This article is based on a speech given by Ann-Marie Bentley to the Shipley Feminist Zealots. She kindly contributed some material for the article.

Today’s families come in all shapes and sizes.  Single parents, same-sex parents, working parents, disabled parents.  These families are not only accepted in society but, supposedly, by adoption agencies too.  So why has Ann-Marie been turned down twice before even making it to assessment?  She is pretty certain she knows the answer.

Ann-Marie was brought up in foster care.  She has helped look after other children in her foster parent’s care.  She has been in a stable, happy marriage for over five years.  She has a Health and Social Care AVCE, AS levels in Sociology and Psychology, and a degree in Welfare Studies.  She has worked as a support worker, does volunteer work, and serves on committees.  She regularly babysits her nephews.  She is a warm, funny, kind, organized, confident woman with a lot of love to give (and all this I knew within a few minutes of meeting her).  By any measure, she is the perfect person to adopt.  But according to adoption agencies, she is unqualified to raise children.

Ann-Marie is disabled.  Her husband is not.  She can’t help but ask, would it be different if their roles were reversed?  It seems that adoption agencies are yet to get the memo that women are no longer the sole caregivers.  They are so focused on Ann-Marie’s wheelchair that they are unable to see the couple as a whole, unable to see or even consider how they would parent, unable, or unwilling to give them a chance to demonstrate their joint ability.  Instead, they are so stuck in age-old notions of couple dynamics that they don’t even bother to check with the couple in question.

According to First4Adoption, ‘being disabled should not automatically exclude anyone from becoming an adopter’ and ‘it is recognized that the life experiences of disabled people can give them a unique insight into the lives of children in care’ yet it seems many agencies aren’t heeding this advice.  Those who have been able to adopt report long, drawn-out processes during which they had to go to great lengths to prove they were capable of looking after children.  I understand that anyone who wishes to adopt must go through checks but why are these checks any different for people with disabilities?  Most disabled people are far too aware of their limitations to go into something like adoption without thinking it through.  We are, after all, reminded of them every time we go out into the world by things like stairs, turnstiles, pavements, and poorly laid out shops.

The issues run deep here; the adoption agency’s decisions are based not only on old-fashioned, patriarchal views of families but also on the idea that disabled people aren’t capable of looking after themselves or others.  Ann-Marie – like many disabled people (myself included) – has made the hard decision that having biological children would risk her health.  If she is to have children, she wants to be at her best for them, not to have made herself irreparably ill in order to give birth.  By rejecting her before even meeting her the agencies are not making a judgment of her abilities but of her gender and her disability. Isn’t it time this changed?

For anyone affected by this issue, I found a forum that has some useful discussions.

Ann-Marie Bentley is a knitter, stitcher, and all-around crafter who writes about the ups and downs of life using a wheelchair. She is involved with Wur Bradford on their art and society projects making Zines.  She is on the committees for Disabled Peoples Forum Bradford and Service User Involvement Group as well as being involved in campaign groups and Shipley Feminist Zealots.  Find her on twitter @bendywendy12