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Opinion

‘We need to bust the myths that too often exist around children who wait longest to be adopted’

Mark Owers, Chair of the National Adoption Recruitment Steering Group, says that if people keep an open mind they’ll find adoption as rewarding an experience as he has

I’ve always wanted to adopt from an early age. For me it became a necessity in later life: my wife and I tried to have our own children naturally for seven years. Our struggle with fertility was incredibly challenging, and like so many people like us who struggle to bear a child and are disappointed time and again; it can be a really dark experience. 

After seven years, we said goodbye to our own fertility journey and embraced adoption. We began to explore the process and went in thinking we wanted a baby, or very young children to mould them in our image. But very quickly our eyes were opened to the range of children waiting for their forever family, particularly those who wait the longest.

Sadly, children who are over five years old, in brother and sister groups, or who have additional needs tend to wait a year longer to be adopted from care, compared to other children – and children from ethnic minorities also face delays due to a range of factors. 

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Most people who come forward to adopt have an idea of wanting a very young child or baby, just like we did – in fact, 88 per cent of those who have thought about adoption say they would prefer to adopt a child aged between one and four. People worry they’ll be overwhelmed or lack the skills and resilience to look after older children or sibling groups, as well as children who might have a physical or learning disability.

However as we went through the process, we found ourselves quickly becoming far less rigid in our search criteria. When we came across our children’s profile, a brother and sister who were much older than we’d originally been looking for, we quite simply fell in love with them. Their personalities jumped out of the page at us, particularly the older child because there was more to say and know about him. Only after we were hooked, did we realise that they were nearly five and two years of age, but it didn’t matter: there was something in their characteristics which we fell in love with. 

This is a common experience in adoption, with more than half of adopters saying they became more open minded to children who would typically be considered ‘harder to place’ as they moved through the process.

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One advantage we found when adopting older children was that we were able to learn more about them from their social worker, foster carer and birth mother; they had already developed personalities, we could see how they behaved and acted, as opposed to being very young babies, which we really connected with.

After they had been part of our family for a year, to our surprise, my wife fell pregnant with triplets! So we went from zero to five children in less than 18 months – a full-on experience but we wouldn’t change it for the world. Our eldest son is now 15, our daughter is 12. The triplets are aged 9. We have a wonderful time together, and of course it’s not without its challenges, but ask any parent – adoptive or biological – and they’ll say the same thing! 

We have really benefited from adoption support provided by our voluntary adoption agency; we’ve benefited from art therapy, we accomplished therapeutic parenting approaches and techniques that we have learnt along the way, and we have sought support from our social workers, particularly in adolescence. 

We’ve been able to draw on friends, family and other adopters as well as professional support when we’ve needed it. There is a whole host of support available to adopters – and for us it is about being able to look beyond the presenting behaviour, and to be curious – what is driving the behaviour. We can be too quick to respond, when we need to instead empathise, and accept the behaviour. We can then reposition how we attempt to understand and engage with our children, to connect with them on their level, about what is really happening for them. 

Our adopted son seeks constant attention and approval due to his past experiences. We have come to learn how to understand his behaviour, and respond in a more, playful, accepting, curious and empathetic way. This is the essence of being a therapeutic parent. As we have grown in confidence as adoptive parents, we have been able to educate friends and family around us, the school, creating a much more accepting environment for our children to feel safe and to thrive in.

Mark Owers with his family. Courtesy of Mark Owers
Mark Owers with his family. Courtesy of Mark Owers

As well as being an adoptive parent, I am Chair of the National Adoption Recruitment Steering Group. Today we’ve launched a new campaign called ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ – which is certainly true of my experience as a parenting! It’s all about shining a light on the children who wait longest and reducing the delays that they face, so they can have a family for life. We need to bust the myths and misconceptions that too often exist around adopting children who typically wait longer, and find parents who can give them a loving, stable, permanent home. 

For me, my biggest message to anyone thinking about adoption is to keep an open mind. From my years working in the sector, and my own experiences as a dad, I really believe that most potential adopters already have the skills and attributes they need to change the course of these children’s lives, and while it might not always be easy, support is available, and adoption is so incredibly rewarding. While some groups of children may be seen as ‘harder to place’, I can say wholeheartedly that they are not harder to love.

If you want to find out more or you’re thinking about starting your adoption journey, you can visit youcanadopt.co.uk/alifelessordinary or search ‘You Can Adopt’.

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