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January 05, 2018

Adopting a Child Through a Voluntary Adoption Agency

Adopting a Child Through a Voluntary Adoption Agency

Image via Alexander Drummer

"We adopted two, but wanted to help them all!"

Sue Mahoney and husband Dean adopted their two children seven years ago, after eight failed IVF attempts—including egg donation.

'By the time we decided to adopt I had already grieved the loss of having our own genetic children,' says Sue.

Sue and Dean were not alone. People often only begin to think about adoption as a route to parenthood after a journey through fertility treatment.

Research shows (i) people are often put off considering adopting a child sooner because the application process is seen as overly complex, that there is a perceived lack of support and agencies want a certain ‘type’ of adopter.

'People often come to us very confused and it’s easy to understand why,' explains Gunter Becht, Adoption Manager at Diagrama Adoption, a voluntary adoption agency based in Croydon, South London. 'Many don’t realise the differences between a voluntary agency and council adoption.'

What is a voluntary adoption agency?

Voluntary adoption agencies help tackle the nationwide shortage of adopters to reduce the time children spend waiting to be adopted. They look for parents for priority children and match families with around 1,000 children every year. Voluntary adoption agencies provide life-long support to adoptive families, birth families and adopted children.

Gunter adds: 'The most significant difference, from the prospective adopter’s point of view, is that while local authorities are restricted to finding adopters for the children within their care, VAAs operate across regional and national boundaries so can match adopters with children across the UK.'

Voluntary adoption agencies focus on finding adopters for priority children—those who wait longest. Government statistics(ii) show almost a third (29 percent) of those children wait 18 months or more. This could be because:

  • They are older—aged four and above
  • Have additional needs
  • Have black or minority ethnic heritage
  • Are siblings—almost two-thirds of children (64 percent) are part of a sibling group
  • Classed as a ‘foster for adoption’ case

'Adopting siblings has not been without its challenges,' says Sue, 'but if you are thinking of adopting one child now and another later, I would go for siblings together. You’ll only go through the process once, plus you cannot put a value on keeping siblings together.'

Can you adopt a baby?

Many set their hearts on adopting a baby and while adopters may have more chance of that through their local authority—it is also possible with a voluntary adoption agency, when babies are part of a sibling group or by fostering for adoption.

Agencies recognise the unique needs of children awaiting adoption, which is why thorough vetting processes are required. The application is in two key stages, with stage one focusing on training and a variety of checks including financial disclosure and barring service, personal references and medicals. Stage two takes around four months and an agency social worker will visit your home to explore your family background and motivation to adopt. Everything helps to build a picture of a person and how they can support a child.

You’ll then go to a panel—around half a dozen people who will review your case and make a recommendation whether to approve you.

Sue adds: 'Once approved, we started looking at some of the profiles of children on a website. I was so devastated we couldn’t help them all. We spent the weekend talking and knew we needed to be absolutely clear whether we could meet their needs.'

Several weeks later, Sue and Dean found their children and 11 months from their first registration of interest their children arrived.

'They are now seven and nine. They know they’re adopted and we’ve told them a bit about their past. We constantly remind them they are the most important people in each other’s lives—they share the same blood and they should always look out for one another. Thankfully, they usually do.'

Diagrama Adoption is currently recruiting new adopters across London and the south east and is interested in hearing from anyone with the energy, determination, motivation and sense of fun that it takes to be a parent who can offer a child or children a permanent, loving home. For more information visit diagramaadoption.org.uk.