A Social Worker’s experience of Exchange Days

‘Exchange days provided great opportunities for us, in the Western Isles. Although not many children are placed for adoption in our local authority, when we were family finding for two children we found adoptive families thanks to Exchange Days.
The first child was a little girl with complex health needs. We profiled her on the online register and despite getting a lot of initial interest, people withdrew this when they found out more information about her needs.
I had contacted the voluntary agencies prior to attending the Exchange Day and knew that there was a single woman from Barnardos who would consider a child seen to have more complex needs. The Exchange Day opened up possibilities to dispel some of the ideas people may have about the child’s needs. We spent quite a long time talking with the adopter and there was a positive feeling after the day. It felt that we were able to progress more easily towards matching as we had met already.
Meeting adopters and workers humanises the process, especially for the social worker who may not have experience of family finding.
For this little girl it provided us with access to more opportunities and she is now placed in mainland Scotland with a family who are more than able to meet her needs and also she now has access to more additional support at school and at home.
We also found a match for another little boy through another Exchange Day. We met a lot of families on the day and we were able to have fuller discussions with people which was helpful. We got information from people we may not have had as quickly from reading their report.
We left the day with a sense that we had found the right family for him which was a great feeling. He is now living with his adoptive family and doing really well.
As I said we have not pursued adoption for many children in the western Isles and these were the first children adopted in the last 4 to 5 years.
It did open up opportunities for us as we are quite isolated as a local authority. I believe they have offered us better opportunities for these two children who are now adopted.’

Perspective on an Adoption Activity Day- Couple who attended Adoption Activity Day prior to approval

‘we were not yet approved when our social worker suggested we attended an Adoption Activity Day in order to meet children. Our panel was due in the next couple of months and we knew we wanted to adopt siblings from the start. This was due to our age at the start of the process; we knew we did not want to start again in a few years and we wanted more than one child.
Our social worker thought it would be a good idea for us to meet children so we could get a better idea of who the children were and also hopefully meet sibling groups. We did not have a clear picture of who the children we would be parenting would be like so this would make things more real for us.
Initially, I was not that keen on the idea of the day as I was scared children would be left out but it was not like that at all. It was just like a play day.
We came out having had a great time.
We met the boys, we have now adopted, at the day we attended. Ryan was initially drawn to my husband and they spent time together, then we met Ben, his brother.
We also spent time with 2 sibling girls that day but we realised through spending time with them and speaking to their social worker that we would not have been able to meet their needs.
We ate with the boys and enjoyed this time. It felt more real that talking about profiles.
What was helpful on the day was the different activities which made the day flow and also children did not have a sense of the fact that this was an Adoption Activity Day- for the boys anyway it was a play day.
After the day we were drawn to the boys but also open to other options as we did not want to get our hopes up and also we were not yet approved. However, we are glad we made the long journey as we now have our family.
I would say to people to definitely go to an Activity Day as despite not necessarily meeting your child/ren there you will get a good sense of children and you will be able to speak to foster carers who offer more information than profiles.’

Adoption Activity Days- The perspective of a children’s social worker.

‘Thomas and Robert had been placed on the Adoption Register in February 2018 with the plan that they would be adopted into the same family. For us it was imperative that they remained together given the strong sibling bond and this was also the wish of their birth parents. Disappointingly we found that there was no interest being shown in relation to the boys and once a few months had passed we were beginning to feel quite disheartened. We attended an Adoption Exchange Day in August 2018 with the boys’ foster carer however this did not provide any suitable links either. At this point we returned to a permanence panel and the decision was reluctantly made to seek separate adopters for the boys. These decisions are always complex and the outcome reflected concerns that Thomas’ significant medical needs may prevent either child from being adopted in a timeframe which was suitable given their ages. It was appearing likely that we may need to consider permanent fostering for Thomas while we continued to seek a suitable adoptive family for Robert.
The feeling around this was one of significant sadness which was shared by the boys’ foster carer who stressed the strong bond shared by the children. I was aware that maintaining the boys’ sibling relationship on an ongoing basis may prove very difficult depending on where they moved to geographically and the capacity of the adoptive family to support this in the long term.
It was suggested that since attempts to find the right family had not resulted in any suitable matches to date that we would make arrangements for the boys to participate in an Adoption Activity Day. Part of the reason for this was that whilst the boys were endearing children who people were naturally drawn to, their developmental histories and the uncertainty about their long term health meant that their personalities and the things that made them a joy to care for were not reflected ‘on paper’.
I am the first to admit that the idea of an Activity Day was not something that I was comfortable with. Having never attended one my first thoughts were that it sounded like people ‘selling children’ and I was also really anxious about how children would feel if the day did not result in them finding a family.
I was lucky to work with other social workers who had attended Activity Days and they were able to alleviate most of my worries by explaining how the day works and what is done to prepare children.
Whilst still slightly anxious I attended the Activity Day and was pleasantly surprised. I found it to be beautifully run. The boys are very young and they experienced it as a great party. What made it work so well was that people had a chance to see the boys’ spirits and personalities which it was impossible to convey on paper.
Meeting lots of other children at the day enabled me to see that there are many children with additional needs that are seeking families and that there are opportunities for them to find the right match by trying different methods of family finding. The day was so well structured with games and activities for older children and they all appeared to be having a whale of a time.
Following the Activity Day we went from having no potential matches for the boys to having six sets of prospective adopters wanting to know more about them.
There was an immediate ‘click’ between the boys and the adoptive parents when they met at the Activity Day and we continued to exchange information in the weeks that followed. We had always stressed the need for the boys to retain some form of relationship and were very happy when the adoptive parents expressed the wish to be considered as parents for both boys. There was some anxiety in the following weeks while we waited for the outcome of the panel decision around changing the registration which was initially only for one child however this was all worth the wait and the boys are due to move in the near future. We also have a very happy foster carer who is relieved that the children will be able to remain together on a permanent basis.
While planning to attend the Activity Day we had not really anticipated such a positive outcome however we had wanted to make sure that we had done everything we could to keep the boys together.
I think if we hadn’t attended the Activity Day we would still be waiting. I’m really happy for the boys and the adopters, it’s a great match. My message for children’s social workers would be that I completely understand that prior to attending one, you may have misgivings about Adoption Activity Days but take the time to find out more and do it- it works!’

Perspective on family finding by a single adopter

‘I was approved in October/November but I had attended an Exchange Day before I was approved. I was looking for 1 child between 5 and 8 years old and what I found helpful at the Exchange Days were the videos.
I guess I was pragmatic about the family finding process. I knew it had to be done and I accepted that I had to go to Exchange Days and possibly Activity Days. I know some people find these very emotional and I can see why but I thought about it as a way to find the best match for me. I mean the whole process of adoption is unusual and we do things that the majority of people do not have to do and family finding was one of those things.
I went to two Activity Days. The first time I went, I did not have much expectation and I wanted to see what would happen. I met a boy whom I spent quite a lot of time with. It was helpful as you get a sense of how you, as an adult, will respond to a child. There is something which you cannot predict when you read a profile and that is how you will interact or feel when you meet.
The second day I attended was to meet a particular child. There had been information exchange via the online register and I knew I was going to meet Amy. I had read her form E and meeting her dispelled some of the concerns which were in the report.
Meeting Amy was great as we could have lunch together and I can remember how many sausage rolls she had! We also made some crafts together which we have at home now. Amy knew why she was attending the day she knew it was an adoption activity day but she was having such a nice time that she forgot why she was there!
Meeting her foster carer and social worker also made things easier I think. As we had spent time together in a less formal way and it helped with the relationship. I felt less intimated with the transition process as I knew everyone already.
What was important for me was that I did not like the idea of an activity day until I went to one; it was very different from what people may think. So they should try.’