Children with SEN can be the hardest to place into adoption, yet they offer uniquely fulfilling relationships for families
Have you ever thought about adopting? Could you be a mum or dad to a child with SEN, who will not have had the greatest start in life, giving them a secure, loving and permanent home?
There is a desperate need for more people to come forward to adopt. Across the UK, there are over 4,000 children who need to be adopted every year and this figure is expected to rise as more children come into care. Disabled children and those with SEN are amongst those for whom finding a family is more difficult. In fact, in some parts of the UK, such as Northern Ireland, this is one of the largest groups of children who wait the longest for a permanent family.
Some of these children may have particular needs due to their early experiences. Many of those waiting for new families have some degree of learning difficulty. They may have missed out on some of their education or find it difficult to learn and concentrate, having experienced uncertainty and instability early on. They may have been subject to a lack of care or neglect, or suffered physical, emotional or sexual abuse, as well as the impact of the loss of their birth family. The majority of these children will have some emotional and behavioural needs relating to their early life.
This may sound daunting, but many adopters report that caring for their children has been the most important and meaningful experience of their lives. With the right support, many of these children are able to reach their full potential. It may be challenging, but it can also be hugely rewarding to see how a child can benefit from a loving family environment and, with help and time, start to overcome some of their difficulties and flourish.
Becoming an adopter
Amanda and David have adopted a little girl with foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They have also gone on to adopt a little boy. Amanda explains:
“When we first started to consider adoption we did think about adopting a child with SEN. I think this was because we were very aware that many of the children who are waiting for a forever family are born with the effects of exposure to drugs or alcohol whilst in the womb and we felt we had a lot to offer.
“We did have concerns, but we had them more during the wait to meet our daughter as we knew she had FAS. Although we had met other adoptive parents with kids with FAS, we did not really know what to expect. We were also worried that she may not like us.
“We were given lots of preparation during adoption training regarding the possible challenges of adopting a child with extra needs and we also read lots of books and articles. I have worked with special needs kids in the past so we were very aware of challenges we may encounter. There is an adoption support group held every two months which we can attend and we can telephone social workers if we need help or advice.
“The challenges are raising a little girl who has FAS and ADHD and ensuring that school is aware of her difficulties and making sure the correct support is in place. Children with FAS and ADHD can be very challenging. They may be hyperactive, impulsive, and unable to reason. Another big challenge is ensuring that both kids are aware of their birth family backgrounds. Our son has two birth brothers who are adopted and we maintain contact. Our daughter has ten birth siblings/half siblings and she has only recently met six of the older ones for the first time. She has a very strong relationship with her birth brother who is nine, as he has been adopted by her old foster carer. Our little boy is developing age appropriately, but at birth he did require hospital treatment for drug withdrawal, so there is always uncertainty.
“But any challenges are totally outweighed by the rewards, which are endless. With our daughter, the rewards have certainly included how well she has attached to us, especially as when we brought her home, aged 23 months, the medical professionals were querying attachment disorder. She has come on leaps and bounds. Initially we had to learn signing to communicate with her, as she was a slow talker; now she is a little chatterbox and is at mainstream primary, which was not expected.
“With our son, who was ten months old when placed with us, we have been delighted by how well he has attached to us and his new sister. It has also been so rewarding seeing him develop from a baby into a talkative little two and a half-year-old. The bond the children share with each other is very strong and lovely to see”.
Support for families
If you decide to adopt there is a great deal of help available and you won’t be expected to go it alone. Many organisations offer information and advice, and extra support to help meet children’s SEN can be available.
Children have a variety of needs and adoption agencies need a variety of families to care for them. There is no such thing as the ideal adoptive family. Most agencies are more interested in what you have to offer a child than your marital status, whether you are gay or straight or what your income level is – and being over forty is not a barrier. Agencies look for adopters who can meet the specific needs of individual children. Some children will benefit from being adopted by a couple who already have children, whilst others may need the one-to-one attention of a single person. Some children’s needs are best met where they are the youngest or only child in their family. If you do already have children, they will be included in the preparation process.
Amanda has some sound advice for those considering adoption: “Speak with other adopters, if possible; we found this most helpful. Also, you really need to consider things such as would you be prepared to maintain sibling contact, if this was an option. Initially the process may feel lengthy, but once you are approved and matched its all go”.
Amanda also advises potential adopters to “go on holiday, read books and relax as much as you can before you are matched with your child, as once this has happened, relaxation is no more. But it is totally worth it; adopting our children has been the most rewarding, loving experience.”
National Adoption Week
National Adoption Week is 4 to 10 November 2013. If you think you could give a child or children a secure, loving and permanent home through adoption, you can find out more by visiting: www.nationaladoptionweek.org.uk or downloading the BAAF mobile app: www.baaf.org.uk/info/app
Jane Elston is from the British Association for Adoption & Fostering (BAAF):