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Louise 32 and David 31 wanted to give a child who had come from a difficult start, with an uncertain future, a better life. When they saw George they knew he was the child they wanted.

‘We had tried for a baby for four years and after discussing adoption for a long time we went to an information event’ says Louise. ‘This was before the pandemic so we were able to meet the adoption workers in person and had a really good chat with an adoption manager who was really friendly. She talked us through the process, the different stages and balanced that against what happens with IVF.

‘We had to really think it through – would it be too daunting and could we do it? We considered Early Permanence Placement (foster-to-adopt) but we both recognised that we couldn’t deal with the possibility of the child returning to birth family, so we opted for a more ‘straightforward’ adoption.

‘Our motivation was really to give a child who had come from difficult circumstances a better life.

‘I didn’t mind whether we adopted a girl or a boy, although David was keen for a slightly older boy who he could play football with! I was thinking of a one year old. We did a lot of research and understood that many children who come to be adopted may have come from a background of abuse or neglect, and may have health needs and uncertainties around their future needs. This didn’t put us off. I work as a care giver with young adults with autism and mental health needs and David has experience of autism and learning difficulties in his family. We felt we could offer a loving and safe home to a child with additional needs.

‘I think dealing with the unknown and uncertainties for the child they adopt can be a barrier for some people. I’ve always said I would take a child with additional needs. Many people wouldn’t consider those children but I’d rather be the one who said ‘yes’.

‘We didn’t get many matches locally, so we looked on Link Maker and saw George’s profile and photo. His dark brown eyes looking directly at us drew us in. His profile explained that there were uncertainties around his development and future, for example, that there was the potential that he may never live independently. There was limited health information on his birth mum and nothing on his birth dad. There was a lot for us to consider.

‘We decided that if we had our own child and there were uncertainties we would take things as they are – you just can’t see into the future. My philosophy was ‘what will be will be’. What I know is that I will fight for him whatever his needs. I’m experienced at this, advocating for people, and know about lots of services to access with my job.

‘When we first met George he was laid on his tummy and he raised his head and met our eyes and that was it, an instant connection. He wasn’t shy or fazed by anyone. He crawled to us and we started playing. He was mischievous then and is now! We met him after that at soft play and at a life appreciation day with our social worker where we met his social workers. There was a lot of information to take in but it was OK. I was more into cuddling George! We met him with his foster carer at a bump-into meeting and took him off to play.

‘After panel and introductions he came to live with us and almost immediately we went into lockdown. In many ways that really benefitted us as we had the time to be close and really bond and spend a lot of time together. Before he came to us we didn’t know if he’d ever walk and when he first arrived he couldn’t crawl properly or sit up by himself. We had to prop him up with cushions. After four months he started walking and his progress has been amazing.

‘George has support from Portage who check on his development by video call – luckily he’s very interactive on the calls. They tell us his development is behind due to Global Developmental Delay (GDD) but not as behind as we first thought.

‘He’s not talking yet and is being supported by Speech and Language. Due to his delay he is developmentally around 18 months of age, so that could be a reason. His speech is getting better and he’s forming some words and using Makaton or pointing so he can get what he wants. His hearing is also under investigation, although he seems to know what you’re saying. Especially if you ask if he wants chocolate!

‘In fact, he eats really well and his diet is good. We had to help him work on his chewing and not having too much in his mouth at once to avoid choking.

‘George is under the genetics team at Leeds and all his bloods are normal, although they are keeping some of his blood as new tests become available. He does have a couple of genetic traits such a single palmar crease and soft dysmorphic features which they are keeping an eye on.

‘This is the advice we would give to someone considering adopting a child with additional needs.

‘Go into adoption with an open mind knowing you’re not going to adopt a perfect baby. There is a reason why children are needing an adoptive family and have had challenging early starts in life, sometimes even before they were born.

‘Make sure you look into things properly and get the child’s back story and as much information as you can. You need to be able to meet that child’s needs and be able to live with uncertainty. If you feel you can’t meet those needs then don’t proceed. However, if you’re a bit scared you can talk to the social workers and find support to find out more.

‘If you are considering adopting a child with a diagnosis, research everything, read case studies of how other people have managed and how things have progressed.

David adds, ‘As well as experience, you need family and a good support network that is easily available to you. There are times when you need a night out together or a bit of space. We are lucky that Louise’s mum looks after George when Louise is working. It was important that her mum felt she could manage his needs as well. I would say that the whole family adopts the child. He’s part of the whole family so involve everybody.’

So what about the future?

‘One day I would love to take him to play football!’ says David.

Louise adds, ‘Portage taught me how to teach a child with George’s needs in certain ways. I play lots of games with him to help him learn and develop. We’re just enjoying him while he’s still young.

‘I have no issues with whatever comes along: we’ll just take it day by day. ‘