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An American TV programme which pitted five couples against each
other for the baby of a 16-year-old mother brought a horrified
reaction from UK social workers.

This distaste for some US practices when it comes to matching
children is not confined to that edition of ABC’s 20-20 news
magazine programme, broadcast in the spring. There have also been
instances of children being paraded in front of would-be parents as
the prospective adopters make their choice. And then there are the
hundreds of US internet adoption sites.

On the other hand, perhaps the UK is taking note. Last month
Baaf Adoption and Fostering announced that it would conduct a
feasibility study into the value of featuring children for adoption
on the internet funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

The sector in the UK is far more regulated than in the US. The
concept of placing the details and photographs of children waiting
for adoption is relatively new and sparks heated debate.

Internet adoption hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in
2001 when Alan and Judith Kilshaw adopted twins from the US. The
Welsh couple had found the baby girls through a US adoption agency
on the internet and brought them to the UK illegally before being
forced to hand the children back by a Missouri court. The case led
to new laws tightening international adoption procedures.

Then last month National Adoption Week was marked by Baaf
Adoption and Fostering teaming up with The Sun and GMTV to profile
children waiting to be adopted. While it was unsettling viewing for
some, there is no doubt that a far wider audience of prospective
adopters was reached using this direct method.

So is internet adoption the next logical step towards increasing
adoption? We asked four experts for their views.

Felicity Collier, chief executive,
Baaf Adoption and Fostering

“We publish photographs of children in Be My Parent, which is
available on request to the public as well as to approved adopters.
We also arrange to feature children in national newspapers.

There is no doubt that many more families come forward as a
result of seeing real children than through written information
alone. There is an emotional connection to photographs and families
can imagine these children living with them. The fact that the
child is older, has learning difficulties, challenging behaviour or
is disabled is no longer such a barrier.

The reason social workers were prepared to feature children in
The Sun during National Adoption Week was because they know it can
work. Last year two of the local authorities had children placed
through the newspaper.

Given the huge interest in the internet and the number of
visitors to Baaf’s website (more than 500,000 in the past year), we
would be missing an opportunity if we did not consider using this
medium. The way in which we could develop a website still needs
careful thought – hence our study, which includes eliciting the
views of children, adopters and birth families as well as social
workers and agencies. We are looking at other websites featuring
children to see the strengths and weaknesses in their approaches.
It is essential that details are kept up to date and that it is
clear whether the photos are of actual children rather than models;
otherwise it is disrespectful to children and to enquirers.

A critical factor is to ensure children are safeguarded, that
proper consents have been given and that adults can support
children through the process and help them if no suitable families
are identified.”

Michele Elliott, director,
children’s charity Kidscape

“Advertising young people for adoption on the internet and
television or in magazines reminds me of the catwalk shows in the
US, where children are paraded in front of prospective families.
Some of the children are eventually adopted, but I cringe when the
idea is mentioned because I am so worried about the feelings of the
young people who are not successful. It is like a circus and I
wonder whether those who are rejected feel like freaks.

I remember watching one of these programmes and seeing the
hard-to-place children trying their best to look appealing. Some
children were not even approached by one family and the look of
resignation on their faces was heartbreaking.

Although the agencies and local authorities involved have the
best intentions, the outcome for the young people may be
detrimental, even devastating. There is a danger that these kinds
of advertisements or programmes will do more harm than good.

If you were one of the lucky ones who managed to get and stay in
a family, you would probably tell me the system was excellent. But
how many young people get their hopes up, only to be dashed when no
one comes forward for them? It is hard enough being rejected, for
whatever reason, by your birth family, but to fail in an adoption
line-up must be crushing.

The only circumstance I would support trying to place children
in this way is if the child is too young to realise the
consequences of not being chosen. If we find that advertising harms
even one young person, is it worth continuing for those it

Ruth Kennell, adoptive parent

“Adoption needs to be handled with expertise and care to avoid
drastic and lasting mistakes. I am concerned that opening up
adoption information on the internet could cause problems,
especially where access is concerned.

If access to these sites was allowed only to approved adopters,
perhaps you can say it is a good idea. Sometimes social workers
struggle to match parents simply because of their workload and it
can help enormously if prospective parents can be more actively
involved in the search for the right children for them.

When my husband and I first heard about our three children we
hadn’t seen pictures and were just given factual information about
them and their circumstances. We used publications from Baaf
Adoption and Fostering but still felt slightly uneasy about
“choosing” children in this way. We were happy to have information
from our social worker that we knew was confidential and that gave
us a good picture of what these children were like before seeing
their photos.

Now that I have my three children – whom we love very much – I
must admit I do not like the idea of them having been advertised
over the internet. I think this fact is also important to them.
They believe that they were chosen especially for us and they would
be upset if they learned that they had been ‘advertised’ on the
internet. We can argue the case that using the internet is no
different from using newspapers or magazines, but I believe the
internet may be open to more abuse. I would only be happy to see
adoption agencies using the internet with the same care as is used
for the current forms of media involved in adoption

Larry, 16, adopted young person

“When I was adopted in 1990 the internet wasn’t around, so my
adoptive parents had to research adoption using other sources, such
as newspapers and magazines. Over time this has changed and the
internet has become available to nearly everyone, with information
about adoption published on many different sites that can be easily
accessed. The next step to be taken – if deemed safe, that is – is
for the profiles and photographs of children waiting to be adopted
to be published on the internet.

Much controversy surrounds this subject, and there are also
issues about privacy and security to be considered before taking
any action. At first glance this sounds like a good idea, until we
read further into it and discover complications about the safety of
the children.

When I was adopted I am not sure that it would have been a great
idea to have this service because of privacy and security issues.
On the plus side, publishing children’s profiles on the internet –
if it is regulated properly – may help find more parents for
children who are waiting.

If we can publish children’s profiles in magazines, and even
newspapers such as The Sun, why shouldn’t we be able to publish
them on the web? This may also open the door for more overseas
adoptions. After all, there are more than 3,000 children waiting to
be adopted today, and about 20 per cent of those get no enquiries.
Perhaps using the internet means they would.”

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