REAL LIFE: '˜Believe me, no child is unadoptable'

Families come in many shapes and sizes. There a big ones, blended ones, extended ones. Nickki Brown's family was small,  it was just her and her beloved daughter Sara.

Monday, 18th June 2018, 4:48 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th June 2018, 4:55 pm
Nikki Brown and her daughter, Lana, five.

They adored each other and their relationship was extra close because of Sara's complex needs. She was born with cerebral palsy and a number of medical conditions which meant that Nickki was her full-time carer.

But despite all her health problems, she lived a happy, full life until she was taken ill in January 2011 and died suddenly of swine flu.

Nickki, 48, of Hill Head, Fareham, says: '˜For the first year-and-a-half after losing her I was in a bad place.

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Nickki and her late daughter Sara who died in 2011

'˜I was her sole carer and it felt like I had lost my right arm.

'˜Our house had been completely adapted for her in the November 2010 and she died the following January.

'˜The house was made for Sara as she came into adulthood as a wheelchair user.'

Nickki adds: '˜In the end I had to give myself a pep-talk.

'˜I had a property that I felt had to be put to good use, either by selling it to a family that needed it or by taking on fostering or respite care.'

Nickki tentatively began looking at fostering but was initially turned down because agencies felt it was too soon after Sara's death.

But in 2014 she spotted Lana's picture on the website, Be My Parent.

'˜It sounds corny but as soon as I saw Lana I knew it was fate,' says Nickki. '˜Her name sounded similar to Sara's. Lana's needs were along the same lines as Sara's too, although not as medically complicated. She'd had a really tough start in life but it just felt right.'

Far from being overwhelmed, Nickki saw her need to look after a disabled child as a calling.

She has worked with children, adults and elderly people with special needs her whole life.

She says: '˜Children like Lana are so special. They are vulnerable but they have so much potential in all of them. Some people may look at them and say they can't walk, they can't talk, they have no quality of life.

'˜But you have to look beyond their eyes. Every single child has something special about them.'

Lana was just under a year old when Nickki met her for the first time. She says: '˜It was the most magical moment. She was almost like a new-born. I gave her her first bottle at that meeting. She drank it all up and smiled at me afterwards.'

Following an intensive week together Nickki was allowed to take her little girl home. But at that stage it was still as a long-term foster parent. Social workers thought no one would want to adopt her. Nickki did.

She says:  '˜Believe me, no child is unadoptable.'

Four years on, Lana, who attends special school, is flourishing.

Nickki says: '˜Lana's profile was very bleak. It said she was unlikely to walk, talk or have any understanding of the world around her.

'˜Actually, she can pull herself up, copies words. She can't have a conversation yet but that will come, without a shadow of a doubt.

'˜In many ways she is a typical five-year-old and not far off her peers.  

'˜She surprises me in so many ways with her progress. She is a very, very determined little girl.'

Nickki says there are many disabled children waiting to be fostered or adopted who are overlooked by prospective parents looking for the '˜perfect' child.

She says: '˜There are pretty much no babies put up for adoption nowadays. It's accepted that if a 15-year-old has a baby, they keep the baby.

'˜If you're looking at any child in the foster system they will have some sort of damage '“ either emotional or physical.  

'˜There is a reason for them being in the foster system. But there is no such thing as the perfect child who's going to give you a perfect life. To me, Lana is perfect. Yes, she has disabilities but she is Lana, who happens to have a condition. She is not just a condition.

'˜A lot of disabled children are labelled 'you know that child with cerebral palsy' or 'there's that boy with autism'. But they have a name, a place in the world.

'˜I'm so passionate about it. Children like Lana are so special. 

'˜You get back what you put in. Sara and Lana proved this. Sara was not supposed to survive past the first six months. She lived to 14-and-a-half.

'˜Give them the love, give them care, and the rewards are priceless.' 

For more info on adoption and fostering, go to corambaaf.org.uk