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   Inside Out - North West: Monday 3rd February, 2003

THE SALFORD SUPERMUM

Alex Bell
DEVOTED | Alex Bell at her family home in Salford
ALEX BELL INTERVIEW
  REALPLAYER REQUIRED

Inside Out meets Salford supermum, Alex Bell.

Single mother Alex has devoted her life to her seven adopted children who all have Down’s syndrome.

Alex first tried to adopt a child when she was 22 and a newly qualified special needs teacher.

Alex says, "I just decided that I wanted to be a parent and these were kids that I could parent because that’s where my experience was."

"It was very, very unusual for anyone to adopt as a single person and for anyone to adopt as a single person a disabled child was even more unusual so I had to fight a lot of red tape to get through."

"I just see the children as my seven kids. I don’t see the Down’s and I haven’t seen it for ages."

First child

Adrian Bell
Adrian is one of Alex's children

The first child Alex adopted was Matthew. He is now 20 years old and a star in his local drama group.

Jacqui Marsh, Matthew’s drama teacher, speaks fondly of him, "I wish all the kids were as good as him."

Alex fought hard to get Matthew into a mainstream school, but now he has left school she still finds herself with a fight on her hands.

She’s currently fighting an income support tribunal for Matthew.

This is because, along with thousands of other young people, Matthew has recently been transferred onto Incapacity Benefit.

Although this means they receive £20 per week more, they now have to pay council tax, prescription charges and they’ve lost their right to legal aid.

Alex explains, "They’re an extremely vulnerable group of young people who will come across discrimination in their lives and now can’t access the laws of the land. I hope Matthew’s going to be a test case."

"I spend about 50% of my time fighting the system. It’s very wearing. My time should be spent with the children and not fighting red tape but it’s part of what I’ve taken on."

Parental support

Down's Syndrome

1 in every 1000 babies born is born with Down's syndrome.

Approx 600 babies are born each year with the condition.

It was first described by John Langdon Down in 1866.

The chances of a woman having a child with Down's syndrome increases with age.

Source: The Down's Syndrome Association

SUPPORT AND ADVICE PAGE

What sets Alex apart from other adoptive mothers is she actively encourages her children’s natural parents to have as much contact with them as possible.

Alex says, "I am here to bring up these children but also part of the deal is to help the parents mend."

"The way I achieve that is by telling them they can have contact with their children. We make efforts to go down and see them."

But Alex doesn’t just retain contact for the sake of the parents. She says, "They’re a huge support to me. I call them my parents - they’re actually my kids' parents but they’re mine as well and I adore them. They are lovely, lovely people."

Difficult decision

Chloe is Alex’s seven year old daughter. Chloe’s natural mother, Jenny, was 27 when she gave birth to Chloe.

Jenny says, "We were told Chloe had Down’s in a very brutal way by hospital staff. We both found it very difficult to cope with."

Jenny describes making her decision to put Chloe up for adoption, "It wasn’t a knee jerk reaction. It was, we felt, a very unbiased and a very objective decision."

Chloe Bell
Chloe plays in the ball pool at her home in Salford

"It was mostly for Chloe to be sure she had a happy life as possible."

"Living with Alex and her other children, Chloe will never feel different. She’ll never be teased. She’ll always feel that she belongs and that she was important to us."

Alex is extremely understanding of the parents’ situation. She says, "I don’t judge them because I haven’t been in their situation."

"I don’t think I could be that brave to say to yourself someone else could bring this child up better than you can. It’s just a very brave thing to say."

The future

Alex is now looking to the future and is in the process of turning her house into a charitable trust so her children can stay together when she’s no longer here.

At 47 years old, she shows no sign of slowing down.

"I still think I have it in me to take on a couple more. After that I think I’ll have to stop."

"I’m not a saint. I’m doing what I want to do which sounds selfish."

"None of these kids asked to come and live with me. I go after them I want to be their parent so therefore all the commitment is on my side"

"I wouldn’t say that I have the best life in the world but I think I have a pretty good one."

See also ...

On bbc.co.uk
Adoption - the practicalities
Down's syndrome
Down's syndrome genetic factors

On the rest of the web
British Agency for Adoption and Fostering
The Down's Syndrome Association

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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