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Ending the long wait for a new family

PUBLISHED: 14:27 14 February 2013

Archant

With the number of children needing adoption increasing in Kent, Anna Dubuis explores the reality of the adoption process.

Lizzie from north Kent tells her story

We have two children, a boy aged seven who we adopted at 13 months, and a girl aged four who we adopted at 15 months.

My husband and I met and married in our late 30s, so we knew that starting a family was not going to be easy.

After trying for a year to conceive naturally, we then tried IVF and, when our third attempt failed, we already had adoption in the back of our minds.

The adoption process was rather onerous. However, the whole process of being assessed is very fair and I believe reasonable – after all, you are going to be entrusted with a child and that is a huge responsibility.

Our first child came from outside of the UK. It was, at the time, a much quicker process and we were sure to get an infant, but it is an expensive process.

Our second child came through the local adoption process and the whole thing ran smoothly but did take longer. However, no matter how we came to be parents, we have two beautiful children of whom we are immensely proud.

When we first met the children I wasn’t smitten. I just thought, ‘yes, these are our children and I must care for them’. But the love just grew and grew.

If you want to be a parent then you should not be too concerned where your child has come from. Some people can be a bit hung up on the child being their own, i.e carrying their genes, but you don’t own your child, they are people in their own right.

People often think, and we were guilty of this, that they would only want a baby, but having seen the lovely children and also sibling groups looking for adoption, I would keep my mind open.

Some people say to us what lucky children we have to have been adopted by us. They mean well, but the simple truth is that we are the lucky ones.

The average time taken for a child to be adopted in this country is two-and-a-half years.

For the 4,600 children sitting on the register, that’s a long time to wait for a loving and secure home.

In Kent, the prolonged process hasn’t gone unnoticed. Now County Hall is trying to streamline it, bringing in children’s charity Coram to share its expertise on adoption.

Jenny Whittle, cabinet member for specialist children’s services, explains: “When a child is identified as needing adoption, we start looking for a family from day one. We hold information days once a month to help us find would-be adopters, and, when previously someone would have to ring up for an adoption pack, they can now download it from our revamped website.”

In the past year Kent’s adoption service has seen the number of placement orders granted by courts double, giving authorisation for children to be given permanent homes away from their natural parents.

The problem, Jenny says, is that the system can be clogged up by legal processes, mainly appeals by birth parents objecting to placement orders.

“The government needs to remove the right of birth parents to keep challenging,” says Jenny. “If the courts authorise it and issue a placement order saying that the parents are not fit then why are they allowed to come back and challenge it?”

The number of children placed with adoptive families increased by nearly 60 per cent last year – but only 70 per cent of children in the county are given a new home within 12 months.

“With younger children and babies it can be a very short time but for older children it can take a lot longer,” Jenny says.

Often a parent or grandparent’s mental health issue can put potential parents off as they foresee complications with the child later on.

“It is a huge obstacle and our social workers are working flat out on these children,” she says.

A new strategy being explored is adoption activity days, an idea borrowed from the US where parents meet a range of children needing adoption.

Jenny is convinced they are a good idea. “Parents often come along with ideas about the type of child they want to adopt but on meeting the children it all goes out of the window. It can be impossible to match people on paper.”

The government’s Children and Families Bill introduced last week proposes measures to speed up the adoption process. Jenny welcomes it but says the most important element to finding children a home is having enough potential parents willing to take them in.

n To find out more about adoption, visit www.kentadoption.co.uk.

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