Welcoming a child or young person into your home is an enriching experience for families, especially if they have experienced hardships at the start of their lives. From adoption to fostering, three people share their experiences of giving a disabled child their safe haven.
Speaking up and standing up for vulnerable children, adopters across the UK help to provide a child or young person with a stable, loving home. Thousands of children are waiting to be placed in their forever home annually, however, children or young people with a disability can face increased barriers to placement.
Taking the leap to welcome a disabled child or young person into your home can be a positive experience for everyone.
Couple Matt and Victoria have had a breadth of experience when it comes to adoption and disability. Having been raised in a family that had eight adopted siblings – all with additional or complex needs – Victoria knew that adoption would always be part of her future. Matt, who trained as a special educational needs teacher, was also eager to pursue adoption.
“It was always a very natural decision,” enthuses Victoria. “I grew up seeing how families develop and grow.” The couple soon welcomed their birth son, Benjamin into the family but after experiencing a miscarriage they decided to look further into the application process for adoption. Upon being approved, it wasn’t long before the parents saw their prospective son.
Victoria continues: “We just fell in love with Henry’s face, he had a mischievous look and glint in his eye and looked adorable.” Henry, who has Down’s Syndrome, was soon welcomed home.
The family then had two more birth children before adopting their fifth child, Emilia, who also has Down’s Syndrome. Her foster parents then introduced them to Home for Good.
They connected with the ethos of the charity and have since become involved as champions, raising awareness of the challenges disabled children face whilst waiting for a permanent home.
While Matt and Victoria had professional and personal experience that made them a good fit, this isn’t necessary: anyone can make a difference to a child with a disability through fostering or adoption.
“Ultimately, they are just children,” expresses Victoria. “This child needs permanence and a family just as much as the next child. We want all our children to reach their full potential whatever that might mean.”
From fostering to adoption, there are many ways you can help a disabled child or young person flourish by giving them a stable environment.
At the age of 25, Trevor Elliot MBE decided fostering was the right option for him. Unlike adoption, fostering is a temporary placement and foster carers provide a parenting role while local authorities and the child’s birth parents make all the decisions for the child or young person – meaning they maintain legal responsibility.
At first, Trevor was committed to helping children and young people in his local area of London to get away from gangs, or providing a refuge for those coming out of correctional facilities or who have fallen into a life of crime. But, five years since becoming a foster carer this swiftly transitioned to Trevor fostering three young adults, one of whom was a refugee unable to speak English and another diagnosed as autistic shortly after being placed with Trevor.
Trevor explains: “They didn’t want to diagnose him so young as autistic because they didn’t know if it was neglect from his past life. He had also made so much progression with me, we thought it was just neglect. Since then, he has showed more autistic traits and he was eventually diagnosed.”
Supporting his three foster placements, Trevor has seen the challenges that can arise when helping young people who have faced hardships. Referencing to the experiences one foster child has lived through coming to the UK as a refugee, Trevor empathises: “At night, sometimes, you can hear him crying out all the pain and suffering he has seen. I wish I knew how mentally challenging [fostering] would be.”
For Matt and Victoria, coming from personal and professional backgrounds inclusive of disability, they felt equipped with information but soon realised that, as parents, new challenges would arise such as advocating for their children.
Victoria says: “We have learnt so much from having Henry as our son and growing and developing with him, he has brought so much insight into our lives. He had a really rubbish start to life and I can’t make those things OK for him, that is really hard as parents to know that your child had issues when you weren’t there to protect them.
Despite the hurdles faced, including misconceptions on siblings of disabled children, Matt adds: “The rich dynamic of our family has is brilliant. Each one brings something to their sibling relationship, Henry and Emilia have taught all our children things that we never could have.”
Launching a home for vulnerable children during lockdown, Trevor is now turning his sights to helping and caring for more young people. And his experience of caring for the young autistic man has meant Trevor’s ambitions on who he wishes to support have been amended.
“There’s something about children that just inspires me,” enthuses Trevor. “I’m just amazed at children and young people and their strength.”
Connecting children and young people to a home through fostering, or helping prospective adoptive parents: there is no denying the benefits of welcoming a disabled child into their safe haven. Matt and Victoria encourage people to mark all achievements and take pictures of everyone in the family: it isn’t just your unit, it’s your child’s unit.