Being the adoptive father of four children with special needs sounds like a tough task, but Benjamin Carpenter laughs at the suggestion: “It gets easier after two,” he chuckles over the phone.
In fact, he’s currently planning to adopt a fifth, although he clarifies that the process is still in its early stages. He’s evidently well-qualified: the single gay father was named ‘Adopter of the Year’ back in 2016 and has spent years sharing his experiences. Carpenter is also an adoption panel member, a role which allows him to grant permission to adoptive parents as well as match children with their new families.
His openness and willingness to offer advice has also sparked queries from prospective parents across the globe. “I do offer support,” he told indy100 modestly, adding:
I get messages from people all around the world from people who dream of being parents, but they might be single, or they might belong to the LGBT+ community.
A lot of these people have contacted me to say that I’m inspiring them to go on.
Carpenter admits that it took a while for him to realise his story was genuinely inspirational. At just 21 years old, he made the decision to adopt his first child and says he knew in his heart that he was willing to provide a home for a child with additional needs. “I just wanted to be a dad,” he recalls of initially making the decision to adopt.
I felt I had lived my life and done the things I had set out to do, and I knew that I wanted to be a parent. Also, for me at least, biological children were never at the forefront of my mind.
I’ve always had that caring disposition; I’ve always wanted to adopt children.
Although this biological link is imperative to some parents, Carpenter asserts that it’s never been an issue for him. With the help of “fantastic support networks – my good friends and my mother”, he’s worked hard to give his kids the best life possible.
For me, parenting is about more than just sharing a gene. I’m there when my children are sick; I go to the school plays; I’m the one to be there for them if they’ve experienced disappointment, or if they’ve fallen over. I’m here to pick up those pieces. To me, that’s what makes a parent.
He also highlights the fact that not all of us are fortunate enough to be able to conceive naturally, pointing to LGBT+ people in particular. Although Carpenter remains relatively unique in the sense that he’s looking after his children single-handedly, statistics show that LGBT+ people are increasingly applying to adopt.
In fact, one in seven adoption orders made last year was made by a gay couple, indicating that policies are shifting in a new, more progressive direction.
Carpenter recalls initial difficulties adopting his first child over a decade ago, most of which were due to concerns linked to his age. He credits a religious upbringing and his vicar father with instilling an “older head on his shoulders”, but proving that he was ready to adopt a child – particularly a child with additional needs – was tricky.
He does, however, state that the process has been made quicker and easier since then.
Rigorous checks are still in place for obvious reasons, but Carpenter says his life has been made even easier by the fact that he’s now a "tried-and-tested parent".
Now, a day in Carpenter’s life will often involve a few hospital appointments to continually meet the needs of his kids, as well as a lot of preparation – “I use my slow cooker a lot,” laughs. “You always have to be ten steps ahead.” Still, he seems generally unfazed by the seemingly daunting task of raising four children with special needs.
It’s about thinking outside the box and asking yourself if you could realistically take on a child with an additional need. For me, that’s what it’s about. It’s quite easy to say, ‘Oh, I’ll have a blonde-haired, blue-eyed child’, but the reality is that no child is perfect. In that sense, it’s good to think outside the box.
This is an important case to make; Carpenter describes a rise in children affected by FAS (Foetal Alcohol Syndrome) currently in the care system, all of whom are no less deserving of an adoptive family than their counterparts.
Another factor to consider is that not all children in the system are simply given up for adoption; some are victims of abuse and neglect taken from their families.
I’m not asking someone to go out there and adopt a child with quadriplegic cerebral palsy, because that’s not for everyone. But there are children out there being overlooked because they have learning difficulties.
Ultimately, the love with which Carpenter speaks of his children demonstrates that there is no definitive mould as to what makes a good parent. His inspirational story recently saw him profiled on The One Show, whereas his willingness to advocate for the rights of prospective LGBT+ parents is undeniably heartening. It’s all part of his commendable wider aim:
There are still so many myths surrounding adoption. I just really want to show that, no matter who you are or where you come from, anyone with the right intentions can do it.