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“The Best Thing We Ever Did!” – Four Black Women Talk Honestly About The Joys & Challenges Of Adoption

This article was made in collaboration with #YouCanAdopt.

In July, the UK government launched a £48m National Adoption Strategy to improve adoption services and help place more children with families in England. This new initiative comes at a crucial time. The latest figures show approximately 78,000 looked after children in England with nearly 3,000 children waiting to be adopted – of those, 8% are black. These statistics are frightening, especially as data reveals that black children are disproportionately overrepresented in the care system, and only 2.7% of the people approved to be adopters in 2018/19 were black.

I spoke with four black women involved in the adoption process about reasons for adopting, the challenges they faced, and their thoughts on the myths that might be stopping black people from adopting. 

Jennifer, a married woman of Black British Caribbean descent, adopted two mixed-heritage boys following fertility issues. Her oldest son is six and was adopted at 11 months, and her youngest son, who was adopted from a different family, is 1 year old and was adopted during the pandemic.

For Jennifer, the adoption process was much easier than she thought it would be, having been matched with both her sons quite quickly. After being approved in October, they brought their first son home the following March. Their youngest joined the family just before Christmas after they were approved in August.

She describes the process as “really helpful”.

“It’s very thorough – very, very thorough, but it needs to be because you’re taking on the life of a child for the rest of their lives, and yours.”

Not for one second did we think about stepping away. We were all committed to expanding our family through adoption.

Meanwhile, for Pearl, who adopted daughter Amara two days before her third birthday in  2006, the adoption process was long and challenging. Initially, Pearl had been told they would be fast-tracked as there was a specific need for black adopters. However, following the tragic murder of Victoria Climbié after horrific negligence and safeguarding failures, Pearl explained that the social workers checked everything repeatedly, meaning that the process took two and half years instead of six months.

“The process of adopting our daughter took longer than I had expected, but not for one second did we think about stepping away. We were all committed to expanding our family through adoption and looked forward to the day this would happen.” 

Pearl tells me about the time she first laid eyes on Amara: “When I walked into the room, I walked up to Amara and she came walking towards me. She stood there – and bear in mind, she’s two – she looks up, and she says to me, ‘I’ve been waiting for you.’ A cold shiver went down my back. Because it wasn’t, ‘I’ve been waiting for you since this morning.’ It was like, ‘I have been waiting for you because I know that I slot in.’” 

“I always say to Amara all the time, ‘I didn’t push you out of my stomach. I pushed you out of my heart.”

Young mixed race black woman is hugged by an older black woman.
Amara and Pearl

The mother-daughter bond between 18-year-old Amara and Pearl is striking – both are relaxed in each other’s presence. You can see that Amara fits into their family. Pearl jokes, “We spend so much time together, that she has started morphing into me.”

Amara is of Black and South Asian heritage and speaks about her parents’ and brothers’ love, care, and kindness. She describes how, from a young age, she had been encouraged to talk openly about her feelings.

“My mum and dad would always say, ‘When you’re not okay, you need to come and speak to us. We can talk about it, and we can help you.’ Many emotions go on when you’re an adopted child – a lot of things in your head.”

Jennifer echoes Amara’s sentiments when describing the emotions you feel when going through the adoption process.

“The first time, I think we were more excited than he was, we were like, ‘He’s our son and we [are] finally meeting him!’ In your head, you’ve got this [vision of], you know, running through the long grass and arms out towards each other and big hugs and all this kind of stuff. [But] obviously, [we] were complete strangers to him. He’s seen your picture, if you’ve done a video, he’s seen a video of you, heard your voice on a recording, but apart from that, you’re still essentially a stranger.”

“[With our youngest son], we let it flow a bit more, we understood what he was going through, because you can’t rush them. So, the second time around we’ve been more aware of the processes of attachment and bonding, and those kinds of things.”

“Adopting was the best thing my husband and I ever did, as it brought us so much pleasure. We love our oldest son very much and wanted to give him a sibling. We also wanted to grow our family as we knew we had so much to give a second child.”

Sherifa, a British Nigerian, has worked extensively within social care in the children’s families arena since 2003 and highlights that since 2014, the adoption process is much shorter than it used to be and is split into a two-stage process that spans across six months.

“Stage one is an eight-week process that is adopter-led and gathers information about yourself as a potential adopter(s).”

“Stage two is a four-month process and is social worker-led. The social worker will be involved with gathering lots of information about you and is essentially a prospective adopter report that details everything about you and why you want to adopt.”

“It will look at you holistically as a person and usually consists of weekly interviews. If not, bi-weekly, where the social worker will come to your home to get a sense of you, sit on your sofa chatting to you informally with tea and biscuits perhaps. It is here they're gathering information for their assessment, they’ll really get to know about you and your family, what your motivation for adoption is, and to help you develop your understanding of adoptive parenting.”

Sherifa explains that most of last year, much of the assessment process took place virtually, with at least one home visit from social workers due to the pandemic.

On talking about the intrusiveness of the process, which both Jennifer and Pearl describe, Sherifa says, “I always explain to adopters that their child won’t join their family overnight. It needs to take time because we are working with children, vulnerable human beings - and that the local authority, or adoption agency needs to make sure that they’re placing these children in loving, safe homes where they will thrive.”

Image by Jimmy Dean

On talking about the myths of adoption, Sherifa says that in her experience, the biggest myth she has found is that people have to be really wealthy or a particular social class. 

“I’ve placed children with people who are dinner ladies, postmen – they’re certainly not wealthy by any means [and] that’s not what we’re looking for. In the first instance, we need people that have love, time and commitment to give to a child.”

“Another myth is people think that you have to be married. I’ve placed children with single adopters who are doing really well in their care, and they’re thriving. Another myth is that you can’t practice any sort of faith. You can have faith. You can be from any of the faith groups as long as that doesn't negatively impact your parenting capacity.”

“Black children who are waiting to be adopted come from all walks of life, and so we need Black adopters from all walks of life.”

As an adopted child, Amara speaks about how she would like to adopt in the future and says that in her experience, there is a low expectation of children when they are a care child, especially when you are black. 

“If you do adopt that child, encourage them, uplift them, tell them they can do anything they want to do.”

Black adopters need to understand that they are what we are looking for.

Similarly, Pearl explains that it’s important for black people to consider adopting black children because “these children are sitting in the system and they need love, someone who can guide them, speak into their lives and provide them with culture. Otherwise, they grow up with identity issues because they’re in a foster home, and their parents might be nice, but they don’t know how to cream their skin or put products in their hair. So, we need to go and get these children, otherwise, they’re messed up on so many levels.”

Sherifa explains why she thinks it’s important for black people to consider adopting black children: “Black adopters need to understand that they are what we are looking for. Local authorities don’t want children to sit in the care system to become adults in the care system. There’s a lot of instability, and care doesn’t result in permanency for children the way we would like it to. We know from research that adoption does that, and it can offer that to children, lifelong belonging to a family legally, emotionally, and physically knowing that those are your parents or that person is your parent. 

“Adoption is a route to parenthood that they should consider if this is something they could do. We need black adopters to come forward. Black children wait longer in the system because white adopters naturally are going to seek children that generally look like themselves. Our children wait longer, and they will continue to wait longer if there are fewer black people in the system.”

Speaking to Jennifer, Pearl, and Amara about their adoption experiences and listening to Sherifa talk about the process has reaffirmed how important it is to be in a loving, happy home. As an adopted person myself of Jamaican and Welsh heritage, adoption has had a tremendous impact on my life and it has been a fundamental part of who I am as a person. I hope to see more black people explore the process for themselves.

For more information on adoption visit #YouCanAdopt's website.

Header image by Jimmy Dean