More than 70 Northants children waiting for adoption

Peter James and Mark Harris.

Peter James and Mark Harris.

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It isn’t an easy road, but it is a road worth taking, said Mark Harris,

looking back on the

hurdles he and civil partner Peter James had to cross to adopt their little girl.

The couple from East Northamptonshire, who are now in the process of adopting their second child, a little boy, want to urge other potential adoptive parents that the process may not be easy, but it is worth it.

Mark spoke to the Northants Telegraph during National Adoption Week, to support Northamptonshire County Council’s campaign which calls for more potential adoptive parents to come forward.

Currently, across the UK, there are 4,000 children waiting to find a “forever family” and in Northamptonshire alone there are 73 children and young people waiting to be adopted.

Mark, 42, who has been with his partner for 23 years, shared his story saying: “We moved down here in 1999 for business reasons and I had always wanted to be a dad. Peter had put it to the back of his mind, he thought it would never happen. We talked about it and got in touch with social services. Initially we were pushed back and knew we would be at the bottom of the list.”

Before the Adoption and Children Act 2002, adoptive couples had to be married, which ruled out single people, unmarried couples and gay partnerships. Now that has changed and adoption is open to all of these different types of families.

Mark said: “By 2008 the legislation had changed and adoption was opened up to same-sex couples. The social worker came out to see us, they wanted to come and look at the house and see whether we would be right. There are people who aren’t right for adoption and people who are. The social worker discussed it with us. Then we had a second social worker who was really down to earth and that is exactly what you need. As time went on we had to talk about our lives and growing up. If you have had a difficult start to your own life it can be really traumatic, it brings back all those feelings. I would say, don’t be afraid to go out and speak to a counsellor.”

The process then involves been assessed and approved by two panels. The first is there to approve or refuse the adoption and the second is to approve the match between parent and child.

Prospective parents can learn about the different children in need of homes through DVDs and documents provided by the council, or by “activity days” which are held in conjunction with the BAAF (British Association For Adoption and Fostering). These days they allow those who have been approved for adoption to go along and take part in a fun day with the children, doing activities such as crafts, to give them a better idea about the youngsters and to see if any attachment is there.

Mark said: “People say ‘how did you feel, knowing you had been accepted?’ We felt elated, it is like being told you are pregnant, like you are going to have a child. It is something we have always wanted and then you are told you can have one.”

As adoptive parents to a seven-year-old girl, Mark and Peter have had to contend with the challenges that come with caring for a youngster who still remembers her unsettled early life.

Mark said: “I would probably say that if people think ‘I am ready for a child,’ I don’t think anyone is ready for a child, but that is parenting really... she does have contact with her younger sister but there are others who she doesn’t see, she does mention her birth parents.

“But it has been a lovely experience, like normal parenting, there are good experiences and bad experiences.”

Karen Theobald, adoption team manager for Northamptonshire County Council, said: “There is always a need for more [potential adoptive parents] as our children are very different and have different needs.

“You need a wide variety of adopters and they can be same sex, heterosexual couples or single people.

“Sometimes children will wait a few months and sometimes 10 or 11 months. Once we have the agreement of court or consent of their parents to place a child for adoption, some children are placed quickly. We do everything we can to find a family for them and we will keep looking for the right family for that child for as long as it takes. We have to make absolutely sure we find the right family for that child.”

Making sure adoptions are forever...

Of the adoptions that take place nationally, between 10 and 20 per cent fail to work out, according to Karen Theobald, adoption team manager for Northamptonshire County Council.

But in Northamptonshire this “disruption rate” is well below the national average at 1.4 per cent.

Karen said the council takes great care to make sure a child has been placed with the right family, to avoid more disruption in that youngster’s life.

She said: “One thing we do is offer support, not just when the child moves in, but post-adoption support too.

“For us it [the disruption rate] is very low but sometimes the child has moved in and the adoptive parents are working with the child to build that attachment and for one reason or another that attachment isn’t made. People may decide they can’t provide the child with what they need, or sometimes the child’s early life experiences might affect how they behave.

“There might be children who feel they need to be in control of everything in their lives; these people are trying to love this child and the child is pushing them away.

“One thing we do for adopters is workshops and training on separation and loss. Think about a child who has been separated from their birth parents, there will be a loss there.

“We move them into foster care and we move them on to their placement and initially they might reject that.”