Supporting forces families through adoption

21 October 2015

Supporting military families through adoption

Kathy has been a Senior Social Work Practitioner for the SSAFA Adoption Service since 2007. On National Adoption Week Kathy tells us how she supports military families through the adoption process.


I am a Social Worker in SSAFA’s adoption team. Our job is to assess and support military families who want to adopt, whether through the local authority where they live or through other VAA’s – agencies like SSAFA who run an adoption service. However, many families find that their local adoption agencies won’t take them on. This can be for a variety of reasons, particularly if the families are moving or the agency is worried they may move. Because stability is so important to children being adopted, agencies often believe moving them will threaten this and they fail to recognise the other strengths these families offer. Unfortunately, prejudices against the military can also make adoption difficult, with applications explaining to SSAFA that they have been turned down because the agency rejects applications from serving people.

As a SSAFA Social Worker, I help military families to adopt by working around their moves and deployments and finding time to undergo what is, and has to be, a demanding assessment process. Many children who need adoption have often suffered extreme hardship and so avoiding frequent moves is valued highly by adoption agencies. As a result, we have to work hard to identify and present the families’ strengths to local authorities in order to prove what great parents are military families could be despite their need to move. We also help writing supporting letters for housing and welfare issues to ensure the adoptive families get all the help they need.

Understanding adopters is never easy. We usually work with families who have initially wanted a baby and so we need to ensure they have processed that loss and are emotionally stable. It can also be extremely hard to bond with, and parent, a non-biological child - particularly a child who has had a difficult start to life. However, SSAFA’s Adoption Service proves it can and does work. We pride ourselves on having the most amazing adopters who brilliantly parent even the most vulnerable of children. The strength and resilience of military families is sure to be a great factor of this achievement.

Much of my understanding of the strengths of military adopters comes from 30 years social work experience which included adoption work. However, I have also been fortunate to be part of a military family myself, enjoying 30 years’ of marriage with a member of the RAF. I know at first-hand how the long deployments, separations and house moves – often when partners are away (I’ve done 12!) - breed resilience, coping strategies and empathy in the partners of serving personnel. This is exactly what these children need. Many of our staff have had some connection with the services but even for those who haven’t, they soon develop an understanding of military culture and the machinations of service life.

The main challenge of my job is the travel. Our policy is to provide a consistent worker to our adoptive families throughout Great Britain, Northern Ireland and Germany regardless of their need to move. Consequently, when a child is being placed often families who lived nearby have since moved. This move has occurred to me too. Fortunate to have worked for SSAFA’s adoption team for almost nine years, the job has moved with me four times.

Although I have moved often, this allows me to have a case load that’s about half that of a worker from a Local Authority. This gives me the opportunity to work closely with adopters, to get to know them as individuals and to provide brilliant service that our military adopters deserve. We need to prove that not only are they fit for the job but, they can be the best adopters out there. On making the final Adoption Order for a SSAFA family, the Judge once asked me why the adopters had come to SSAFA, not the local authority. On explaining the family had been turned down because of their military background, the Judge was appalled. They recognised that despite, and perhaps because of, the challenges of military life, this was a family who could really make a difference to some of the UK’s most vulnerable children.