The welcome mat is out

by
20 October 2017

With adoption at the heart of the gospel, Sarah Lothian speaks to clergy couples who are responding to the needs of children in care

Heart for children: Ian and Jo Dyble

Heart for children: Ian and Jo Dyble

Ian and Jo Dyble

THE Priest-in-Charge of St Thomas’s, Norwich, the Revd Ian Dyble, and his wife, Jo, were ap­­proved as foster carers last summer, and have since had three children to stay with them at their home in Norwich.

“The boy we currently have with us will stay long-term. He’s 13: there’s a full care order that’s been made for a permanent residency with us,” Mr Dyble says.

“It’s something that has been on our hearts for a long time. We’ve always had an open house, and various people coming and living with us at different times.”

In fact, the couple had not been Christians long, and were in their mid-twenties, when they were first asked to look after a teenage boy whose family was in crisis.

“We said yes, of course, and he came and stayed for two years. That was very early on, and we had two young children at the time. I was really impacted by God’s heart for the fatherless; God’s heart for those who didn’t have homes; the mar­­ginalised; and his adoptive heart towards us, as well. We are all chil­dren of God, and that’s because we’ve been adopted into his family. There was this sense that, if this was the heart of God, it was something that was part of our Christian DNA.”

Mr Dyble is soon to be licenced Vicar of the Mitre Benefice. Before he was ordained he was a child-care barrister. “I just wanted to come alongside the children and the parents, to help them and do whatever was neces­sary to help them restore family life. [But] it was quite difficult at that stage for me to be able to do that. In the past few years, Jo and I have said ‘Yes, we can do this.’ There’s space in our home and our hearts.”

The couple found being accepted for fostering to be a smooth process. “We went with an agency, and found them to be very supportive and encouraging, efficient in their investigation of us, and really positive about our church comm­unity as a place of support; there was no suggestion that our faith was a negative issue at all.

“I’ve found our church comm­unity to be really supportive: var­ious people have been approved as sitters for us, giving us space and time to go out, and there are a number of people in the church who have adopted or fostered; so it’s something that’s very much part of the culture of the church.

“It can be very challenging, and I think having a support network around you is essential. There are thousands of children in need of permanency, in need of homes, in need of places where they are going to be loved, and I think the Church and the hearts of Christians are in an ideal place to bring that love and support.”

 

Whole family approach: Helkias and Juliette MapimhidzeHelkias and Juliette Mapimhidze

THE new Assistant Curate in the Benefice of Broadwell, Evenlode, Oddington, Adlestrop and Westcote with Icomb and Bledington, in the Cotswolds, the Revd Helkias Mapimhidze and his wife, Juliette, have found that caring for teenagers fits in well with the demands of a young family.

The couple have been married for eight years, and have three birth children, aged seven, five, and three. When their second child was six months old, they started to think about the future: would Mrs Mapim­hidze go back to work, and what would be next?

At the time they were living in London, where Mrs Mapimhidze had been a deputy head teacher at a school for children with behavioural dif­­ficul­ties. She had also worked for social services with looked-after children in educational support; so she was aware of the need for foster carers, and the challenges of the job.

Fostering or adoption was very much in both of their hearts. “Helkias is from Zimbabwe, and fostering through local authorities doesn’t happen there. However, his mother would help families in need when she could,” Mrs Mapimhidze says.

With such small children, the couple didn’t think adoption or fostering was a possibility, but sub­­sequently explored fostering through an agency, and after six months heard they had been ap­­proved to foster one child.

“Because our children were so small, we had to think carefully about what sort of children we fostered,” Mrs Mapimhidze says. “We ended up fostering teenagers, and it worked really well.

“Our first placement was with us for a year, and, during that time, we had baby number three and a house extension: we don’t do things by halves.

“Our youngest has always had birth- and foster-brothers and sisters around. And fostering is something we do as a whole family; it has to be this way. Our birth children are so hospitable and car­ing, understanding what we do and the opportunities we are giving another child. They have been so good at welcoming a new child into our home, and helping them feel at ease.

The couple have been fostering for five years now, and have since been approved to have two foster children at a time. “It’s not always been easy, but having older children fits in well while our birth children are young. Their needs are different; so we’re not compromising anybody’s care. We do, however, have a long day. It starts with the toddler — that could be anytime from 5 a.m. — and it goes on as long as a teenager needs. So a long day for us, but it works, and it’s worth it.

“Fostering and adoption fits perfectly with our faith: it’s at the very heart of the gospel. We are adopted into God’s family; so to be able to foster and adopt is an act of worship and true religion.”

 

Support essential: Rob and Tamsin MerchantRob and Tamsin Merchant

THE Revd Rob Merchant, a tutor and director of St Mellitus College, in London, and the Revd Tamsin Merchant, Vicar of St Mary’s, Hornsey Rise, in London, have adopted two boys.

“They moved in three years ago,” Mrs Merchant says, “but we’d started the process quite a lot longer before. It took us a long time, for many different reasons, not because of governmental slowness; it can take a while.”

After moving from Glou­cester­shire to London, the couple ap­­proached Islington Council. “They were incredibly sup­­portive, and very good at helping us think things through. We’d already done some pre-adoption training, and had always been keen on adopt­ing, regardless of what had hap­­pened in the way of our own chil­dren. When our own children didn’t appear, we pursued the adoption line first.

“We got approved in Islington quite quickly, in about six months, because we’d got quite a lot of the work done before. Then there was the process of looking for children, which took nearly another year for the boys — two brothers, five and seven years old — to be placed with us.”

Mrs Merchant took six months’ adoption leave from her parish. “It was a slightly different to taking maternity leave, because we wanted to embed the boys into our com­munity, which, of course, involved the church where I was Vicar. So I was coming to church not being vicar, but being a mum.

“Then I went back to work, and the boys were at one of the loceal schools, and it was a social worker on a routine visit who said the church community had been an amaz­ing addition for the boys, and she was delighted, really, for them to have this wider community for them to come to.

“The community we’re in is just incredibly diverse — there isn’t really ‘normal’ in that sense of the word, and so lots of people are dif­ferent to each other — so we don’t particularly stick out.

“Adoption has meant giving up a huge amount of our personal choice in order to become a family for two young boys, to adapt our parenting and approach as a person to seek to create a stable and loving family. We could not have done this without the support of our church community, key friends, and our families. I have come to understand, as an adoptive mum, how extraord­inary is the love of God in adopting us, and the unconditional love he demonstrates. This has been made more real: that we are all loved.

“[Those] thinking of adoption, [should not] be put off at the first hurdle: you may need to persevere, but you will need those qualities when children are placed with you. Find and meet other adopters, and learn as much as you possibly can about parenting adoptive children.”

 

Acceptance and love: Jon and Sus MarchJon and Sus March

THE Vicar of St Luke’s, Oseney Crescent, in London, the Revd Jon March, and his wife, Sus, had always wanted to adopt.

Mrs March says: “When I was a child, my parents fostered two little girls; so I had experience of families’ being different, broader than the traditional definition of family already.

“[When] I was 25, and living in Chicago, I had a strong sense of God saying: ‘Well, what are you waiting for?’

“So I decided to apply to be a foster carer as single person; Jon and I weren’t even dating at the time. I had just turned 26 when they called me at work, and said: ‘We’ve got this little girl who is six days old: can you pick her up tonight? That was the beginning of our family.

“So we were a foster family toget­her, and she was about two when the adoption was able to go through. And about that time was when Jon and I got together.”

The family moved to the UK, where Mr March was an assistant curate at Holy Trinity, Brompton.

“When we got married, we always thought we would have birth chil­dren, if we were able to, and adopt again if we were able to; and that’s how it’s ended up working out,” Mr March says.

“The day the youngest of our three children turned two, we made the first calls to start the process of adopting in the UK.”

Two years after they started the process to adopt, the couple took home their fourth child: another daughter.

“A lot of it is about creating a culture of welcome, and everybody embracing that,” Mr March says. “I think a lot of the time it needs to be embodied by the leadership of the church — the priests, the pastor, whoever that might be — to be able to teach about what it means to be hospitable.”

“The Church is at its best when it shows real acceptance and love,” Mrs March says. “We know a single adopter who adopted a six-year-old boy, and he’s needed a lot of support with his behaviour. What has made all the difference has been her church community.

”They have small groups at her church, and nobody else in her group has kids, but they have com­pletely embraced them, and he comes along to everything that they do: it’s just an open-mindedness, and that welcome. And, for the adopter, who can be so isolated, to know her son has that unconditional love from those people has made it work for her.”

For Mr March, adoption is about broadening the sense of what it means to be family, both theo­logic­ally and practically.

“Our eldest has significant-other adults who are younger than us, but not immature by any means, who just take her out for hot chocolate and be friends with her; so there’s this sense in which they contribute to our family.

“They may not be biologically related to us, and they may be around for only two or three years, but they are part of the family, and I think a lot of that is about redefining the definition of what it means to be church, which says: however you’ve come today, you are welcome here.

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