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Jenny-whittle160x220Cllr Jenny Whittle, the Cabinet Member for Specialist Children's Services on Kent County Council, says remembering the human factor can help more children in the care system have the chance of adoption

The Government’s drive for councils to increase the number of adoptions, recruit more adopters, and eradicate delay in getting children adopted is absolutely right. Last year Kent County Council entered into an innovative partnership with children’s charity, Coram. We have doubled the number of information days for prospective adopters, worked with voluntary agencies to widen our pool of adopters, substantially grown our family finding team, and streamlined a process for recruiting adopters which candidly had been deterring some would-be adopters from pursuing a vital cause.

This has resulted in the number of children placed with adoptive families by Kent County Council increasing from 68 to 143 over a year.

But however much councils try, some children remain harder to place, particularly older children, siblings and those with disabilities. The adoption process in the country centres on social workers seeking to identify matches between adopters and children. It doesn’t enable adopters to consider a child who on paper may not fit what may have been their ideal. Paper and DVD profiles miss a fundamental factor: the chemistry and warmth that can evolve between adults and children when they meet.

That is why, after much discussion and research, Kent, in conjunction with the British Association of Adoption and Fostering, decided to hold our first adoption day. I understand why some people feel apprehensive about adoption parties, concerned that children may feel bitterly disappointed and rejected again if they don’t find a new mummy and daddy on the day.

Adoption parties originated in the UK, but stopped in the eighties due to social workers feeling uneasy about the process. At first I shared that concern; my own mother was returned to care after her adoption placement broke down and the sense of compounded rejection she suffered was devastating. However, children in care often press their social worker to find them a family and we owe it to them to do everything we can to make them happen.  Properly managed, I have seen first-hand how successful an adoption
party can be.

Adoption parties have been held in the United States for years, and research from the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange shows that adoption days are twice as effective as other methods of matching.

Kent’s adoption party was held in the grounds of a hotel which we booked out for the day.  We were very careful not to bring along children who would find the day painful; those who came along were carefully prepared.  We also took care to look after the adopters, whose own hopes were very high that day.

Despite being held at the same time as the Wimbledon men’s final, many staff volunteered to come and support the event.  87 adoptive households turned out in force to meet over 50 children who have been waiting some time to be adopted, despite huge efforts on the part of social workers to find them the right families.

Concerns that such a party was “speed dating for toddlers” quickly evaporated for those who came along.  Children, foster carers, social workers and would-be adopters enjoyed a day in the sunshine, centred on pirate themed activities, with a magician and a special tea. Adoptive parents saw children at play, having fun, and had a chance to interact with them, getting a taste of what life could be like as a family.  I attended the event and saw much laughter, joy and a huge sense of optimism to find families for children who had been in care for some time.

The result?  A brother and sister aged 4 and 7, and a 5 year old boy were matched with adopters who attended the event.  Prospective adopters also asked to find out more about 34 of the children present and this will lead to more matches and children being placed with families.  We are planning our next adoption day, and will continue to innovate to ensure that children are not left to languish in care when there is a family somewhere out there for them.

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