‘ADOPTION is the most wonderful experience on the planet… when you see the number of children out there looking for homes and families, it’s just wrong not to go for it.'
These are the words of Anne and Mark, adoptive parents in BAAF Scotland’s film, made to help recruit more adopters. This is National Adoption Week, an opportunity to encourage people to come forward and share Anne and Mark’s experience.
In 2012, there were 333 non-relative adoptions in Scotland. The majority were heterosexual couples. But the profile of adopters is changing and increasingly single people and same-sex couples are adopting too. Of the children adopted, the majority were between two and nine years old. Many will have experienced significant trauma. This may be due to drug or alcohol misuse or the inability of the birth parent to put the child’s needs first. Adopting them is a major, lifelong commitment.
Back in the early 1960s when I was adopted, the number of children adopted in Scotland was considerably higher and the age profile lower. The typical circumstances which led to adoption then would not make it necessary today. And the process was very different. But I know from many years of being involved in adoption that the core experience for those involved is very similar.
Adoption endures because it’s necessary for some children and because it works. It’s both continuous and changing. As a young gay adoptee growing up in the 1970s, I could scarcely have imagined that within a generation lesbian and gay people would be adopting. So last year I was immensely proud to welcome more than 30 lesbian and gay prospective adopters to an event held by Scottish Adoption, the Edinburgh based voluntary agency, whose board I chair.
The introduction of adoption for lesbian and gay people has not been without its critics in Scotland and that conversation will continue. But it’s vital to stress that this isn’t simply an issue of rights for parents, it’s one of homes and families for children. As the profile of children needing to be adopted has changed, creating a more diverse pool of adopters has been essential. Sexuality has often hit the headlines. But this is about other people too; single people, older people, black and minority ethnic people for example.
Anne and Mark are right. Adoption is a wonderful experience. As their daughter Lilly says in the film, it found her “the right mum and dad”. But make no mistake, leaving your birth family at an early age can be tough for everyone involved; birth parents, children and adopters. That’s why post-adoption support is so important. Yet it’s an area of work that needs significantly more investment. It isn’t just about the few months after adoption either. It’s about working with people through the life course.
The work we do at Scottish Adoption with adopted teenagers is just one example. We know that they value the opportunity to mix with other adopted children. It’s not just another youth group, but one in which their identity is shared. In a very different way, our work with birth mothers whose children have been adopted is crucial because losing a child has lifelong repercussions.
Adoption can make the news for the wrong reasons, like family breakdowns and delays in finding a family for children. Prospective adopters sometimes complain that the process can be intrusive and take too long. These are all real issues. Adoption agencies are, and must be, on a constant learning curve. But National Adoption Week is a moment to celebrate the enormously beneficial contribution that adoption can make to Scotland’s children. It is life-changing and life-enhancing. We may wish that adoption wasn’t necessary. But getting it right for every child means that it is and it will continue to be.
There are 151 children currently referred to Scotland’s Adoption Register. Include children where plans await approval and that figure could double. That’s why authorities and agencies need to be ever more ambitious and creative about how and when to opt for adoption as a solution, including for older children. And why more parents from all walks of life need to keep coming forward.
This article was first published online in The Scotsman on Saturday 2nd November 2013 and in print in Scotland on Sunday on Sunday 3rd November 2013