I am an adoptive father. I have written this blog in order to share some of my experiences and in the hope of stimulating discussion. I have chosen to write anonymously so as to protect the privacy of my family.
Adoptive parents make a highly significant contribution to the lives of the children they adopt. They provide a home for a child (or children) in need and can end the chain of abuse and/or neglect within families.
Those who adopt also save the taxpayer a vast amount of money every year. Way back in 2007 Gary Streeter MP estimated the cost of keeping a child in local authority care at about £200,000 per year (1). What the cost is now I do not know, but it surely cannot be any less.
There are three problem areas that adoptive parents face.
The first, and most obvious issue, is that the work of adopters is not easy. Children who are placed for adoption can have problems such as Attachment Disorder, Attention Disorder/Hyperactivity Disorder, autism spectrum disorders, foetal alcohol syndrome and learning difficulties. Some of these affect boys more than girls. Others affect both sexes equally.
Children who are placed for adoption may have also suffered extreme neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse.
The resulting problems that adoptive parents may have to face are many and varied. They can include:
- violence (which can be directed at the parents, at siblings or others)
- urinary and/or faecal incontinence (not just in infants or children but also in teenagers)
- withholding faeces (for lengths of time that most people would think impossible)
- ‘crazy lying’ (i.e. maintaining a lie in spite of irrefutable evidence to the contrary)
- demanding the constant attention of one of the adoptive parents while refusing to acknowledge the existence of the other
- dangerous sexual behaviour
- outbursts of extreme anger (with or without physical violence)
- school refusal
- persistent stealing and more.
It is important therefore that those who are considering adoption ask the relevant questions about the child’s background and insist on a full disclosure of the facts. In her excellent article Are social workers being dishonest about the realities of adoption? Sally Donovan stresses the need for social workers to be as open as possible with prospective adopters about the child’s background. She also highlights the need for possible adopters to be willing to accept the truths that no-one wants to hear (2).
All of this can be particularly difficult for prospective adoptive fathers. The adoption process is almost always female dominated. How can a man insist, and continue to insist, on knowing the full and absolute truth without being stereotyped as an ‘alpha male’ or ‘bully’? How should he deal with evasive answers or with responses that do not answer his question?
These are important questions that men in particular should ask themselves when considering adoption.
Assumptions and stereotypes around gender
We must be aware of any possible gender-based assumptions or stereotypes in regard to adopted children.
It has been generally accepted for some time that girls can suffer sexual abuse. However, as has been noted elsewhere on this site, boys can also suffer this form of abuse. The perpetrator of sexual abuse may be male or female.
If a girl behaves in a sexually inappropriate manner we may ask if she has been sexually abused. Do we ask the same question if a boy behaves in a manner that is sexually inappropriate?
Do we assume that because all of the carers in a boy’s life have been women that sexual abuse cannot have occurred?
Both boys and girls can be physically violent. Do we assume that if a girl is violent that she must need therapy, but assume that a boy who is violent needs stricter discipline?
As a society we still tend to believe what James Taylor correctly identifies as ‘The Adoption Myth’ (3). That is, the belief that adoption is something rather wonderful and romantic. It is imagined that the rescue of a lost and lonely child by loving parents will suddenly erase all the pain and trauma the child has endured. The child, it is assumed, will be immediately and forever grateful. Everyone will live ‘happily ever after’.
The reality, as we have seen, is very different. The myth however is maintained in the public consciousness. Partly this is done by local authorities that downplay the demands of adoption in order to get more children through the system. It is further supported by popular culture that portrays family breakdown as being quickly and painlessly resolved.
The myth is believed by teachers, medical professionals, social workers and others. The result is often still more trauma for adoptive parents who may already be struggling to cope.
As I noted at the beginning of this piece adoption saves the local authority a huge amount of money. If it were not for adoptive parents, taxation would need to increase or government services would have to be reduced – or both.
In my experience, and in the experience of every adopter to whom I have spoken, local authority staff refuse to admit this simple fact. Why this is the case is a matter of speculation but it needs to be addressed both as an issue of truth and of justice.
What needs to change?
Any discussion of adoption by any level of government should acknowledge the fact that a child’s problems do not disappear because the child is moved into an adoptive family. This is particularly the case when a local authority is advertising for prospective adopters.
Civil servants, especially those employed by local government, should openly acknowledge the fact that adoptive parents save the taxpayer a vast amount of money.
Local authorities should work toward making their adoption services equally staffed by men and women as far as possible.
It should be recognised that adoptive fathers often face particular challenges. For example, a man may be the household’s main source of income. If so, he may have to accept that he will lose this role as his career is compromised by the demands of his children and the family become increasingly dependent on various benefits.
School headteachers and governors should ensure that their school has a specific policy with regard to ‘looked after’ and adopted children that recognises the unique needs of this group. This should also set out how these will be addressed in the school situation.
Courses in colleges and Universities for the training of doctors, nurses, teachers, youth workers, social workers and others should include how to meet the unique needs of adopted children and their families. Wherever possible adoptive parents should be included in the development of these programmes.
People sometimes ask me if I had my time over again would I still be an adoptive father. It is a question I cannot answer. Being an adopter is not easy. I personally know of two adoptive fathers who have committed suicide. I can only say that I am grateful for a wife who has sacrificed so much of herself, for extended family, and for our church. Without them I know I would not have survived.
- Streeter, G. (2007) You and Yours, BBC Radio 4, 21 February 2007.
- Donovan, S. Are social workers being dishonest about the realities of adoption? Community care, 16 September, 2014.
- Taylor, J. (2017) Help! I Need to Know About the Problems of Adoption, Day One, Leominster, UK