Throughout his career in social work, Ed Merchant, a former adoption team manager, noticed that applications from prospective gay adopters were not taken seriously.
“It’s because of homophobic attitudes I believe. When I was undertaking a programme of further study I found that research pointed to there being no reason why gay men should not be seriously considered as adoptive parents.”
Mindful of this, when his course offered an opportunity for creative writing Merchant decided to write a short children’s book about gay parenting and alternative families. His decision was also motivated by the recognition that, “as society moves forward more and more children will be adopted by gay parents”.
In his role as kinship fostering assessor for Nottingham Council, Merchant had not found any books that explained the realities of gay parenting to children.
“There were some lovely stories, but they were all very idealised. As a gay parent myself I know it is not always plain-sailing and I wanted to write a book for social workers and parents to open discussions with children on some of the harder topics, such as bullying at school.”
Dad David, Baba Chris and Me aims to explain the issues “simply and honestly” to children, he says.
“Too often adults feel it’s their job to protect children from anything that could be painful but we mustn’t be afraid of being honest. Giving children an idealised view of life means they will blame themselves if things don’t work out. We need to give children permission to just be; to not worry about what will be expected of them or whether they are different – and to understand that difference is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Writing the book has been a huge learning curve for Merchant. “I had no prior writing experience but I got a first in the assignment so my tutor suggested I get it published.” Merchant sent the draft manuscript to mainstream publishers but “didn’t hear a thing” until he contacted the British Association for Adoption and Fostering. “They were really interested. Although they asked me to make a few changes I’m thrilled with the finished product.”
The early feedback, Merchant says, has been positive. “Social workers who’ve read it have said they will definitely use it in their work with children and parents.” He points out that the book can also be helpful for “any child with questions, or even those who may have bullied children growing up with gay parents.”
Merchant is optimistic that times are changing. “More councils, including Nottingham, are actively trying to recruit same-sex adopters,” he says.
The social worker’s perspective:
This book for five to10-year-olds tells the story of Ben, now nearly eight. He was adopted when he was four by his gay parents, Dad David and Baba Chris, writes independent social worker Bridget Betts.
The book has bold, bright illustrations interspersed by short pieces of text. An adult reading the story through with a child can link Ben’s story to a child’s own experience.
It deals with common themes in a child’s experience of adoption, ie, loss, placement moves and being different. It explores well the diversity of different families and the ordinariness of family life with same sex parents.
Within this context the book also manages to address some of the extraordinary issues that may arise for children being parented in a same sex family – what to call your parents, bullying and whether their sexuality will be affected by being raised by two dads – “will I be gay like you?”
These issues are tackled in a confident, sensitive and realistic way. For example, Ben still experiences name-calling but he can talk to his dads about his feelings and worries and he has close friends at school who are supportive.
This is a timely book and it will be a particularly useful resource for social workers and carers preparing children for adoption by gay dads, and equally for adoptive parents when a child comes to live with them.
The adoptive parent’s perspective:
As a gay male who has successfully navigated the adoption process I found that the book touches on important issues for children (and prospective adopters) such as homophobic bullying and whether a child will grow up gay if adopted by a gay couple, writes Zolton Abbott.
Because of this, I believe that the story will help facilitate discussion that needs to be had, and could be useful for children, social workers and adults. Issues of support and love in a gay family are also sensitively addressed with a strong balance between needing to be ordinary while also being special as an adopted child.
However, as for helping to change the views of social workers who may not want to implement gay-friendly policy, (as reflects my own experience) the story may only serve to preach to the converted.
Dad David, Baba Chris and Me is written by Ed Merchant and illustrated by Rachel Fuller. It is published by the BAAF. £8.95
● Recruiting, assessing and supporting lesbian and gay carers and adopters
Gerald P Mallon and Bridget Betts (BAAF, September 2005) £9.95
● The Pink Guide to Adoption – Nicola Hill ( BAAF , May 2009) £12.95
● Josh and Jaz Have Three Mums – Hedi Argent (BAAF, 2007) £8.95
UK network for gay adoptive parents