The much-used African proverb asserts that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. If we take this to be true, then it is even more essential within adoption. During Stage One of the adoption approval process, prospective adopters are asked to map out their support network. Typically, this starts with close family and friends and extends to wider family, members of the local community, and to friends you see less often but know have parenting experience or skills. As time goes by, it becomes apparent that friends and family are a great start, but more expertise is needed. Some people are fortunate to have friends and families who fully engage with adoption, who gen up on trauma, attachment difficulties, and accept that you will parent therapeutically, even when that seems foreign.
Even before having a child placed with us, we are acutely aware how vital expert support is. This is not to diminish or dismiss the help and support provided by our close friends and families, but they don’t always get it. How could they? We are just getting our heads around the basics after a few years of intensive reading and learning. How could they be well equipped after just a few passing conversations or one morning of training information?
First-hand knowledge and experience seem to be crucial in this instance, but how do you make those necessary connections? Especially when you’re spending so much time completing the approval process, looking for matches, or better preparing yourself for the imminent arrival of a child or children.
Our first connections were people we met through our local authority training, people who were undertaking approval at the same time as us. The training days were intense and our lives were laid bare to strangers: this fostered an intimacy that normally takes years not mere days. We could share our hopes and dreams, but perhaps more importantly, our fears without hesitation or judgement. As people began to be matched this support withered. Those with children needed a new source and different type of support. As the last in our training group to be matched we were left behind.
But we learned quickly that networks evolve and change according to your needs. For us, Twitter has been the greatest support. The anonymity the social network affords you can be its greatest asset, though in time we may encourage meeting up with adopters in ‘real life’. But through Twitter we have been able to have very frank discussions that would not have been possible with local adopters (due to bias) and ‘taken advantage’ of experienced adopters who know more now than we will perhaps ever know. Facebook can offer the same advantages, if you join the right closed groups, but we have removed ourselves from that social platform for security reasons.
Once a child is placed with us, we are conscious that we will develop our network organically through the connections made through nursery, school, activities, etc. but it is unclear how appropriate this will be. It may be our responsibility to educate these new contacts on attachment and the impact of trauma so that they can better help us support our Little Chick.
We have made several connections through work, both of us discovering we have colleagues who have adopted or know those who have. These have been handy contacts to have, especially when they signpost you to other connections, including professional support from specialist therapists. It has been our experience that adopters are very generous at sharing their own stories and experiences to help other children, other families. We have also made contacts through attending training events locally and nationally: while attending an event hosted by our local authority, we discovered even more colleagues and mutual friends who had experience of fostering and/or adoption. These are people we may not call on often, if at all, but it’s reassuring to know that there are other people in our daily lives who get it.
Support groups have also been useful for us. As a same sex couple, we have attended an LGBT group for adoptive parents. Likewise, we have made good use of New Family Social forums, through our local authority membership. In time, we will develop this further, considering attending additional support groups and events, such as training and family meet-ups. Locally we have not discovered support groups for just adoptive parents, perhaps because we haven’t been matched yet, and this is something we are considering starting in the future. If we can’t find our tribe, we will make it!