraged to come forward. This year, the spotlight is particularly on those who could offer a home to a black, Asian or minority ethnic child, as these children face the longest waits. The majority of prospective adopters making enquiries are white, so members of BAME communities are especially needed.

But we should also talk about who needs to be adopted. The days of healthy newborns relinquished by unwed mothers are thankfully largely behind us. Most adopted children will come to their families as toddlers, pre-schoolers or primary children, rather than as newborns.

Adoption is now a last resort, used when a child cannot safely be returned to their birth family. This might be for a range of reasons including mental illness, addiction, domestic violence and learning difficulties, often rooted in the birth parents' own difficult pasts. As a result, most children with a plan for adoption have experienced some combination of neglect, abuse, instability and separation.

But they are still just children. Children who need love and acceptance. Children who have wounds to heal. Children who need to feel safety and trust, and learn that they are lovable. Just like all children.

You might need support – and that’s OK

The creation of an adoptive family, in most cases, creates an environment where the healing can begin. As a prospective adopter you’ll receive training and information during your prep courses which will help you understand what your child needs from you as their parent (hint: it’s not the naughty step).

Stability and acceptance do not guarantee healthy development, although they are pre-requisites to it. Most adopters I know are super-motivated to learn everything about therapeutically parenting their children to heal from their initial experiences. Adopters quickly become familiar with words like attachment, reparenting, and coregulation. (In my view most of these ideas deserve more currency in parenting in general.)

But in some adoptive families, even the best therapeutic parenting isn’t enough to avoid escalating behavioural, social or mental health problems driven by the early childhood trauma that led to the adoption. Unaddressed, these risk dragging the whole family into crisis.

The good news is that pairing expert help with loving parents is the secret sauce that can restore a childhood. Post-adoption support is increasingly recognised by adoption professionals as essential to successful adoptions.

Today’s newly placed families have access to significantly more trauma-informed therapy, training and peer support than has previously been the case. Voluntary adoption agencies, in particular, score highly here. Regrettably this is still quite a postcode lottery and prospective adopters should shop around carefully, asking adoption agencies for details about the post-adoption support they provide at every stage.

Should you adopt?

Only you can decide – but if you’re interested, go to Adoption UK’s website, talk to an adoption agency, or attend an information event to find out more.

Adoption is a life-changing, joy-giving, gut-wrenching roller coaster of a parenting ride. Being an adopter makes me proud, panicky and engulfed by love. It’s not for everyone – but if you want to be a parent and have ruled out a birth child it could be exactly the right thing for you.