Today Andy Leary-May,CEO of Adoption Link, tells us how adoptive parents are shaking-up family-finding.
My partner and I decided in 2007 that the time was right to grow our family, and that adoption was how we wanted to do it. As a gay couple, at that time, we were relatively unusual in this. We really wanted to know others in the same situation, and I started a support group called New Family Social.
Over the next few years adoption became an increasingly large part of my life. NFS grew into a national charity that now helps hundreds of families, and each year hold an annual camp that is the biggest event for adoptive and foster families in the UK.
As the charity grew so did my family, and our second son joined us last year. They are both beautiful, bonkers, amazing forces of nature.
Through running an adoption charity, and having been through the process twice myself, I knew how frustrating matching could be. There were various options available to help bring families together, all of which served an important purpose, but all with their own limitations. The charity was lucky to have a talented volunteer called Craig working on its online systems, and together we mused about how matching could work better.
The problem is fairly straightforward. People from two groups (children and parents) need to find each other so that the needs and criteria of each are met as well as possible, and with a healthy chunk of ‘chemistry’ playing a part.
Surely, in this day in age, this should be possible without lots of delay, out of date information, or expense? We set to work.
Early in 2013 an opportunity came up to tender for the Government contract to run the Adoption Register for England. We put together a joint bid with Adoption UK using our system, but we weren’t successful. Undaunted, Craig, myself, and a developer called Will finished building our system and in April 2014 we launched ‘Adoption Link’.
The system was simple, but very different to anything the adoption sector had seen before. Both adopters and social workers add their profiles directly online and start looking for each other straight away. OK, if you insist on using the analogy, it works a bit like a dating site – it really isn’t rocket science.
Since April we have been overwhelmed by the support and positive feedback we have received from both adopters and social workers.
Adopters are happy to finally gain some control in a process that can otherwise leave them feeling confused and forgotten. Social workers, meanwhile, are for the first time able to access hundreds of approved adopters across the UK directly, and be more proactive in searching for new families for their children.
The beauty of having a ‘system’ like this is that any available resources can go into refining it, and adding more features. We are preparing to add a document-sharing feature that will make exchanging PARs and CPRs quicker, and far more secure. Soon we will add new social functions, so that any adopters can find others near them to chat, and find play-dates with adopted children of similar ages. Our biggest development, due next year, will introduce fostering and residential placement finding.
Our dream is for Local Authorities to be able to create a profile for any child and instantly see the most suitable placements, whether adoptive, fostering or residential.
We want each placement to be commissioned because it meets the individual needs of a child best, not because it appears cheapest in the short term. We are pleased to be working with national leads in fostering and residential care on this, and hope that as a result children will more often find the right placement first time, with fewer moves that we all know do so much harm.
For the time being we are excited to see so many new adoptive families coming together, and I will leave you with a message we received last week from a social worker:
“Hi there – just wanted to let you know the great news that I have just submitted panel papers for a match which got off the ground thanks to Adoption Link! … I’ve also had a great response for a sibling pair I added last week and it looks like I’ll be visiting one of the couples who have enquired about them – so another Adoption Link match. Keep up the good work – really pleased we subscribed!”
You can find out more about Adoption Link at www.adoptionlink.co.uk