The full picture

“I have to go to a new family because I’m not allowed to go to my real family…It’s sad because I’m not going home.” This was nine-year-old Rhiannon speaking on last month’s Channel 4 documentary Wanted: New Mum and Dad.

The two-part series followed the adoption team at Northamptonshire Council. Rhiannon featured in the first programme with Sean, seven, and Daniel, nine.

All three were considered difficult to adopt, mainly because of their age, although, as it was pointed out with affection, Sean also had behavioural problems, red hair and glasses. The programme ended with all three successfully placed: Sean with a couple who shared his love of singing loudly; Daniel with a gay couple, which he wasn’t fazed by, who had the silver convertible car he wanted and a new best friend next door; and Rhiannon with a couple who let her have a dog and horse riding lessons.

Sue Lowe, Northamptonshire Council’s adoption team manager, says seeing the difference between shots of Rhiannon at the beginning of the programme and at the end was the highlight for her: “The last shot of her is in her placement and she glows.”

Five years ago the council realised that it was not placing enough older children for adoption and it began to look around for a different way to approach the problem.

It came up with Parents for Children evenings, three times a year, where approved adopters or those going through the process were invited to an evening where they watched videos of children who were ready for adoption. The videos are made by the children, their foster carers and social workers, and the room used for the evening is covered in posters about the children featured that night.

Lowe says: “In the first four years we featured 130 children and placed 73.8 per cent. We have found we are placing children who are over five or have disabilities. We are saying, ‘this is the child’ not ‘this is the problem’.

She says the video method works because people respond to the child they see in the film and any preconceived ideas about the type of child they want are dispelled. He or she becomes “a specific child, not a mythical child”.

In answer to critics who see this method as a step too far, or failing to protect children from abusers, Lowe says: “We started out with the view that all and sundry could come, but then realised that wasn’t a good idea. We invite people we are confident about, those who are the genuine article.

“This method is getting children placed. It’s not in the public domain. The children know they are making videos and that adopters will see them.”

Jonathan Pearce, director of Adoption UK, says: “We have to invest in the marketing of these children. To create that spark of interest from prospective adoptive parents you need to promote as positively as possible so you get a better sense of who they are.

“At these evenings you get a full picture of the child which makes it easier for prospective adopters to relate to.”

He understands that this type of video advertising might be perceived by some as treating children like a commodity that is marketed and sold, but says it is a lot more sensitive than that.

“You are generating more inquiries and finding families for children in care,” Pearce says. “It’s a balance you have to strike and I don’t have any problem saying that this helps to get children out of the care system and into adoptive families which gives better outcomes.”

In fact, next year Adoption UK is planning to launch an online version of its monthly magazine Children Who Wait, which profiles children ready for adoption. The website would let the charity include video clips of the children.

Pearce sounds a note of caution though, pointing out that an online version would have to be secure enough to prevent paedophiles hacking in and copying photos.

“There are issues of security and privacy,” he says. “You have to be sure about who is looking at this information. There is a risk you could have disclosed information about a child to its extended birth family that could then locate the child. There should be nothing that identifies where they are, such as putting up a photo of a child in their school uniform. And the older the child, the more input they should have on what is said about them.”

In the London Borough of Tower Hamlets professional film-makers are producing short films of children younger than 13 who are considered difficult to adopt. But prospective parents see the film only after expressing an interest in a particular child.

The council piloted this two years ago. Namita Singh, team manager for the permanent placement team, says the idea stemmed from “our need to do more creative things to find families”.

She adds: “It’s been successful in preparing families for placements because adopters have said that nothing they have read or been told has made it so alive as seeing the films.”

So far this year the team has placed 22 children, of whom at least 10 had been filmed. Although the team would like to use films for every child, lack of resources restricts them to those who are difficult to place. The next step would be to do this for every child needing adoption and, eventually, for every child who comes into care. The video would then be part of their life story work.

“In an age where everything is being stored digitally, children in care should have their life recorded in the same format,” says Singh.

Until the council came up with the idea of using films, it had done what every other local authority does to find adopters: profiled children in Baaf Adoption and Fostering’s Be My Parent newspaper; put profiles in the local media; and run focused campaigns on specific children.

“There’s no one way that works better than the other, it’s a combination. It’s word of mouth, a bit of luck mixed in with hard work,” Singh says.

“For me, going into filming is just using another media format. I’m not saying take these films and put them on the internet, I’m saying use them sensitively.”

Singh adds: “It’s not a magic wand that will bring all the right families to our doorstep. People who are sceptical about it need to know that we are not trying to sensationalise adoption. Confidentiality is a high priority and we are careful about who sees them.”

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.