In October 2015 a first Adoption Activity Day was held in Scotland, organised by staff from Scotland's Adoption Register assisted by an advisory group of experienced adoption practitioners. The Scottish Government commissioned an evaluation and this reports sets out the findings.
BAAF set out that the primary purpose of activity days is to give children waiting for a permanent placement and prospective adopters the opportunity to meet in a relaxing and child friendly environment with a focus on a range of activities that they can engage in together. It is an opportunity for prospective families to respond directly to children and hopefully enhance the chances of finding families for those children who might otherwise miss the opportunity of having a permanent family.
Scotland has about three times more children looking for permanent families than the current number of prospective adopters.
The evaluation involved the researcher attending; the Activity Day, steering group meetings, observing an Adoption Exchange Day, analysing the written feedback forms from foster carers, prospective adopters and social workers. The researcher conducted a total of twenty in depth interviews with foster carers, prospective adopters in their own homes, and with social workers in their offices.
For many years there has been concern about 'children who wait' and various strategies have been developed to speed up the process of finding the right family. Until recently written profiles were provided about children and prospective adopters rarely had the opportunity to meet the child or children. Adoption Activity days are a recent introduction, originally from the United States the days were piloted in England in 2011. Since then England has held over fifty days.
Overall the feedback from the first day in Scotland has been very positive and many of the children were reported to have enjoyed themselves. The day provided an opportunity to bring prospective adopters and children who are waiting for families together. There have been understandable concerns about a process which may result in children feeling inspected or rejected. This report shows that with careful preparation and management these risk to the children can be avoided. The activity day is not a selection process for either the children or the prospective adopters, a child cannot 'chose' a family and adopters can express an interest in a child but on the understanding they may not eventually be considered the most appropriate match for that child.
There was positive feedback from all the adults about quality of the organisation of the day, which had been carefully planned. The activity day also appears to have had the effect of focussing attention on key aspects of the adoption process in particular the role of foster carers and the importance of preparing the children.
Many participants were alive to the risk and ethical issues for the children. There were strong views especially from some foster carers that the days should primarily be for younger children and that the emotional risks to the child increased with their age. There were some older children who attended the day and very careful preparation was crucial to enabling them to enjoy the day and not to feel they were part of a selection process. Some carers felt that by discussing the day the older children were given the opportunity to understand the process of adoption and to express their views. Foster carers all believed that both carers should be able to attend if they and the child wanted them to.
Many of the prospective adopters found the process emotionally challenging. More than preparation meetings or exchange days the event had brought home to them the powerful mixture of wanting a child and worrying about their capacity to be a good enough parent and enabling the child to love them and to able to love the child.
The success of the day in the longer term will be evident in the numbers of children who are placed with a family. The early indications are positive. The activity day may well be a part of the process and it will not necessarily be possible to identify precisely how much of a role the day played in the eventual outcome.
There is a plan to follow up after a year later to discover the destinations of this first group of children. And views from social workers and carers about the relevance of the activity day to the overall process.
The study would not have been possible without the help of all the foster carers, prospective adopters and social workers who gave of their time to take part.
Many people contributed to this study;
Robin Duncan and Jess Austin from Scotland's Adoption Register
Members of the Advisory Group-
Pamela Bell Highland Council
Phillipa Brosnan Scottish Government
Andrew Craig South Ayrshire Council
Pat McAuley Scottish Government
Judy Heyes Scottish Adoption
Wendy McKitterick Stirling Council
Thank you to you all