I am adopted and although very close to my adoptive mum, I had a clear goal in mind as I grew up, I wanted to have a family of my own and to keep my children! 

I am now married with two birth sons aged 16 and 14 and an adopted son aged 9 who has cerebral palsy and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

I hadn’t set out to adopt but when my adopted brother and his girlfriend had a child, they were unable to keep him safe or look after him due to addiction issues and violence. Social services stepped in to remove him at birth. My husband and I asked if we could care for him in a kinship arrangement initially, and then we went on to adopt him when he was two years old.

We knew he was likely to have additional needs and we knew he was at high risk of having FASD, but we wanted to keep him within his extended family. I couldn’t do anything about his birth parents walking away and wanting nothing to do with him, but I wanted those two people to be the only people he lost in his life. Our birth sons were seven and four years old at the time and we felt we could give him a family with love and stability despite his likely difficulties.

Being adopted myself I felt I had a good level of experience to help my youngest son as he grew up. His birth father, (my adopted brother), had major issues throughout his life which we now realise is likely due to undiagnosed FASD - he fits the profile perfectly.

My son’s FASD has been the biggest challenge for him and for us as a family. He’s easily frustrated, gets very angry, struggles with concentration, and finds lots of situations overwhelming, especially school. There has been a real shift in understanding of adoption and FASD in one generation, but there is still a long way to go.

Left to right, birth son Rory (14), Sarah, adopted son Jay (9) at the front,husband Ewen and birth son Callum (16)

30 years ago when I was in high school, adoption was seen as a complete solution and adopted children were viewed as ‘fixed’. No support was in place, no allowances were made, no one thought that if you were going through difficulties maybe it was in some way related to past trauma. When I walked away from school in the middle of my highers no one knew or asked or cared if it was because my home life was failing apart. Both my adopted twin brothers were extremely violent and their placement was breaking down, my parents had split and I could no longer cope with all of the trauma.

I think things are better but I find awareness doesn’t really equate to practical help. Schools, including my son’s primary, are really lacking in understanding and compassion when it comes to the impact of adoption and FASD on children. I find myself constantly reminding school that my son has brain damage and he will always struggle with things like self-regulation. I hope as he grows up the cycle of misunderstanding is broken and our children have the support they need to grow into the amazing adults they have the potential to be.