Zena and Jamie adopted Rico* when he was two-and-a-half in 2006 through Childlink, an adoption agency acquired by PACT in 2010. Rico is now 14.
The couple chose to adopt because of medical issues that meant Zena was unable to have children naturally.
Zena, who was raised by her step-father but always called him dad, said adoption was an easy decision for them.
“I knew what it was like to be loved by someone who isn’t my biological parent and not feel any different about that. My husband also has adoption in his family so it was always something that had been on our radar.”
Zena said they found the adoption process reflective, intrusive, insightful and demanding.
“What makes the process sustainable is the care and support you get from your social worker who help you navigate the process and is there for you throughout.
“I don’t think people talk enough about the role of the social worker in this process and how having a great one can make such a difference.
“Obviously the child is paramount but it’s important you don’t get lost in the journey and our social worker was caring, professional and supportive throughout. She really was our best cheerleader – helping to raise us up when things were tough but also the first to celebrate with us when things were great.”
Zena is of mixed white New Zealand and Maori heritage and Jamie is white British. Because of this they received many profiles of dual heritage children, including Rico who is of mixed white and black Caribbean heritage.
They first met him on a blind visit, watching him through the window at his nursery before meeting him properly in person at his foster carers’ home.
“I remember he ran up saying ‘hi mummy, hi daddy, come and look at my toys’, it was such a lovely moment.”
Zena took a year off work and Rico settled really well, bonding with them both. The only problem they had was with his sleep which they resolved after getting some help.
However, a few years later, following a difficult time for the family when Jamie was very poorly, Rico developed some behavioural problems.
Zena said: “There were also some issues going on at school – he basically had a lot to deal with and this came at a time when there was a lot going on at home too.
“To be honest we were slow to ask for help – I think because we’d had six years where everything had gone so well. Suddenly his behaviour got really bad – he got into trouble with the police and became violent towards us and in the home.”
The family received support from PACT’s Strengthening Families Team and also some specialist behavioural therapy.
“As an adoptive parent you feel like you need to be perfect and you can’t fail. I think partly that’s because you are constantly being judged – initially to see if you are suitable to be a parent and then to see if you are suitable to parent the child you want.
“I think that feeling stays with you and can make it difficult to reach out for help as that feels like you are admitting you’ve failed.
“I would say if you need help, don’t delay in asking for it.”
Zena praised the support PACT offers, including the resources available online via The Adopter Hub, where she helps out as a volunteer.
She advised anyone considering adoption to look very carefully at what post-placement support is available when choosing who you decide to adopt with.
“You might not know it at the time but post-adoption support is key – choose an agency or charity that offers good post-adoption support. You might well not need it but you’ll be glad if you do. PACT offers a life-long commitment to its families and I just find that so reassuring that they will be there as long as we need them.
“We’ve probably faced greater challenges than most but then we’ve been lucky in that we’ve got access to resources and help. Right from the start all the training sessions we had really helps you build up your resilience and so much of it is still relevant to us today, 14 years later!”
She said Rico is an incredibly loving boy, who is fun and talented, and was learning from the mistakes he had made.
“We have got a kid who loves us and we love him.
“And we all chose each other, which is so important. We tell him all the time – we chose to raise a family together and we chose you as our child – you were the child for us, we chose you.”