Siblings who need to stay together, often wait longer than other children to be adopted, which is why agencies like ARC Adoption North East are looking for more adopters to consider providing a permanent, nurturing home to more than one child. As part of our ‘Better off together’ campaign, we spoke to parents Gillian and Ryan, who adopted two sisters.

Gillian and Ryan have two lovely daughters who are ten and almost eight. They adopted them back in 2016 with the support of ARC Adoption North East, when they were four and almost two. 

When starting the adoption process, Gillian and Ryan were open minded about what their family might look like. They were always keen on having more than one child, but were also thinking about what they could cope with as first-time parents, the ages the children might be, as well as practical things such things such as the size of their home, and their support network of family and friends.

As they moved through the adoption process though, a pathway towards siblings was confirmed:

Gillian said: “The more we learnt about siblings that came through and hearing about the benefits of them being adopted together as a family unit – that and the training we had, it all led us to go with siblings. We weren’t necessarily bothered about having a boy and a girl, or two of each, we were just happy to go with two siblings.” Slightly tongue in cheek, she says she now wishes they adopted three children!

Ryan later tells us that he always knew that two daughters would be right: “I actually always wanted two girls. I thought that would be the perfect package. We wanted to have two kids that could be friends and have each other.”

Meeting their children for the first time

After completing all of the preparation, Gillian and Ryan were approved as adopters at the end of 2015 and it was shortly afterwards that they heard about the two little girls that were to become their daughters.

After a period of introductions through a photo book and shared videos, it was time to meet the children in person. Ryan remembers it was an overcast July Monday morning when it happened and they felt nervous.  The had been prepped to understand that the youngest was quite shy, and might take some time to open up to them, and they were also mindful of the fact that the eldest had experienced a long road in care.

On pulling up outside the house in their car, their eldest daughter opened the blinds and waved, shouting Daddy. Slightly taken aback, Ryan said: “Gillian, the bairns’ waving at me, what do I do, and she said, well wave back! It was full on.”

Gillian also recalls: “It was a whirlwind from that point. We should have took a moment outside. Like when she shouted Daddy and then I got out of the car she said ‘and Mummy’.

“We went to the door and the foster carer said don’t be worried if the little one doesn’t come to you straight away, but actually, she put her arms straight out for me. I went over to lift her up and I was tearing up, as we’d been prepped that she wouldn’t do that."

“They weren’t shy or withdrawn or worried or anything that we’d been prepared for them to be. They were warm and loving, and playful straight away with us, and it was lovely because we didn’t expect that, you know. We thought it would be more of a slow bonding process and we were prepared to give them their space, and let them come to us – but they were just woosh straight away.”

Ryan adds that it was such an emotional experience, and something quite hard to explain knowing it’s not something that most people get to experience, meeting their children in that way.

Gillian and Ryan are also quick to point out that their experience wasn’t necessarily typical, and that they thought they were lucky in part for everything to have been so easy meeting the girls.

They also talk very fondly of the foster carers who they said did a fantastic job of preparing the children for meeting them, and eventually taking them home. They found them to be a big support and are still friends today.

Ryan said: “Our social worker from the local authority was brilliant too, very professional – and she managed us well.  And our social worker with the Voluntary agency, well she was brilliant, wasn’t she?”

Gillian replied: “Yes, we couldn’t ask for more support and preparation for it. Throughout the whole process of knowing about adopting siblings, and things you need to consider with that, we were just really prepared.”

Settling into their new home, together

On bringing the girls home, Gillian and Ryan think that having each other was a definite comfort to them. Gillian said:

“Bringing them home together helped them settle in, in every way possible. They had seen their bedrooms as we had made them a book about our home and family, but they came in together and wanted to explore together like children do. They held hands and were running between each other’s rooms, showing each other things and sharing everything.”

She adds: “I often wonder what it would have been like for our eldest - whether she would have settled on her own? I think it would have been an entirely different experience. I think she is very comforted by having her little sister there, although she’s the oldest. Little one is a lot more confident for all she’s younger, but I still think she needs her sister as well. Even now you bring one home and she’ll ask where the other one is.”

When Gillian suggests that they needed each other more than them as parents at the beginning, Ryan interjects and reminds Gillian how quickly the youngest daughter became attached to her. He remembers this clearly as he’d be the one trying to console her when she was crying for Mummy if Gillian nipped out to the shops or something. They have a little chuckle at this.

Gillian adds: “Bringing them home together, I think was the best thing and it was at that point that I thought, yes, this was definitely the right thing to do – adopting siblings together.

“You read a lot and do a lot of training, but actually having them both together and watching them grow and settle together and have each other - that’s the biggest learning curve and they dictate how we parent and show us what they need. It really helps.”

The sibling bond and shared experiences

On asking Gillian and Ryan what the best thing has been about adopting sisters, Gillian said:

“It’s funny as sometimes they don’t get on, but they look for each other all the time. It’s nice to take that step back and think yeah, they’ve got each other and they’ve always had each other, and they’ve come to us together. For all they fight and argue, they know that they always have each other don’t they?”

Ryan remembers: “I dropped them off at school a couple of weeks ago, a couple of hundred yards up the road and I said to them ‘You can walk down’. I watched and they were shoulder to shoulder, just chatting away as they walked down towards the car park. It’s when you’re not there that you see the bond, as when you’re there with them, they might be fighting for attention – but when it’s just them two and they’re off, they’re best mates. It’s like the secret world of sisters.”

Gillian also notes that when they have had conversations with them about adoption, they look at each other’s responses and reactions. Although they might have a different take on things due to their ages, they’re comfortable with it and they think that is helped by being with the person that went through that experience with them – sharing the same life story.

Gillian adds: “I think if you’ve got a child that’s adopted, and just the one, they’re probably wondering who else has gone through this and you know, I wonder if there’s someone in my class who’s gone through this, whereas they’ve got each other. I think it’s a comfort for them, and it’s nice for us that they’ve got that.

“I think about what their journey will be when they’re older, how they’ll process this when they’re older and it’ll be interesting to see whether they’ll approach things together, if they want to look into history.”

Advice for adoptive parents thinking about adopting siblings

On asking Gillian and Ryan if they have any advice to give to others thinking about adopting siblings, Gillian suggests talking to friends and family members who are parents.

“Speak to people you know who’ve got kids and ask them what it’s like to raise siblings and what they go through – is it harder with two or is it actually easier with two? Ask for as much advice as you can and make sure you have your support network there with you. It is overwhelming at first, but it is for any parent. Don’t be afraid to ask people, just because you’re adopting, it doesn’t make you any less of a parent. That’s my biggest advice.”

Gillian also has advice for people daunted at the thought of adopting more than one child, and how it has actually alleviated worries for her about bonding and attachment, that parents who adopt one child may be more likely to have.

“Having siblings, you’ve watched them bond with another child, you’ve seen them share, argue, make friends, love somebody else. So, it’s a good indication about what they’ll be like when they go to school, and what they will be like with other children. I think I am much more relaxed as I’ve seen how they overcome struggles with their sibling. And for me that is a great source of comfort. For someone who is considering looking at adopting siblings – I think it’s a huge thing because it takes away some of the worry about bonding and attaching.”

A life changing experience

It’s clear from talking to Gillian and Ryan that adopting their daughters has been completely life changing – and they struggle to think about a time when they weren’t theirs.

Gillian says: “You often sit and think about if you’d took a different path and become a parent differently – but for me those girls are mine, they were always meant for me, and I was meant for them. They are just our world. It’s a massive impact but a wonderful one, and it’s challenging, and sometimes upsetting and heart-breaking, and all of the things that encompass being a parent – but I would tell anybody to go for adoption if it’s something they’re thinking about, something that’s crossed their mind to find out more about it, because it’s wonderful.”

Ryan echoes Gillian’s thoughts saying: “It was the most profound experience of my life, the first day that I met them – and then it’s just an emotional rollercoaster after that. The novelty doesn’t wear off. It grows stronger and stronger, this love. It’s something that is in me that I didn’t know I had until I had these kids – every day is just a blessing with them, and I can’t wait to see them every day.”

If you have been considering adoption and would like to find out more, please complete our enquiry form, and a member of our experienced team will be happy to tell you more and chat to you about your circumstances.