Today is the first day of National Adoption Week. The focus this year is on the need for adopters to come forward who feel willing and able to adopt sibling groups.
There’s no question that with 49% of children currently awaiting adoption being part of sibling groups this is an issue that exercises the mind of everyone involved in adoption, and is particularly acute for those with family-finding responsibilities and any of us who have heard so much about the preference, whenever possible, to move to permanency with speed.
However as a single potential adopter who has spent many hours poring over profiles, and even more hours talking to Social Workers – before we even consider the time spent analysing and speculating with friends and family – this year’s campaign comes spiced with a large pinch of irony.
I began my adoption journey with the broad assumption/belief that whenever possible children in sibling groups should be kept together, a personal desire to have a larger family (probably based on no more than being, very happily, one of many myself), and a sense that both I and a child that had already settled might find it really difficult getting through the process of helping another child join the family without the (presumably older) child feeling disorientated, alienated or indeed worse.
As a result I started off saying that I knew how much I had to learn, and I was very aware it would be really really hard, but my instincts were that I would like to be matched with three children. I knew already it is very hard to place children in sibling groups of three or more, and I figured if I could do it then I should.
If ever you get the chance, let me tell you it is worth saying something like that just to see the Social Workers’ faces as you share this with them! You get to see their struggle visibly cross their face as they wonder how they are going to find a nice way to express their admiration that you are so committed (no doubt a euphemism for something far less positive) while underneath seeking to get over to you the level of ignorance and naivety you are displaying.
Of course I did listen and I did learn. I also went away and researched, and am now better informed on the more recent findings around the potential benefits but also the potential challenges for families involved in sibling adoption. Along the way I have been privileged to meet (or more often “meet” as many of them are online) so many parents dealing with the day to day reality of adoptive parenting, including of sibling groups. Their stories have perhaps been the most educational of all.
Overall, while my instincts have been reinforced – that most children would prefer to be, and should be, kept together if possible – my views are much more nuanced and considered now. In particular I start from a position of wanting to ask many many questions, to understand so much more about the reality of the sibling relationship(s), their past, present and future, and to consider the reality that parenting while tired, stressed and weary – not to mention acting as referee – will be even harder with extra demands and more relationships to manage. I have been privileged to slowly develop insights into the challenges of parenting children with trauma; add in my growing understanding of retraumatisation, the many opportunities siblings offer each other to practise their learned and instinctive behaviours, and the potential for additional attachment issues: no, I have no answers but at least I do now have some appreciation of how difficult and challenging all these questions can be.
Ok … so … why the irony?
Well, over time I moved. I was approved for matching with one or two little ones. I do know I only have two arms, and two hands and two legs, and one reservoir of patience. I foresee the many challenges ahead and wonder how I will manage, of course I do – and building a home with two has to be a more realistic concept than three. And so I went to Approval Panel looking to be allowed to seek matches with one or two and Approval Panel said yes. (It has of course always been complicated by the fact that my matching criteria were never really very helpful, being far more about wanting a child or children I could have a strong and dynamic relationship with than the number, gender or age of those children. I know, I know: I never have made life easy for myself or those trying to help me!)
I really have moved too: as you may have read, for quite a while it looked very much like destiny was taking me towards a life with one little girl. I was happy. And yes, that did feel so right, regardless of where my journey had begun.
However, during matching I have expressed – and continue to express – interest in sibling pairs. And this is where the irony in the National Adoption Week campaign is for me.
For each and every time I enquire about a sibling pair it seems the response comes back that only couples are being considered. The plural of anecdotes is not research. My experiences do not add up to demonstrate there is any universal picture. It is entirely possible this was absolutely the right call in each of the individual cases we have discussed.
Yet you can no doubt see the irony too. The call is out: more adopters are it seems needed for sibling groups all over the country; but not for single adopters who currently pedal solo.
Don’t worry. I believe firmly my future family is out there even if I don’t know how many there are in that future family any more than I know what they look like. One way or another we will find each other. Indeed, I’m still wondering whether I dare mention to my Social Worker the sibling group of three I recently spotted online ..