Military adopters Zoe and Sally share their story
For anyone setting out on the journey to adopt a child there will be hurdles to overcome. The process requires undergoing a rigorous assessment program and background checks. There will be training workshops to attend and many deep and probing questions to answer.
Adoption agencies want to ensure that prospective adopters can provide a stable home life for a child. For this reason, members of the armed forces can face particular challenges.
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‘When we first started to think about adoption, we were living in Birmingham. We approached Birmingham City Council and the primary reason for them turning us down was that Zoe was in the military,’ says Sally.
‘Their concern was that we would obviously move and they wouldn’t be able to support us,’ says her civil partner, Zoe. ‘In hindsight, we did move before we were matched with any children, so maybe they were right.’
Zoe joined the army in 1992 and is an army nurse. She met Sally, who was just starting a career in education, in 1998 at a rugby club event in Portsmouth, England. They now live in Northamptonshire. They’ve asked us not to use their full names.
They say they both talked about the possibility of having a family early on in their relationship and discussed the various options open to them. However, it was a few more years before they made that first approach to local authorities in Birmingham in the mid-00s. ‘There are a lot of children out there that need support and a family,’ says Sally about their decision to adopt.
‘Neither of us particularly wanted us go through the whole bit of being pregnant, and it just seemed the most sensible way for us to do it at the time.’
‘And I think if we’d had birth children, they’ll always be related to one of us and not the other,’ adds Zoe. After being turned down by their local authority, Zoe suggested turning to SSAFA. SSAFA Adoption Service is an independent adoption agency. It assess people for adoption, trains them, connects them with social workers and helps them find children who are looking to be adopted.
In 2016, it placed 23 children with adopters. In 2008, it helped Sally and Zoe to adopt three brothers, then aged 3, 4 and 9. ‘Here at SSAFA we are very familiar with the unusual and peripatetic lifestyle of Military families,’ says SSAFA Adoption Service Manager, Jill Farrelly.
‘Regular house moves and misconceptions surrounding these families’ lifestyles can make it difficult for some serving personnel to progress with traditional adoption applications however, as a national agency we are able to support adopters through the entire process – staying with them from start to finish.’
After becoming parents, Sally and Zoe relocated to Germany for two years. They say SSAFA was able to offer support in a way that other adoption agencies couldn’t match. SSAFA can provide assistance almost everywhere where military personnel may be allocated.
‘They were very much on our wavelength,’ says Sally. ‘They were very understanding.
‘Primarily, if we need any support, we fall back on SSAFA initially. They’re very good with their post-adoption support, and we’ve got good working relationships with the social workers.’
The couple also say that they’ve benefitted from Zoe’s position with the army in other ways.
‘I got the army’s adoption package,’ says Zoe, ‘which was 12 months leave, and then some additional parental leave. In the end I had 15 months off with the boys, which was brilliant.’
Both say that becoming parents has been challenging, but hugely rewarding.
‘It was certainly a shock to go from no children to three!’ says Zoe. ‘I think just one child would turn your life upside down anyway. With three, there’s always one that seems to be falling out with the others!’
‘There are a lot of challenges, but it helps that I work in education so I’m off when the boys are off,’ says Sally.
The women say that they have thankfully not experienced any real homophobia as gay parents.
‘The world has changed, hasn’t it?’ reflects Zoe. ‘Although we’ve had one or two odd comments. People seem to think that as we’re a same-sex couple, it’s OK just to ask us where we got the boys from: “So whose actually are they?”, or “Which one of you gave birth?”
‘Because people can see you’re not a traditional family, they sometimes feel they can ask quite personal questions and expect you to answer!’
When it comes to offering advice to others thinking of adopting, they both recommend making use of as much support available as possible.
‘It’s very rewarding but you can’t underestimate the challenges that come with it,’ says Sally.
‘You have to be quite strong as a couple. You have to be able to depend on each other, and you need to be clear about your parenting guidelines, because they’ll push you to think about things you never expected to think about.’
‘Make the most of the screening process that you go through before you adopt,’ says Zoe. ‘Don’t pay lip service to any of it. Really get on board with it, because you can get a lot of valuable information from that whole process. I know it can seem long and invasive, but afterwards you suddenly see the value of it all.’
Given their own experience of the military, and now as mothers, I end our discussion by asking how they would they feel if one of their own boys wanted to sign up?
‘One of our boys is actually thinking about joining the army,’ says Sally. ‘There are a lot of positives to being in the army. It would give him structure and routine. We’d generally be for it, to be honest.’
‘I would prefer that if they joined the military, they do something that gives them a trade,’ adds Zoe, ‘a skill that they could take on after they left. But whatever you do in the army, it’s a good career for anyone. Certainly, it’s been good to me over the years.
‘Obviously, as the mother of a son, if he ended up going to war, I’d be worried. But I wouldn’t put him off joining the army for that reason.’