As part of Big Adoption Day (5 June), Jake from the Adoptables programme, run by the charity Coram, shares his story of being adopted and his experiences at school.
I was about 7 years old when I was adopted, moving from Scotland to England. I didn’t really understand it at the time, all I knew was that I was leaving my foster family to live with some new people whom I had only met a few times. It was quite scary because I was so young, and the journey from Scotland to England was the first time I had ever been on a plane. Saying goodbye to my foster parents was tough, they had been like a second family to me.
At first my understanding of being adopted was a bit confused. At home, and when I attended groups with other adopted children, I was in a safe space, free of judgement. My family especially helped me to settle into my new life by making me feel safe and protected. However, at school I was targeted for being adopted. This would range from small jokes calling me an orphan or saying I wasn’t loved, to being physically attacked. These attacks really damaged my confidence and shattered the idea that I would be accepted by society. Children can be cruel when they don’t understand something. It made me feel like I had to hide things about me away from people.
My teachers were always trying to be helpful but in reality they couldn’t change other people’s perceptions about adoption, or the bullying that resulted from it. There was a lot of stigma around adoption and a massive lack of understanding. The teachers were simply not equipped to deal with the situation.
In a recent debate in the House of Lords, Lord Triesman recognised that there was a need to improve the educational experiences of adopted children. He remarked that 'nearly four in five adopted children say that they are confused and worried at school and believe that other kids enjoy school far more, and that two-thirds report being bullied or teased because of adoption'. Lord Triesman, who is an adoptive parent himself, also lamented 'the lack of widespread professional development in this area among teachers'.
I am a member of the Adoptables, a peer network of adopted young people run by the children’s charity Coram, and many of us have been affected by the issues that Lord Triesman has raised. In 2016 we co-produced the Adoptables Schools’ Toolkit which aims to improve the awareness and understanding of adopted young people’s experiences at school. The Toolkit, which is free to download, is designed especially to help teachers and contains lesson plans that can be delivered in Citizenship or PSHE classes.
Personally, as I’ve grown up, my own understanding of being adopted has changed. When I was about 15 years old I started to see it as a part of my life I should explore rather than hide away. When I finally did open up about being adopted it felt good to be accepted by the people around me. I started to realise that being adopted wasn’t a negative thing.
The new environment with a new family had a very positive impact on me. Mum and Dad helped me move forward in my life so I wasn’t focusing on the past but looking forward to the future. Both Mum and Dad have a good relationship with my birth dad, which is something I am very fortunate to experience. I feel very lucky to have two loving parents who have always been there for me when I needed them.
I have accomplished a lot of things in my life and it is those achievements that I want to reflect my identity. Being adopted has in some ways set me apart from the rest of my peers because my life experiences have been different. But everyone is different and that is something that school children can learn to understand and embrace with the right support.
The most important lesson for children who are adopted is that it isn’t what the past did to you; it’s what the future can offer. Try to surround yourself with people who will accept you on your own terms and not for who they want you to be. It’s important to love yourself for who you are, no matter what happened before. If I had to give some advice to my younger self it would be not to worry. Things fall into place eventually, just always keep your head up high and help those around you.
Being adopted carries its challenges, but ultimately it is hugely positive and has changed my life for the better.
Find out more about Coram’s Adoptables programme and the Schools’ Toolkit at www.coram.org.uk/supporting-young-people/adoptables