FEATURE: How we filled our people carrier with an instant family...
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With National Adoption Week ending today, reporter Helen Wright looks at the process in Hertfordshire.
It took less than five minutes for Andrea and Gary to become parents four times over.
In January 2007 the married couple from Stevenage drove their empty seven-seater people carrier up the A1(M) for the last time.
On the way home, after a five minute hand over with a foster family, they had four new smiling faces in the back of their car.
“I just remember thinking: ‘this is my life now, forever’, and I couldn’t believe it,” Andrea said.
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Andrea spoke to the Comet about her experiences adopting children as part of National Adoption Week, which runs until Sunday.
To coincide with the week, Herts County Council has launched a campaign to get more people to consider fostering or adopting children who are already in care in the county.
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In 2005 Andrea and Gary decided to adopt children after not being able to biologically have kids themselves.
The process took between 18 months and two years to complete, but the council have now sped up the waiting times to between eight months and a year after new government legislation came into force.
The couple – who have not given their last names to protect the identity of their children – knew they wanted to care for siblings, both coming from big families themselves.
“But we never dreamed we would come home with four!” said Andrea. “We always said two or three.”
They met their future children on an adoption evening, where parents can be matched with potential children, and saw their pictures up on the wall.
She said: “We just fell in love with them, it was so surreal.
“It was quite a hard evening, because there are all these children who are looking for a forever family – that’s what they call them – and that’s when it hit home.”
Over the next few months Andrea and Gary were introduced to the four siblings, who at the time were aged two, four, six and eight and all in care.
Social workers made home inspections, asked personal questions and arranged play dates for the couple who got to know their future children, three girls and one boy.
“It was not as bad as we had heard,” said Andrea. “They needed to make sure we were a suitable match.”
And, finally, on a cold day in January they found themselves travelling up the motorway to pick up their new children and take them home.
Seven years later, speaking about those first few months, Andrea said: “For the first six months it was difficult, I went from working full time to being a full time mum of four.
“We were trying to get to know the children, not just one, but four of them, but then we got into a routine and we haven’t really looked back.”
She added: “We are not the Waltons, that is what I always tell people. I do shout and I do get cross, we have our ups and downs.
“But we are a normal family and that is all we have ever wanted to be.”