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“Don’t write off a child because of their age, it’s not their fault they’re growing older in the system” – future adopters from Llanelli support campaign to reduce numbers of children in care

A Llanelli couple in the process of adopting siblings is getting behind a new campaign to reduce the number of Welsh children in foster care who wait 12 months or more to find a permanent home.

Ben and husband Chris aged 35 and 37, are supporting Adopting Together, a new project supported by the National Adoption Service and led by St David’s Children’s Society aimed at placing children who have waited over 12 months for an adoptive family.

These children can be aged four and over, are part of sibling groups, have uncertain or additional needs, or are from a BME background

Bringing together best practice components under one, distinct model, it’s the first project of its kind to involve a specific collaboration between local authority regional adoption agencies, voluntary adoption agencies, Cardiff University, therapeutic partners and other key professionals such as medical advisors and schools.

The approach centres on an innovative model of psychological and therapeutic support for adoptive parents, both pre and post-placement*. This specific model is in addition to the established and ongoing programme of support offered to anyone who adopts through St David’s, which has been successfully placing children since 1942.

The project is also aiming to normalise access to post-adoption support, and break down barriers which might prevent people from adopting children who continue to wait for a family.

Ben and Chris, who live in Llanelli, are two of the first prospective adopters to benefit from the Adopting Together project. They are currently going through the adoption process and hope to welcome a brother and sister sibling group in the coming months.

The couple decided to explore adoption as a route to starting a family, initially thinking they would be best suited to having one or two boys, aged around two-years-old. However, a training course offered by St David’s opened their eyes to the benefits of adopting older children, so the couple widened the search to a mixed, older sibling group.

Ben explained: “The course enabled us to have more of an open mind with what we thought we were looking for, and we quickly realised there was no point overlooking children just because they didn’t fit our initial perceptions of the ‘ideal’ age. With older children, you have a much clearer picture of how they are developing than you might have with a baby.

“Our social worker from St David’s got to work straight away to find us an appropriate match, and we completely trusted them to find us children with similar interests and hobbies to us.

“The actual process itself hasn’t taken long at all – around one year by the time we’ve actually adopted if everything goes to plan.”

Ben added that the most beneficial part of the Adopting Together project so far has been the Team for the Child meeting, an intrinsic part of the new model, which brings together everyone involved in the child’s care, including psychologists, existing foster cares and social workers, to provide first-hand, real-time insights into the child/children.

He explained: “The meeting was an absolute eye-opener. Having that many people in one room together, each of whom knows the children in a different capacity, discussing their needs, was a unique opportunity.

“The meeting gave us first-hand insights into the children, using relevant and up-to-date information. We were able to question information on the children that was written in earlier reports – for example past behaviours or tendencies – and ask whether this information still stands, or whether changes have taken place since those comments were written.

“Having a foster carer in the room who currently lives with the children is a huge benefit, as they can corroborate or update information that’s no longer relevant, and offer day-to-day insights on the child’s behaviours, likes and dislikes. Similarly, having a psychologist there to offer professional insights is hugely important.

“Everyone in the room has the best interest of the child in mind, and each person can offer a different slant. Rather than just reading a bland written report, you have a clear and evidenced understanding of what to expect, and what parenting strategies you might need to consider. This means you enter the process with open eyes, based on accurate and wide-ranging information.”

Following the Team for the Child meeting, Ben and Chris now have to be approved at a matching panel, after which introductions and transition work with the children will take place.

Ben added: “We just can’t wait now. We feel so ready for the next stage, we’re excited about everything from teatimes, to family activities, trips to the beach, and introducing the children to our wider family. Everyone’s looking forward to meeting them.

“If I had one message for a prospective adopter, it would be to cast aside any preconceptions about age; instead focus on finding the right match. You shouldn’t write off any child because of their age, it’s not their fault they’re growing older in the system. We have been fantastically supported through this project and are delighted it’s being rolled out as a new initiative.”

Adopting Together will offer other families like Ben and Chris a structured, comprehensive suite of support at every stage of the adoption journey, including:

-Child-centred recruitment strategies
-Collaborative ‘Team for the Child’ meetings at the outset bringing together involved in the child’s care, including psychologists, existing foster cares and social workers, to provide first-hand insights
-A trained buddy who is also an adoptive parent and understands the joys and challenges of parenting children with specific needs
-Specifically designed transition sessions, including Theraplay, to ensure smooth transitions and introductions to an adoptive family
-Structured pre and post-placement consultation support, where issues and therapeutic interventions can be discussed

We follow three families who have adopted through St. David’s Children Society as they tell their stories from the time they first considered adoption to the ongoing support they receive from our agency.

The videos are available on our website under the ‘Adoption Family Sories’ section, or available on our Facebook, Vimeo and YouTube pages.

 

https://www.facebook.com/StDavidsChildrenSociety

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmz437De98tWZJzdUwjwwPg

https://vimeo.com/adoptionwales

When you make the initial call to enquire about adoption you have no idea of what awaits you. From our initial phone call, to our son being placed with us took over three years. People come to adoption for many reasons and you expect many things along the way to be difficult, but for us the hardest part was the waiting.

At the time of enquiry our birth daughter had just turned four years old and she was a part of our journey from the beginning. She met with Jodi our social worker and we had many discussions on what adoption meant and how it might affect her in an age appropriate way. It was difficult to explain the wait to her at that young age, when to her she wanted a brother tomorrow!

It is easy to become a little bit obsessed with ringing and emailing your social worker to ask for news, checking Linkmaker and the Children Who Wait newspaper and letting it crowd into everyday life. We had to find a balance between getting on with life with our daughter as well as making sure we kept up our reading and training so that when a match did come along we felt ready. In the meantime our daughter was getting older and our discussions became a lot deeper, so in some sense it was beneficial for her that she was actually 7 years old when our son came home as she had a much fuller understanding of the situation.

We did have a couple of matches in that time, but they fell through because it was felt that our family wasn’t right for that particular child. It’s immensely difficult to go through that at the time as you invest a lot of emotions in imagining that child with you, this part was also hard for our daughter as the child’s social worker wants to make sure you have prepared your birth child and so they are also involved in these linking meetings. Though your instinct is to shield your birth child from disappointment, it is just not possible as they need to go through this journey with you too. I believe as a family unit we are all a lot closer and stronger together as a result.

I remember a time when we were all in tears when a match fell through, as for a while it had seemed it was all going to work out; once we were approved our social worker felt almost like a friend to us as they were so supportive to us throughout.  We are glad that we trusted in the process and in the experience of our social worker to know what was right for us as when our son was linked to us, it was most definitely the perfect match.

Our son has been with us now for 9 months and it has been the best and worst of times adjusting to life as a family of four. Our daughter has been incredible and although it has been a difficult adjustment for her, the preparation and talking we did with her has paid off. They now have a pretty normal love/hate sibling relationship!

There are times in the adoption process where it feels like it has taken over your life as you are advised to not book any long holidays whilst waiting for a match and things like moving house, job or family bereavements (all of which happened to us) can also place delays on things. My advice to anyone waiting for a match would be to first and foremost, look after yourself. Concentrate your mind on your health and also on preparation. Read as much as you can, join social media support groups and if you can, book last minute weekend breaks away.

It is a very hard journey but it is worth every step. Our son has completed our family in the most beautiful way imaginable.

Yesterday, our family waved goodbye to our children’s social worker, Claire, for the last time. She had been with them since the beginning of their adoption journey. The term ‘journey’ is so very X-factor, but for once, it really does seem appropriate. Our children have been on a journey of epic proportions in their short lives and Claire has been with them for most of it. She was there when they were taken from their birth family and during their time with a foster family; when they first met us – their two Dads – a year later, and during our first year as a family together.

Two weeks ago the Adoption Orders were granted. Our children are now legally ours. No turning back.

As our children waved goodbye before running off to play, largely unaware of the significance of what was happening, my body was overwhelmed by racking sobs. Moments before, I’d watched as Claire quietly looked at them, taking them in for one last time. They were sitting next to each other on the floor laughing as they played together. It was, on the surface, entirely unremarkable; and yet, the fact that they were sitting together at all – concentrating, laughing happily – was remarkable. Through love, boundaries, playfulness and empathy, they have come such a long way within the space of two years.

It was Claire’s cue to leave. Her job was done. We now continue the journey together as a family, for the rest of our lives.

Adopting isn’t always easy. On the morning we went to pick the children up from their foster carers, I thought we’d made “the worst mistake of our lives”, “the ‘match’ was all wrong”, “we really couldn’t do this” – or words to that effect, peppered with others that are unprintable. I wanted to turn back. The first three months after they moved in were the most challenging of our lives. Everybody said that adopting siblings would be really tough, and we nodded and smiled and said, yes, yes, we understand; and then they arrived and we nodded and cried and said, no, no, WE REALLY DIDN’T UNDERSTAND. Another father told me during that time that though he always loves his children, there are times when he doesn’t like them, and that’s OK. I quietly thought, “oh dear, I don’t like them but I really don’t love them either. What do I do with that?”

But the love grew.

I still have those days when I swear. A lot (in private). When you adopt, there will be days when your child will push you to your limit and you feel like the worst parent on planet earth. There will be days when you want to scream, and days when your children scream whilst wondering why you’re standing in the corner doing deep-breathing exercises in order not to scream back. As I said, it isn’t always easy; but parenting itself isn’t easy, and now we’ve made it through the first year we are encouraged that we must be doing something right because they are thriving. And the love? The love grows and grows….

Which is why there are those other moments, like the one I had yesterday when I sobbed, not because of the terror or the exasperation of it all, but simply because of the overwhelming love and pride I felt about how far our children had come, how we are part of that, and how we will continue to be part of that for the rest of our lives together.

No turning back; nor do I want to.

85 days ago our home and lives changed completely FOREVER!!!! The rooms we had ready, the car seats we bought and the mountains of toys we had given to us by friends and family finally had little fingers to play with the toys, get sticky fingers all over the car windows & even nimbler fingers to pick the wall stickers off the bedroom wall in an arc the size of a 2 year olds reach.

Our whole family has totally embraced its latest additions, from my 92yr old grandad to our 9 year old nephew, who wrapped up his own toy diggers to give as a birthday present to one of his new cousins.  Our 20 year old daughter is totally adored by her 3 younger sisters who were 2, 3 & 5 only 85 days ago and are now so quickly older and, in their opinion, wiser.  Some of the cute toddler phrases have already disappeared but we feel so lucky to have those early memories & are sure that conkers will forever be known as “wonkers”, “toetats” formerly known as tattoos & “a car with a flat”, also known as a campervan.  But perhaps the most memorable comment was after a visit from their social worker we were all sat on the floor chatting about the visit, saying that one day soon we won’t have a social worker & our gorgeous 5 year old, the thinker of the trio, screamed “Yay, you mean I really am staying forever!”

85 days is no time at all to learn each other’s funny ways, and that goes for all of us – we are all still learning what makes things easier, how to calm conflict, who likes broccoli today when they didn’t like it 3 days ago. We are all still learning though, and learning from each other every day, they share bits of their past with us in the same way we talk about things we did when we were small.

We were lucky enough to have our gorgeous girlies at the beginning of summer so were able to spend hours playing in the garden, or at the allotment and just exploring.  They love being outdoors so walking up a mountain in August all dressed as minions seemed like a fun thing to do.  They were very keen on planning a holiday, something they had unfortunately never experienced before, so with a lot of planning and testing out the “party bags” (sleeping bags) we decided to give it a go.  We put the tent up at home first and tried out the sleeping bags in their own beds, talked about what happened on a holiday (apparently you have a stick of rock and go to the beach!)  We chose somewhere close enough that, if things weren’t going as we had hoped, we could easily pack up and come home.  We spent days picking what things they wanted to take from home and what things would be here when we came back – it’s a good job we have an 8 seater mini-van !!!!! We had more cuddly toys than Hamleys, Pop-Up Pirate, enough crafts to last the winter and enough bedtime stories an insomniac would struggle to get through……… Our thought was to let them choose the things they feel are important and made them feel relaxed at home – we read ONE story, didn’t play dominoes or matching pairs once & poor old Pop-up Pirate stayed in his box! They adjusted so well to being away (it was only 2 nights in Brean) and if we hadn’t been hit by a vomiting bug (not pleasant in a tent) the holiday would have been a roaring success.  They had the best time ever and talk about it all of the time & are already planning the next holiday !!!!!!

So 85 days really isn’t long but feels like a lifetime and its impossible to imagine life without our little ones now and in another 85 days we will have another big milestone – their first Christmas at home – we have planned already what we have for breakfast and we NEED candy canes on the tree & in the middle of august spent the evening singing Christmas songs – we think they wanted to make sure we knew the same ones as them !  We are sure the next 85 days will be as amazing and briefly challenging as the last but each one is a step closer to another big family event – but never as big as the one 85 DAYS AGO

Our adoption journey had begun with a massive false start and an extended wait as we sorted out a few things, so when things actually moved forward we were impatient to get on. We started 2017 newly approved, knowing that there was a possible match with a sibling group whose social worker we’d met at an Adoption Exchange Day; however, we quickly came down to earth with a bump!

In our first meeting of the year with our social worker, we were told that the children’s needs were greater than we’d initially thought, that we wouldn’t be moving ahead with the match and that there were no other potential links at the moment. We were totally deflated and wondered when we’d hear any news, so it was a massive relief when just over a week later we got a message asking if we had seen a sibling group on Link Maker. We had, we remembered them (they were gorgeous) and we wanted to know more. We read and reread their profiles every day and after a few more weeks we had met with their social worker and family finder, and it was agreed to move forward with the match.

Over the following months we met with the foster carers, paediatrician and teachers. The more we heard about “our” children as we were thinking of them, the more certain we were that this match was right for us and them. We knew there was going to plenty to think about, the children would be losing contact with their older siblings and they had a close relationship with their carers after being with them for 18 months – a long time when you’re 6, practically forever when you’re 2 and a half.

As well as this new loss in the children’s lives, there were their different experiences to consider: neglect and abuse, one child being scapegoated whilst another was heavily favoured. Hearing about these aspects of their lives was difficult but also made us more keen to get on with it. So we filled our time with finishing bedrooms and the garden, taking no end of photos of ourselves around the house with the toys we were going to give them, and making their books about us and their forever home.

Finally we got to matching panel which was a lot less stressful but a lot more emotional than we expected – tears from us and the panel, but we were approved! The decision was ratified and our final step before intros was to meet the children’s older siblings. Knowing that they were going into long term foster placements and had been to their final contact with our children was tough but it was definitely worthwhile and our children are pleased that we “know” their big brother and sister.

Nothing can truly prepare you for the intensity of introductions. As helpful as the foster carers were, going into a stranger’s house for hours every day is not easy or comfortable.  We spent most time in their house in a small, very hot room and it was a relief when we moved on to the trips out part of the week.

It seemed strange at first being called mum and dad, and there were a few times when we had to remind each other – “that’s you they’re talking to”. It was exhausting and draining, and that was in spite of it all going smoothly. If anything, that was a worry to us as it was all too easy, I remember sitting in the review meeting saying that we knew it could only go downhill – and we were right.

The first few weeks seemed to consist of lots of crying (all of us) and refusing to eat (them). We quickly learnt that the change from a cot was not a good idea for our youngest, who on discovering she could get out of bed, spent the first evening doing just that, over and over and over again. A supermarket visit for a second bed guard the next morning sorted that out.

Other troubles haven’t been so easy to deal with; the relationship between the two older siblings can be challenging, seeing them take pleasure in deliberately spoiling things for the other is hard and the competition between them is grating at times; one’s seeming expectation and acceptance of poor treatment is upsetting and the teenager-like attitude of another’s can be infuriating. Add in tantrums that aren’t always from the toddler, plenty of oppositional behaviour, lying, screaming and shouting, and the difficulty of one child in particular desperately missing her foster carers, and it’s safe to say it’s been hard work.

But we know it could have been a lot worse and there have definitely been good times too. The children’s enthusiasm for even the smallest of things can be contagious; the caring nature of one and the sense of humour of another are lovely, and moments when we’re all able to have fun in the garden, play games and do puzzles or eat and talk together have kept us going. We’re getting to share the little moments that we’d hoped for, like cwtching on the sofa to watch a DVD, reading stories together and going to the park (although if we never have to push another swing, that will be fine with us!)

We’re lucky to have made some good friends through the different courses St Davids offer, and talking and messaging fellow adopters has been a godsend. It hasn’t mattered that we’re at different stages of the journey; they are there to moan to and share a laugh with. As good as our support network is, having people who are going through similar experiences to offload to is a great help.

As we head towards Christmas and the six month mark, we know that we are still in the early stages but we have gone from pretty much hating it and regretting ever hearing about adoption, then on to feeling like we’ve got visitors who outstayed their welcome, now to feeling like these children are ours. It’s certainly not a fairy tale, in truth we don’t always like our children but we’re getting there with loving them and I can now say we wouldn’t be parted from them. As we’ve told them, they are ours forever and we are (almost always) very happy about that.

Hello, my name is Bethan and I am 14 years old. I enjoy going to Lifeguards and to the beach with my friends. I dislike the rain and dull weather. I have a little sister called Ellie who is 8 years old and she is adopted. When we adopted Ellie, she was nearly 2 and I was 7.

I had always wanted a little brother or sister because I was lonely as an only child. That is why I was very pleased when my parents told me we might be adopting. I was slightly nervous about what was going to happen next, but when we met with another family to talk about their adoption experience, it answered a lot of my questions.

When I first heard about my sister, all I had was her name, age and a photograph. It seemed like a long time between getting this information and actually meeting her. Before I was allowed to meet Ellie my parents had to meet her a few times first. This is because it wouldn’t have been good for Ellie to meet too many new people at once. Although I understood, it was still very frustrating.

We went to her foster mother’s home and got to do things like feeding her dinner, bathing her and putting her to bed. This was great because we got to know her a bit before she came to live with us.

Before Ellie came to live with us, I had many worries about what it would be like having someone else around the house and having to share things with them. Not only did I have to share my house, my toys and my space etc, I also had to share my Mum and Dad’s attention and time. I was worried they might love her more than they loved me.

When she arrived I realised that my parents would never love one of us more than the other. I did have to share my time with my parents, but my Mum and Dad set aside time specifically for me too. Ellie was jealous of my relationship with my parents too.

When I knew Ellie would be coming to live with us, I was very excited that I was going to have someone to play with all the time. However, when she did come she showed us all that she had a mind of her own. I never thought that she wouldn’t go along with the things I wanted to do but would want to other things instead. This is because an adopted sibling’s personality is usually already formed, unlike a baby that is born into the family. This isn’t something I had considered.

Even though my parents and our lovely social worker, Jane, had told me that things wouldn’t be straight forward and easy, I didn’t expect it to be so difficult to get Ellie to show affection towards me. That could partly be due to her personality but it is also down to the fact that she had come to a new family so she had only known me for a short amount of time. This is something I wish I was prepared for, as although my parents and Jane had reassured me, I still thought that she didn’t love me.

Another thing that I was unaware of was the fact that she had a birth brother and sister. This made me feel very insecure at first, as I thought that Ellie may prefer them to me, as they are her blood family. I have now come to realise that this isn’t going to happen. We sometimes meet up with Ellie’s brother and sister and their adoptive parents. I often think that as Ellie has grown up with me, she knows and loves me more and that it is a relationship that is stronger than blood sisters.

Although me and Ellie argue a lot, like most sisters do, there are so many positives. For example, she is the first person to stick up for me in any disagreement with my parents!

Most of the time I forget that Ellie is adopted. Although we argue a lot, she will always be my sister and we love each other very much. I honestly could not imagine my life without her. Adopting Ellie was the best thing that my family has ever done and despite the negatives of having a sibling, I would not change it for the world.

We were approved at panel in February 2015, and then told there were fewer children in the system waiting for their forever family!  The disappointment was palpable, after an exhausting assessment we were both extremely disappointed.

Then in early July came the call we’d been waiting for: ‘it’s a boy!’

I keenly remember the description: ‘A’, a five year old, 6 the following month. Part of a large sibling group, hyper aware, too compliant then the dreaded words – Neglect, Abuse, Cruelty!

Following a meeting with his team it was agreed in principle that we were a good match and we worked towards matching panel.  The days dragged on. You see, we had fallen in love with our little man, we may not have met him but we cherished the one photo we had been given.

We met with all the people involved in his short life and gained as much information as we could about him, ready to welcome him into our lives.  The days dragged and dragged and our hearts ached for this little boy, but procedures had to be followed and he needed some sessions to ensure he was prepared too.

We thought we were prepared! I think as much as you’re given ‘worse case scenarios’ and talk through what is going to happen, until you have another little person in your home it’s impossible to know what to expect.  From the moment we met our son, our lives have changed for the better but things haven’t always been easy.  Just understanding each other’s ways, his little foibles and manners takes time.

The first few weeks were difficult.  It might have been easier if we’d known the right things about him and his ways.  Although the foster carer was kind she portrayed him as the perfect child and led us into a false sense of security.  Nothing major, we just could have been better prepared. For example we specifically asked her if he suffered nightmares or bed wetting – her answer was no, but he did!  We could have ensured we had more linen (we only had two sets thinking he could choose his own once he settled) so when he’d had numerous accidents in one night there were no more!  After his first nightmares we made dream catchers for him, and only this week, almost a year later, he shouted down the stairs, ‘Mum, can you please empty my dream catchers I think they’re nearly full?’

What we’d almost forgotten in our excited preparation was that our little boy has his own personality, he could communicate his like or dislike of something – for the first few days all he would eat was jam sandwiches! But as someone very wise told me, ‘the only control he currently has is what he puts into his mouth’.  This statement made me realise what a brave little boy he is.  At 6 years old he moved into a new family, new home, new city, new school and remarkably endeared himself to all who met him.

I didn’t carry him for 9 months, or give him life, or see him take his first steps or hear him speak his first words but I’m his mother.  I’m there when he falls over and grazes his knee.  I’m there to help with homework, I’m there to empty the full dream catcher, and I’m there to help him to become a confident, happy, loving little boy.

My husband and I are the luckiest parents, to have him, as each day he makes us smile and brings a tear of joy to my eyes.

We know that it is a few weeks ago, but we want to say a massive thank you to our families who attended our recent Summer Celebration.

It is a great way for us to celebrate adoption with our families and so nice to say to families who adopted recently, and those who have been coming back for years!

We received this bit of feedback from one of our families and we think it sums up why the day is so important.

We look forward to seeing you all at our next Support Group and our Christmas Celebration! Keep an eye out for those invites

Summer Celebration Day Feedback

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