Brothers and sisters torn apart as agency struggles to find people willing to adopt
Brothers and sisters requiring adoption in Northern Ireland are being separated due to a shortage of adopters to take them, it has been revealed.
Over half of the 80-100 children each year here who want to find a new "forever family" are siblings.
Unless more adopters come forward to take several children from a family, adopted children will miss out on the vital bonding experience that being raised with a sibling can give, the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) has warned.
As this year's National Adoption Week begins today, Northern Ireland has been revealed as the region with the highest percentage of siblings wanting to be adopted.
Potential new adopters - both couples and individuals - are now being urged to consider if they can offer a home to two or three children from the one family.
Research carried out by BAAF shows that 56% of our children requiring adoption are siblings, compared to the North East of England, which has the lowest rate in the UK at 40%.
However, there are fewer adoptions in Northern Ireland each year than in the rest of the UK.
Priscilla McLoughlin, director of the BAAF in Northern Ireland, said: "We have certainly seen a marked increase in the number of sibling groups being referred for placement.
"Some of that is down to demographic issues, of being brought up in Irish families.
"Historically, we tend to have larger sibling groups."
She revealed that BAAF recently ran a recruitment event where it had a sibling group of five children from one family.
It hopes to arrange adoption plans for two and three of the children to be placed together.
Ms McLoughlin added that while one of the health and social care trusts has had a sibling group of four children adopted, and several groups of three, the average number for adoptions is two siblings.
Adoption plans were made for 28 sibling groups across Northern Ireland during 2013/14.
So far this year 10 children have been matched for adoption, all placed with brothers or sisters.
Ms McLaughlin added: "Not everyone is able to adopt more than one child and there are many single children who need a family too. Don't rule yourself out if considering adoption.
"We urge anyone who is considering whether adoption is right for them to find out more."
BAAF is running an information event for interested couples and individuals who believe that they could give children a loving and secure home.
It will be at the Cresecent Arts Centre, Belfast, from 3-5pm this Sunday.
BAAF runs the adoption regional information system (ARIS) adoption register for Nothern Ireland. One of the myths about adoption is that older or single people will not be considered. In fact, any adult may be considered for adoption in Northern Ireland as long as they, and/or their partner, whoever is the youngest, are not more that 45 years older than the child or children to be adopted.
'I want to adopt, as I was so lucky'
Frankie Shasko (23) from Carrickfergus was adopted by her parents Fred and Fiona at the age of 14. She is buying her first home with her partner Andrew and intends to pursue a career in interior design.
"I definitely want to adopt later on, probably more than one child, as I wouldn't want to be split from my sister if I had one. I was so fortunate to find a loving family that I feel I owe it to give a child a home, to give it the same chance.
"I had been in care from the age of four and I had a number of foster homes. I was placed with my adoptive family at the age of eight with the view to adoption. I knew from the outset what adoption meant to me and that I wanted my own family.
"While I do have a step-sister, I don't know her, but there were five of us in my last foster family and I got used to never being on my own and always having someone to play with.
"People always ask: 'Oh, is it different living with a birth family or adopted family?'. But I don't really remember living with my birth mother.
"My life would be so different if I hadn't have been adopted. My parents mean everything to me, they have always been there for me."
'Life couldn't be happier or busier'
Janine (37) and her husband Andrew (36) from Belfast adopted three brothers aged five, four and one in 2011 and became a family-of-five within months.
"We were married for eight years and home life was so quiet and then we had three boys within two months.
"We had no idea that we would ever end up with three. But they are all long-awaited children and grandchildren.
"Jack, Charlie and Will are now aged nine, eight and four and our lives couldn't be any happier or busier.
"Jack and Charlie had lived together in a separate foster home from Will. They had met him several times and knew there was another baby in the family, as they were still in contact with the birth mother.
"When they moved in with us, Jack was very curious as to what was going to happen with Will. Because they had found a forever family, a mum and dad, it was ever-present in his mind that his baby brother didn't.
"We had been told that we may be approached to take him and had quickly made the decision to say yes.
"Having older brothers means that Will gets the benefit of knowing his birth family background."