An interview with Tor Docherty Chief Executive at New Family Social
Adopt London spoke with Tor Docherty, Chief Executive of New Family Social, on the eve of LGBTQ+ Adoption and Fostering Week, to talk about why more LGBTQ+ people need to rule themselves in, not out, as potential adopters.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your family?
I have always worked in the voluntary and charity sector in homelessness, hate crime, domestic violence, sexual violence, HIV, or bereavement, so my passion is social exclusion and particularly LGBTQ+.
Jacqui and I have two kids through donor conception and then, in 2011, we decided to adopt. We knew that LGBTQ+ people could adopt, but not much else, so we did a lot of research and came up against lots of hurdles. Our youngest child was just two years old at the time. Jacqui is Asian and I’m white and we wanted a child who would reflect our mixed heritage, however, many adoption agencies didn’t feel they could help us with that and others said we lived too far away from them. We rang 19 agencies until we found one that would accept us.
Around the same time, we became members of New Family Social because we wanted to meet other LGBTQ+ families who had adopted or fostered. I had a burning question in my mind, “How much does it matter that this child is my birth child or not? Could I love a child that is not biologically related to me?”
We found someone at New Family Social who had birth kids and who has also adopted, and we spent hours on the phone talking about this. We also went to the New Family Social summer camp, which was another amazing experience. By this time, we had read a lot about adopted and fostered children and so much of that reading stressed the challenges. Nowhere seemed to give stories of joy and, consequently, I had it in my head that I needed to check that these children were “parentable” and that it was not going to be challenge after challenge.
When we went to the New Family Social Summer Camp, we got talking to other families and our kids got to play with other kids, and this helped me see the children as three-dimensional and not just a series of potential issues. We completed our adoption assessment and our son came live with us around Easter 2013.
My eldest boy is now 15, my middle girl is 13 and our youngest boy is now 10. I’m proud of my kids every day. They are nice, they are funny, they are interested in the world and they are kind. They each have their challenges – because that’s life. One of New Family Social podcasts includes an episode of the three of them talking together about what adoption means to our family. Three children talk about adoption.
What challenges did you face during your adoption journey?
I found bonding with my adopted child really hard; I totally freaked out. I know now I had Post Adoption Depression, but I didn’t feel depressed, I felt terrified. I needed to know that it was going to turn out fine, but I felt crap and couldn’t see a path out. I initially found the daily challenges of parenting this child hard, while Jacqui fell in love instantly.
A few things really helped me at this time. I’d heard about another person who had also struggled, so contacted him and he said, “It was an absolute nightmare”. My immediate response was, “Thank God. We need to talk”. From that point on we basically dragged each other through. He was only three months ahead of me in his adoption journey so we were able to share how hard we were finding it without feeling we were terrible parents or in complete isolation. In another of the New Family Social podcasts, I talk to Harry about ‘Recovery about Post Adoption Depression’, from feeling very low to climbing out and feeling positive about adoption.
Jacqui and I choose not to discuss my Post Adoption Depression with our social worker because we felt that being a same-sex couple was a negative, even though we had been approved. I have MS and Jacqui has past mental health problems so we didn’t dare have another problem. Even to this day, after decades of campaigning for adoption rights, there is substantial evidence to prove that the LGBTQ+ adoption community is still reluctant to seek post-adoption support because they don’t want to be seen as someone who has failed the community, the cause, or importantly failed the child.
In the end, we got my auntie and uncle to come and stay. My uncle is a broad Yorkshire man, from the building trade, not at all versed in the ways of adoption or therapeutic parenting and yet the advice he gave me was really valuable. “Just feed him, then entertain him a little bit and it will be alright.” This was manageable advice that I could achieve. I could feed him, I could entertain him, but, at the time, I couldn’t bond with him, and being told that the burden of bonding didn’t have to happen straightway was such a relief. It was the ‘fake it till you make it’ advice, and it took the pressure off.
I muddled my way through that way until I went to a mother and toddler group and, as I looked around the room, I thought ‘Oh he is the best-looking one here’ and I realised at that moment that I had already begun to feel something for him – maternal pride. Over time, it started to build and my confidence grew. Now, I can honestly say that I absolutely adore him and that it was the best thing we ever did.
My other greatest challenge was managing the racism of the outside world. Our lives look the same as so many other families; however, all our children are dual heritage. My first two are half Indian and my youngest is half Pakistani. I remember when my eldest was being bullied at school. The kids were being racist and he was getting more and more down about it. At one point he said to me, “You will never know what this feels like” and that was hard to hear.
We were asked a lot about homophobic bullying during our adoption assessment and we felt well practiced at that both personally and professionally. Now I know, I probably should have skilled up more on managing racism, because I don’t have any personal experience of that, although Jacqui does. When my eldest boy was about five I had to explain to him about racism after an experience in the playground. I felt like I had just burst his entire world. I had to not only say the words, but I also had to come up with the words, and explain to him, at such a young age about racism and about white privilege, and I felt so unprepared for that.
What are the future battles for the LGBTQ+ adoption and fostering community?
We have reached a point where many agencies, social worker teams, and Panels, feel well versed in LGBTQ+ adoption. 1 in 5 adoptions are by people from the LGBTQ+ community but these people are just referred to as same-sex couples, Trans people and non-binary people face more barriers. The ‘plus’ in LGBTQ+ includes people who are asexual along with all the other different gender identities, sexual identities, inter sex and others, and for those groups there are significant barriers and lack of understanding.
If you are thinking about adoption or fostering, take those enquiries further, talk to people who have done it, meet the kids who have been adopted and fostered. It is hard to get a true picture without doing that. There is a whole community of people who have done it, or are doing it, who will support and advise you.
Don’t rule yourself out based on your gender identity or sexual orientation. If you are worried about the barriers you will encounter, New Family Social is here to support you, so come and talk to us.
Adopt London are members of New Family Social, so LGBTQ+ people who choose Adopt London for their adoption journey get free membership.