Scottish Borders Council needs more people willing to adopt children. Mark Entwistle looks at the pleasures – and the very special type of person who can take on the task

YOU need to be a special kind of person to adopt someone else’s child. But when that child has a disability or special needs it is even more of a challenge and yet one which comes with its own life-changing rewards.

Scottish Borders Council needs more people to come forward as prospective adopters generally. But the local authority’s family placement team (FPT) also wants to hear from those who would be prepared to consider a child with a disability or special needs.

Anne Marshall is from the FPT and says that when it comes to adopting children with health and learning difficulties, it is important prospective adopters have some experience of caring for children.

“We only have two children who fall into this category at the moment and who are looking for new families, but children are coming through the system all the time and it’s important we have a steady supply of prospective adopters coming forward,” Anne explained.

“The sort of people we are looking for, to take on a child with a disability or special needs, are those with some experience of caring for children.

“You will have to be prepared to become a strong advocate for the child, even more so than for a child without these disabilities or special needs. I’ve heard it being described as being a champion for the child, or even a warrior.

“There is support and help there, but you need to know where to look and sometimes you do have to fight for it and that can take a lot of effort, commitment and resilience.

“You have to be able to work with professionals also. But what you have to always keep in mind is that, at the centre of all of this, is a child.”

Once someone has applied to be a prospective adopter, there is a lengthy screening process including a thorough home assessment by social work staff.

However, many of those who go through such assessments speak of it as being a very positive experience, one in which they actually learn quite a lot about themselves.

Anne explained that the most important thing during this phase is for people to be open, honest and transparent. “It can take up to six months to complete the home study. But the process is designed to be a supportive one, and one that is two-way with both sides participating. We want to try and find more adoptive parents, not catch people out and prevent them from getting approved!”

One of those in the Borders who has adopted a child with special needs – her identity cannot be disclosed for obvious reasons – has fostered children for more than 25 years.

As well as adopting one boy already, she is in the midst of adopting another.

She told us of the special joy that can come from adopting a child with a disability or special needs. “You need to be able to look at the child as a whole rather than just focussing on the disability. It is a child, who may have a disability, but there will be a lot of rewards with such a child.

“You also have to be a fairly confident carer because there are people out there who will point the finger and judge you how you deal with your child’s outdoor behaviour. People will comment on you child care skills, so you’ve got to be ready to deal with that.

“They won’t realise it’s not just bad behaviour from the child. There will be something behind it and it’s seeing beyond that behaviour to what lies at the back of it.

“You’ve also got to have a wee bit of resilience yourself, otherwise you can get very hurt and depressed about what people sometimes say.

“Personally, I resisted the temptation for many years to adopt any of the children that came to me, but there then comes along a special one – which is what happened with me. It’s about seeing the rewards you get from these children. Their achievements, even the smallest ones, are huge achievements for them.

“The pleasure you can get from these small things, things that many others take for granted, like walking or talking, because you have waited for so long for them to do it, is just amazing.

“Patience is something else you need to have plenty of, to help you deal with all the challenging behaviours that get thrown at you. It was perhaps easier for me because both my children have been with me since quite young – mind you, every day is still a challenge but every day is also different. It’s never dull or boring in our house!

“These children have so much love to give. They are so unreserved in their love. One of my children has autism, but he is the most loving little boy.

“And I think the autism probably made me more determined to go through with the adoption because if he hadn’t stayed with me, he would probably have been moved on to other carers and gone round the system.

“But I knew what his behaviour was like and how to manage it. So I’ve had the privilgege of knowing him from a young age. But I’m still learning on the trot about autism. But the rewards at the end of it with all these children are incredible.”

z FPT staff are looking for adopters generally for children of any age up to seven, as well as adopters for children with disabilities and special needs. For more information please contact the FPT on 01896 662799.

‘David is an absolute joy to look after’

David is a happy, 18-month-old boy who has formed good attachments to his foster family.

He thrives on one-to-one interaction and enjoys listening to songs and nursery rhymes and looking at books with his foster carer.

David is also alert and responsive. He takes great interest in his surroundings and enjoys playing with his toys. He claps his hands in imitation and waves enthusiastically at people with a big smile.

In order to get around, David bum-shuffles quite fast. He likes to pull himself up on furniture and can lower himself to the floor. David likes to stand with support and takes steps while his hands are held.

David is very affectionate and enjoys giving and receiving cuddles. He often has a cheeky twinkle in his eye.

Since birth, David has had a tracheostomy because of an upper airway obstruction. This will be reviewed when he is two and it is not anticipated that it will be permanent.

David is gastrostomy-fed because of gastro-oesophageal reflux. Consequently, David requires patient encouragement to accept food orally and to have a positive experience of this. He is making good progress in this area and is now beginning to taste food and enjoy a chocolate button!

Because he has had a tracheostomy all his life, David has no speech, though he is experimenting with oral sounds and can now make vowel sounds.

David is showing significant delay and also significant progress in his development. An assessment at the age of 15 months showed that in most areas of development he is the equivalent of a nine-month-old child.

David can be frightened by sudden noises such as a cough or sneeze and needs cuddles and reassurances to settle him. He appreciates a calm environment.

Whilst caring for David can be intense at times, his foster carer describes thim as being an absolute joy to look after.