“To be able to adopt a child, especially a child with behavioural issues or a learning difficulty, you need to be determined, to have empathy and be honest about what you can take on, but the most important things are to have a loving heart and mind and you’ll be amazing.”

That is the message to would-be adopters from a County Durham woman who has chosen to speak out about how adopting has changed her life as part a campaign to encourage more people to follow her lead.

Figures recently released by the government show the North East has nearly three times as many children awaiting adoptive families as there are adopters, with 350 children and only 105 families approved to adopt.

Figures from the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board also show children with a plan of adoption are currently waiting 509 days to be matched with a family. There are also children with additional needs such as autism and ADHD who are waiting even longer to find a loving home.

On the back of National Adoption Week, Durham County Council is in the midst of its own campaign to recruit more adopters. The council, which was recently praised by Ofsted for its “excellent” adoption services, organised events last month to allow people interested in adopting to find out more and ask any questions.

As part of the campaign, Allison Cowen, from Chester-le-Street has opened up on how she became a ‘single adopter’ in her 30s, by which time the family scenario she had envisaged of a husband and children of her own had not materialised.

“I realised in my mid 30’s that this supposed ‘perfect’ scenario was not relevant or important – I was in a position on my own to love and care for a child who needed me…

“I learnt that a family wasn’t ready made and your family can come from anywhere and be anyone.”

Allison, who has three foster siblings and whose grandma was adopted, contacted the council to ask about adopting and was ultimately approved, receiving training to prepare her for life as an adopter.

“I met some wonderful people… some in the same situation as me and others with completely different circumstances. It was a relief to share that experience and those emotions with people who were feeling the same as you.”

The next step was ‘matching’ which includes events at which adopters meet children in need of a loving home.

Allison was contacted about one-year-old Thomas, who had minor additional needs.

“As soon as I read his profile, I knew I wanted to be this child’s mum. As soon as I saw a photograph of him, I fell in love – he was meant to be my son.”

To her delight, Allison was told Thomas would become her adopted son.

“I just burst in to tears, I could not wait to love him and to give him everything he needed.”

Allison, who like any new adopter was supported by a range of professionals including paediatricians, recalls the moment it was made official: “I hugged my boy so tight and just remember repeatedly saying ‘I’m your mam’.”

Since adopting Thomas, she has got married, to father-of-two Paul, with whom she had a son, Joshua in July.

“We have grown in to a big family, the children all love each other, and Thomas adores his daddy and his brothers and sister. All the children are loved and supported equally, and we do not apply labels to each other either such as stepbrother, half-sister or adopted. My favourite things about my family are simply that we are just that – a family. Seeing how much the children all adore each other makes every day special.

“I am very thankful, and I feel privileged to be able to call Thomas my son.”

Helen Fergusson, the council’s head of children’s social care, said: “Allison adopting Thomas on her own is proof that it is not just traditional families that can offer a child a loving home.

“Anyone over the age of 21, regardless of gender, marital status, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender, can adopt, whether or not they live in their own home, have children or work and regardless of whether they have adopted before.

“Allison’s account of the joy Thomas has brought and continues to bring, to both her and the family he is an integral part of, is proof of just how rewarding adoption can be.

“I would encourage anyone who has ever thought about adoption to come along to one of our information sessions or to contact us for an informal chat.”

To find out more about adopting with the council, visit www.durham.gov.uk/adoption or @DurhamFosterAdopt on Facebook, or email adoption@durham.gov.uk