Adoption in London could be a bit of a ‘postcode lottery’ in the past but a new agency approach is bringing together groups of councils to work together under one roof. Its new head of service promises it should prove ‘far more effective’.
Adopt London West is the new regional adoption agency covering the boroughs of Ealing, Brent, Hounslow and Hammersmith and Fulham. It began operating on 1 October as part of a capital-wide Adopt London, which is split into four regions – north, south, east and west.
Previously, every London borough had its own, individual adoption service. The new, joined-up agencies were set up after the government announced local authorities had to find a way to pool resources by April 2020.
‘QUITE POWERFUL WORKING TOGETHER’
Adopt London West is to be led by, and based at, Ealing Council. And its new head of service is Debbie Gabriel.
She has worked at Ealing Council for four years and built 30 years’ experience working with children before that – including a decade in fostering and adoption services and more than a decade as a social worker.
“Originally, the intention was to have one Regional Adoption Agency for the whole of London,” explained Debbie. “But it soon became clear that would be impractical because of the size of the city and it was decided by some of the London boroughs to work together and create four regional agencies instead – north, south, east and west – which will also co-operate closely under the umbrella of Adopt London.
“It is quite powerful having 23 London authorities working together in this way – and there is already a lot of work taking place across the four regions.
“And, more locally, there was already some good partnership working taking place in west London between the four councils now part of Adopt London West, so that will hold us in good stead and means we are starting from a strong base.
“It is not always efficient having lots of small agencies, whereas this new approach pools the resources and experience of each region together in one place, working together. It will be far more effective and will help to remove the ‘postcode lottery’ found in some parts of London.”
‘WE NEED MORE ADOPTERS’
The job of the 25 members of staff working for Adopt West London is to recruit adopters and take them through the process to become approved – as well as providing adoption support for those who have already adopted. There are children of all ages who need adopting, including older children some of whom are brothers and sisters.
Debbie said: “There is a national shortage of adopters and we are keen to speak to anyone who might be interested.
“We need more adopters. We want special people who are comfortable with dealing with uncertainty. But it’s important to state it can be anyone – it doesn’t have to be people from a certain background.
“Some people might think they wouldn’t be considered if, for example, they were single, or renting their accommodation, or for a multitude of other reasons. But that is not the case.
“We are looking for a range of qualities – and not what you might automatically think.
“Most of all, we reiterate the message that adoption is a service for the children. They are the most important people in the whole process. Our job is to place each child with the right people for them, who can give them a loving home.”
‘A LIFELONG ADJUSTMENT’
To make sure each child finds the right home, the assessment of potential adopters has to be very stringent. Debbie warned those who might be interested that they would have to be mentally prepared for it. But this meticulousness means a successful adoption process will be worthwhile for everyone involved – and a life-changing and life-enhancing relationship can begin.
“The assessment process is very rigorous, very intrusive,” said Debbie. “And it is a very reflective time for the people involved. For example, if it is a couple coming forward, they both have got to know that they want it as much as each other.
“And adoption is a lifelong adjustment for the adopters’ whole support network – not just for them alone. So, we have to consider their wider support group of friends and family and we also have ‘referees’ drawn from that group to talk about the adopters and what they are like.
“First of all, they need to be realistic about the children.
“Many adopters follow the route into adopting because they have not been able to have children of their own – which is a massive psychological journey and which we understand is very difficult to come to terms with for many families.
“And everyone when they have their first child tend to have a fantasy in their head about their perfect way to parent, and how their child will be. Parents soon learn that this is not how things will be – and it is the same for those adopters who have not had children before.
“The children have all had some form of trauma because they are not with their birth families any more, and there is a reason for that. They come with a past, with a history, and you can’t wipe that out.
“In fact, it is now the case that it is encouraged for adopters to talk to the children about the fact they are adopted and to be honest about it right from the beginning. It gives them a better sense of who they are and when they hit key stages of their development, especially adolescence, they are better psychologically prepared to handle it.
“So, the adopters need to be very accepting – and also realise they will need help occasionally from support services – possibly periodically for the rest of their children’s lives.
“We will also help adopters understand the need to promote the significance and importance of the children’s birth family. It is hard for some people to find out what conditions the children may have lived in – but, as an adopter, they need to always be respectful and have empathy for the birth parents. Children don’t need to have a negative perception of where they have come from – it can be overwhelming otherwise, because they have enough to come to terms with as it is and often feel different from their peers.”
SIMPLER – AND MORE EXPERTISE
Debbie encouraged anyone who thinks they might want to look into adoption more closely to get in touch.
She said: “We have children who need a secure home and there are people out there who might not have considered adoption before who might be a perfect fit.
“We provide adopters with support throughout and are there whenever we are needed. We do not leave them alone to figure it all out themselves once the child is adopted.
“If someone wants to find out more, having all of the local agencies together under one roof at Adopt London West will make it simpler for anyone in the region to do so – and means there is more expertise to draw on. We look forward to hearing from them.”
Yvonne Johnson, deputy leader of Ealing Council and cabinet member for schools and children’s services, said: “Ealing Council is pleased to be leading this regional adoption group.
“With this new agency, we’ll be able to streamline adoption services and work together to more quickly match prospective adopters with children who are waiting for a home.”
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Picture at top by Anna Kolosyuk, via Unsplash