Adoption and fostering: personal experiences

In this section four people share their experiences of adopting and fostering. Rachel, Rebekah, Niamh and Andrew reveal the joys – as well as the challenges – of providing children with a secure, stable and happy home.

Rachel's story

Four years ago, Rachel, 42, adopted Isaac, now eight, and Violet, six – a brother and sister who had been in care for two years

As told to Catherine Francis   

    "There was no soul searching – I knew my children had arrived"

 Thumb med racheladoption rotated

I’ve always loved children and have spent my whole life around them. As a young person, I volunteered at holiday clubs and special needs clubs, and I eventually became an occupational therapist, working with children with acquired brain injury. I always thought that, once I was married with my own children, I’d adopt. It seemed like the natural thing to do. In fact, my brother and his wife have also adopted a son.

At the age of 30, I spent a year volunteering in South Africa, working with abandoned babies. My plan, if marriage didn’t happen for me, was to go back to South Africa long-term and adopt there. At 35, I began to plan my return. I was to be a house mother for children who couldn’t be adopted for various reasons, and provide them with a loving family environment. The Christian charity I’d volunteered with secured me a part-time job, and was looking for accommodation for me. I had sponsors, support and was getting ready to move.

But at a meeting one day, we were asked a simple question: ‘What does your heart want?’ I found myself in tears. My plans all suddenly felt wrong and futile. I felt God say: ‘There are children here who need love. You have everything you need – a job, house, friends, family, church – to give a child a home.’ It was the clearest message I’d had from God and everything else fell away. The charity and everyone involved were very gracious, and supported me in following God’s plans.

As a Christian, I believe that if you feel a stirring, you push the door and see what happens, so I contacted my local authority about adoption. It was a great process, and my social worker was very sympathetic. She helped me be honest with myself about how much I could cope with. She saw my faith as a positive thing – although I was asked numerous times how I’d react if one of my children grew up to be gay. They examined my finances and work situation, to make sure I could provide a stable home and balance the books. In just over a year, I was approved and the search began for a match.

I’d hoped to adopt siblings, so they’d have each other as blood relatives, have company and not be overwhelmed by an intense one-to-one relationship with me – I’m quite a big personality! I also had it in my heart to adopt a pair where one had special needs, after seeing a story of a brother and sister who were struggling to find a home because the girl had Down’s syndrome. My social workers took an unconventional approach, making a poster about me and what I could offer and sending it to other local authorities. One quickly got in touch about Isaac and Violet.

Isaac, then four, had been removed from his birth family due to multiple issues – violence, drugs, alcohol, prison and mental illness. His sister Violet, then two, had been removed at birth. She was 12 weeks premature, and there were concerns about her development. The pair had been rejected by three potential families, and social workers were about to remove them from the adoption list and look into permanent foster care.

When the social workers told me about them, there was no soul searching – I knew my children had arrived. I joked that the icing on the cake would be if one of them was ginger, as I’ve always had a soft spot for kids with ginger hair! The social workers didn’t react and I felt like an idiot for saying something so trivial, but they later told me they went out to their car and cried – Isaac has bright red hair! I feel the fingerprints of God were on this match – he gave me everything I needed, and even threw in something I wanted!

My children came home in 2011, and although there have been some issues, it hasn’t been as difficult as I anticipated. They’d been in separate foster homes, so they had to be reintegrated. Isaac remembers some of his early life, which has led to anxiety issues, outbursts and wariness of adults. However, they’re both doing really well, and are happy, healthy, funny, beautiful children.

One thing I hadn’t anticipated was my anger at their birth parents, for breaking my kids! But I realise they must have been destroyed as people not to do whatever was needed to keep their children.

Of course, I’d have loved to journey through all this with a partner, but marriage was never the be-all and end-all for me. It isn’t always easy as a single parent – there’s no one to pass the baton to when you’re physically and emotionally exhausted. It can be overwhelming, but my children’s needs are greater than mine, so I’ve adapted and juggled. You find your way.

After adoption leave (like maternity leave), I reduced my working hours to three days’ hours over four days, so I can be there for the children after school. With the usual benefits and an adoption allowance, because they were both expected to have some special needs (although these have proved to be very minor), we live within our means.

When I first started the adoption process, some people at church were a bit anxious about it, and perhaps concerned about creating a family with only one parent. Some had to be persuaded that I’m a strong, resourceful person, who could do this on my own. If someone in your church is interested in adopting as a single person, remember, there are successful single parents everywhere. One good parent is better than none – or than two terrible parents. Offer pastoral support and guidance, help people review their strengths and talents, and offer practical help. One man at my church noticed I could no longer make it to a particular service, and offered to babysit. It meant a lot that he noticed and offered to help.

The Bible is full of references about putting orphans into families, and there’s a long history of this in the church, from Barnardo’s onwards. As Christians, we should be caring for children who need it. We have a lot to give – it’s only right to share that.

Would I adopt more children in future? If one of Isaac and Violet’s siblings was placed for adoption, I wouldn’t hesitate. But our family is working well as it is, and we’re very happy. My children have a whole different life now. They have a hope and a future.

Children’s names have been changed for legal reasons, and to protect their privacy.    

Rebekah's story

Eighteen months ago, Rebekah, 34, adopted Thomas, now six, and has watched him grow from a fearful child into a happy, sociable boy

As told to Catherine Francis   

   "It’s so rewarding to see my son smiling and confident"           


Thumb med rebekahadoptionI oversee community work and global mission partnerships at my local church. In 2012, aged 30, my job took me to Honduras, where I visited a home for former street children. The experience shook me to the core – how could I live with what I’d seen? What was I doing with my life?

A few months later, I was asked to give a talk for Mothering Sunday about adoption and fostering. As I prepared my talk, I felt convicted: was I just going to preach about it, or would I put my own words into practice? God used the experience to call me to action and, a few weeks later, I contacted my local authority to enquire about adoption.

In fact, there was always something in me that wanted to adopt – I felt having my own children would be selfish when there are so many out there who need homes. However, it wasn’t until after going to an adoption information evening and a home visit from a social worker that I felt sure I wanted to go ahead.

Some people struggle with the intrusive nature of the assessment process, and the hoops you have to jump through, but it was fine for me. I was very open about my faith and church life. The adoption panel quizzed me about whether I’d indoctrinate a child, and how I’d react if they grew up to be gay, but I never felt discriminated against. In fact, my social worker said that, with my church community, I had the strongest support network she’d ever seen. Perhaps I should have worried more about the practicalities and financial aspects of adopting as a single person! But I felt that if it was God’s will, it would all be okay.

In September 2013, I was approved, and the search began for a match. I had a false start with a little girl, which fell through because she wasn’t ready for adoption. Then, in May 2014, Thomas’s file came through. He had been removed from his birth mother just before his fourth birthday because he was at serious risk. His older half-siblings went to live with their father, and Thomas went into foster care. Unfortunately, due to his behavioural problems, two foster placements had broken down and he was in his third foster home. Because of his traumatic experiences and confusion, he was prone to angry outbursts, kicking and screaming. However, I used to work with challenging young people so I wasn’t intimidated.

The process went slowly for various reasons, but I was happy to wait on God’s timing. I finally met Thomas in September 2014, first visiting him in his fosterers’ home, then taking him on days out. He was very shy initially and didn’t want to speak to me, but as the days went on – and with the help of a play therapist – he became more comfortable. Just 12 days after meeting him, Thomas came home. It was a very emotional day.

Things were relatively easy to start with, as Thomas was fearful of rejection and very compliant. However, the social workers remained very involved for several months. Thomas associated them with bad things happening and being moved, and each time they visited, he became fearful and unresponsive, and we’d have a horrendous couple of days afterwards. Once they stopped visiting, things got better.

Now, 18 months on, Thomas is settled and much more confident. He can cope with meeting new people and is catching up academically. He’s a happy, smiling boy, who is active and loves Lego. He’s very empathetic, sensitive to other people’s feelings and concerned about others – he prays for people he knows, and for people in developing countries who have no water. He gets on with other children at church, and has a particular affinity with other adopted children.

However, Thomas still has his moments, and I admit there have been times when I’ve wondered what I’ve taken on! When he has a rage, he declares that: ‘Birth mummy was a better mummy than you’ and tells me: ‘I’m going to ring the social worker and get a new mummy.’ Yes, it can hurt, but I can deal with it – and on the whole, he’s a kind, loving child and we have a lovely relationship and a close bond. I remind myself that our heavenly Father loves us when we rebel, so I can too!

Thomas goes through stages where he talks about his birth mother (with whom he has letterbox contact once a year) and half-siblings (letterbox contact twice a year). He remembers things they did together, and sees the past through rose-tinted spectacles. He never mentions the bad things that happened to him, and a child psychologist advised me not to push it.

My employer – my church – has been fantastic. I still work full-time, but I’ve changed my hours to 9am-3pm, and 7pm-10pm, so I can be there for Thomas. Not all employers would be so flexible. And I couldn’t wish for more from my church friends, who assured me they were ‘in this with me’. There are a number of adoptive families in the church, and we’ve formed an informal support group, discussing issues and comparing notes.

As a single parent, it can be tough when Thomas’s behaviour is challenging, as I have no back-up or anyone else to help calm things down. I also have the same issues with babysitting as any other single parent. However, being single means there’s no conflict in my parenting decisions. Thomas has responded well to having one parent to attach to, with no competition for my attention. The ideal situation for most children may be a mum and a dad, but in reality there’s never a guarantee of that – and for Thomas, one parent works best.

I expected some negative responses to creating a single parent family, but they never came. People can see that I’ve given Thomas a far better home than he had previously. I also have family nearby, who are very involved. My brother and several male friends at church are commited to being part of Thomas’s life and providing good male role models. They sometimes pick him up from school, or play football with him. And when I recently went on my first overseas trip for work since Thomas moved in, my mum looked after him.

After my talk on that Mothering Sunday, two couples and one other single person also applied for adoption. There are now six adopted children in the church as a result of that talk, plus some other adoptive families. I’d really encourage people to consider adoption. It’s so rewarding to see Thomas growing and gaining confidence with every month. He has a completely different life now – and so do I.

  Children’s names have been changed for legal reasons, and to protect their privacy.    


Niamh's story

Last year, Niamh, 44, adopted Joel, now seven, and the pair have developed a close and loving bond

As told to Catherine Francis     

   "There have been challenges, but my son has blossomed"


 Thumb med screen shot 2016 03 22 at 14.43.31I always thought I’d marry and have a big family, and that after having my own children, I’d adopt. There was no particular reason for me to think about adoption – I didn’t know anyone who’d done it. I just liked the idea.

Shortly after my 40th birthday, I went to a church event on ‘radical hospitality’. I expected it to be about welcoming people into the church, but it was much broader than that, covering homelessness, fostering and adoption, ‘from one night to forever’. I’m a paediatric nurse, dealing with children with complex needs, and I like the challenge of working with children that others might see as difficult. I initially thought about doing short-term respite fostering, or fostering young teenage mothers.

However, two months later, the news arrived that my sister was pregnant with her second child. I found myself crying hysterically – it brought home to me that what I really wanted was to adopt and bring up a child of my own. I knew from my work that I didn’t need to be biologically related to a child to love them. I was just about to travel to Japan, and I spent the whole flight praying and thinking. By the time we landed, I knew what I wanted to do.

On my return, I began the assessment process. I’d previous thought that my age and weight would go against me, as would being single. However, I learned that these aren’t barriers. My faith was also seen as a positive, even by my atheist social worker. The adoption team’s main concern were that I had accrued some large debts. With the help of debt advisors, my family and a lot of overtime, I significantly reduced my debt over the next year.

I felt a child of school age would be more practical for me, in terms of continuing with my job. After being approved, I was matched with Joel, then six, who had been removed from his family due to neglect and domestic violence, and had been in care for two years.

Joel came home 14 months ago, and we’ve attached really well – we’ve become very close. It’s actually been easier than I expected! Joel’s got a great sense of humour and he’s very loving. We’ve fitted together well – and we’ve been covered and supported in prayer.

Of course, there have been challenges. Joel was very unsettled by the move, and he finds school difficult, so there have been some anxiety and behavioural issues, although the school has been very supportive. Joel has letterbox contact with his birth family once a year. He talks about them a lot and has illusions that they’re all playing happy families without him, but that’s not the case and all his siblings are also in care.

When I spoke to my pastors and small group about adopting, everyone was 100 per cent supportive. No one who knows me said anything negative – in fact, most people cried! The Sunday before my introductions with Joel, my vicar called me onto the stage during the service and invited my friends to come and pray for me. I felt properly ‘commissioned’ in prayer. My small group blessed me with so much practical help – painting Joel’s bedroom, donating furniture, and even giving us a year’s pass to Legoland! The church also helped me decide which of our multiple services would be best for us, as Joel needs something big and noisy.

In the church in general, however, there’s sometimes an assumption that single parent families are ‘broken’. But this has been a positive choice for me, not something that ‘happened’ to me, and I knew I could be a positive role model as a single parent. There are plenty of terrible two-parent families that offer no care or security. And some children can’t be placed in a two-parent family – for instance, they may not feel safe with a man in the house, because of previous experiences.

I feel it’s been a positive advantage to be single, as Joel has benefited from having my full attention. I can concentrate fully on him, and his confidence has really blossomed. I’m aware that he doesn’t have a male role model at home, but I have a battalion of male friends who engage with him regularly and are able to provide a balance.

Joel’s adoption order is pending, and my adoption leave (like maternity leave) ends soon. I’ll be returning to work, nine to five (plus an hour’s commute each way). I don’t have family nearby who can help with childcare, so I have a nanny in place, and we’ll see how it goes.

I’d urge churches to consider what support they can offer to single members who choose to adopt. You can feel very isolated as a new parent – it’s sometimes harder to get out and about with a child than with a young baby. The care is 24/7 and there’s no one to share it with, so practical support makes a big difference. Churches can also be great for offering those alternative role models.

Although it’s harder to celebrate an adoption than the birth of a new baby, because the process is so gradual, it’s still important. Never underestimate the power of cards, gifts and a homemade casserole! The parents of older children can still be sleep-deprived and anxious about their ability to parent, and it’s worth remembering that things can get tougher after the initial ‘honeymoon’ period, so the support needs to be long-term. The most difficult stage can be around the one-year mark.

There are now several other people in my church considering adoption, and I’m trying to raise the profile of adopting through organisations like Home For Good, and by speaking at church events. Not only can adoption change the life of a child, it also gives single Christians a ‘Plan B’ if marriage doesn’t happen, so they can relax a bit. I’d really encourage people, both married and single, to think about it. It’s changed my life and Joel’s life for the better.

  Children’s names have been changed for legal reasons, and to protect their privacy.  


Andrew's story

Andrew, 49, has been fostering for 24 years, making a lasting difference to the lives of around 40 young people

As told to Catherine Francis     

   "I love seeing youngsters go on to happy, successful lives"


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I fell into fostering by accident, really. A children’s worker at church in my native Australia asked if I could look after a seven-year-old boy for the weekend, as the family was having problems and the mother had taken an overdose. It was an informal arrangement that turned into a more regular thing.

The experience opened my eyes to the world of dysfunctional families, and through the teaching at church, I began to think about how I could make a difference. It dawned on me that, as a Christian, we can’t all do everything – evangelism, missionary work, teaching and so on. But we can all do a part of God’s commission, and do it well – the rest we can leave to others! I felt this was something I could do well.

I started offering respite foster care through a Christian organisation. This involved looking after young people at weekends, holidays and times of special need, to help keep families together and avoid children entering the care system. After a few years, I applied to another agency to do long-term fostering. I’ve always fostered teenage boys. Part of my vision is responding to young men who don’t have an active father in their lives. Also, a single male fosterer could be daunting for a teenage girl.

Over 19 years, I fostered between 30 and 40 young people. Of course, it brought its challenges, and some of them required a lot of patience. On one occasion, my laptop was stolen. And as a single person, I had no partner as back-up. However, I had lots of friends and church members who were keen to help. They were aware and actively involved in what I was doing, inviting the young people round for dinner when I was busy, and expecting them to come with me when I visited.

It’s been wonderful to see many of the young people I’ve fostered go on to happy, successful lives. I still keep in touch with some of them. One young man is now in his 30s, with a partner, three children and a good job that he enjoys. He told me that his time with me opened his eyes to the possibilities of living differently, and he’s managed to break the cycle of poverty and buy a home for his family. He also identifies himself as a Christian, and reads Bible stories to his children. You’re not always aware of the long-term impact you’re making.

One of the challenges of fostering as a single person is that you need to be policeman and nurturer at the same time. You have to ask yourself: is this the time for the lesson, or for love? Flexibility is key, as is the ability to never stop learning. You have to be willing to learn from the young person and their family, and have unlimited forgiveness.

In Australia, there aren’t the kind of financial allowances that mean you can do fostering as a full-time job, so I was always working alongside offering foster care. I ran my own travel business, which was flexible enough to allow me to be there when the young people needed me. I was also studying for qualifications in counselling, but because I was mainly fostering teenagers rather than young children, I was able to make it work.

My church was generally very understanding, which made a huge difference. They accepted the young people and treated them as normal, even if they didn’t fit into a ‘middle class’ environment – smoking outside, bringing their skateboard into the church and, on one occasion, pouring holy oil all over the seats! Five or six other individuals and families in the church subsequently became involved in fostering.

The most helpful thing churches can do is to be understanding, inquisitive and permission-giving, and to make the young person feel included. Teenagers want to feel noticed and wanted, and these kids’ parents are often preoccupied with other things. Children in the system often feel different, isolated and not included. One boy told me, ‘All I want is to not be judged.’

Eight years ago, when my business wound up, I finished my studies and a fostering placement came to a natural end, I decided I wanted to do something different, so I moved to the UK. I’d visited here on my travels, and I had friends here.

I now work part-time as a counsellor, and part-time on the railways, so full-time fostering would be difficult. So I’m now part of a supported programme for young people leaving care. It’s a transitional stage to support those aged 16 to 25, as they learn the skills to survive as independent adults.

The young person lives with me, learning to cook, budget and generally manage their lives. I take on a similar role as with fostering, but with less supervision – I see it as ‘therapeutic parenting’. I take a daily active interest in their lives, interests and frustrations, encourage them to have a vision for the future, and support them when they lose sight of that vision. I also make it a priority to study and attend conferences appropriate to my calling.

I’d love to see more Christians get involved in fostering, and would encourage other singles to consider it. There are many commandments in the Bible. We can’t do all of them well, but this may be one calling you can do well.


Related information

  • Church leaders: we have a page to help you support members of your congregation who are considering adopting or fostering as a single person.
  • Home For Good is a Christian agency encouraging and helping more Christians to adopt and foster.