Youngsters repeatedly passed over by potential adoptive parents are to meet families over food, drink and games
Adoption parties that bring hard-to-place children together with prospective parents over food, drinks and games are to be held by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering.
The agency hopes that the controversial events will increase the chances of finding homes for young people repeatedly passed over by potential adoptive parents, such as those aged over five, sibling groups, children of black and minority ethnic origin, and those with mental and physical disabilities.
"It's true that these parties show we are moving up the tariff of risk in the ways we are being forced to seek out families for these children," admitted Mo O'Reilly, director of child placement for the BAAF. "But the truth is that if we don't take this step, these children face the even greater risk of remaining unplaced, perhaps for ever. The project will help children for whom all other family-finding methods have failed and who face a life of multiple moves around foster homes.
"We need to go to the next level for these children," she said. "At the moment, they're not finding families because their disadvantages are building up in the adopters' imaginations, stopping them being able to see the ordinary children behind their difficult circumstances or behaviours.
"This is not just about putting some jelly and ice-cream in a parish hall and inviting everyone along," she added. "We are going to hold these parties professionally and in the best way that we know how, and we are pretty optimistic that these parties could be a success."
However, Jonathan Ewen, head of fostering and adoption services at Barnardo's, gives the parties only a cautious welcome. "In the light of the dearth of children being placed, it's quite right to try what seems like quite radical methods," he said. "The danger is that if a prospective adopter makes a connection with a child too early, they can get emotionally caught up without properly understanding the difficulties that child has had and the problems they will bring with them.
"But we watch this project with interest and if the local authorities we work with are interested in bringing together our adopters and their children in a similar way, we would be very interested in talking to them."
About 10 families and 20 children will be invited to each event, which will take the form of a children's party, hosted in community centres by the prospective parents themselves, who will organise group games and one-to-one activities.
There will be no prior matching between children and adults, but the families invited will have expressed interest in the "type" of children present. The BAAF hopes that at least two children will find a new family at each event.
The BAAF has been developing the idea alongside 12 councils across the country and is now ready to draft job descriptions and to approach funders. It hopes the first pilot party will take place in July, with a second in October.
If the pilots are regarded as a success, the agency will start training social workers in January 2011 in how to throw their own adoption party, with the launch of national practice guidance in January 2012. The cost of the three-year project is estimated to be £184,891. The agency, which produced the family-finding newspaper Be My Parent in 1980, and in 2007 launched the family-finding website, bemyparent.org.uk, is also considering whole-day events for about six children and prospective adopters.
"There needs to be intensive group preparation and support of children, current carers and prospective parents before and after the event," said O'Reilly. "We have to manage it so the children don't feel picked or selected on the day."
Each year around 4,000 children need to be adopted, but only around 3,000 adoptions are completed. Last year around 60% of children in care were there because of abuse or neglect. More than 50% of children on the Adoption Register were in a sibling group and around 25% had a disability.
Sue Cotton, head of adoption services at the charity Action for Children, said that although the parties were "high risk" for the children involved, they were necessary to counter the "mismatch" between the kind of children people wanted to adopt and those that were available.
"Nobody wants to go back to the past, when prospective adopters viewed children and picked them out of a queue, but the current mismatch really is dire," she said. "The downside of these parties is that children will be aware that they are being picked or not picked at the parties, no matter how sensitive the pre-party preparation has been. Children who know that families are being sought for them will always risk feeling rejection, but meeting the adults at the party will make the letdown even stronger.
"We can't welcome this idea because we don't know the effect on the children," she added. "But it is clear that staying as we are is not an option."
The Observer, 30th August 2009