How to choose an adoption agency in the UK?
From an adopter some way down the line.
Where to start?
So, life has brought you to this point now where you’re thinking about adoption.
You don’t know much about it, don’t know anyone who has done it recently and you are more than a bit hesitant, to be honest. Isn’t it supposed to be a really hard and long process where social workers grill you on every aspect of your life? Don’t you have to be some kind of superhero parent to raise adopted children? And aren’t there all sorts of rules excluding most people?
Well, yes and no, the process of adopting itself is certainly in-depth – it has to be for the sake of the children – but it doesn’t take the years it did when I went through it and time frames are definitely considerably faster, though by no means guaranteed. As for superhero parents, while I have met a couple, most of the adopters I know are simply determined and dogged advocates who love their kids, committed to doing their absolute best for them and helping them overcome the rough hand they were dealt early on. But superheroes…not so much. And when it comes to rules, there are actually now very few. You will, however, have conversations about how “ready” you are to adopt because the process can be quick and you can suddenly find yourself with an instant family and agencies need to know that they have got all eventualities covered and your proverbial ducks are lined up!
So now you’ve done a bit of Googling, visited a few websites and got a bit confused quite frankly about what is and isn’t possible because a lot of what comes up in online search seems to relate to the USA.
You actually have a choice of adoption agency.
That’s right, one of the first things you should know about choosing an adoption agency in the UK is that, depending on where you live, you have a choice about which adoption agency you can use. And you do have to commit to just one. You can either adopt through your local authority, or regional adoption agency (collective organisations made up of former local authority adoption teams), or you can adopt with an independent agency known as a Voluntary Adoption Agency. These are – not run by volunteers! – but regional or national charities, that unlike most agencies in the US are completely free to adopters. Many of them have specialised in adoption for years and have often grown out of former church charities. You can find them all here on this map https://cvaa.org.uk/agency-finder/
How to choose the best adoption agency in the UK for you?
When I adopted many years ago before the UK government made a complete overhaul of the system, I had no idea that this choice existed and no one thought to tell me. If I had, then I would have definitely exercised my right to choose, as it’s become clear to me that adoption is about so much more than the process of being approved and then matched with a child… although that is, understandably, the apparent finish line to so many prospective adopters starting out.
Here are some of the things to think about when you’re considering agencies to adopt with:
• Lifelong support. Adoption has lifelong impacts and therefore needs lifelong support, something which Voluntary Adoption Agencies pride themselves on giving their families and are often set up to provide directly. You may be hoping that you won’t need much support as your child isn’t going to have any problems so this is not an issue! I would definitely advise against this approach and say that the more flexible and open you can remain to accepting the support on offer; to keep learning about the perspectives and differences that adoption brings and how to best support your family, then the better things will be for you and your children. Support can come in many forms. It might just be a sounding board from someone you trust who’s seen this issue before; it might be advice on choosing the right kind of school for your particular child or help with accessing therapy for the whole family. Some of your support will come from other adopters that you meet on the journey. Will your agency be able to help you meet and connect with others in the same boat as you? Will your agency be able to give you the time you and your family need in the early days and beyond, or do their social workers have an unreasonable caseload?
Do they promise “lifelong support” and if they do what does it mean?
• Relationships are the absolute heart of adoption. Of course, the relationship that you hope to have with your child (or children!) is what it’s all about but also important are the relationships that you will end up having with all the people around your child. This means that you need to find an agency that as well as being thorough and efficient in the adoption process, prioritises relationships and always puts people and children first. You’ll need to have a good relationship with the social workers on the team to help you through what is the most emotional of roller coasters but also with those involved in support after adoption be they social workers, therapists or administrators. You’ll want help with maintaining some form of direct or indirect contact with birth family, helping your children understand and come to terms with the path that their lives have taken both in the early years and later down the line when they start to work out their identity and where they belong. You may need help in educating those around you, family and friends, as to why you are not following traditional parenting norms, or why you are so focussed on the children’s attachment to you. And when they start school you’ll need someone who understands how to navigate the education system for a child with a trauma background.
When you’ve done a bit of online detective work around the agencies that interest you, read their information, talk to them, go to their information events and get a feel for how well they do human!
• The Children. Who are they and where are they? Your future children are very likely currently living with short-term foster carers. They may well have siblings that by rights they should stay with. If you adopt with a local authority or regional adoption agency then they will have a number of children living locally in foster care whom they seek to match with the adopters they have recruited. The numbers, needs, ethnicities, sibling combinations and ages of this smaller group of children will fluctuate over time. This is not the case with Voluntary Adoption Agencies who do not have any specific children in their care but work to find adopters for children in care from all over the country for the adopters that they have recruited and will look to make the best match for the adopters and, of course, ultimately for the children. Many of these agencies will have a focus on finding adopters for the children who have been waiting longest for a family, for example, sibling groups, older children and children with health needs, or children of colour.
• Speed. You may well be coming to adoption at the end of an already very long road. You may have been waiting for years for the right partner to appear, have finally got a long-term home sorted, got yourself into a secure financial position, or made your peace with a fertility journey that wasn’t to be. And now you’re ready to crack on with something altogether different. While agencies should be able to tell you how quickly they would be able to have you start the adoption process and how long on average it is taking to approve adopters, be wary of anyone predicting how long it will take for you to be matched with a child as this a pretty open-ended and unpredictable thing reliant on so many different factors. Look for agencies that are really interested in getting to know you over the long term and understand just what it is that you would be able to offer a child right now or in the future, agencies that are happy to talk with you wherever you’re at, right at the start when you are just putting a toe in the water, or when you’ve done all your research and are ready to dive right in.
Hear what some adopters with Voluntary Adoption Agencies – including CCS Adopter Zoe – have to say about the agencies they chose to adopt with.