Is it Harder to Adopt
As a Gay Man in 2017?
law, the process and the reality – from those who’ve gone through it: everything you need to know about
More nervous than he’d ever been before, Danial McHugh tentatively knocked on the door in front of him, on the morning of 9 February, 2015, knowing that his life was about to change forever. Waiting on the other side were his two children, Farron, 18 months, and Skyla, seven months, who he – and partner Robbie Wright, 34 – were meeting for the very first time.
“I’m crying thinking about it,” the 37-year-old tells us. “It was heart melting.”
The two men had spent the previous three years tirelessly working their way through the adoption process to achieve their lifelong dream of becoming parents. But nothing could have prepared them for the journey it would take to get there, which they sum up as “raw and emotional”, but also the greatest thing they’ve ever done.
“The children have become our world, and it’s now impossible to imagine they were ever not here with us,” Danial shares. “I’ve never known a love like it, and I’m very proud to call myself – and hear them call me – ‘daddy’.”
It was a long journey, but for Danial and Robbie, it was most certainly worth every setback, frustration and obstacle, raising the question: why aren’t more couples following their lead?
Although same-sex couples have had the legal right to adopt since 2005 – following the passing of 2002’s Adoption and Children Act – they continue to make up only a small fraction of the total number of adoptive parents. In the most recent year – 2015/2016 – only 450 same-sex couples adopted. This is growing year on year, and is nearly double the number it was three years ago. However, the relatively modest statistics remain somewhat of a head-scratcher considering every year approximately 4,000 children are looking for an adoptive home in this country. There have been only 2,317 adoptions by LGBT+ people in Great Britain since reporting began, compromising just eight per cent of total adoptions in most recent official statistics.
The imbalance could perhaps be explained by the ongoing misconceptions surrounding what gay couples can expect to face when deciding to enter the process, which is understandably tough by design. High profile names such as Sir Elton John and Ian ‘H’ Watkins have preferred to go down the surrogacy route, meaning LGBT+ adoption role models are difficult – if not, impossible – to find in the public eye.
For Danial, however, surrogacy wasn’t an option.
He says: “We had previously discussed it but my thoughts on that were that the child would biologically be just one of ours. This led to concerns regarding the future rights of the other parent should the relationship fail, so we looked into adoption.”
In theory, the only requirements for adoption are that you’re over 21, in good health, a citizen of the UK and have no prior criminal convictions against children. However, the reality can be more complicated.
Dan says: “I didn’t even know if we were allowed to adopt at first. We were very unsure about the law.”
This shouldn’t have been a worry, technically speaking.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are protected from discrimination under the 2010 Equality Act. This means an adoption agency must assess you fairly, using the same criteria as anyone else, and could not legally turn down an adoption application just because he, she or they was LGBT+.
However, each decision is at the company’s discretion, leading many to criticise the potential loopholes
that agencies can use to get around the law should they want to. There are countless ways in which an individual – or couple – can subjectively be deemed not to have met the criteria, meaning it wouldn’t be difficult to find a way to reject someone based on their sexuality simply by giving other reasons.
Last year controversy arose when two Christian foster parents tried to block a gay couple adopting their foster child, believing that the child needed both a mother and a father.
This has been a hot topic for decades, despite many studies, including one carried out by the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Family Research, showing that children are at no disadvantage when adopted by gay parents. With all this controversy, it’s little wonder many believe that the system remains biased towards heterosexual couples and that same sex couples will find the process more difficult.
Fortunately, for Danial and Robbie, this wasn’t the case. They met a social worker – who went on to be their adoption social worker – at an adoption road show in Doncaster, and she provided them with the initial reassurance they needed.
“She explained everything, and said that there was now no difference in any couple – same-sex or oppositesex – and even lone parents adopting,” Danial says.
“That put to rest the initial fear of being refused on the account of our sexuality.”
However, as a couple adopting, gay or straight, applicants will both be individually assessed, meaning they’re required to demonstrate the stable and enduring nature of their relationship.
At this stage, the pair were warned about the gruelling and intrusive nature of the process, with in-depth questions about both of their private lives.
“There was no way we could have secrets from each other as, if we did, they were bound to come out later in the process. They wanted to know about every relationship we’d been in, including at school!”
No stone can be left unturned when adopting, a fact that any would-be adoptive parent should bear in mind from the beginning.
Daniel continues: “Obviously they wanted to know about our own upbringing. They interviewed our family and friends in order to get a good picture of us as individuals and as a couple.”
“A lot of questions were trying to paint a picture of what kind of fathers we would
Dealing with death, specifically, is an area the authorities pay close attention to.
“They wanted to know how we had dealt with death in the family and how we would explain this to children,” he says. “A lot of questions were apparently trying to paint a picture of what kind of fathers we would make.
“They also asked if we agreed with the way we were raised and if we would raise our children the same way. Religion, sex and our beliefs, were all discussed at length. It was all very emotional talking about things you hadn’t even spoken to your partner about.”
Once they’d decided this was what they wanted, Danial and Robbie embarked on a week of training, which put them in different situations and scenarios, and they also received talks from adoptive parents, as well as adoptive children, and listened to advice about how their experience affected their childhood, school life and later years.
“The trainer advised that we should be honest from the outset about our child or children being adopted as this may cause issues later on if the truth was kept from them,” he says. “All the basics where covered within those weeks of training.”
Tougher conversations awaited, as adoptive parents are required to make a list, detailing whether or not they would accept a child with certain disabilities, conditions, different religious beliefs, with siblings or life shortening illnesses.
Daniel admits: “This was very difficult as we both had different views and the check list took a long time to complete.”
Once being cleared of DBS (police checks), to ensure there were no violent crimes against children, in addition to employment and financial checks, and references from both adoptive parent’s employers, the couple chose to begin the search for their future child at an adoption road show, which is an open event providing information and activities to anyone interested in the process, and also includes profiles of lots of different children looking for homes to give you an idea of what you could be looking for.
It was here that they would first see a picture of their future son.
“On that day a lot of different social workers from different authorities showed us lots of different profiles, but we saw him and we fell in love straight away.”
The biological mother of Farron also had a sibling, who was not yet born, and they hoped to keep the two of them together.
Once they got home,
Danial and Rob didn’t hesitate to find out more about Farron.
“Straight away we requested more information about this little boy, but so had a number of other couples.”
The social workers then assessed everyone who had expressed an interest, and made a match, which took some time. By the time this stage was completed, Farron’s younger sibling was born, and she was a girl, much to Danial and Robbie’s delight. Dan admits: “It was ideal for us; we wanted a boy and a girl – and them being siblings was perfect, both for them and for us.”
The assessments complete, some couples had dropped out as they did not want two children. Other factors taken into consideration were appearance, personality and capability. Their social worker put a case for them to become the adoptive parents to a team of professionals at a matching panel, consisting of GPs, adoptive parents and representatives from adoption services.
“The first meeting was horrendous and matching was refused due to admin error so we had to wait
another month and apply again,” Danial reveals.
Fortunately, the second attempt was more successful. “We were accepted,” Danial smiles. “And so, seven months later after first seeing his picture, we could finally meet Farron and his sister Skyla – who we hadn’t even seen a picture of at this point.”
They went to meet their children at their foster parents’ house, and spent a week getting to know them.
“Their foster parents were amazing and had done a fabulous job with them both,” says Danial. “The initial meeting was heart melting. I didn’t think I was that emotional until the door of the foster carers’ house opened and there stood our future son. I’m crying thinking about it, and the first time I held my daughter, as she was only 7 months when we met her. Farron was 18 months and very wary at first.”
The next stage was for the children to spend a week at their new adoptive parents’ home, accompanied by their foster-carers. The children slept at the holiday lodge with their foster carers, in what’s called a ‘transition period’.
Daniel admits this was frustrating. “Apparently it’s the time where the children transition their affections and bonds from the foster carers to the adoptive parents,” he says. “I was unsure about this and thought it was a load of rubbish, in all honesty, but it is actually true; you could see this happening slowly over the two weeks, the children would cling to the foster carers at first. Gradually that changed and they would cling to us and not want to leave.”
The “heartbreaking” moment Farron and Skylar said goodbye to their foster parents proved one of the hardest times for Danial and Robbie. He says: “You could see in the foster-carers’ face they had done their job, but deep down you could see it was hurting and the day came that they had to leave them with us for good and... well, by God, I thought it had been emotional up until now…”
The exchange was kept intentionally impersonal with “no long drawn out goodbyes”, as this approach is proven to have the most minimal effect on the children, and Danial and Robbie were warned about this. However, the moment their adoptive children’s then foster parents brought them to their new home – for good – was one they’ll never forget.
“They came in with the children, kissed them, hugged them and said goodbye,” Danial says.
“I’ve never been involved in anything that has made my stomach knot up and my heart drop to my feet like that did.”
Daniel says: “We have remained very close to the foster carers and we visit them with the children and they visit us. It’s a bond that we don’t want the children not to have.”
Recently they celebrated the third anniversary of their family coming together, which they described as a “joyous” milestone. But worldwide, not all LGBT+ individuals are given the same opportunities that Danial and Robbie were, with progress proving far slower.
In fact, the UK currently remains one of only 14 countries in which gay men have the same legal rights as their heterosexual counterparts. Hopefully Danial, and others like him, will provide inspiration to anyone hoping to extend their family. With a big grin, he concludes: “I would do it all again!”
In these uncertain times, it’s more important than ever that LGBT people who dream of becoming parents can adopt this same inspirational attitude, so children in need of homes have the chance to join their very own modern family.
The work is, evidently, worth it.
“I didn’t think I was that emotional until the door opened and there stood our future son.”
IMAGE INSET AND IMAGE OVERLEAF ARE STOCK IMAGES AND DO NOT DEPICT DANIAL, ROB OR THEIR FAMILY