“Our family is now complete,” explains Julie, describing the joy her adopted daughter May has brought into all their lives.

Around four years ago, Julie and husband Mike began thinking about fostering a child.

“We always felt we had more to give,” she says.

But the pair were worried how their daughters Alex and Grace - then aged 15 and 13 - might react to the idea.

Yet these fears proved totally unfounded as, far from being against the idea, the girls wanted them to go a step further by adopting and giving a child a ‘forever family’.

“We were very wrong, they have embraced our little one completely from day one and we are so proud of the way in which our birth children have done that,” says Julie.

Now aged four, little May is hugely loved and very much part of all their lives.

“She is just such a joy. A very, very happy, very settled little girl, doing all the things a four-year-old girl does. And having two big sisters has just been amazing for her and amazing for her two sisters,” Julie adds.

“If you can give that commitment to a child forever and make them a part of your family, I think that’s so much more enriching for them and their lives going forward.”

May is one of around 180 children placed by Greater Manchester agency Adoption Now every year.

Julie and Mike had used the ‘foster-to-adopt’ route - which allows children to be taken on at a younger age - before completing the full adoption.

She was just 10 months old when she was brought into the family.

While now a happy, affectionate and playful little girl, there were some early challenges because of her very early experiences.

“She had come from a background where there was domestic violence and issues around drugs and alcohol with both parents,” says Julie.

“It was a bit of a chaotic 10 months with not much stability and security in her life - and probably not much emotional attachment either - which is something we quickly noticed when she came to us.

“With a lot of hugs and cuddles, she was almost backing off. For us it was quite pronounced, having two birth daughters ourselves we immediately noticed. First time parents may not have picked up on those sort of things.”

However, with the love and attention of her new family this changed ‘very very quickly’ - surprising even social workers.

Julie believes this could be because, at 10 months, May was a lot younger than many other children are when placed with a new family.

“By the time she was one, two months later, she was a completely different child to the child that arrived,” she says.

“But I’m acutely aware that’s not the case for all children. It depends on their age and what they may have experienced previously.”

Like herself, May’s adoptive family is dual-heritage; Julie is from an Asian/Indian background while Mike is white British.

A government report released earlier this year showed that children in the north west from BAME backgrounds typically take longer to be placed with adoptive parents than their white counterparts.

The couple had been happy to adopt a child of any ethnicity, but say May is a ‘wonderful match’ for their family.

“It’s quite uncanny how similar in appearance she is to our birth daughters, she doesn’t look out of place at all in our family,” adds Julie.

“I think it will be really lovely for her to feel she doesn’t look any different.”

It’s touchingly clear May has brought great joy to her new family.

But Julie admits the adoption process - which has to thoroughly vet prospective parents for obvious reasons - can be daunting.

She adds that herself and Mike were fortunate to have the same social worker supporting them throughout 10 weeks of ‘quite intrusive’ enquiries into their private life.

“You are literally laying everything down, there’s nothing you can hide - everything from finances and our relationship, to our upbringing as children and what our childhood was like,” she says.

“When it gets to being approved as adopters, no matter how confident you feel you are ready, it’s still very very disconcerting when you are sat in front of a panel that doesn’t know you.

“You open that room and there’s a sea of faces. They are making a judgement on you and it feels very personal and quite emotional, really.”

However, her message to would-be adopters is not to let that put them off, as they could be missing out on so much happiness.

“I would say at the end of the process the emotional reward that you get in your own family outweighs all of that.

“It’s amazing how quickly you forget that process and the emotional side of it, because you are so rewarded by all the joy that you get,” she says.

“At the end it’s so worth it, it really is. I would say to anyone considering adoption that if you can make that room in your family for a child to have a forever home, then please do.”

And while May’s life has been transformed, she is not the only one to have benefited from being brought into the family.

“Having two big sisters has just been amazing for her - and amazing for her big sisters,” says Julie.

Alex and Grace have delighted in watching May grow up - and it has sparked many family conversations about their own early childhoods.

“It’s so lovely for them, it’s almost as if they are reliving those childhood years with her, it’s been a really special four years,” says Julie.

May has been told that she is adopted into the family but that hasn’t unsettled her one bit.

“It’s lovely she is so very accepting of the fact she is adopted,” says Julie.

“It rolls off her tongue, it doesn’t make her feel any different.

“The one thing that really stands out is how well she has settled into our family and how much it feels like she has been with us and is very much part of our family in the same way our birth daughters are.”

So would Julie and Mike - who are both in their 50s - consider adopting again?

“We feel our family is complete, sadly, because of our ages. We just feel we have given a lifelong commitment to May, we will see that through and we obviously have Alex and Grace, too.”

But they don’t rule out short-term or emergency fostering in the future.

“Never say never,” says Julie. “It comes down to whatever our family circumstances are at the time. But in terms of adoption, I would say our family is complete now.”

Some names and details have been altered to protect 'May's' identity.

Adoption Now is a regional adoption agency combinining local authority teams from Blackburn, Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale and Tameside councils. Children are adopted from the Greater Manchester area.

For further details visit adoptionnow.org.uk/