Neil Griffiths, Global Head of Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DE&I) at ERM, adopted his two children with his husband in 2016 and 2017. Here he discusses his experience of adoption and being a mentor to other adopters.
Having a family was something my husband and I wanted for our relationship from our early days as a couple. Our adoption journey began at an ‘alternative parenting’ event where we explored the options open to same-sex couples - we knew right away that adoption was the right path for us. We did not have a strong desire to have biological children and we felt we could lean on experiences in our lives to help children who may have experienced challenges in their early lives. We soon joined a support group for LGBTQ+ families who foster and/or adopt and it quickly became clear that learning from others who have ‘been there and done that’ is a hugely important part of the adoption process.
We started our adoption assessment in late 2014 and were approved to adopt the next year. Our first son came to us in January 2016 and then his brother in August 2017. Through assessment, training and then having a family, having a strong network around us was critical. Friends and family were obviously part of that, but so too were adopters who had been through the process and from whom we could learn about what it was like to be assessed as an adopter and to be an adoptive parent.
This network was invaluable to us and is a big part of why I now dedicate vacation time to act as a parent ‘trainer’ in delivering the sessions all adopters must take before they enter their formal assessment. I willingly give my time to help others in their pursuit of a family because I know what a difference it made to us when we were going through the process itself. Each time I help to deliver the three-day training, there is a sense of realisation that 'this is not going to be what I expected’ for the prospective adopters. I remember having that same feeling, but also getting the reassurance that it would all ultimately be OK and be possible to be a ‘regular’ family 99% of the time. I really enjoy helping people navigate this sense of awareness and responsibility towards the children they will go on to parent.
Of course, supportive co-workers and leaders were essential too. I recall that everyone at work was so enthusiastic for my husband and I, even when it dawned on my boss at the time it might mean a period of parental leave for me! As I went through the adoption process and helped ERM to understand the policies that applied to same-sex families, it occurred to me that there was no one like me that had done this before in the UK business, at least openly. Same-sex adoption had not long been widespread at the time and indeed, adoption leave was only just integrated into parental leave provisions, so there was a bit of way-paving required.
Despite this, I was able to work with the relevant business partners to put all the measures in place to accommodate the various meetings, appointments and, ultimately, the parental leave, when our children arrived. I’m grateful that I was in an environment where I was able to create that space, not only for myself, but also for others who might be in a similar situation to me in the future.
Since the kids arrived, my working schedule has had to adapt to support the caring needs I have. It’s always a juggling act with my husband (who picks up his share of the work!), and I’ve gone from full-time to part-time and several changes in working hours and patterns. Anyone with caring responsibilities will recognize the struggle of managing multiple priorities, whether that’s getting someone from here to there, managing a schedule of meetings around various commitments – and no doubt the feeling that it’s all a bit too much and it just can’t be managed! I have learned that I can’t always be everything to everyone 100% of the time, and that giving the amount that I can and being the best I can has to be enough.
But that takes time, practice and the ability to set boundaries. I am fortunate to have a role where I can say I have protected time in my day where I don’t work and can focus on family. But even during times where boundaries are less easy to enforce, it’s important to always make sure I’m asking for the help I need wherever I can get it, whether that’s at home or at work. Thanks to the network I have built inside and outside of ERM, I feel I am able to do that.
Neil Griffiths is Global Head of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, based in the UK. As part of his role, he works closely with a variety of stakeholders, from the CEO to our Employee Resource Groups, to set and evaluate ERM’s DE&I strategy to meet our ambitions to help reflect the communities in which we operate and provide an inclusive environment where our employees can thrive and deliver exceptional client value.
If you’re considering adopting in the UK, are going through the process, or have adopted and would like support, Adoption UK and, for LGBTQ+ families, New Family Social, do some really great work in this space.