Friday, 20 August 2010

Insight into the Adoption Register for England and Wales

Andy Stott, Manager of the Adoption Register for England & Wales, takes us through how the service runs and the difference it is making to the lives of vulnerable children.

The Adoption Register is an important national tool for local authorities in finding families for looked after children in need of adoption. The Register is run by BAAF on behalf of the Department for Education and the Welsh Assembly Government. It has been run by BAAF for over five years, and I have been the manager throughout this period.

Previously I had managed a local authority adoption team. I made the move because I felt strongly that the Register could make a real difference to the lives of harder to place children.

At the beginning of August 2010 there were around 1100 children on the Register, and each day we get between 15 and 20 new referrals from local authorities. These children are typically of school age, to be placed with brothers and sisters, disabled and/or from a black and minority ethnic background. They are children for whom their local authority has been unable, or is unlikely, to find a family locally.

At the beginning of August, there were also around 820 approved prospective adopters on the Register. Prospective adopters can be referred to the Register by their adoption agency, or they can refer themselves. However, it is important to note that not all approved prospective adopters, or children in need of adoption, come to the notice of the Register (see Adoption Register for further details of the targeted referral system).

The role of the Register team is to identify potential matches between prospective adopters and children on the Register. Over the last five years or so, more than 1150 children have been matched at local authority adoption panel as a result of potential matches identified by the Register. This is a significant achievement, and the Register has now become an integral part of the adoption family finding process in England and Wales.

The Register team also holds a number of adoption exchange days every year. At exchange days approved prospective adopters can look at the profiles of children awaiting adoption and discuss these with the children’s social workers, and sometimes see DVD’s of them as well.

We held two national exchange days at the start of July in Manchester and London. These were attended by over 150 prospective adopters and 50 local authorities. Exchange days bring children to life for adopters. At such an event, it is not unusual for up to 20 children to be matched with families in a single day.

Details of future exchange days can be found on the website.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Our first holiday with our adopted sons took an unexpected turn

In the second of our holiday blogs, Paul describes his experience of taking away his adopted sons for the first time, but it wasn't quite what his oldest son was expecting.

Our 2 boys moved in with us in October 2006 and were aged 3 and 5 at the time. During training we’d realised that stability was important, and not to introduce change, new environments or people too quickly, but by February half term the following year, we thought they’d be ready for a long weekend at Center Parcs.

We spent time explaining to them where we were going, and all the great activities they could do there, and they were both very excited by it.

Unfortunately we had a heavy drop of snow the night before we went, so we didn’t leave as early as we had hoped, and we were a little worried about travelling in such bad weather, perhaps something the children picked up on, but by 3pm on Friday we set out. All was going well, and the conditions were improving, but just 5 miles from the motorway the traffic stopped! It was getting dark, and we were all bored, and there we sat for 3 hours waiting for an accident to be cleared. We eventually made it to Center Parcs around 10pm that night, so it was a fun bath for the boys in the whirlpool bubble-generating bath and a late night before going to bed!

The next day started well with fun in the pool, but as the day went on our oldest became slightly distracted, although we put that down to being tired. It wasn’t until that evening, back at the chalet, that he picked up one of our mobile phones, that displayed a picture of them sitting at home and he said “that was at our old house”. The penny dropped, they thought we had moved house. Before arriving with us, they had moved around a variety of flats and B&B’s and sometimes had to leave quickly for a variety of reasons. Our stressful journey to Center Parcs in the appalling weather, and then the new “happy” environment perhaps reminded him of some of these moves.

It made us realise that, although they had settled in very well with us, there remained a sense of insecurity and that we still had a long way to go before they would feel totally at ease.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Our first holiday as an adoptive family

Summer is here and it's time for holidays. But what's it like going away for the first time as a new family that's come together through adoption? In the first of a two part series about summer breaks, we hear from adoptive father, and author of Frozen, Mike Butcher, about a holiday of a lifetime.

As a couple in our early 40s, my wife and I have had plenty of time to enjoy some very special holidays. We’ve travelled the world, seen the sights and experienced adventures of one kind or another in more than 30 different countries. I suppose that’s what happens when you don’t have children. The arrival of our wonderful baby boy, just seven months old when he came to live with us in September 2009, signalled an end to all that and the beginning of a new era of ‘new-parent paranoia’, serious responsibilities and acute nervousness about any kind of travel with our son on board. We were also conscious of his (and our!) need to settle into new routines and into what had finally become our ‘family’ home.

So in July this year it was with some considerable excitement (and a little trepidation) that we set off on our first holiday as a family. Not to some far-flung destination, but instead to a lovely little two-bedroom lodge in mid-Devon, just on the edge of Exmoor. Naturally, the journey there took longer than expected (refuelling stops for us, the car and our little one are all factors we are learning to take account of these days), but when we arrived the sun was shining and our son sprang into life, eagerly exploring our temporary home with great amusement. It is surprising how quickly you can collect up all the ornaments around a new place and relocate them to a higher shelf. And if you miss one, well, it only takes a nanosecond or two for a toddler to find it for you!

The next 24 hours saw no less than four brief visits to local supermarkets to stock up on food and a handful of items we had forgotten despite our meticulous planning. Our son was beginning to think that we had come all this way to tour the local grocery stores, but a couple of new toys to play with in the car helped placate him and he seemed to forgive his foolish parents. Finally, we made it to the beach and everything was looking up. A giant sandpit... no, a really giant sandpit!

At first, I think our little boy was quite overwhelmed by it all. He just plonked his bum on the sand, waved his bucket and spade in the air and looked around in wonder. We made him small sandcastles and he knocked them all down, laughing merrily at his sandy trail of destruction. It was lovely! At last, he got used to the feel of the sand between his feet and set off running around the beach, with poor Daddy doing his best to keep up and make ‘sand-monster’ noises at appropriate moments.

Despite some up-and-down weather, lots more fun ensued over the new few days: a trip to a model railway; visits to several different beaches; and many ducks were fed at the local lake. Our son was having the time of his life and so were we, but come the end of our week, we were all ready to head for home. Our little boy couldn’t actually tell us what he wanted, but there was something in his eyes that said: “Can I have all my regular toys back now? And my house, and my garden.” With the car packed up for our return journey, he settled into his baby seat with a contented smile and showed his approval by managing to sleep for almost three quarters of our drive home.

The broad smile on our son’s face when he walked into his living room in his house – our ‘family’ living room in our ‘family’ house – was just as good as the holiday itself. And it made us realise that you can keep your fortnights in Mauritius and your explorations of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. The holiday of a lifetime? We’ll take sitting on a beach on the North Devon coast with our coats on and dodging raindrops while our little boy digs a big hole in the sand anyday!

Frozen is available from the BAAF Bookshop or via Amazon.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

A week in the life of an adoption and fostering trainer

At BAAF we provide training for professionals in adoption and fostering. Here we give you a glimpse into their busy lives and the contribution they make to children separated from their birth families. We start off this week with the highs and lows of Andy Sayers, a trainer in BAAF's Southern Division.

Travelled to Exeter today for a Child Appreciation Day (CAD) training session for Devon County Council. As many people who have known the child as possible are invited to a CAD to contribute anecdotes and memories to pass on to prospective adopters. The facilitator takes people on a guided journey of the child’s life and asks them to see it from a child’s perspective. I did the first part of the training last year and stayed in a lovely B&B in Totnes, where I had a great curry and bought myself a ukulele. This time I’m staying in a Holiday Inn on a roundabout in the middle of nowhere.

The venue for the CAD training is a disused secondary school. It’s swelteringly hot and participants have to bring their own lunch. How times have changed!

The training goes really well, however, and everyone is enthusiastic about putting plans into action. I later hear from the organiser of the day that several participants (including managers) remarked that it was the best training they have ever had. (Note to self: ask BAAF for a rise).

I finally get home at 10pm.Take out the Devon training packs and replace with ones for Milton Keynes Council.

IRM (Independent Review Mechanism) training for Milton Keynes today. The IRM is a service where people can appeal fostering and adoption decisions. The training was for fostering panel members and social workers, to inform them of the structure and workings of the IRM and how it may affect them.

Before I leave the house I do a training inventory. Training packs plus pens etc – check! Laptop – check! Projector – check! Speakers – check! Extra leads – check! Train tickets and venue map - check! The older I get the more checks I have to do. I really worry about forgetting things, like the training day itself or turning up in the right place at the wrong time or vice versa.

Getting on the train to Milton Keynes and I show my ticket to inspectors. They ask to see my charity ID as my ticket had been booked through their Charity Line (a discounted service for people who work for charities). I have never been asked for this before and have to rummage around in my work bag for any ID. Eventually I managed to find a crumpled business card, which after a lot of pleading, was accepted. I get on the train by the skin of my teeth.

On arrival at Milton Keynes my ticket would not go through the machine. I’m told by another Virgin employee that my ticket was only valid for travel after 9am. Since I was travelling before then I would have to pay another £76. I explained that I had paid for an 8.20am seat reservation, so how could this happen. His response: ”Seat reservations and tickets are not connected.” When arguing that maybe Virgin should not have sold me this ticket, he replied: “It is your responsibility to check!” After causing a big tailback he reluctantly lets me through with a wagging of his finger.

I get in a cab with a very chatty driver and gave him my map. As it was a very hot and stuffy day we had the windows open. All of a sudden a suicidal pigeon came zooming through my open window and landed by my side. After both screaming (that’s me and the driver, not the pigeon – although he/she may well have screamed in ‘pidgin English’) the driver pulled over. I opened the door and we bade farewell to a confused but otherwise ok pigeon.

I arrived safely at my training and was directed to the room. I started setting up my equipment and waited for the people to begin to arrive. As people start to filter in one of the participants approaches me and asks why was I running this group for women only? I explained that in my training men are usually outnumbered 20:1.She looked at me strangely and began talking to the others. Then the penny dropped - I had been shown to the wrong venue and was in the roomfor the 'women's group'!

In the end the training was well attended and well received. There was a nice lunch too!

Off to Barnet today to meet a social worker to plan the facilitation of a Child Appreciation Day. The meeting goes well and boosts my faith in social work. Here was a social worker fully informed and up to date. She spoke about three young children with true passion and was a real advocate for them.

Working from home today –phew! This gives me time to go through the feedback sheets from training, email the people who commissioned the training with comments and see if they require anything else. I write up my notes from the Barnet meeting and email the social worker, plus her manager, to say how impressed I was by her knowledge and commitment.

At 4pm I get a text from a friend asking if I’m free for a game of tennis at 5pm - you bet! It’s my wife’s birthday party tomorrow– 28 people for a Keralan curry and a birthday cake shaped like a pair of running shoes.

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