THE first gay couple in Scotland to get the go-ahead to adopt have broken their silence to give their first interview to the Sunday Herald in order to encourage other same sex couples to offer a child a loving home and family.

With thousands of children in Scotland waiting to be adopted or fostered, adoption agencies are now actively seeking gay and lesbian couples to step forward.

Backing the campaign, James and Neil Smith have now chosen to tell the story of the adoption of their little boy Samuel so that other gay couples will follow in their footsteps.

Read more: Scotland's gay politicians tell of suffering in school as they back LBGT teaching in classroom

Their story begins in 2009 - when access to adoption was widened by Holyrood decree to include gay and lesbian couples, alongside regulations allowing same sex couples to be considered as foster parents on the same basis as anyone else.

For the Smiths, it was the answer to their dreams of having a family, and they became the first same sex couple to be approved for adopting a child - going through the process with Glasgow City Council.

James 39, a CEO of the charity and outdoor learning centre @Hillhead and his partner Neil, 49, first fostered their son Samuel when he was four years old in 2010, and adopted him fully two years later.

Now the couple are urging others to follow their lead, saying that there are no barriers to those who have it in their hearts to give a child a home.

James said: "We wanted to have a family, and we thought 'how are we going to do that?'. There are a lot of children out there who need a family, just as we needed to be a family too.

"We looked into adoption and the first thought was 'can we do it?' At the time it was not legally possible, but the legislation was coming into place so Glasgow City Council said that we could begin the process."

Read more: Scotland's new 'Section 28' Culture War breaks out over mandatory teaching of LGBT issues in school

It took two years to become successful candidates while the relevant legislation was put in place, with the couple going through six rounds of assessments where every aspect of their lives was scrutinised.

But the experience was crucial not only for showing the authorities that James and Neil were ready to be parents, but for preparing both men for the responsibility of looking after a child.

Neil said: "The assessments were intrusive, but fair and thorough. They covered all the different areas of our lives to see if we were suitable to be parents, from out family background to our work and out lifestyles. Absolutely everything was covered.

"We were the first same sex couple to go through it and they wanted to make sure that there were no gaps anywhere. But everything was fine."

James added: "The process gave us time to reflect on quite a lot of things, like how having a family is going to change your life.

"And when you adopt a child there is going to be some baggage there that comes with them, and you have to expect that when you do it.

"Being parents is better than what we expected. Samuel is a fabulous, bright and inquisitive wee boy and we all have a loving relationship.

"We can't imagine life without him, and it's like he's always been here."

Read more: Meet the pioneering Scots teachers changing the "culture of silence" around LGBTI issues

For Samuel, being welcomed into James and Neil's lives has given him a stable and loving home, and he has experienced no downside to being a boy with two dads.

The 10-year-old said: "It's been amazing growing up with two dads. Neil knows IT and can help me fix things and James makes me laugh.

"We have fun and when I go to school no one has ever teased me about it."

While ongoing support is available from the local authority, James and Neil are confident that their family unit is as strong as any other family.

James said: "Laws have changed now. You can be gay, straight, black, white or anything in between, and be considered as prospective adoptive parents.

"You do not have to be married or even have a partner. There are so many people out there who could adopt if they wanted to try."

The latest figures show that there were 13,875 children in some form of care last year across Scotland, with only 264 of them with prospective adoptive families.

The legislation allowing same sex couples to adopt has opened up new avenues for agencies seeking to find parents for these children, and Edinburgh-based charity Scottish Adoption is one of several groups in Scotland now running targeted recruitment campaigns encouraging lesbian and gay couples to consider it as an option for becoming parents.

Margaret Moyes, Chief Executive, describes this new focus as "very successful", reporting that 1 in 5 children placed by the charity is with a same sex couple.

She said: "The Agency’s experience has been that children have flourished in the care of their adoptive parents and LGBT adoption has become a mainstream part of their adoption work, with the numbers of couples and single adopters who are LGBT increasing every year.

"Given there are still more children in Scotland needing adoptive parents than there are adoptive parents coming forward, we would encourage anyone interested in getting more information to get in touch with them or any of the other adoption agencies in Scotland."

Glasgow City Council's adoption body Families for Children approved 50 prospective parents last year, meeting its annual target.

Their rules state that anyone wishing to adopt a child aged between 0-4 years must be aged 45 or under, although this only applies to the younger member of a couple if two people apply together.

There is no discrimination on grounds of sex, marital status, gender or race, and now that all relevant legislation is in place it takes around six months for prospective adopters to work their way through the system.

Vivienne Bonner, Team Manager at the agency, said that many myths over the adoption process had to be dispelled.

She said: "For years people would say that you had to be a straight white couple, or own your own house, or many other falsehoods before you could adopt.

"But today what we are looking for is not the prospective adopters family situation, but the skills they have, their abilities dealing with children, and their patience.

"Prospective adopters can be married couples, unmarried couple, single people, reconstituted families, same sex couples just so long as they have the qualities to care for one of these children."

She added: "Our children come from diverse backgrounds and we need prospective parents who also reflect that diversity."