It’s the ‘just’ that gets me every time.
Sometimes I wish I had the nerve to face-palm myself and say “Damn! Why didn’t that occur to me!”
The bizarre thing about this throwaway line that so many of us childless women have had tossed our way is this:
If we were to say casually to the same person that we were thinking of getting a dog, quick as a flash they’d say “But who’s going to look after it in the daytime?”
Yet they think adoption’s an option?
In the UK, married couples where one partner can afford to stay at home get turned down for adoption because they are not the right ethnicity, or the age difference between the partners is too great, or their relationship isn’t thought to be sound enough, or a host of other qualitative and quantitative reasons.
So, what hope is there for single, working woman like me? Much as I imagine I’d be a great adoptive mother (patient, inventive, compassionate, caring, good at paperwork, training to be a psychotherapist, etc) I know that I can’t afford to take the time out of my work to give a child who’s already been in the British care system the support he or she would need. A kid who’s been through several foster homes already and is suffering the emotional and behavioural consequences is not just going to ‘slot into’ my life. Realistically, I’d need to take at least a year off work to help him or her adjust to having a loving home, and attend all the school, social services and additional support appointments necessary. Even though I might meet adoption ‘criteria’, logistically and financially I couldn’t do it.
“You do not need to be wealthy or a homeowner to adopt, but will need to give details of income and explain how you would support a child. You must have adequate space to cater for the needs of the child and, depending on your circumstances, may be eligible for financial support from the local authority, reviewed annually. You can apply for means tested benefits and tax credits like any other family.”
The fact is, that if I were to have a baby, nobody would check these things. And indeed, it is the case that many babies are born into less than ideal situations – some of which result in children being taken into care, and some resolving themselves as their parents adjust financially and emotionally to have a surprise baby. But sometimes it seems that by focusing on tangibles like square-footage and income, the adoption process is missing out on intangibles like emotional intelligence, compassion and the capacity to parent.
Last year (2011), according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics, the number of adoptions in England and Wales in 2011 was 4,734, an increase of 6% since 2010 when there were 4,481 adoptions. Of these, only 77 were babies.
Less than 5,ooo adoptions, when between April 2011 and January 2012 10,199 new applications (new!) were made for children to be taken into care. Now, not all of these children will or should be adopted. In many cases, they will be able to return home after the situation that made their home life unsafe is resolved.
According to the Who Cares Trust, children in care are
“more likely to move around, are about ten times more likely to have a statement of special educational needs and may be distracted by the fallout from a history of abuse and neglect. These are not things that are easy to leave at the school door: children in care are also eight times as likely to be excluded from school. All of this makes it unsurprising that in 2011 only 13.2% of cared for children got 5 GCSEs at A* – C grades including English and mathematics, compared to 57.9% of other school children.”
Suddenly, “just adopt” doesn’t look quite so straightforward, does it? And if it was such a great option, why aren’t the parents glibly recommending it to us already doing so?
But what if we were possible for a grant to be made available to single adoptive parents so that we could take ‘settling in leave’ for the first year of adoption? A sort of legally enforceable ‘parental leave’ payment for adoptive parents. Imagine if the cost of keeping one child in care for one year were instead to be made available to support the new adoptive parent and child as they work together to help that child settle into a new life? It’s going to be a big transition for them both, and an expensive one. Currently all there seems to be is help with medical care, court fees and some childcare costs if you are on a very low-income or benefits and adopt a child. Whenever I mention this to anyone, the first thing they say is “but that would be open to abuse”. Is that really a good enough reason not to try to do something?
It seems criminal to me that these children, who have nothing wrong, often end up on the bottom rung of life emotionally, socially and educationally, when there are so many wonderful non-mothers who would love the opportunity to parent.
I am pleased to say that Martin Narey, who was commissioned by the UK Government to advise on adoption writes in The Guardian on Monday 30th July 2012 that “the government is exploring the reform of adopter leave and adopter allowances to match maternity leave arrangements.” It’s a start.
Pam St Clement, the former EastEnders star, grew up in an orphanage after the death of her birth mother at 18-months but was then successfully fostered. She says in an interview in The Guardian Family Section on 1 September 2012 that:
“Despite lacking a consistent mother figure I don’t feel emotionally incomplete, and I think that’s because I ended up with the right people.”
Adoption could be a happy ending for so many more children if we could persuade the government to make it easier for single women to adopt.
If you know of any single women who’ve adopted, or if you have experience of trying to adopt (as an individual or couple) or if you are an adoption professional or involved in policy around this issue, please do comment below or get in touch. It’s an issue that I feel needs to be more widely discussed and understood.
Having worked through my grief over my childlessness, and with my Plan B rocking along, adoption is not something I’m looking into personally. Is it something you’d consider, if there were more support and information available? Do you know where to get the advice you need?
Jody Day is the Founder of Gateway Women: an organization she founded in 2011 to support, inspire and empower childless-by-circumstance women to live fertile, passionate, meaningful lives. She works with women who are still hopeful of becoming mothers as well as those for whom that time has passed. She holds a certificate in integrative counselling and is training to qualify as an integrative psychotherapist. Jody runs groups & workshops for Gateway Women, and also offers one-to-ones for women looking to explore issues around identity, maternity & fertility. A Godmother & Aunt many times over, but never a mother, she speaks regularly at events and is always looking to share her empowering message with new audiences. If you would like Jody to speak at one of your events, or to write for your blog or magazine, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org