The Black Adoption Project – creating better futures for Black adopted children in London

Conversations with Tom

Tom and his husband Dan adopted their son about 2 years ago.  Family life is busy and has its challenges, but it is also everything they hoped it would be.  They talked to us about the assessment process, matching with their son, and how they are all looking forward to welcoming another adopted child into their home, and adjusting to life as a family of four.

As gay men in a same sex relationship, Tom and Dan had done their research into adoption before approaching agencies.  They felt they would be treated respectfully and be accepted as possible adoptive parents.   Sadly, the first agency they tried didn’t feel like the right fit for them and they didn’t feel welcomed there.

They were hurt and surprised by this negative experience, as all the reading they had done suggested it was not hard to adopt as a same sex couple.  They wanted to keep trying as they had been talking about starting the adoption process since their honeymoon.  They wanted to be parents and give a child all the opportunities that they deserve.

They live on the outskirts of London so decided that approaching a London agency may be best, and they were right.  Adopt London North made them feel welcome, important, comfortable, and seen for their strengths and experiences rather than their sexuality.  Tom says, “It was a really positive experience and the assessment went well.  We were not treated differently from any other prospective adopter.

Tom admits that the assessment was intense at times.  He describes himself as having a ‘normal childhood’ but he had to revisit everything, reflect on his life and how he was parented.  He is an open person so did not find it too challenging.    He says, “Even for me it was quite intrusive, but it’s there for a reason and the best thing is to be honest.  It gives you resilience, and your lived experience provides compassion which is so important.”

Tom and Dan both now understand the reasons for the scrutiny.  Of course their social worker needed to know all about them, their history and values, as well as whether past issues and situations have been resolved.  The child they adopt will have experienced trauma in their early life and the impact of that is lifelong.

When Tom and Dan were approved and matched with their son, they were expecting some extra needs due to his background and the information they were given about him.  During their assessment, they had been supported by their social worker to think about the needs or challenges a child may face and what they could support.

Tom and Dan talked about this a great deal before even approaching an adoption agency.  They knew that for them it was always about the child.  They understood that a child may be neuro-diverse or could have visible or invisible disabilities and they had to think about what they could or couldn’t manage and support.  Their social worker was good at giving different case studies and scenarios, which helped them to think about neurodiversity as a spectrum and made them see how important it is to remember to look at the child behind the labels.

Tom says, “For example, a hearing impairment could just mean that the child just has a hearing aid and if we said no to all hearing impairments, that puts that child out of our grasp but that child could be our child.”  They feel really grateful to their social worker for explaining various needs and challenges, and helping them know from the start what they could manage.

Their son’s birth parents both have ADHD and he was born withdrawing from drugs , so they knew that there were possibilities of him inheriting these factors which they saw as an opportunity to build on, rather than worry about the uncertainties around his future development.

We took the challenge on knowing something might come up in the future and we’ll deal with it then.  We don’t want to label him at this moment.  If it does come to it, we know we’ve got support from the school and the adoption agency and different places that we can reach out to for help, as well as the Adoption Support Fund if we need it.   He’s a boisterous boy and we notice his friends are very boisterous, so whether that’s just him being a normal 5 year old boy, or whether it is ADHD, we don’t know yet.

Dan and Tom have had great support with their son’s school and would tell any prospective adopter to really interrogate possible schools about their knowledge and experience of adopted children; before making the choice about which school is right for their child.

Tom and Dan knew straight away that their son was the one for them. They say, “It may sound silly, but there is a connection.  We knew straight away. Straight away, we saw him and it was like love at first sight.  It was just so.

Tom and Dan’s son has had his own life story book in his room for about 18 months, since he moved in with them, but he’s never looked at it even though they have told him it’s there.  Now that they are considering adopting for a second time they have made the decision that it was the right time to talk to him about his birth family, and life before living with them in more detail.  They understood that this will be a difficult time for their son and that it may raise many questions.

Tom explained “We could see his little brain ticking when we were telling him and it was just so much for him. He cried.  He kept asking questions and going back to the questions but I think it was worth it, it has made a difference for him because now he understands it.

Their son now talks more and more about his adoption, and asks questions about his new brother who will be joining them soon, and whether he will have been through the same things.  Recently when they were driving, their son said “Oh so I’ve got 3 daddies.”  Tom and Dan just said, “Yes”, and they all carried on their journey.

Having a good life story book has really helped them with knowing how to tell their son his story. They know that questions will come up frequently as their son grows but they are glad that those early conversations have been had and that their son now feels able to talk openly about adoption.

They are also realistic about how their son may react when a new child joins the family.  His behaviour may regress; he may have more and more questions about his story as well questions and the new child’s story.  One thing that they anticipate will be difficult is contact arrangement with the birth family.  They are not currently receiving letters from birth family members in response to Tom and Dan’s letters.  Their new child will also have their own contact arrangements to maintain links with their birth family which may include face-to-face family time with a sibling.  This is a factor for them to consider, explore and support their children with.

Tom and Dan are strong enough to help their children through this.  They have upskilled themselves by attending various training courses and know their son well, so they are confident they will spot any changes in him as soon as they happen. Adopt London offers therapeutic life story training for them and access to a range of therapeutic support through the team or funded through the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund. They will reach out as soon as they feel it is needed.

We asked Tom and Dan for their top pieces of advice for potential adopters. This is what they mentioned:

  1. Childcare experience: This is really important to grow your confidence around children.  Your social worker will also need to observe you with children as part of your assessment – either those you volunteer with or those within your network.  Children are all different so any and all the experience you get is vital.
  2. Panel: Don’t stress about it and be yourself.
  3. Family Finding: Be prepared for Link Maker being hard.  There are profiles, photos and videos of children giving their background story, their needs and challenges.  It is emotional.  Take time away from it regularly.  It’s hard not to get emotionally attached to them and taking a break is important.  The other thing is to only express interest in one child at a time and to share your interest with your social worker.
  4. Support: Reach out for support as soon as you need it. Support comes in all shapes and sizes but make sure you take it.  Your family offering an hour’s babysitting, friends cooking dinner, professionals offering courses or therapy and, of course, singing in the Adopt London Choir.  It’s a lifesaver.  It’s not just a choir, there are a lot of experienced people, we chat and have a fabulous WhatsApp group.  The people are therapy and the music is therapy.  It’s just great.



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