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Adopting a child with SEN can be challenging, but with a positive approach the rewards can be many and various, says Paul Adams

In 2008, Jan and Kevin adopted two sisters with cerebral palsy, but it’s not their disability that they talk about: “Our children have brought tremendous joy to our lives and there is huge satisfaction in small things, like the day our daughter just sat up when she was playing daisy chains. Another big moment was when we discovered that one of them had fallen off their bike at school, because at that point we didn’t know she could ride a bike.”

Those of us who live and work with children with SEN or disabilities know that they are not defined by their impairment or particular special need. They are fully rounded children with their own character and personality, with positive and negative elements just like everyone else. As Jan and Kevin explain, “Beyond the labels there is just a child who needs parents and who needs love. We don’t see our children as having cerebral palsy and a collection of problems. They might have to use a wheelchair or standing frame but on a day to day basis they are just our children.”

The fact is that many of the children waiting to be adopted do have SEN, resulting either from their early experiences of abuse and neglect or as a result of disability, or a combination of both. Some potential adopters and foster carers can feel a bit wary about being able to meet the needs of these children. However, there is a lot of support available. This might include non-means tested benefit entitlements, equipment, settling-in grants and adoption or fostering allowances. It might also include therapeutic help to manage challenging behaviour, training and ongoing visits from allocated social workers.

Jan and Kevin give the following advice to would-be adopters: “Try to see beyond the labels and the problems and don’t think oh my goodness, I couldn’t possibly do that, because if you’ve got room in your hearts and room in your home, you’ll overcome all that. The reality is that you will be helped by professionals and others and you will deal with all the things that need doing, just like you would with any other child.”

It is interesting that a number of short-term foster carers end up permanently fostering or adopting children whom they were only expecting to look after for a short time. When a child is originally placed with short-term foster carers, the carers might have no previous disability or SEN experience but feel able to offer short-term care with high levels of support. After a while, they will feel more confident and will likely become experts in that child and his/her needs. As one permanent foster carer says, “Making the decision to take on a special needs child can be daunting, but within a few days we had bonded, and learning what our child needed or felt was natural. We accepted him for who he was and what he was able to do. Finding ways for him achieving the best was harder in that there are many systems, methods and people involved, but working with our child has always felt like a privilege and seeing him develop is a mind blowing pleasure”.

Adopters of children with SEN consistently make the same point; caring for these children brings the same rewards as caring for any other children, and only by getting to know a child can you experience their uniqueness and individual personality. Perhaps this article will prompt someone to consider adopting a child with SEN. If so, it could be the best and most rewarding thing that person ever does.

National Adoption Week

5 - 11 November 2012
If you are interested in adopting a child, visit:
www.nationaladoptionweek.org.uk

Further information

Paul Adams is Development Consultant for the British Association for Adoption and Fostering:
www.baaf.org.uk

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