When word got out locally, back in the late 1980s, that Jo and her partner Liz were planning to adopt Lucy*, the little girl they had been fostering, it was not an easy time. “We had dog poo through our door, people saying it was shameful, that we shouldn’t be doing this,” Jo, now 60, remembers. And the adoption would not even have been on the cards had it not been for the fact that Lucy’s birth mother had proposed it to social services herself. “We’d previously been told there was no way we could adopt,” Jo says.
In fact, only Jo would be listed on the adoption paperwork, because same-sex couples have only been able to adopt together, rather than in the name of just one partner, since 2006. That change in the law has undoubtedly encouraged more such couples to adopt, says Tor Docherty, chief executive of New Family Social(NFS), the charity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) adopters and foster carers.
The numbers have gone up every year: in 2014, some 7% of the children adopted in England went to same-sex couples, compared to 6% the year before. “The fact that the couple can both be legal parents matters enormously, because otherwise one has legal rights and one doesn’t,” Docherty says. Jo agrees, saying she and Liz, who died four years ago, never felt like equals as parents.
This week is LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week, run by NFS, and the charity is appealing for more LGBT people to consider adopting or fostering a child. It estimates that if just 1% of the LGBT population were to adopt or foster, there would no longer be any children waiting for a new home. What is more, says Docherty, they are often more willing than heterosexual couples – who may arrive at adoption after being unable to conceive via fertility treatment – to consider adopting harder-to-place children such as those who are older, have special needs, or are in sibling groups.
James and Owen, both 33, adopted a three-year-old boy, Rhys, in 2012. “The surrogacy route felt too manufactured for us,” says James. “We loved the idea, as cheesy as it sounds, that we were going to give a child a home. The heterosexual couples seemed to come in with criteria they wanted to meet – they wanted a baby. My partner and I were far more open, and were happy to adopt an older child. It’s been fantastic.”
Jemma, 31, and Laura, 30, who adopted their daughter Chloe* two years ago when she was 20 months old, were clear they wanted to adopt, rather than use a sperm donor. “It just didn’t make sense to us when there were children that needed a home and it wasn’t going to be genetically both of ours anyway,” Jemma says. “The change in Chloe has been incredible. The rewards we reap in terms of seeing what’s going on in that child are quite amazing.”
Although prejudice against same-sex couples may not be as overt these days as that suffered by Jo and Liz, challenges remain. Research by Action for Children in 2013 revealed that 32% of LGBT people in the UK believe that being LGBT means you cannot foster, and in an NFS survey of 400 LGBT adopters and foster carersconducted last year, a third of the respondents who had already adopted thought the process would have been easier if they had been heterosexual.
“We do sometimes hear from our members that they aren’t having an easy time being assessed or matched,” Docherty says. “Problems can be down to individual social workers. There are pockets of bad practice, but that’s a minority, and there is also excellent practice.”
And there is evidence of positive attitudes too. Another NFS survey found that three quarters of social workers thought lesbian and gay people’s openness to difference, and ability to support a child with a sense of difference, was a significant strength. “We know LGBT people can be particularly resilient as adopters,” Docherty says.
Paul*, a transgender adopter, believes his own life experiences were seen as a positive in the run-up to adopting a two-year-old boy last June. “The fact that I’d struggled with my identity, been through a lot of adversity, had advocated for myself and come through it all as a stronger person was a great bunch of assets for an adoptive parent in the eyes of the agency,” the 40-year-old says. “It makes you a good role model and source of support for an adopted child who may then struggle with their own background and history.”
He thinks getting approval as a single trans adopter would have been harder before the new law in 2006. Adoption has been a life changing experience, Paul says: “I couldn’t have wished for a better match. He’s absolutely brilliant and we just get along like we were meant to be. I can’t imagine life with anyone else, really.”
Transgender parenting: finding fulfilmentJoan* is relishing the delights of becoming a grandparent – a role she never thought she would take on. One son was not interested in becoming a father and her other child, David*, came out as transgender when he was 22 so she wrote off any hopes of him having children. But all that changed last year, when David became one of only a few transgender adults in the UK not only to adopt, but to adopt alone.
Joan says: “When David was 13 he told me he never wanted his own children and was going to adopt, so I knew it was in the back of his mind. When he told me he was adopting Joe* I wasn’t really surprised – more worried about how he would cope on his own. I remember googling it and finding just one case of a trans person who had adopted and nobody who was trans who had adopted alone. I was worried he would face a lot of prejudice, but his social worker was fantastic and helped dispel my fears.
“As grandparents, my husband and I want to be as involved as much as we can with Joe. I just couldn’t wait to meet him, but it was a slow process, because at first we were only allowed to observe him from a distance. I remember that we went to Ikea and just sat in the same cafe as he was in with David, just so we could see him. Since then we have had more contact; we’ve been to the shops with him and taken him on the tram.
“David is a much more of a full person now than he ever was before. He is both a mother and a father to Joe and I feel adoption is right for him. Looking to the future, I worry about what will happen when Joe goes to school – whether he will be bullied because he is an adopted child with a trans parent. The scope for bullying is my biggest worry. Both my husband and I were graduates and I know we would have been very upset if our children hadn’t gone to university. But with Joe I don’t make those kind of assumptions – I just want him to be an extremely happy child and do what is right for him.”
* names have been changed
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