For a growing number of women, the pandemic has provided the catalyst needed to follow through on their dreams of adoption. Stylist speaks to those who are creating a family of their own amid the chaos of coronavirus.
“When Covid kicked in and I was furloughed, my initial thought was ‘what on earth am I going to do for months not working?’” says 34-year-old Naomi*, from south West England. “But I soon found plenty to fill my day. I threw myself into adoption research and learning about adverse childhood experiences and trauma, and was grateful to have that to focus on to fill my time.”
Naomi has wanted children for as long as she can remember and first started to consider adoption as a route to parenthood when she was in a same-sex relationship four years ago. But it was the pandemic that finally spurred her into action.
Naomi is far from the only woman in the UK to have considered adoption over the last year. Adoption agencies around the country reported a “surprisingly high” number of enquiries during the first lockdown in 2020 – one agency, Families for Children in the south West, reported 65% more enquiries, while the national charity Adoption UK saw visits to its web pages aimed at prospective adopters increase by 63%. In London, Coram Ambitious for Adoption saw a 23% increase in people coming forward between March and December 2020 compared to the same period the year before.
Dr Sue Armstrong Brown, Adoption UK’s chief executive, put the increase down to more people having time to “think about what they really want in life.”
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Naomi, who is single and adopting alone, originally planned to go through the process in 2021. But being furloughed from her marketing job in April last year allowed her to “spend all [her] standard working hours and more researching adoption, watching, reading, listening and learning”. Shortly after, she joined Adoption UK for support and began attending adoption-related webinars and virtual meetups.
“I was asked why I was waiting so long to apply to adopt because I seemed to know so much about it and was sure it was the route I wanted to take. The truth was, I was scared about taking such a massive step. With the group’s support I realised 2020 was my year, especially with so much time on my hands, so I applied the same day.”
Shortly after, Naomi’s initial assessment with a social worker took place virtually, including a tour of her house, which she says went well. She was then asked to fill out a form online and was invited to start the process a few days later. She’s done all the training virtually and all bar one of her social worker assessment meetings were via Zoom, which she doesn’t believe was necessarily a disadvantage.
“It was nice to be able to sit on the sofa to take part or make a cuppa in the break as the sessions can be intense. Home comforts helped me to feel more comfortable along the way,” Naomi says. That said, taking part in the approval panel, which formally approves you as a prospective adopter, in person would have calmed her nerves. “Instead, I sat at my desk with a shaky leg trying to stop the cat from walking across the screen.”
Naomi began posting anonymously about her adoption journey on Instagram (@sparrowandbluetit) in July and was approved to adopt in seven months – a relatively quick timescale given that many other people’s adoption journey has been delayed due to the pandemic – at around the same time as she returned to work in November. She is currently waiting to find out if she has been linked with two siblings to move towards the matching panel and placement stages.
The last year has been a “whirlwind” for Naomi and she’s grateful that the pandemic “allowed me the time to really decide what my future looks like and act on it”.
The pandemic also inspired Amy Burns, from Teesside in the north of England, to adopt. The 39-year-old says she “never had any desire to have birth kids” and, knowing that she and her husband could offer a loving home and had a thriving support network, they decided to adopt for the first time in 2016.
In September, they started the process to welcome a second child into their family, a younger sibling for their very excited son. “Adopting again was an open conversation, but there always seemed to be a reason why it wasn’t the right time. The pandemic was definitely the catalyst that gave us space and time to actually seriously consider it,” Amy says.
Although she continued to work through the first lockdown, spending more time with her family and being unable to travel gave Amy the space to think more deeply about adopting again. “Before lockdown we were all just so busy with so much stuff – all good stuff, but the kind of things that keep your mind occupied so there isn’t the space for big thinking and imagining what could be.” Through her job at a fostering and adoption charity, Amy was also acutely aware of the challenges that lockdown presented for vulnerable children.
The process can be quicker for second-time adopters and Amy and her husband are due in front of an approval panel in February. All being well, they’ll be able to start seeking a match with a child from March. “It takes time because there’s lots to consider in matching, especially when you’ve already adopted, but we’d hope to welcome our child home in the summer or autumn,” she adds.
Amy says going through the process virtually has been “weird but manageable,” and it was initially difficult getting to know their social worker through a computer. Tougher still has been telling friends and wider family without being able to see them face to face. “We’ve had to be much more intentional about sharing the news with friends and asking for their support. But everyone has been amazing and encouraging, as we knew they would be.”
Sue Lowndes, managing director of Coram Ambitious for Adoption, believes many of those who have come forward to adopt since the pandemic “may have been thinking about adoption for a while and these past few months may have given them the time and reflection they need to take the first step on their journey.”
Despite the pandemic, which may delay some checks due to lockdown restrictions, she adds that there has never been a better time to consider adoption. “There are over 3,000 children across England waiting to be adopted, so although we are seeing a rise in enquiries, we still urgently need more prospective adopters from every type of background to come forward, to enable us to meet the needs of children waiting for a permanent and loving home.”
In light of the pandemic and the extraordinary times we’re living through, Amy hopes her son and potential future child or children are able to move on from the pandemic without lasting anxieties. “The uncertainty and dysregulation of these months is even more paramount for children who’ve experienced the trauma of uncertainty and loss of attachments in their early life,” she explains.
“We’ve had to really support our son over the past year – protecting him from too much worry and knowledge, helping him to still be able to enjoy himself and be a kid, and trying to keep rhythms and routines that help him feel safe and settled,” Amy concludes. “As with many parents, my overarching hope is that we can survive this without lasting damage to his mental health.”
Naomi also hopes to bring stability and happiness to her potential future children’s lives. “My parents raised me to do the best I can do, be kind and most of all they just wanted me to be happy. Regardless of what’s going on in the world around me, that’s all I would hope of my own children.”
She urges others seriously considering adoption, like herself less than a year ago, to just go for it. “At every point in the process you can always slow things up or even pull out if you need to, but it’s only once you start going through it that things start to become clearer.” And if you ever have doubts, share them. “If you’re single, talk to friends, family or complete strangers, the adoption community on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is strong, and if you’re thinking of adopting as a couple do all of the above and confide in each other.”
The process requires openness and honesty with your loved ones, your social worker and most importantly yourself. Naomi concludes: “You’ll have the opportunity to reflect on your life in a way you would never ordinarily do and may not do again. For me, the pandemic added to the poignancy of that opportunity tenfold.”
If you want more information on adopting children visit Adoption UK or First4Adoption .
*Name has been changed.