Is it Harder to Adopt

As a Gay Man in 2017?

Gay Times Magazine - - Contents - WORDS ed dyson

law, the process and the re­al­ity – from those who’ve gone through it: ev­ery­thing you need to know about

same-sex adop­tion.

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

make.”

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

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