10:30AM, Friday 23 October 2015
This week marks National Adoption Week and a couple from Colnbrook made the shortlist for a lifetime achievement award. Over the past 25 years, Jim and Sue Clifford have given a loving home to nine children. Reporter Katie Mercer went to meet Sue, to find out what the challenges, and the rewards, have been.
Many of us dream of having a large family.
A couple of kids, maybe a friendly dog at our feet, the smell of something Fairtrade and delicious wafting from the oven and the sound of laughter and Radio 4 filling the kitchen.
But how many of us would go as far as Sue and Jim Clifford, who have adopted nine children?
Married in 1985, the couple from High Street, Colnbrook, always wanted to adopt.
Adopted himself, Jim realised more than most the enormous gift adoption can be to a child and what no child deserves to be – desperate for a loving home.
Sue said: “We planned on having two of our own children and adopting two.
“We adopted our first two children but our own just never came.
“All of our children were found in a newsletter called Children Who Wait that lists older children and sibling groups that are harder to place.
“When you know you can help, how can you not help?
“Often they wait so long they end up in care. It’s not that you can’t have a nice enough life in care but when you’re 18, you’re out on your own and you don’t have a family foundation to fall back on.”
And how many of us can say we never needed our parents again after the age of 18?
This week is First4Adoption’s National Adoption Week and this year’s theme is Too Old at Four?
The campaign aims to highlight the struggle authorities have to place older children.
Sue, 57 and Jim, 54, were nominated by Adoption UK, the adoption information service funded by the Department for Education, for a lifetime achievement award.
Although they were beaten to the award at a ceremony in London on Tuesday the couple hope the nomination can encourage more people to follow their path.
Sue was also recognised because of her mentoring voluntary work with The Cornerstone Partnership. Based in Maidenhead, Sue gives support and advice to newly adoptive parents and those new to the adoption process.
The First4Adoption lifetime achievement nomination is well deserved. If encouraging people to adopt children is the adoption service’s ultimate aim, it’s difficult to imagine a couple better placed than Sue and Jim.
They are proud parents and rightly so.
Each of their children came from the worst imaginable circumstances and yet all of them are now successful, either working or studying. The older ones now have families of their own.
Biological sisters Justine, 31, and Lisa, 35, were Sue and Jim’s first children, adopted in 1991. Next came brothers Chris, 29, and Wayne, 28, and then siblings Devon, 21, Courteney, 18, Cal, 16, Lewis, 15, and youngest daughter, Maisie, 14.
The adoption of Maisie was featured in a BBC 2 documentary called A Home For Maisie. The film offered an uncompromising look at the challenges the behaviour of adopted children can pose.
Maisie’s biological parents had been abusive drug users and by the time she was eight years old she had lived with 10 different families.
Sue said: “It’s very challenging to bring up an adopted child and can be exasperating at times.
“But their behaviour is not who they are, it’s just their way of coping with what has happened to them.
“Often they don’t even really understand their emotions because nobody has ever talked to them or helped them understand what’s going on.”
So different from a typical childhood are the early years of adopted children, Sue describes even having to teach hers how to play.
Unsurprisingly, adopted children often struggle to trust adults and have emotional or behavioural problems.
Some even have problems with mobility due to being left unattended in pushchairs and baby seats for the first years of their lives.
Funding for therapy for adopted children is hard to come by, although Sue says she has noticed this improving in recent years.
Sue, who worked as a chartered accountant and later a special needs teacher at Pippins Primary School in Slough, said: “There’s no doubt about it, it’s hard. And you might well need help.
“I was once five minutes late to pick up my son from school and he flew into an absolute rage.
“I had to try to calm him down and later talk to him about it and say, do you think you got angry not because you don’t like me, but because you were frightened that I wasn’t going to come back for you?
“When he first came to live with us, he didn’t like to be touched or cuddled and had a lot of behavioural problems.
“But within a year, I remember him wrapping his arms around me and giving me a big squeeze.
“He took a big breath through the nose and sniffed the air. He said, ‘Oh, Mummy. You smell like love.’ The change in him was incredible.
“And that’s what it’s about, really. Where would these children be if people didn’t give them a chance?”
Not content with looking after nine children and a dog, Sue also volunteers at Maidenhead-based adoption service The Cornerstone Partnership, which will this week take part in a run to raise awareness for older children who need homes.
Sue acts as a mentor for the service, providing advice and support for those thinking about adoption or going through the process.
The partnership was set up by two adoptive mothers and successful businesswomen Helen Costa and Clare Brasier.
Helen said: “There are currently over 3,000 children waiting for permanent homes in the UK – either via adoption or long term foster care.
“The amazing outpouring from the general public in response to the refugee crisis in Syria has demonstrated the willingness and generosity of families in the UK who are ready and able to provide the love, support and stability so desperately needed by those children already in the UK care system, but perhaps until now unnoticed.
“We want to raise awareness of the needs of these children in the hope that suitable families can be found.”
Since Cornerstone was set up in January, it has helped to prepare and support over 100 families across Berkshire and in West London to adopt. Cornerstone’s 5km run is part of a series of event across the country for National Adoption Week. It will be held in Richmond Park, London on Sunday.