What it's like to adopt a child of a different race
It is one thing to adopt a child by yourself, but if that child is of a different race you are adding an extra layer of complexity.
Yet, that is exactly what social worker Laura did when she adopted her son Kevin (not his real name) four years ago when he was nine months old.
Speaking to Metro.co.uk as part of our Adoption Month series, she described how their relationship has developed – ever-conscious of making sure Kevin understands his Jamaican-British heritage.
Social worker Laura, 37, even says they look alike now and nobody has ever asked whether she is his birth mother.
She said: ‘There is a thing in adoption where often adopted children end up looking like their adopters. And I think he does look like me. A lot of the time, it’s the mannerisms and his facial expressions and stuff.
‘So the poor kid does actually look a bit like me, and to be fair, his birth mum wasn’t dissimilar looking.
‘No one’s ever said anything about him looking different to me, which is nice. And that’s what I wanted. I wanted it just to be assumed that he was my birth child.’
As Kevin has Jamaican heritage, Laura tries to immerse him in as much Caribbean culture as possible. She has also registered him at a diverse nursery near their home in Greater Manchester so that he doesn’t grow up feeling like he’s the only Black child.
She adds: ‘From day one, I always tried to promote his heritage and his ethnicity. I’ve got Jamaican flags in his nursery, his bedroom. There are postcards of Jamaica. I’ve taken him to Carnival. I’ve got him some Black Christmas angels for the tree.
‘I’m lucky enough to have pictures and video and have contact with his birth father and we talk a lot about Jamaica and we listen to music that’s Jamaican or from Jamaican artists. We talk about his skin colour. He knows he’s Black. I’ve got loads of books about that.
‘I tell him that he’s so special and I love where he’s come from. And I love that he’s half Jamaican.’
Kevin also has a different hair and skin type which Laura is learning more about. She knows he can get dry and ashy skin so gives him appropripate moisturiser and she takes him to a Black barber’s who knows how to handle his curly hair.
Kevin is also starting to take notice of things and has noted he is Black, in comparison to some of his classmates. But Laura assures him that Black is beautiful.
She said: ‘I expect there are going to be challenges as he gets older and I’m keen that I meet his identity needs in terms of his race. I’ll do all I can to promote his ethnicity and try and make him proud to be a Black man, because I’m so proud of him.’
Laura’s situation, which she documents on Instagram, was also unusual because she was adopting as a single person and she feels like at that time, it wasn’t as common.
She started the process by contacting her local authority who called her back to tell her there was an opening evening.
She says: ‘All the other people there were couples. In those days, four years ago, I think it was more unusual to be a single adopter. I feel like it’s picked up momentum now with being single but in those days it was quite unusual.’
After putting in her expression of interest, over the next few months, Laura had to get references, do a DBS check, medical history, have house inspections, check her work situation, previous relationships, and finances.
The process was emotionally draining for Laura but thankfully she passed and she was given the go-ahead to adopt one child.
Initially, she had wanted siblings but as a single parent, was advised to adopt just one child.
At this point, she was asked about what kind of child she would want.
Laura adds: ‘I remember all these weird questions like “would you would you adopt a child with glasses?” Like, yes of course I would.
‘That session was quite difficult because I felt really guilty at saying no to certain children but at the same time, you’ve got to be honest and realistic about the sort of child that you feel you could parent.’
Laura underwent training about the needs of a child with other adoptive couples, some of who she is still friends with.
A panel then approved Laura’s application and a week later, they were ready to start looking for a child.
A year after the process began, Laura’s social worker contacted her to say there was a nine-month-old baby and asked whether she would be happy to look into his child permanence report.
Laura continues: ‘One of the biggest fears that I had was that I would hate the child’s name, and being a social worker I’ve seen some crazy names in my time, and I was just really worried that I’d have to live with. But the first thing I saw was was his name, and it was lovely. It was like this massive relief.
‘Then I saw his picture. And I think he was about seven or eight months old in the picture. He was gorgeous, absolutely beautiful.’
Kevin was the first potential adoptive child Laura was offered and she decided that she didn’t want to see any more as she felt it would be hard to imagine a life with different children each time.
She said: ‘My attitude was why wouldn’t I adopt this child, what is there about this information that puts me off or makes me concerned? And at the end of it, there were a couple of questions but I just felt really at ease with the information and felt like he was quite a low risk.
‘I told the social worker that I was really keen. And that’s where things went quite quickly.
‘His social worker came around to see me, and they wanted to reassure themselves that I was the right person for him.
‘They did look at other couples. I think they looked at some mixed-race couples to see whether or not they would be better but they chose me, which was lovely.’
Kevin had been in foster care since birth and Laura met with his foster mum to learn more about his needs.
She said: ‘His foster mum showed me lots of photos and videos of him and told me about him. Obviously she was really attached to him and absolutely adored him.
‘It was really hard for her but she was really supportive of the match. She was really keen for him to be adopted.
‘Six weeks after finding out about him, Kevin and I became officially linked so that is where the local authorities say “yes we want this child to be adopted by this person” and then we had to go to a matching panel, and that’s where they officially matched us.’
After introductions, Laura had to do a few things to make the transition easy for Kevin so she bought a teddy, which she slept with for a few weeks to get her smell on it and gave it to him. She also recorded a bedtime story and a tour of the house so her face and sound could become familiar to Kevin.
She said: ‘Waiting to start introductions was really hard. It was all I could think about. You’re just desperate to meet your little one.
‘I was so nervous. I remember walking up to the door and just being like this is the first day of the rest of my life.
‘I remember I walked in, he was playing on the floor and the foster carer said “here’s mummy”. And he was so cute. I just thought he was gorgeous but it was so it was weird being called mummy for the first time.’
Kevin and Laura spent a few hours together on the first day and then a few more in the following days.
Laura said: ‘It was the most tired I have ever been in my life. Even now, when I’ve had sleepless nights, I have never been so drained emotionally from doing introductions.
‘You’re being watched constantly, you’re trying to interact with a child in someone else’s home environment, who you don’t know. It was absolutely exhausting.
‘After seven days of back and fourth, he came home forever.
‘For the first few weeks, I didn’t have anyone come to the house while he was awake because I wanted it to just be me and him, and a really really good period of time to build our attachment, and for him to realise that I was now mummy and that he wasn’t going to be going anywhere.
‘He’d had a lot of loss, and I didn’t want him thinking that if someone came to the house they were there to take him.’
After a while, the new mum and son got into a routine and soon Kevin was sleeping through the night.
Laura also made sure not to overwhelm Kevin as he was the only Black person in the family and slowly introduced them to him.
She also has advice for prospective adoptive parents. She said: ‘One thing that I feel quite strongly about is that it’s okay if you don’t have an instant bond with your adopted child.
‘I thought Kevin was gorgeous but I didn’t love him immediately because I didn’t know him, he wasn’t my birth child. I’ve never met him before, there wasn’t that instant bond, there was that need to protect him and to meet his needs.
‘But one of the phrases that I’d heard is ‘fake it till you make it’ so fake the attachment, fake that love until you make it a genuine feeling.
‘And I remember after about a month, he was really ill one night, he had a really raging temperature, and I just held him and I was scared. And I realised that night how much I loved him.’
Adoption Month is a month-long series covering all aspects of adoption.
For the next four weeks, which includes National Adoption Week from October 14-19, we will be speaking to people who have been affected by adoption in some way, from those who chose to welcome someone else’s child into their family to others who were that child.
We’ll also be talking to experts in the field and answering as many questions as possible associated with adoption, as well as offering invaluable advice along the way.
If you have a story to tell or want to share any of your own advice please do get in touch at [email protected]
- Why we’re talking about adoption this month
- How to adopt a child – from how long it takes to how you can prepare
- The most Googled questions on adoption, answered
Visit our Adoption Month page for more.
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