Meet Sally & Zoe
After being turned away by local authorities on the basis of their status as a military family, British Army nurse Zoe and her partner Sally successfully adopted three children through SSAFA's independent adoption agency for families in the Armed Forces community.
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Zoe joined the Army in 1992 as a nurse. She met Sally, who was just starting a career in education, in 1998.
"When we started to think about adoption, we approached Birmingham City Council, where we lived at the time, but they turned us down. The primary reason was that Zoe was in the military," recalls Sally. "Their concern was that we would move and they wouldn’t be able to support us," explains Zoe.
After being turned down by the local authority, Zoe suggested turning to the SSAFA Adoption Service, an independent adoption agency that assesses people for adoption, coaches them, connects them with social workers and helps match them with children who are looking to be adopted.
In 2008, SSAFA helped Sally and Zoe to adopt three brothers, then aged three, four and nine. "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 wherever and whenever they move."
Life as an adoptive military family
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 was very much on our wavelength," says Sally. ‘"They were very understanding and are still a great source of help. If we need any support, we always 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," explains Zoe, "which was 12 months' leave, and then some additional parental leave. In the end I had 15 months off work to spend bonding 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!" laughs Zoe. "There are a lot of challenges, but it helps that I work in education so I’m off work when the boys are off school," adds 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. People can see you’re not a traditional family, so they sometimes feel they can ask quite personal questions, like 'so whose actually are they?', or 'which one of you gave birth?' and expect you to answer!"
When it comes to offering advice to others thinking of adopting, they both recommend making use of as much of the available support 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, how 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."
"Whatever you do in the Army, it’s a good career for anyone. Certainly, it’s been good to me over the years," declares Zoe. "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."