Is adoption for me?

If you wish to become a parent but having birth children may not be the right way for you to do so, then I’d bet good money you have heard the words, “You could always just adopt”. Perhaps more times than you can count. I know I have. But what is adoption? What does the adoption process actually involve? And will your heart condition prevent you from adopting? I have CHD myself and am a registered social worker with experience of assessing prospective adopters. Here I’ll attempt to shed some light on those questions.

What is adoption? Adoption is the process by which someone legally takes on the parenting of a child born to someone else. An Adoption Order removes parental responsibility from a child’s birth parents, transferring it to the adoptive parents. This means that the adoptive parents take on all responsibility for caring for the adopted child, and the adopted child has the same rights as if he or she had been born into the adoptive family.

Voluntarily giving up a child for adoption is very rare in the UK, with most children awaiting adoption coming into care because their birth families are considered unable to provide a safe home. All children awaiting adoption will have additional needs, as all have experienced loss through separation from their birth parents. Some may also have needs relating to experiences of trauma, abuse, neglect or complexities in the form of health conditions, learning disabilities or behavioural issues. Some groups of children are also more challenging to find suitable homes for, such as sibling groups, older children and children with significant additional needs.

What does the adoption assessment process involve? The assessment process consists of two stages, with Stage One usually lasting two months and involving checks, references and preparation. This will include criminal records, social care and financial checks, as well as references from friends, family and employers. During this stage you will also have a medical and embark on adoption training.

Then, during the four months of Stage Two, your social worker will gather information to complete the Prospective Adopters Report. This report will include information about your life experiences, family, support network, home, past relationships, current relationship (if applicable), childcare experience and understanding of adoption.

The completed report is then presented to an Adoption Panel, who will make a recommendation on your suitability to adopt. Will my heart condition prevent me from adopting? Many find the adoption medical assessment daunting, even if they don’t have significant health conditions. The medical includes your self-reported health, your GP’s assessment and a report from the adoption agency’s medical advisor. Any consultants involved in your care will be contacted to gather information about your current health status, overall prognosis and likelihood of further interventions. If you are unsure of how your consultant would respond to an adoption enquiry then ask at your next appointment and they should be able to advise.

No one knows for sure what the future holds, but the adoption medical will consider whether your health situation will pose significant barriers to active parenting, as well as whether there is a high chance that an adopted child may be exposed to further loss during their childhood.

There are many amazing adoptive parents who have significant health issues and having a diagnosis would not in and of itself preclude you from adopting. I have seen people who have considerable health concerns, including life-limiting and/or progressive conditions, become approved as adopters. The key aspects for an adoption assessment in these cases is always what the contingency plan would be if your health were to deteriorate, how good your support network is, how stable your finances are in case you were unable to work and whether you could emotionally and physically cope with the stresses of adoption in addition to any existing health challenges.

In summary The UK needs more adopters, with children awaiting adoption outnumbering approved adoptive homes by a huge margin. Many people find adoption to be the right way for them to establish a family. However, adoption is not for everyone. The process is lengthy and intrusive. It is also not the same as having a birth child, with adoptive parents needing to build attachments from scratch and often needing to parent therapeutically to try to repair any harm caused by the adopted child’s early life experiences.

Whilst having a heart condition may make the assessment process more complex, it also gives you many life experiences and skills that are hugely valuable in adoption. Living with uncertainty, dealing with professionals and having a different life experience from your peers are all things which can help you to relate to an adopted child and should be considered to be assets within an adoption assessment.