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

Selwyn and Jade’s story

We started to think about adopting when we had been happily married, without kids, for about 15 years.  To begin with, we thought we’d want to consider adopting older children (5+) because of the time we had spent with one of our nieces, but over time we started to think we’d consider younger children as well. We went through the process and were approved to adopt two children.

During the adoption process, our social worker talked to us about three children they were looking to place. There was a period of excitement (and stress) where we were approved at the panel, then provided with reams of documents about the children’s health status and background. We got past all that and we are now the parents of three children, who are part of a sibling group of 6.  The eldest two children are in permanent foster care following a failed adoption.  The next three are placed with ourselves and the youngest has been adopted by a third couple.

Our children were 2, 3 (very nearly 4), and 6 when they were placed with us and they came from two separate foster families which made the introduction process quite complex and long. We first met our eldest.  Three weeks later, he moved in and the next day we started the introduction process again with his two younger siblings.  The whole process took six long and emotionally draining weeks.  During the first two weeks, we also had to buy a new car, decorate and fit two bedrooms and reconfigure a room as a playroom.  It was exhausting.

Having three young children, in your sole care, when you cannot ask your parents or friends to come and help initially is difficult, tiring, and draining.  We were told about the importance of cocooning with the children for up to 12 weeks and making sure we were the only people to provide care and comfort as part of the transition process to encourage the children (and ourselves) to attach and see each other as trustworthy and family members.  Our family found this to be extremely difficult, because they were so keen to be involved with the children, and they continued to find it difficult to accommodate these children’s needs which are different to other children who are in our extended family.

It can be difficult to explain to your own parents that your children need to be treated differently and that perhaps you are intending on raising them in a different style to how you yourself were raised.  On that note, there have been some circumstances that have highlighted the differences in our own parenting styles and we have learned to support each other over time, even when we may disagree with how each other are dealing with a particular issue.

Our middle child was particularly distressed at being removed from her foster family and she grieved for her foster mum (who she thought was her mother).  Seeing a 3 and then 4 year old be so distressed and screaming for someone who she thought was her mum every night, for hours was extremely difficult and upsetting.  4 years later, we are still trying to explain to our daughter that her foster mum (and family) were actually her second family and she had a mother before that who loved her very much but was sadly unable to look after her properly which is why she now lives with us.  As part of the introductory process, we created a book each for the three children, and over 4 years later we are still reading them every week with the younger 2 children in an attempt to explain what has happened to them.  Both children are clearly still confused about how their family is made up and why they might be different from their peers.

Our eldest child has been the easiest in many respects.  He understands what has happened and remembers living with his birth family and his foster family.  We regularly talk to him about both families and are lucky to be able to retain ties with his foster family. He also remembers living with his older siblings who he now only sees in school holidays and he misses them dreadfully. Our middle child, who was nearly 4 when she came to live with us and was unable to speak coherently, has made huge strides.  For the first year with us, she screamed for 2-3 hours most nights at bedtime.  Over the past 4 years, her speech has improved dramatically following several years of private speech therapy and much effort from both ourselves and of course our daughter who has proved herself to be extremely tenacious, stubborn, and contrary.  We are 90% certain that she chose to be effectively mute for at least 2 years and it was partly us matching her stubbornness on a minute-by-minute basis that drew her out of that.

For at least the first two years, she was latched on to only one of us (her adoptive mum).  She chose to use her adoptive mum’s first name rather than the name ‘mum’ and she pretty much ignored her adoptive dad whenever she could (bearing in mind that he was her primary carer).  In addition, she was quite aggressive (and still is on occasion) to her brothers and she shows signs of self-harming.  We are assuming this is all part of her not fully understanding her background but it can be difficult watching a 5 or 6 (or 8) year old digging her fingernails into her skin, smacking herself, or biting her lip to draw blood.

Our youngest son has recently, after over 4 years, decided that perhaps he might like his adoptive mum a little bit.  Luckily he adores his father who was able to spend quite a bit of time with him when he first came to live with us and who chose to stop work to spend time with the children after nursery (or school as it is nowadays).  He is currently going through a regression phase most days where he behaves like a 2 year old, despite being 6.  This involves quite a bit of screaming, rather than talking, and we think is partly due to him being confused about his history which we are trying to help him to understand.  His school has been great and is supporting him, including allowing him to bring his transition toy to school every day.

In summary, our three children are really lovely kids who do all have some additional needs.  Our eldest seeks adult attention at all times.  Our middle child needs constant support and reminders to speak correctly and the youngest needs us to help him to understand that he should be asking us for a hug when he has fallen over and his knee is bleeding. Our families have all fallen in love with our three children and we have (unfortunately) lost some friendships because of them.  We have learned to love our children as well as their siblings; we have learned to be grateful to have the families of the siblings in our lives because of the support and understanding they offer us (and us of them).

Our lives are completely different now that we have children.  We now laugh between 7 and 7.30 as we have tickle fights before bedtime.  We now dance every weekend and fondly remember lying in.  We stoically maintain that we enjoy cooking cupcakes with three children who are constantly competing for our attention and we hope that our three cats will forgive us for our children’s occasional transgressions about how to treat animals when they are feeling angry. We are grateful for the support that we have from our agency and we know that if we need further help then we need only to ask. Meantime we live together and everything seems to be working … we have high hopes that our three children will grow up to be productive members of society and maintain close links with their brothers and sisters.  Much like any ‘normal’ family.


Next: Lois and David’s story