Talking to an adoptive father about the rewards and challenges of adopting siblings with SEN
There are over 2000 children in England who need to be adopted. They come from a variety of different ethnic and religious backgrounds and some may have disabilities or other special needs. Most of these children have been removed from their birth families by the courts because their parents and wider families were unable to provide the care they need. They will have suffered loss and separation in their young lives, even when adopted shortly after birth.
More than half of the children currently awaiting adoption are siblings. Depending on the circumstances, it is often in the best interests of the children that brothers and sisters find a family together rather than experience further trauma caused by being separated.
Preparing for adoption
It takes a special kind of person and a giant leap of faith to adopt even one child. Wayne and his partner Joe, however, were keen from the start to adopt at least two. In 2012, the couple adopted two brothers, “M” aged nine months and “A” aged 22 months. Wayne takes up their story.
“Our plan was always to adopt siblings, I come from a family of three brothers who are very close and Joe has a sister and brother that he’s close to. We felt it would be lovely for the children to have a sibling as we both feel life as part of a sibling group is very rewarding and fun.
“We went into the adoption process with our eyes open as we understood that adopted children often have additional needs and can be very complex. We did lots of research before the boys came to us and we thought that we were well prepared. The reality was very different.
“There were certain things we simply couldn’t prepare for. Although we had some sense of the boys’ life before us, we felt that a lot of information wasn’t shared with us by the birth family. Although we didn’t know as much as we’d like about the boys’ early negative experiences, the mechanisms they’d developed to cope with them began to manifest themselves very quickly. Initially, we felt under prepared and unsupported to deal with this.”
“The extent of our children’s needs became apparent when they started full-time education. When A started school things were very difficult. He wouldn’t want to leave the house. When he eventually got to school he didn’t speak to anyone and hid under the table all day. He would refuse to join in any activities and this went on for two terms. Eventually, he made one friend and then built a relationship with one teacher.
“We’re lucky that staff at the boys’ school listen to and meet with us all the time. We have a really good working relationship with the teachers and the SENCO. We’ve also put a group together of adoptive parents at school. This meets once a term to discuss our children, compare notes and suggest ways we can improve what the school is doing.
“With both boys, routine is key to their wellbeing. We quickly realised that school holidays were tricky because they meant a change in routine. After doing everything we could to ease them into new habits for the break, we’d then struggle to get them back into school when term started again.
“The school is now really supportive around this. The work they do for A and to help his transition into a new year is incredible. They really understand what’s needed and have put measures in place. They’ve even gone as far as to make a video featuring A and two friends. This explains all about Year 3, the new class, teacher and lessons. He now has this on his [tablet computer] so that he can watch it any time.”
The right support
“We’ve done a lot of research to find the kind of help we needed. Fortunately we found a really good restorative parenting course (a pioneering model of child care that seeks to help children to recover from abuse or neglect). This gave us a much clearer understanding of A’s needs. He’s also been responding very well to play therapy, which has made a huge positive difference.
“Our younger son M has a developmental delay of around one year. This was heightened when he started school. There were major meltdowns on school days and he also took a full term to build a relationship with his teacher.
“Working with the school, we realised that he needed to be taught in a different way to the other children. Now, all his lessons are as part of a small group. Sometimes he has one-to-one teaching. He’s made great progress since we started this.
“Life story work is one of the most crucial parts of parenting adopted children. This is an ongoing process where parents help adopted children to feel more secure in their new family. It involves helping them understand their personal history and develop their sense of identity, their early life experiences, why they were taken into care, and how they came to be adopted. Having both A and M in our family has proved a real advantage when it comes to this all important aspect of parenting.”
“There’s a downside to having siblings too. Jealously can be a real challenge, with each of them fighting for our attention no matter how much we give them. They’re also pretty much inseparable and won’t do anything without the other being present. I’m happy to say that, after hundreds of hugs, lots of talking things through and explaining emotions, the boys have grown to trust us. Again, consistency seems to be the key.
“A is now seven years old and M is six. Being their dads is still a challenge, but the love we get from our children makes every day special – not to mention the laughs, the fun and the knowledge that we’re becoming the kind of happy loving family we all dreamed of.”
Chris Burton is Communications and PR Manager at First4Adoption, the national information service for adoption in England:
The children pictured are not those mentioned in the article.