LGBTQ+ Adoptions: A Mythbusting Session with PACT
Francisca Quádrio speaks to adoption charity PACT’s Events and Marketing Manager, Sam Ward and PACT Social Worker, Carly Mceleny alongside adopters Mark and Laurence about LGBTQ+ adoption, its myths and its reality.
Interview by Francisca Quádrio
In the last 6 years adoption numbers have fallen by 37%. More than 4,000 children are waiting to be adopted in the UK, many of whom will remain in foster care long term. With a surge in queer couples’ adoptions, the LGBTQ+ community are increasingly giving children stable homes.
However, even though LGBTQ+ adoption has been supported by government legislation since 2002, many LGBTQ+ couples still face societal discrimination, including harmful lies and myths that demonise their intentions and capability as parents. Weary, many potential adopters rule themselves out before they even begin their journey.
Francisca takes a seat with Sam, Carly, Mark and Laurence to shatter some harmful assumptions.
Francisca: Opposers to LBGTQ+ adoption say that LGBTQ+ people cannot provide stable homes for children. Is there any evidence supporting this assumption?
Carly: Certainly from professional and personal experience that’s completely unfounded. [Providing a stable home] is about personal qualities like patience, time, love, understanding and acceptance. It’s about believing in children and believing they can recover from trauma and putting yourself forward to be that person, to be that trusted person. Your gender and sexuality have got nothing to do with that at all.
Mark: I think, being [LGBTQ+ adopters] ourselves, having friends who’ve adopted and working as an adopting champion, there are quite a few LGBTQ+ couples or single adopters out there who are very successful. Certainly, for us, we haven’t come across any problems at all. In both our jobs, neighbours, children, friends, there has never been an issue.
Sam: To some people, there might be a perception that local authorities may see applications from different [LGBTQ+ and heterosexual] prospective adopters differently. It’s important to inform them that things have moved on.
C: Yes, that has definitely moved on. The adoption team and the children social work team have regular meetings where they look at the profiles of adopters that can meet a specific child’s needs, depending on their age and their culture or what they’ve been through. They’ll look at if that person [potential adopter] has got the skills, if the person has been through something similar and they have healed and grown from it. As part of that, there is a mixture of profiles. It’s not about whether someone is a single adopter, gay or straight. It’s just about, can they meet these children’s needs?
Sam: Legally, adoption agencies can’t prejudice.
C: They can’t make the decision based on that [sexuality] at all. It’s the same with local authorities as well.
“The very negative side is that we get fewer adopters than we could have because they don’t pick up the phone. That has a negative effect on the children because there are thousands of children waiting and some of those could remain in foster care long term.”
F: Is the adoption process more difficult for LGBTQ+ people than for heterosexual couples?
C: Bullying is something we talk about in the assessment. We do talk about how you would deal with if your child came home and they have been bullied because you are two dads or two mums or a single adopter. We need to have open and honest conversations with adopters so that they are ready to go into the world and be a parent. It’s not about challenging and questioning them, it’s more about equipping them.
M: Something we have always done is giving our children a bit of a script so other people can understand their story and why they have got two dads. Actually, I think they’ve always come back and said that’s really cool. It’s really cool to have two dads.
Laurence: The only thing I would add to that is that I noticed a few things with our daughter going into secondary school. Last week we were talking about her fellow peers and she has only told two or three of her friends that she has two dads. I asked her why and she said that at this point she doesn’t feel she’s ready to talk. So I think there is still, among secondary school kids, fear about how that is going to be perceived.
F: How do you prepare children for a new home? How can you ensure they won’t have any prejudice?
C: From our side of things it would depend on their age and if we know their wishes and feelings. It’s what we call ‘life story work’. We would prepare them in a certain therapeutic way to understand why they can’t go back to their birth family and what hopefully their new future will look like. That’s around creating books and doing artwork with them. But children are very accepting, they aren’t naturally prejudiced.
M: It’s a lot of life story work. We made a video and a book. The social worker has a lot of resources to use and I guess you just build it up over time. Just looking at our kids, our daughter was so frightened of her birth family she understood why she was adopted to be somewhere that is safe and loving. It’s still quite frightening, isn’t it, to go off with two men you don’t really know. So there is a lot of work you have to do before and during the process. To our children, us being two dads was not an issue. It was simply two parents coming together to love them. We hit it off straight away, it just felt right.
F: What are the real consequences of these myths? How are they damaging and unfair to LGBTQ+ parents wanting to adopt and to children being adopted?
C: It would create anxiety in people who want to adopt but are too worried to approach agencies. I guess it’s around agencies being aware of that and making sure that our events are inclusive and all of our literature is inclusive. It’s about making sure when people are brave enough to pick up the phone or walk through the door that they are welcome and accepted. It’s about making sure the process is explained clearly and that someone says, ‘You know, it was brave of you to walk in today’.
The very negative side is that we get fewer adopters than we could have because they don’t pick up the phone. That has a negative effect on the children because there are thousands of children waiting and some of those could remain in foster care long term. The discrimination, negative experiences portrayed in the media or in-person means that those people don’t fulfil their potential to be parents and children that need them don’t get a fresh start.
M: The work that Sam, Carly and all the adopters do, and publicly saying, ‘We do accept LGBTQ+ adopters’ is why we adopted through PACT. They were at Brighton Pride, so we went to speak to them as it was something we were thinking about for a while. But, yes, we weren’t absolutely sure before contacting an agency. When we saw them at Brighton Pride, it was a bit of a giveaway that it’s going to be okay. Before that, we hadn’t done much research but maybe if we hadn’t met them there we wouldn’t have picked up the phone.
L: I think we would have eventually picked up the phone but it wouldn’t have been at that time, it would have been a couple of years later. And that’s not because we weren’t ready, it was mainly because we didn’t know where to go, who to go to and also would we be accepted. I think that’s the real big thing because, perhaps due to past prejudice, people might feel they won’t be accepted and agencies won’t get as many people coming through. Although I’ve noticed in recent times an increasing number of [gay] people who want to adopt. We met through a gay walking group and several people in the gay walking group are now talking about adoption and that’s quite exciting to see and to hear.
F: How does PACT support LGBTQ+ people wanting to adopt?
C: One of the training courses we do is called family and friends training. When people go through the assessment process they can nominate people in their family or friends circle. It’s around four hours and most of it is about myth-busting. There are a lot of people in older generations who may not have had the same view as we do right now but they go away having really opened their eyes. So that’s one of the key training I do.
S: We also have workshops, support groups, webinars, we have the champions. There is a lot of support from a lot of different members.
C: We recommend parents and children books about how families are made up in different ways.
M: They do studies as well, to show other families success cases.
C: Yes, we do buddy people up. At the moment I am working with a couple who come from different heritage backgrounds and they have got a birth child so we have got them in contact with another family who got a similar demographic to them. It’s the same for LGBT+ families if they want to, then we can signpost them a buddy so they can talk about the ups and downs of their experience.
L: When you are selling something, it is too easy to sell just the good parts, no matter what the product or service you are serving. Adoption is challenging. And where we did find it challenging, PACT have always encouraged that sharing of the communication. This information is important because PACT wants to see adoption succeed, they don’t want people to go into this with their eyes closed. There will be challenges, and we have had our challenges, but it’s important to know that there is support if you need it. I didn’t feel at any point that we went into this unprepared.
S: If people ring our enquiries team, they’ll realise how they are so used to dealing with lots of different and wide variety of questions. PACT social workers are really experienced working with people in different circumstances. They understand that everyone and every situation is unique. It’s not a uniform picture, people might think they need to be this perfect person but no one is as each experience is unique.
More about PACT and how to get in touch:
To talk to PACT about whether you are eligible to adopt a child, please contact their Enquiry Officers on 0300 456 4800. Lines are open 10am-5pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 10am-8pm on Tuesday and Thursday, and 10am-1pm on Saturday. You can also email email@example.com or download their Adoption Guide.
They have offices in Reading (HQ), London Pimlico, and Brighton and welcome adoption applications from couples or single people living in the South East of England.
For more information visit their website at https://www.pactcharity.org/.