It’s National Adoption Week and the theme this year is “The Adopter”. Since that’s me, and my wife, and also my mum, I thought I’d write something for the occasion. Hopefully, some of you out there thinking of adopting will find a spark here, some inspiration that will confirm that for you adoption is the right thing to do. I really do hope so. Adoption is a wonderful experience. For you. For your child. And for all involved. As long as it’s done right.
First of all, do it for the right reasons. Be sure you’re not wanting to ‘save’ a child. You’ll hear from friends and family that you’ve done a wonderful, charitable thing by giving a home to a needy child. If that’s your reason, don’t adopt. Adopt because you want a family, or you want to complete your family. Because you want the love and joy a child will bring into your life and have plenty of your own to share.
Secondly, understand that adoption has changed from the old days, when those of us who were adopted as babies were likely to have been given up by single mothers shamed into allowing us to be adopted by the dark, somewhat unforgiving social mores of the time. We were largely newborns, healthy and (at least in my case, handsome and adorable 😊). Those kids available for adoption now are still adorable, but they’re unlikely to be newborns and their pathway to adoption is different than mine. They will have suffered neglect, early life trauma, may well have a disability and/or other health issues. They may have an attachment disorder. Or, and here’s why this blog is writing about adoption, they may well have a Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
Statistics on FASD are not good amongst looked after children up for adoption. The condition is very much under-reported, under-diagnosed and poorly understood or recognised by midwives, social workers, GPs and even Paediatricians. A study in Peterborough showed that 75% of children available for adoption had been exposed to alcohol in utero. That doesn’t mean the kids have an FASD, but the risk is there, and it is significantly higher than for the population as a whole.
As an adopter, bringing a child with FASD into your life will be a huge change. Our son has brought music and performance into our home. He takes us to places we would otherwise not go. He has brought the widest smiles of joy. He has taught us much about ourselves and our capabilities to care.
But it isn’t easy.
Kids with FASD have executive functioning deficits which means they constantly need help to organise themselves through life. Many have learning disabilities. They have sensory needs that are difficult to meet. They can meltdown with a depth and severity that is extremely hard to manage. Doctors fail to recognise the condition. Social workers don’t write up maternal alcohol consumption in notes, making diagnosis harder later on. Therapists of all kinds don’t know about FASD and struggle to adapt their services for our kids.
To be an adopter, you will need deep reserves of resilience and humour and love to do everything your child will need, and everything your wider family will need. You will have to possess a desire to learn all you can to support a young person, and to show your family, friends and the professionals in education, medicine and social work how to support him and you.
Society also needs to better support adopters who make the decision to adopt a child with FASD, or one who may well have the condition (you might not know for sure since FASD is so under-diagnosed). To be an adopter, you’ll become a campaigner for recognition of FASD in the educational system. You’ll become an advocate for the wider needs of families with kids with SEN, things like more respite breaks (or indeed access to respite breaks at all!!) and for the reasonable adjustments all institutions should make for kids with a disability under the 2010 Equality Act. Sounds scary, but it’s doable. You’ll be a better parent for meeting the challenge.
So, be an adopter of a child with an FASD. Go into it with eyes open. Read up about FASD. Join support communities like FASD UK’s closed group on Facebook. Get materials from NOFAS-UK and other groups working on the condition.
And if, after a good hard consideration of the idea, you think you’re up for it don’t let four letters and all they mean deprive you of the love a child with an FASD can bring into your home, or stop you giving them the loving home they need to thrive.
For more information:
National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome-UK (NOFAS-UK)