1 in 7 adoptions in England in 2019 was to same-sex couples
"Josh sees us as his dads." The heartwarming story of one couple.
It was a momentous day for Graham and Martin as they nervously pulled up to the Greater Manchester primary school. The couple, who married in 2017, was in the final stages of adoption approval and attending a 'play day' with 50 other couples and children.
"It was a pirate and princess-themed day for the children" explains company director Graham, in a mild Scottish accent. With slight mischief, he adds: "I think our social worker thought we were going to turn up dressed as a pair of princesses."
This openness and humor are characteristic of my chat with the pair who fell in love six years ago and have always wanted a child of their own. The couple, who met on a dating app, were very open about their aspirations to start a family before moving in together six months later.
Both aged 51 they now live in the idyllic countryside with their adopted son Josh and two chocolate Labradors.
During LGBTQ+ Fostering and Adoption Week we re-trace their journey and find out why they are encouraging other same-sex couples to adopt through Barnardo's.
The journey begins
Graham had always enjoyed being a godfather but without a child of his own, he also knew something was missing from his life.
His husband Martin, a building surveyor, has two grown-up children from a previous relationship but was also keen to adopt with Graham.
After working on their relationship and creating a solid family base Graham downloaded a brochure to look into their options.
He said: "My parents supported and sponsored children from many different backgrounds, so adopting had been on my mind for a long time.
"We were contacted quickly by the agency who wanted us to tell them a bit about ourselves and our reasons for wanting to adopt. It was really relaxed and not a daunting conversation or anything to be worried about."
After a home visit in 2016, they were asked to go over their background, work-life, and earnings.
With the support of their social worker, they were asked to fill in a workbook of questions to help begin to assess their suitability and think about adoption more fully.
"We would advise being as honest as possible at every stage because they want to make sure you are set up to the parent in a successful way."
References were checked and a health assessment and police check were also carried out.
They attended a two-day preparation course, where they met with other prospective adopters and learned about what it means to adopt and the needs of children, including some of the lasting effects of childhood trauma, both mentally and physically.
Calling it 'a reality check', Martin explains: "They wanted to make us aware of some of the challenges and potential behavioral traits in adopted children so we were prepared.
"I think it helped us to accept that any behavior we came across wouldn't be deliberate and to focus on the nurturing environment that we could offer a child."
The bright-eyed boy who wanted to play
By the time they arrived at the play day in Manchester the couple was at the final stages of adoption.
This came after regular meetings with their social worker to complete a full assessment and approval by the adoption panel.
The couple had discussed a number of ‘potential matches’ and studied information with the basic backgrounds of the children they were to meet and had a couple in mind.
Until a bright-eyed boy burst into their lives who just wanted to play.
"Josh was running around being a pirate. He came up, thrust a plastic sword into Martin's hand, and said 'I want you to come and play with me.'" The spirited youngster, aged 8 at the time, was small for his age. "He kept running around after us even as we ate lunch and were moved on to other areas" remembers Graham lovingly. While play fighting with Martin the young boy pulled him aside and asked innocently 'will you be my daddy?'
"We knew at that point that he was the boy," said Graham.
The couple then spent months investigating Josh's background through his social workers, teachers, and other professionals.
Martin said: "It was important to make sure we knew everything so that he would never have to go back into the care system.
"We wanted to be prepared with the right knowledge to make him feel loved and secure."
The youngster was incredibly excited at the good news and was given a storybook to tell him all about his new dads, where they lived, and even what his bedroom looked like.
The couple then met with Josh several times, spending time with him at his foster carer’s home and taking him out, before he came to live with them.
"He asked a lot of questions and was slightly worried that we wouldn't know what he liked and disliked but that was never going to be a problem after the amount of research we had done," said Graham.
Asked about any concerns they had at the beginning, he added: "We knew we had to limit his sugar intake, that he was prone to temper tantrums and spent a lot of time on his computer.
"We decided to tackle this by making his new life all about playing together and going out into the countryside for long walks."
"It was hard at first, it was exhausting. The way we deal with things is often through humor and he didn't understand that. So sometimes we would say things and he wouldn't find it funny.
"He came with a significant amount of labels but now they are non-existent. We have found a school that understands him, he has an EHC (Education Health Care) plan which is now out of date and he is catching up and developing really well. Every day is just blissful with him."
Encouraging the LGBTQ+ community to adopt
The couple is very supportive of the gay community and wants others to know that they can adopt too.
In fact, one in seven adoptions in England last year were to same-sex couples.
Martin said: "I think there is a need for LGBTQ+ Fostering and Adoption Week because people from many different backgrounds can make a difference to a child.
"They have to try and encourage all sorts of families to come forward for diversity, whatever your religion, beliefs or sexual orientation, it doesn’t matter.
"Also a lot of gay people don't know that they can adopt, so it's about getting that message out there and being as supportive as possible."
However, both men agree that their sexuality makes no difference whatsoever to their role as parents. Graham, who has spoken of adopting on gay radio, said: "We are not gay parents, we are just parents. "When we pick him up from school the kids will say 'Josh your dads are here' and that's totally normal to him. "At home he sees us hug and kiss like any other couple; everyone has been very supportive and day-to-day life is about us meeting family and friends who support and encourage us at every stage. Josh is a big hit with everyone.”
Asked about his adoption journey Josh is honest and positive.
The slightly shy 10-year-old tells me: "When I found out it was happening I was a little bit scared and a little bit excited.
"In the beginning, I had a couple of angry moments but not anymore. I feel very loved and get lots of hugs."
Josh has adapted well to his new life and loves living in the countryside and playing with the dogs. He has also been introduced to some great new activities thanks to his dads.
"I am learning to dive in a swimming pool and I've just started learning to snowboard."
Finally, I ask all three of them what they would say to others who are thinking of adopting?
Martin answers: "I would say really embrace the whole process and do your research. We dedicated ourselves to finding everything out about Josh because we didn't want any surprises."
His husband agrees about being proactive.
Graham said: "There are lots of things you can do, I joined adoption groups online and I would also say to find a mentor.
"Be honest and build a network of people around you who are going through the same process to bounce concerns off.
"My best advice is don't be daunted because it is incredibly rewarding."
Speaking about the support offered by Barnardo's in the process the couple can not praise the children's charity enough.
"The adoption team was amazing throughout the whole process" enthuses Graham.
"We called on them a lot for support and advice and they did that without question. They make you realise that no-one is judging you and will always try to help, it is amazing how easy the process can be."
Spiderman-mad Josh, the little boy at the heart of this story, is equally as encouraging.
Resting between his two fathers contently, he adds: "I would say to other people thinking of adopting to definitely go for it."
Barnardo’s echoes the family’s call for more people to enquire about adoption to help give more children the chance to join their forever family.
The charity offers comprehensive training and support to potential adopters throughout their adoption journey; from the moment of inquiry, during the approval process, through to meeting their child for the first time and beyond, for as long as is needed by our families.
Barnardo’s believes in children, and our adoption services help create the strong families, safe childhoods, and positive futures that every young person deserves.