Adopting a new attitude to taking on somebody else’s children

“I’M very glad that I was adopted – if I hadn’t been, I don’t know where I would’ve ended up.”

That was the view of one adoptee speaking to TheSouthern for this article exploring adoption and fostering in the Borders.

The woman, who is now 33, was born outwith this region and adopted as an infant along with her brother by a couple in the Borders.

She speaks lovingly of her adoptive parents and genuinely believes she could not have had a better childhood.

She said: “I had a brilliant upbringing. My parents took someone else’s child into their home – a stranger – I’m not sure I could do that.

“I have so much respect and admiration for them.”

Her experiences were just one contribution. TheSouthern also heard from adoptive parents, foster carers and social workers to find out the reality of adoption and fostering in the Borders.

What is the difference between adoption and fostering?

Adoption is a way of finding a new family for children who cannot be brought up by their birth parents.

It’s a legal procedure which sees all the parental responsibility transferred to the adopters and once an adoption order is granted it is only ever reversed in extremely rare circumstances.

An adopted child has no legal links with its birth parents, becoming a full member of its new family, usually taking the new family’s surname.

Foster carers/parents share responsibility for a child’s welfare with a local authority and the child’s parents.

This is usually only a temporary arrangement, though there are some children for whom foster care rather than adoption is considered the best option.

Around 4,000 British children need adoption each year and they come from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds and are of varying ages.

Some will be single children, some will be children whose siblings have been adopted by other new families and some will be part of sibling groups who will be adopted together.

Why do they need new families? There are various reasons. Although some of these children will have been given up voluntarily for adoption and a very small percentage will be orphans, a great many children living in care and awaiting adoption have been removed from their birth families by a court order because of neglect or abuse, or because they are at risk of these.

All will have experienced various moves and uncertainty, and their resulting behaviour can often be described as “challenging”.

Currently, Scottish Borders Council has four children approved by its agency for adoption and not matched with prospective adopters.

By the end of this year, local social workers expect to have another four children registered for adoption.

SBC places around six children each year with adopters. These children will be placed on a fostering basis with prospective adopters while the legal route to adoption is completed.

SBC social worker Maureen Lumley says the local authority here is always looking to recruit more foster carers and more potential adopters.

“We’re continually trying to recruit more people for both roles. At the moment we need more foster carers to look after teenage children.

“Teenagers come with their own issues and need a special understanding and patience.”

Adoption agencies, which includes local authorities, assess prospective adopters. The assessments are carried out by experienced, qualified social workers.

Maureen added: “Once approved, family finding begins and we would look to match with a child from our own authority first.

“However, if this is not possible then the approved adopter may be included in the Scottish adoption register, which has recently been set up and is administered by the BAAF [British Association for Adoption & Fostering].

“Children who have not been placed within their geographic area, for a variety of reasons, can also be registered on the register.

“Any potential match would be passed to the child/adopter’s social workers who would then follow this up. Adopters have access to Be My Parent and Scottish Children Waiting magazines.”

Foster carer Betty has been looking after children for the local authority for the past 12 years and currently has five youngsters living under her roof.

“I got into it because of a friend who was a foster carer and I liked what she was doing,” Betty explained. “She phoned the social work department and said I was interested and that was 12 years ago.

“Yes, there have been ups and downs through those years – I wouldn’t pretend otherwise – but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It has been so worthwhile and rewarding.

“To see a child’s face light up when he or she gets to do something most people’s children will take for granted – like being bought some new clothes or go on holiday – is always emotional.”

Both Betty and her husband’s two daughters had reached adulthood and left home by the time the couple became foster carers.

“Now my daughters often come to do respite care for us,” she said.

Betty’s first foster child is now 20 and still keeps in touch on an almost daily basis, despite being recently married and a father himself.

Those interested in becoming foster carers must undergo a very rigorous assessment and there is always on-going training available.

“You’re never on your own – there’s always support and back-up available from the social work department’s family placement team.

“It can often be very challenging and frustrating, but it is so rewarding and worthwhile that I would certainly encourage more people to come forward and volunteer.”

One couple we spoke to have a three-year-old son whom they adopted as an infant. The woman explained that once they were told they could not have any children of their own and when IVF treatment had failed three times, they decided to put themselves forward as adopters.

“It was a very lengthy assessment, but the result is our son. It’s like he’s always been with us. We’ve never looked back,” said the boy’s mother.

“Even from the first day we met him, he knew who we were because we had made a special book with photographs so he knew something about us.

“We haven’t experienced any problems with his behaviour other than the stuff you normally get from any wee boy and I think that’s down to the preparation work done by his foster carers who were tremendous.”

Having adopted a child from the Borders, were they ever worried about him being recognised by someone from his ‘old’ life?

“At first we used to pick and choose where we would go and just used common sense. But no-one would recognise him now anyway.

“With older children that aspect of adoption can be more difficult because they remember more from their previous lives.”

But adopting someone else’s child, while a relatively smooth process for many, can be the opposite for others.

Our second adopter has found it much more difficult.

“Challenging is the right term. No amount of reading preparatory sessions, workshops and so on can prepare you for the reality of strange children coming into your house,” she admitted.

“I don’t think people are ever really prepared for the effect is has on you. It has certainly been challenging. But there has also been a lot that has been rewarding. Sometimes it is just something small that happens, but because it is one of these children that has accomplished that, it is rewarding.”

Returning to our adoptee, she feels more support is needed for people like herself on reaching adulthood.

“I tracked down my birth mother, who had given me up when she was 18. It was something I felt I had a right to do, but there was nobody to give me advice and it turned out to be the opening of a Pandora’s Box.

“My birth mum did not want to know me and – being rejected by her for a second time – well, I ended up in counselling. I had a lot of problems with attachment as a child and I still do even today.

“But I am so grateful to my parents for adopting me. While there have been major challenges for me to overcome as a result of being adopted, they have given me a life I would not otherwise have had.

“To have done that for a stranger’s child is something very special indeed.”