Tom and Caroline’s little boy had just turned four when the couple first started thinking about extending their family. Dominic had brought untold joy to their lives and both had embraced parenthood with gusto.
As they considered their new addition, their thoughts increasingly turned to the possibility of welcoming their second child through adoption.
Caroline said: “Parenthood does heighten your awareness of just how precious children are and we felt that if we wanted another child in our lives, this was a golden opportunity for us to help a little person who perhaps had not been afforded the same chances in life as Dominic.”
There are currently around 70,000 children in the care system in the UK. Approximately 4,000 are awaiting adoption and around three quarters are living with foster carers.
Caroline and Tom contacted Diagrama Foundation, a UK charity which supports vulnerable children and adults through a variety of services, including fostering and adoption. Diagrama has a special focus on finding secure, loving homes for children who are deemed harder to place – they are usually older children, part of a sibling group, have additional needs or have ethnic heritage.
After a comprehensive assessment process and training programme, the couple were soon matched with Maisie, a spirited two-year-old who had been in foster care since she was seven months old after her young parents were unable to manage.
Tom and Caroline were over the moon to be welcoming a new sister for Dominic.
But, soon after Maisie’s arrival, the challenges of adopting a child became apparent.
“Routines ” and “meltdowns” were among the words noted down in early records by their Diagrama social worker Mary.
She said: “When Maisie first arrived she needed 200% of Caroline’s attention to help her feel safe and secure, and Caroline responded to her needs really well. However, while their early developing bond was a really positive sign, it created a new set of challenges for Tom and Dominic.
“Maisie was soon struggling with intense separation anxiety every time Caroline left the room and Tom was left feeling shut out. Maisie would lift her hand when he went near, saying firmly ‘NO!’. It was a difficult stage she was going through, but a really painful one for Tom.”
Caroline had taken adoption leave when Maisie was placed with them and was due back to work in eight months. With Maisie continuing to shut him out, Tom was starting to worry that she would not be settled by the time Caroline was due to return to her busy job as financial compliance manager for a major bank.
Mary remembers needing to help him see that Maisie was going through a transition and grieving for the foster carers, with whom she had lived for as long as she could remember. Her behaviour was her way of telling them how she was feeling.
The couple used Diagrama for support and were encouraged to draw on their adoption training to help them move forward. They met regularly with Mary who helped them put in place the additional support that Maisie needed.
Tom attended a support group where he could share his experience with other adopters who ‘had been there’.
Tom said: “Our instinct with Dominic was not to give in to demands immediately and to try to encourage patience. But because of Maisie’s background we had to leave those instincts aside and concentrate on the most important issue first – making Maisie feel safe and loved – even if that meant I had to take a back seat. We just wanted to press a fast forward button to the next stage.”
But thanks to the couple’s commitment and perseverance, little by little things started to improve –a magical solution in the form of a large lollipop soothed hysterical outbursts when Caroline needed to pop out and Tom was eventually allowed to join in with playtime – at first just for a few minutes and only once he’d been invited by mum.
Tom and Caroline were able to use some special therapeutic play with Maisie which Diagrama had introduced them to during their preparation for her arrival in their lives.
Caroline said: “She just needed to know it was ok, that Tom was a safe person. She put all her trust into me so once she started to see that I trusted Tom, that he was OK too, she started to let him in.”
Caroline put aside special time for Dominic too: “Maisie was so demanding that we were really worried Dominic would feel left out so I started to schedule in one on one time with him. We’re so proud of the way he coped throughout it all – he adores Maisie loves having a little sister.
“I once asked if he enjoyed our special time together, to which he said: “I do love it mummy, but I love everybody time better.”
Maisie recently started nursery and is now thriving. Stay-at-home dad Tom is gearing up for when Caroline returns to work next month.
At a recent family event Mary caught up with the family, delighted to see the progress they had made. “Adopting a child is not without its challenges, but they can be overcome with the right commitment and support, as Tom and Caroline have proven. Thanks to their hard work and determination to support Maisie in the best possible way she is so much more settled and has a wonderful future ahead of her.”
Tom and Caroline are open to the possibility of direct contact with Maisie’s birth mother and grandmother further down the line but for now they are working on establishing positive written contact until the time is right to consider that next step for Maisie.
Diagrama is urgently seeking new adopters in London, Hampshire, Kent, Berkshire, Surrey, West and East Sussex to help transform the lives of vulnerable children. The charity holds regular informal information evenings where you can find out more about the children awaiting adoption and the process involved.
Call Diagrama’s adoption team today on 0207 668 2181 or email [email protected]. Alternatively visit their website at www.diagramachildren.org