This new ‘web chat’ facility, available at www.hants.gov.uk/adoptionandfostering will allow prospective adopters or foster carers to talk directly to specialists in the County Council’s Adoption and Fostering Team, and receive immediate answers to their questions and queries.
Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services, Councillor Keith Mans, said: “We’re always looking for more people who feel they could provide a loving, stable home for a child, or even for a group of brothers and sisters, who are unable to be cared for by their birth parents.
“Deciding to apply to adopt or foster a child is a big step, and it’s important that all the information and advice people might need to make a decision is easy to access. This web chat service will make it easier to get in touch with a specialist quickly for information, or arrange a call back. This kind of service is an increasingly popular option for people with busy lives.”
Visitors to the ‘Finding Homes for Hampshire Children’ website during office hours, can now opt to begin a live, online ‘chat’ with an adviser if they would like to ask questions about adoption, including their potential eligibility to adopt.
There are more than 40 children in the care of Hampshire County Council who are waiting to be adopted. There is a particular need for adopters who feel they could give a home to sibling groups, or a child with disabilities.
Hampshire County Council provides good support for adopters and the new additions to their families. The County Council’s Adoption Support Team of social worker specialists is on hand for as long as needed.
For Phil and Mike from South Hampshire, adopting a child seemed the best way to start a family. Phil is a teacher, and he had worked with vulnerable children in class. However, he was still glad of the preparation that prospective adopters go through, with the support of Hampshire County Council’s Adoption and Fostering Team.
“During the course of being approved for adoption and being matched to a child, there is a lot of support and training,” Phil said. “It was really useful preparation. It’s exciting to become a parent but, at the same time, it’s important to be realistic about what it will be like, to recognise that these children have experienced some very difficult situations, and will need you to help them deal with that. You can’t just do it because you’re unable to have your own children – you need to be sure you are able to provide a home and emotional stability to a child who really needs your help.”
Knowing that older children often struggle more to find an adoptive family, Phil and Mike were keen to give a home to an older child.
“As well as knowing how challenging it is for older children to find a home, we also felt that with an older child, who had some memory of their previous experiences, we would be able to help them work through their life story and develop their sense of identity,” says Phil. “Taking an older child just felt like the right choice for us, and has proved very much the right thing to do.”
They were matched to five-year-old Alfie, who had been in care for some time and had lived with a number of different foster carers.
“A permanent home was a new idea to Alfie,” says Phil. “He has settled in well, but his behaviour does sometimes show how he has come to expect change and instability. We have to constantly reassure him that this is his forever home, that he is not going to be moved on, and that we love him to bits.”
Taking an older child has proved to be the right path for Phil and Mike. “Older children don’t necessarily always have more problems than younger ones,” Phil says.
However, there are still challenges. “The biggest issue is building your social network, the supportive friends and family who you need so much when you adopt. We knew we would need a good social circle around us, and our social worker also encouraged this.
“If you have a baby, there are opportunities to form bonds with other new parents in the local community, and the children grow up together. But with an older child, you have to break into a circle of parents that is already established – and we thought that being a gay couple might make this even more difficult. But actually, our social group grew really quickly. We have a great network of friends around us. Everyone has been very supportive.”
Phil encouraged would-be adopters to come forward. “It is incredibly rewarding,” he said. “It’s definitely challenging - but it is an amazing thing to do, and we are well supported. We have had great training and advice from Children’s Services, and can still access help if we need it at any point.”
Anyone over 18 who has a spare room and some personal or professional child care experience can apply to adopt a child, whether an individual or a couple. To find out more, please visit www.hants.gov.uk/adoption or call 0300 555 1384.
Please note that names in this article have been changed, and the pictures shown do not depict the families described.