In this third and final episode of the Find Me a Family series, we met same-sex couple, John, 56, and Anthony, 38, who want to become parents and have decided that adoption is the way forward for them. Like the majority of adopters, they would’ve ideally liked to adopt a baby, but had enrolled on a project designed by David Akinsanya – who was himself brought up in care – with a view to getting them to consider adopting older children who are ‘hard to place’.
John and Anthony had stated that they were “open to” most of the challenges of adopting, but at times, it seemed hard to imagine how any child – let alone one who required a good deal more looking after than most children might – would fit into their busy lives; they both work and have 10 horses and several dogs and uncomfortably, for a while, I felt that they were perhaps looking for the ultimate pet; a child…
And in fact a member of the panel of adopted children who were consulted for last night’s programme raised the same concern. However, as the programme went on, I’m happy to admit that I was quite wrong.
One of the biggest problems that faced John and Anthony was the fact that despite the façade of liberated Britain, there was still a ‘question mark’ hanging over the fact that two men wanted to adopt. This, in addition to the veritable maze of hoop jumping through and bureaucratic wrangling that any prospective adopters must go through, meant that their hope of getting a child of their own through adoption was not going to be easy. It’s evidently not easy for anyone, but this couple had arguably a tougher time than most.
Adoption campaigner David Akinsanya’s brainchild project is, as I mentioned earlier, designed to get prospective adopters to consider children with ‘problems’ of all kinds, from behavioural issues to physical disabilities. To this end, he invited several prospective adopters to an hotel for the weekend where they got to see video footage of real children who were awaiting adoption. These children were of a variety of ages, abilities, disabilities and ethnic backgrounds.
In addition to the group viewing of children, John and Anthony were seperately shown a DVD of several children who social services were finding hard to place. They were given ‘cards’ and profiles to place next to those cards which ranged from ‘won’t accept’ to ‘will accept’ and ‘not sure’ options. It felt uncomfortably like watching someone shopping from the Ikea catalogue and for various reasons, John and Anthony rejected 7 out of the 10 profiles of the children in question.
We then saw the aforementioned panel of young people – who had themselves been adopted – ‘interviewing’ John and Anthony. The panel was again David’s idea, based on his belief that these young people are probably better placed to judge who would make a good parent than many of the traditional authorities. So, the panel talked to John and Anthony and asked them some frank and often blunt questions; one question asked by a young lady was, “What is the biggest drawback with being a gay couple?” to which Anthony replied, “I think the biggest drawback is not for us, it’s for the children. And especially school.”
The panel then questioned what John and Anthony would do if their child was bullied at school over the issue, and Anthony answered with an honest, “I don’t know” while John turned the question around to the panel and said, “How would you feel?”
As it transpired, the kids on the panel were quite philosophical about the issue and concluded that the fact they’re a same sex couple “wouldn’t matter, as long as you’re kind and loving.”
However ultimately, despite this experimental weekend and the panel of young people’s opinions of John and Anthony, what it really came down to was how their social worker Rebecca reported on their viability as prospective adopters to the authorities. To get a clear view of this, Rebecca spent six months visiting with the couple in order to get to know them and one of the main issues for her was the couple’s dedication to their horses. When asked directly how they’d manage if their child didn’t like horses or dogs, both men agreed instantly that this would be a problem.
Meanwhile, David arranged for 8 year old Lily to stay with John and Anthony for the weekend in order to establish how they’d cope with a child who has demands and needs that are ‘out of the ordinary’. Lily has a heart condition, epilepsy and learning difficulties. Additionally, she still wears nappies and therefore has to be cleaned up just as a baby would, however, she wasn’t just dropped off and left to it; John and Anthony were monitored via CCTV cameras all weekend by their social worker and Lily’s mother, both of whom were said to be “in a nearby cottage”. John and Anthony were also given an entire dossier regarding Lily’s problems, her routine and her medications, which they worried about ‘messing up’.
While this idea was without doubt a good one in principle, one had to question the viability of doing this for every potential adopter. It’s something akin to giving young kids one of those fake babies so they can see what being a parent might be like, but this was a real little girl; it’s about the only thing that I felt was somewhat questionable with regard to David’s program.
However, that said, it certainly achieved what he wanted it to in that it gave the couple a real insight into how they’d cope with a ‘special needs’ child and therefore meant that they knew the difficulties it would bring before they took on – and then possibly ‘sent back’ – a child such as Lily.
The weekend was, overall, a resounding success but as one of the couple’s female friends noted, despite the fact that they’d coped admirably and clearly loved spending time with Lily and had enjoyed the weekend, a weekend is a far cry from a lifetime, and she didn’t feel that John and Anthony could’ve coped with the special demands a child like Lily has long-term, and I have to agree; it was evident they were exhausted after the weekend and had had to change their routines considerably to accommodate Lily’s needs.
However, it was sweet seeing how loving John especially was with Lily and how good natured Anthony made the most of the fun times with her, but again, it was one weekend, not a lifetime, and in order for them to accommodate a child with such needs, it would mean sacrificing a lot of things that are important to the couple.
David spoke with John and Anthony after the weekend and both agreed it had been a much needed ‘eye opener’ and it had served to confirm for them that they didn’t feel they could cope long-term with a child who had special needs, but David still felt that this was a worthwhile experiment and overall, despite some reservations, I agree with him. He’s a man who’s got a very sensible approach to what’s needed in the care system and he’s clearly an advocate of a ‘hands on’ approach rather than the distant approach that’s currently in place with regard to the adoption process.
However, then came the time for the adoption panel to take into account Rebecca’s reports on the couple and decide if John and Anthony were suitable to be adopters. David sat outside nervously awaiting the panel’s decision; he believed that John and Anthony would make very good parents and really wanted them to be approved and after deliberation, the panel unanimously approved the couple as adopters. This meant that they could go ahead and ‘choose’ a child in whom they had an interest in adopting. To this end, they joined dozens of other adopters for a ‘screening’ presentation of 17 children who were considered hard to place and who had, in many cases, been waiting years for adoption.
David was hoping that the result would be that John and Anthony chose one of these children and in fact, there were up to six children in whom the couple expressed an interest however, for each child, consultation with that child’s social workers ended with their rejecting John and Anthony as adopters for a variety of reasons. This made the couple somewhat depressed and left them feeling rejected. As John said, “We’re in limbo land”.
David was worried about their morale given the fact that they were being constantly rejected for each child they expressed an interest in, however, good news was potentially on the horizon in the shape of a nine year old called Dylan whose social workers had identified in John and Anthony as a possible match for their charge. This potential match however became doubtful when it transpired that because of Dylan’s terribly troubled past, in his last foster placement, he’d strangled the family’s kitten, a fact which horrified animal lovers John and Anthony.
David was very keen for them to take Dylan on, so he arranged for the couple to meet another couple who’d taken on a child with similarly ‘challenging’ behaviours but who, with time, care and nurture, had changed that child’s behaviour and the little boy had become infinitely more stable. This encouraged John and Anthony to feel that they could similarly manage to help a child such as Dylan, however, as David found out in his last visit with them in April of this year, in the end, Dylan’s social workers decided that John and Anthony weren’t going to be suitable to take Dylan on.
“We’re into double figures of rejections now” Anthony told David.
At the end of the programme, David expressed his suspicion that part of the reason why it’s taking so long to place a child with the couple is because they are a same sex couple, but David’s very good at positive reinforcement and as he told John and Anthony that he really believed ‘their’ child was just around the corner, they were visibly buoyed by his words.
The closing credits said that the couple had expressed an interest in a four year old boy and were awaiting meetings with that child’s social workers. I hope there’s a follow up programme so that we can see what the outcome is for all concerned.
I also hope that ‘the system’ of care as it stands, and those placed in charge of overseeing it in general, appoint David in a position where he’ll have real influence. This is a man who has himself experienced care, has been in prison and has faced many, if not all, of the issues that from other documentaries in the Britain’s Forgotten Children season, we’ve seen are inherent problems for children who’ve been in the care system long-term.
Add to that the fact that he’s insightful, intelligent, articulate and he genuinely cares about the most vulnerable of children, I can think of nobody better placed to truly oversee the much needed and much talked about overhauling of the care system.