LGBT couple who adopted three children with disabilities urges others to do same

LGBT couple who adopted three children with disabilities urges others to do same

Phil Ashton and Chris Smith, both 41, adopted three children who all have a range of disabilities (Picture: Phil Ashton)

Opening up your home to a child in care can be a beautiful experience, marking the start of a real family for some LGBTQ+ couples.

Phil Ashton and Chris Smith, both 41, initially wanted to adopt a toddler so that they can experience a lot of firsts – like their first words and first steps.

The couple, who live in Merseyside, also put down on their preference list to their local adoption agency that they wanted a child with no significant disabilities.

They did not want to worry about medical needs and instead focus on the joys of parenting.

But life does not work that way and 10 years later the two are the proud adopters of Nathaniel, 11, and brothers Oliver, eight, and Charlie, seven, who all have a range of disabilities.

Phil, who works in the local council, held back tears of pride when he spoke to about his children and how they have all developed over the years.

‘Look beyond the paperwork, see the possibilities and go meet the children who have disabilities,’ he said giving advice to other potential adopters.

LGBT couple who adopted three children with disabilities urges others to do same

Phil (left) and Chris (right) with Oliver (bottom left), Nathaniel (middle) and Charlie (bottom right) (Picture: Phil Ashton)

LGBT couple who adopted three children with disabilities urges others to do same

Hiking is just one of the many activities the family enjoys (Picture: Phil Ashton)

‘You will get loads of firsts with a child with disabilities that you will not get with other children. It sounds bizarre but you might not necessarily see their first steps – in our case we didn’t.

‘But we taught our youngest, Charlie, to eat food again as he was very restricted before. Getting him to eat curry when all he ate before was sausages was a first.

‘I remember I nearly cried. As much as you give, they will give back.’

Children with disabilities and those who are siblings like Nathaniel, Oliver and Charlie are deemed ‘harder to place’ despite these ‘life-changing’ benefits Phil detailed.

Ethnic minority children also take an average of three months longer than those who are white, while those aged over five take 13 months longer.

These groups represent 65% (1,220) of the 1,890 children currently waiting to be adopted in England, according to the most recent data from the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board (ASGLB).

And some 760 of them have been waiting for 18 months or longer to be placed. 

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Chris and Phil’s journey began in 2011 when they first enquired about the process but it was not until 2013 that they began filling out piles of paperwork, doing DBS and medical checks.

On the day they got approved, the pair raced to a toy shop nearby and then for a celebratory pint in the pub.

At the time, there were not as many children available, so they were told to brace themselves for a long wait.

Their social worker recommended they visit an activity day where they could meet the ‘harder to place’ children, their social workers and carers.   

This is where Chris and Phil met their eldest, Nathaniel, who has ADHD and global development delay.

Phil recalled he was this ‘excitable’ and ‘wild’ three-and-a-half-year-old who was running around, causing chaos and eating Play-Doh.

‘He was completely different from what was written on paper,’ his dad said. ‘I just remember thinking, how we can get this little boy to come and live with us.

LGBT couple who adopted three children with disabilities urges others to do same

The children pictured with their grandmother and aunties during a birthday celebration (Picture: Phil Ashton)

‘Chris had a really sweet bond with him. Nathaniel just stole our hearts and we straightaway asked our social worker “what about him”.

Nathaniel moved in with Chris and Phil in December 2014, which made the holidays even more special.

With his dads’ encouragement, the youngster matured a lot in the next two years and his parents decided to adopt a little brother for him.

This time, the couple wanted a child aged 0-2 years with no disabilities.

Phil said: ‘We were primarily thinking that this little one could help Nathaniel come along in a lot of ways and we could still focus on those disabilities. That didn’t work out the way we wanted to.’

In March 2018, he recalled meeting this beautiful, red-headed little boy who also had a sibling he was living with in foster care. 

Initially, the two brothers, Charlie and Oliver, were going to get adopted by separate families but Chris and Phil fought hard to keep them together.

LGBT couple who adopted three children with disabilities urges others to do same

The family often go on long walks in the countryside (Picture: Phil Ashton)

LGBT couple who adopted three children with disabilities urges others to do same

Last year, they went on a trip to Disneyland in Paris, which the children adored (Picture: Phil Ashton)

‘It was heart-wrenching thinking they will be split up,’ Phil stressed. After a lot of hurdles, three became five all in the space of a year.

Nathaniel is currently working approximately three years behind educationally and four years behind emotionally.

He has anxiety and is likely to go to a specialist school next year. His dads take him swimming and hiking to improve his coordination, and Nathaniel climbed Snowden at the age of five.

Oliver is autistic and also has global development delay, and is working about three to four years behind.

He has some mobility problems and gets tired very quickly. He also has to wear glasses but has smashed every pair his dads buy him – five at the last count.

‘When he can’t get his own way, that’s what he does,’ Phil explained. ‘He gets angry and upset about a lot of things but generally that is because he is very tired.’ 

Nathaniel and Charlie play football together, and Oliver tries to join as best he can.

LGBT couple who adopted three children with disabilities urges others to do same

They are a tight-knit group and the youngsters look after each other (Picture: Phil Ashton)

Phil said: ‘He is the best sideline medic because whenever someone falls over, he goes to hug them.’

Their youngest, Charlie, is currently on the ADHD pathway but is not behind academically or emotionally.

What Chris and Phil have learnt along the way is that all disabilities are different.

The two do not regret their decision to adopt their beloved children and are urging others to not be held back by disabilities or age as they will miss many ‘precious moments’.

They recall how just this week Nathaniel burst into their room with a picture he had drawn of his dads and brothers with the words ‘I love my family. You are all amazing. You make my life safe and secure. We love you.’

‘It was so out of the blue,’ Phil said. ‘I didn’t know what to say. When Chris showed it to me, I started getting teary.

LGBT couple who adopted three children with disabilities urges others to do same

The surprise picture that Nathaniel drew for his family (Picture: Phil Ashton)

‘Chris was welling up too, he was so proud. All those precious little moments, they come out of nowhere.’

As part of the ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ campaign, new data from You Can Adopt shows that nearly a third (31%) of people in England would consider adopting a child.

The majority of them are most open to adopting a child aged between one and four (88%), while nearly four in 10 (39%) would not adopt a child with additional needs.

One in four (26%) also would not adopt a brother and sister group.

Mark Owers, chair of the National Adoption Recruitment Steering Froup, said: ‘While some groups of children may be seen as “harder to place”, they are not harder to love.

‘That’s why we’re shining a light on those children who typically wait longest to be adopted – such as brother and sister groups, older children, children of colour and children with additional needs.

‘We urgently need to bust the myths and misconceptions that may exist around adopting these children and find parents who can give them a loving, stable, permanent home.

‘Most potential adopters already have the skills and attributes they need to change the course of these children’s lives.

‘While it might not always be easy, support is available, and adoption is so rewarding.’


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