Interactive Investor

‘No one prepares you for the cost of adoption’

22nd June 2021 10:54

Carolyn Robertson from ii contributor

Carolyn Robertson shares her experience of the life-changing financial impact.

Adoption felt like the natural choice for us. Neither Vicky, my partner, or I had an overwhelming biological urge to procreate, but we did want to be mums.

When we decided to embark on our adoption journey, we were comfortably off. Vicky ran her own digital marketing company and I was a full-time teacher in a middle-management role. Twelve years on, our lives look very different. We are mums to two brilliant boys but my teaching career, and any likelihood of working full time again, has evaporated alongside my £40K salary and pension.

Through vigorous training we knew that being adoptive parents would present  challenges and be different to having birth children. Many children placed for adoption in the UK today have been removed from their biological families and many have suffered trauma and loss, which can dramatically impact their behaviours.

Our first son was only eight months when he was placed with us and settled quickly. I returned to teaching after taking full adoption leave and we made the decision to adopt again three years later. Our second son was almost two when he came to us, after a difficult start to life, and needed a lot more support. We flagged our concerns to social services and were signposted to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and sent on a carousel of parenting courses.

Our youngest son just about managed part-time nursery but the demands of mainstream school significantly impacted his ability to cope. By the time he finished his first year at school, he had four exclusions under his tiny belt. As I worked close by, I was the one receiving the ‘please come and collect your son’ phone call in the middle of my teaching day. It affected my ability to do my job and self-esteem.

According to a recent Adoption UK charity survey, adopted children are 20 times more likely to be excluded than their peers. As our son’s exclusions grew longer in duration it became impossible for me to work, so I gave up teaching.

Prior to adopting I had a rose-tinted view of the world; that our children would be cushioned by a net of societal/educational support and understanding. This is no longer my view.

The past six years have been an endurance test where we have had to fight to secure the right provision for our son. Even with my insider knowledge, getting the relevant paperwork, assessments and reports needed to gain funding for a specialist school has been a full-time job.

Our son missed out on almost a year of education but now attends a SEMH (social, emotional and mental health) school. He is home by 3pm. This renders returning to teaching impossible for me. His complex needs mean that after-school clubs, childminders and even extended family care isn’t an option.

We have had to significantly tighten our belts and look for ways to make up for the shortfall in income. Initially we found ourselves always in the red and cancelled anything that wasn’t essential: cleaner, subscriptions, treats and holidays abroad. We resorted to Airbnb-ing our home at weekends and school holidays; staying with family or camping to free up our house to rent.

A small silver pecuniary lining came in the form of discovery, early in the adoption journey, that there were no books that represented same-sex adoptive families. As a teacher I knew what made a good picture book, so I decided to write my own. I found an illustrator to interpret my appalling stick people drawings and then approached publishers.

I was told my books were too niche to invest in, so I set up my own publishing house and produced the books using print-on-demand services. I’m proud to say they have done extremely well. I’ve sold over 10,000 books and same-sex adopters contact me from around the world saying how affirming it is to see their families depicted in my books. I’m not making anything like my teaching salary but my writing and the marketing of my books does fit around our son’s school day.

I have no regrets about adopting as our life is generally positive.

However, the financial situation we have found ourselves in is not unique to our family. I know scores of adopters whose careers have been halted by their  children’s complex needs. I believe it is disingenuous of adoption agencies, local authorities and the government to say ‘anyone can adopt’ without putting in place some serious support and renumeration for those of us who find ourselves unable to work due to the needs of our vulnerable children.

Becky O’ Connor, head of pensions and savings at interactive investor, says: “If you take time out of work to look after children, then ensure you are registered for child benefit so that you receive National Insurance credits for missed work years to protect your state pension entitlement.

“Even if you earn more than the high income child benefit tax charge threshold, you should still fill out the application form for child benefit stating that you do not wish to actually receive the benefit, as at the moment this is the only way to receive National Insurance credits towards your state pension.”

She adds: “Make sure that you are taking advantage of any other tax allowances that can be shared between higher and lower-earning partners. Marriage allowance is available to civil partners.

“If you can afford to continue to supplement your private pension when out of work, even if it is just £25 a month, you can still receive tax relief on contributions even if you are not earning. These steps will help prevent you paying for time out of work to care for children, not only now but in the future, too.”

Carolyn Robertson is a writer and you can find out more about her and her books on her website.

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