Have you ever thought about adopting a child? Dereham Mayor opens up about her own adoption story to encourage other prospective parents
- Credit: Archant
'I was always made to feel I was special because I was chosen.'
Dereham Mayor Hilary Bushell is proud to say she was adopted at the age of just five weeks old.
The 72-year-old said she was loved unconditionally and given the best childhood anyone could wish for thanks to her adoptive parents Sidney and Doris.
And now she wants to encourage others to consider adoption as part of a special awareness week being held by the Norfolk Adoption Service.
Senior social workers from the county council service manned an information desk in Dereham Library on Tuesday and will be in The Forum in Norwich today (Thursday).
Kate Collins and Jo Jones welcomed enquiries from a wide range of people interested in adoption, from both couples and individuals, to explain what the process involves.
Norfolk has one of the most successful adoption services in the country for placing children with new parents, fielding around 300 serious enquiries every year.
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At any one time there are usually around 30 children needing adoptive families in the county and between 50 and 80 children are placed with new parents every year.
The event in Dereham inspired Miss Bushell to speak out about her own experience of adoption and encourage more people to come forward.
She was born in Canterbury, Kent, in July 1945 to unmarried Norma Tremain.
Her birth certificate does not record her father's name but her mother gave her the name Ann.
But just five weeks later the 24-year-old, who had been disowned by her own father and stepmother for having a child out of wedlock in wartime austerity, made the heartbreaking decision to give up her baby girl for adoption.
Sidney and Doris Bushell, who were unable to have children of their own, came forward as prospective parents and on December 11 the paperwork was all signed and sealed and baby Ann was renamed Hilary.
'They had to pay the court five shillings and that was it, there was no support from any adoption service, I was just handed over,' said Miss Bushell.
Young Hilary wasn't told she was adopted until she was in her teens.
'When I was 15 I had to have a major operation and they did not expect me to come through it so my mother told me. But I survived and I made a promise to my parents not to look for my birth mother until after they died. I didn't want to upset them.
'I knew it must have been the most difficult decision of my birth mother's life but she had no support from her family.'
While adoptive parents are now encouraged to tell children about their background and even keep in touch with birth families, all she was given were two letters sent from her mother to her adoptive parents thanking them for giving her baby a loving home.
She still treasures those letters today.
Eight years ago, after her parents had passed away, Miss Bushell decided to start the search for her mother and found it an extremely emotional experience.
She found a great-uncle and great-aunt who sadly had signed her mother's death certificate more than 30 years earlier. Norma had never married nor had any other children and had died alone at the age of 56.
'The saddest thing was when she died they found, next to my mother's bed, a full-sized cot with a life-size baby doll in it.'
Blinking back tears Miss Bushell said: 'I knew she always loved me, as I always loved her.'
On the bedside table was a picture of a man with curly hair, just like hers, so they assumed he must have been her father. He was a married man.
She accepts her mother had no option but to give her up and understands Norma was reconciled with her family before her death.
But she has nothing but praise for the couple who called her their daughter and raised her as their own.
'I know I had a wonderful upbringing, the best education and I was very much loved. I made my parents' family complete and I know adoption is a wonderful thing to do because both sides benefit from it.
'To take a child and love it is the most important thing in this life, to make someone feel loved and wanted and needed and to bring them up as part of your family.
'I would recommend it to anyone who was thinking about it.
'It is a wonderful opportunity to give a child a home, to love them and be loved.'
Building a family together
When Hilary Bushell was adopted in 1945 it took just three months to get the paperwork through the courts and there was no support at all for her parents.
Now, while prospective parents have to go through a much more rigorous selection process, they are also much better prepared for life with an
From day one Norfolk Adoption Service helps couples or individuals to access all the support they need in order to provide a child, or children, with that all-important safe, stable and loving family life.
The majority of children who are adopted are aged between six months and six years, those older are more likely to be in long-term foster care.
'Ninety-nine percent of children who come forward for adoption have been in a vulnerable situation,' said senior social worker Jo Jones. 'We have to get it right for the child and look to hone parents' strengths rather than focus on weaknesses.'
What sort of person makes a good adoptive parent?
You don't have to be perfect, and the adoption service welcomes enquries from people of any ethnic background, age, religion or sexual orientation. But ideally you can:
Provide a safe, stable, loving family life.
Have plenty of time and energy to spare.
Help a child feel good about themselves.
Encourage a child's education, hobbies and interests.
Keep a child safe and promote a healthy lifestyle.
Help a child feel a positive sense of who they are and where they have come from.
Tell your child about their background.
Be firm sometimes but able to negotiate and compromise.
Cope with the unexpected.
Stay calm and positive when things are not going according to plan.
Ask for help if you need it.
For more information contact the Norfolk Adoption Service on 01603 638343 or via the website www.norfolk.gov.uk/adoption