National Adoption Week Scotland
Published: 16.10.15“The number of children in care is a hidden problem and if people knew how many were actually out there, what they’ve been through and how rewarding it is to look after them, I’m sure thousands of prospective adopters would come forward.”
This is one Adoption UK member’s response to the question ‘Too old at 4?’- posed by this year’s National Adoption Week (19-25 October).
Unlike most prospective adopters, Eleanor Bradford, 41, and her partner Ross, 43, were actively seeking older children when they started their adoption journey.
Eleanor and Ross became adoptive parents to two brothers, who were aged four and seven when they were placed with them, towards the end of 2013.
Eleanor thought the whole adoption process would take a number of years after they had been approved but their social worker hinted she had two children in mind for them before they went to panel.
“They came to see us the next day and asked us if we’d like to see photos of two brothers, William and Edward. We know a lot of parents who have had to wait a long time to adopt, so it was an emotional time for them, but for us it was panic as we hadn’t expected it to happen so soon! The boys were aged four and seven and the bizarre thing was that they were living around the corner from us with their foster parents so they were using the same supermarket as us.”
The introductions went smoothly and by the end of November the two boys were living with Eleanor and Ross.
Eleanor continued: “Because they lived so close they stayed at the same school, kept the same friends and saw their foster parents around – which at first, we were worried about, but in actual fact they took on the role of grandparents as they’re aged in their sixties.”
Asked if she would recommend adopting older children, Eleanor replied: “You can’t pick them up and swing them around like a toddler but you can have even more fun with them like we do with our boys when we go camping. They also give you so much affection. And how sad for those older ones that some adoptive parents automatically rule out.
“So yes, I’d definitely recommend adopting older children and I’d say the more-the-merrier. Having siblings works for us because when one is being naughty the other is being good! They play well with each other and have shared experiences. They are less frightened by things because they’ve gone through them together.”
New statistics published by the national adoption information service First4Adoption, to coincide with National Adoption Week, reveal that the average age of children waiting to be placed in adoptive families is four.
Older children waiting to be adopted are often likely to be in sibling groups or to have additional needs and there is currently a shortage of adoptive parents coming forward for these children.
Eleanor, who is BBC Scotland’s Health Correspondent, said: “We were very worried about things breaking down but in hindsight, as an adoptive parent to older children you know exactly what you’re taking on, whereas with babies they may have disabilities, or attachment disorder, and the adoptive parents don’t always know what they’re taking on.
“It’s a shame there’s a myth that with older children that ‘the damage is done’, because that’s not our experience at all. They’re amazing characters and happy children.”
Another adoptive parent keen to expel the myth that children aged four or above are ‘too old to adopt’ is Alison, from West Lothian.
Like many prospective adopters Alison and her husband initially wanted to adopt younger children.
Alison says they wanted a younger child for the “whole experience” and thought there would be less chance they had suffered damage, a view she now concedes is “fairly ignorant”.
But they were later both surprised to find they were drawn towards the form E, or profile, of a six-year-old girl and five year-old boy.
Alison, aged 51, said: “It was one of those weird moments that people talk about... they were the children for us! I really don’t know why because we’d requested no photos as we didn’t want to be influenced by what the children looked like. But we learned that they were doing really well with their foster carers and we thought a boy and a girl would be really nice as well – an instant family.”
Eleven years on, Alison’s son is doing three Highers and her daughter did five Highers last year.
Alison said: “We still do things as a family, particularly playing music together, which is really great. We’re so proud of our son and daughter and all they have achieved.
“Our son still has a lot of support at school. He gets wound up but with the right support in place he’s making it and can contemplate going to college which is something I never thought would happen when he was aged 11.”
Asked what her advice would be to prospective adoptive parents who are ruling out older children, Alison replied: “Have a more open mind, the child (or children) that you could form a family with might not be what you are imagining as you contemplate adoption. You might surprise yourself! ( as you might see one that speaks to you).
“Our children weren’t babies when they came to us, so they have some clear memories of their birth family and what it was like so they have no illusions and don’t romanticise it. And because they’re siblings, they remind each other of what happened.
“Because we were 40 when we adopted it meant we had a bit of head start...there would be grannies at the school gate younger than me if we’d adopted babies. It also meant that they were closer in age to other children in our extended family. If we’d adopted a baby there would have been a big gap. As it is, they have close relationships with their cousins.
“And when children are older you can do really interesting things with them straight away. They could already ride bikes so we’d go cycling, go to farms to see animals and they slept really well so there were no broken nights. They loved camping, swimming and having pets – never a dull moment.
“We never had any trouble forming a bond with them which some people worry about when it comes to adopting older children. I don’t think I could be any closer to them, even if we’d had them since babies.
“I couldn’t imagine life without them – it would certainly be very different to life now. I’ve done things I never thought I’d do...like shouting at head-teachers! I’ve gone out of my comfort zone on their behalf and it has changed me as a person...it’s made me a lot more sympathetic to people whose lives aren’t straightforward.”
Hugh Thornbery, Chief Executive of Adoption UK, said: “We believe all children can enjoy positive futures. Parenting adopted children can be both challenging and rewarding and assistance should be available to all adoptive families who need it to ensure that no adoption breaks down due to lack of support. We are here to provide help, information and support to adoptive families, those in the process of adopting and those who work with adopted children.”
Adoption UK provides a training course entitled `Parenting our children’ which helps to equip adopters with a range of techniques and skills to deal with whatever issues may arise when welcoming an adopted child into their family. The charity also provides a UK-wide helpline staffed by adopters who can provide a friendly and empathetic ear to callers at whatever stage of the adoption journey they are on.