HLN Meets… Paula Gibbons, Adopt Coast to Coast
More children than ever are now needing forever homes, but fewer adopters are coming forward. We chat to Paula to find out why – and discover how a recent shake-up in the adoption process could help...
Adoption has long been thought of as a slow, laborious and intrusive process, which restricts some of us from even being considered as prospective parents. But no longer.
A recent shake-up of the government’s legislation around adoption has led to the creation of Regional Adoption Agencies – rather than smaller, more limited individual agencies – and has meant that the process now centers more than ever around prospective parents.
You can be approved as an adoptive parent in as little as six months now, for example. You can also take breaks within the application process to reflect on this potentially life-changing decision and make sure that you really are ready for the next step. Oh yeah, and all those aspects of your life that you may think make you unsuitable to be an adoptive parent? Soooo last decade.
Single and want to adopt? Go ahead. Part of the LGBTQ+ community and want to grow your family through adoption? Be our guest. Don’t own your own home or have any savings behind you? Don’t sweat it.
Adopt Coast to Coast are one of the new superheroes of the adoption world – uniting the three local adoption agencies of Sunderland, Durham and Cumbria under one umbrella in order to share resources, speed up the process and give more children and prospective parents the opportunity to find their perfect family.
In the last year alone – bearing in mind we were all in the middle of a global pandemic – Adopt Coast to Coast matched 130 children with 77 adopters.
Pretty amazing, right? That’s why we caught up with Adopt Coast to Coast’s Head of Service, Paula Gibbons, to find out more…
Tell us about Adopt Coast to Coast.
Adopt Coast to Coast, as a Regional Adoption Agency [RAA], is a partnership comprising of Cumbria and Durham County Councils and Together for Children (Sunderland City Council), aimed at reducing the time children wait for an adoptive family. Our role is to ensure that all those interested in becoming adopters receive the same high-level, quality service no matter where they live.
What was the thinking behind working collaboratively?
The government introduced the development of RAAs as a national initiative, to improve the timeliness of children being placed through adoption. This was after national feedback from adopters suggested services and support for adoptive families was a bit of a ‘postcode lottery’. What having RAAs now means is that smaller, local authorities are able to join with larger ones to reduce the number of adoption agencies and improve the consistency of people’s access to services.
Although we represent the local authorities in Cumbria, Durham and Sunderland, we accept applications from a much wider geographical area. Collectively, we have more children and babies to find forever homes for, and a wider pool of adopters to match them with. As a local authority partnership, we directly look after children in care – meaning we can place children more quickly with our approved adopters than prospective adopters approved by other agencies. Our adopters benefit from collaborative working, more flexible training, and even greater support.
Traditionally, adoption has been perceived as very slow and laborious. Is that still the case?
There is often that misconception that adoption is long, intense and invasive, but in more recent years the government have introduced two very clear set stages with statutory timeframes to speed up the process. Stage One should take two months, while Stage Two is four months.
Because we have children of all ages from the three local authority areas, it’s anticipated that prospective adopters will be matched with a child or children within 6-12 months of starting their adoption story with us.
How exactly does Adopt Coast to Coast speed up that process?
We were lucky to have an incredibly solid starting point for Adopt Coast to Coast, as all three of our local authorities are rated Good by Ofsted. Now that we work collaboratively, we can offer training more frequently and have a shared understanding of the needs of our children. Collectively, we have a proven track record of completing Stages One and Two assessments in two and four months respectively, which is a huge step towards making the process simple and quick for prospective adopters.
I’m also incredibly proud of the Adopt Coast to Coast team – we get a lot of feedback about how approachable, friendly and supportive our team are, and our adopters really do appreciate that we’re there to help them throughout their adoption story. We also have a strong learning culture, so we actively seek feedback and review processes based on what children and families tell us, to ensure we’re the best we can be.
Would you say the adoption process is still intrusive to prospective parents?
We do have to ask a lot of questions as part of the application process, but we’re clear that the reason for doing so is to make sure we find safe, secure and permanent homes for children who’ve had a difficult start in life. And the process will really get you thinking about yourself, your parenting style and how you would support your adopted child or children, so it is helpful.
One of my favourite quotes is from one of our adopters, Steven, who said: “We learned a lot about each other, which we probably wouldn’t have ever known had we not gone through the adoption process.”
More children than ever are now needing forever homes, but less adopters coming forward. Why do you think that is?
Nationally, there is a decline in prospective adopters coming forward and we know there continues to be a lot of misconceptions about who can adopt. We believe people may feel that they aren’t suitable and don’t even make an enquiry.
Despite being an unprecedented year with the challenges of Covid, each of our three spokes has continued to train, assess, match and support prospective adopters, no matter what stage they were at when the first lockdown occurred. And we have actually seen an increase in the number of enquiries. But we’re not complacent – we will always have children and babies who need an adoptive family.
We’re hoping to bust a few myths about who can adopt. What criteria definitely needs to be met?
This is one of our most frequently asked questions! The only legal limitation is that you must be over 21 and you must have lived in the UK for over one year. There is no upper age limit, but you need to be able to meet a child’s needs into adulthood. There are some criminal convictions – such as offences against children, or certain sexual offences against adults – which will mean you will not be able to adopt. The best thing to do is to speak to us about any concerns you may have about any criminal convictions and be honest about your answers.
And what are the most common myths that people think may stop them from adopting, but which actually don’t matter?
The reality is that most people can adopt and we’ve worked with everyone from every background over the years. Many moons ago, you had to be married and to have had savings before you could adopt, but thankfully times have changed and you can now adopt regardless of your financial situation, marital status, sexuality, employment status, ethnicity, whether you already have a family or whether you own your own home or rent.
The biggest misconceptions we find are people thinking you can’t adopt if you’re single or from the LGBTQ+ community – this is simply not true.
There’s perhaps more to consider for adoptive parents than biological parents. What support does Adopt Coast to Coast offer?
We’re very aware that the children we place through adoption have experienced loss and, in some cases, trauma before being adopted, so we have a number of services available, including therapeutic support. We also provide training to prospective adopters during Stage One to prepare them for some of the things they need to consider when adopting a child or children.
There are a lot of the same things to consider with an adopted child as you would with a biological child, such as childcare, education, clothing and clubs, as well as some additional considerations such as attachment and making them feel safe and secure. But I want everyone to know that we’re there with you – if you want support, you can come to us at any time.
We know that adoptive parents find it helpful to meet other adoptive parents, so we have support groups and organise family events. This means our adopters have parents to share their experiences with, and children know they’re not alone and not different to their peers.
What would you say to encourage more people to consider adoption?
Please contact us! Don’t rule yourself out based on what someone else has told you. We also want people to know that they can apply to adopt with us even if they don’t live in Cumbria, Durham, or Sunderland. We know adoption is a daunting prospect, but it is also an incredible way to start or grow your family. So please ring us, share your concerns and let us help you make an informed decision.