To an unassuming onlooker, an adoption party would look like any other children’s party – complete with bouncy castles, party food and a petting zoo. Behind this light-hearted facade however, lies a more serious issue, trying to help children in the care system find an adoptive family.
These adoption parties, or activity days (the preferred name by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, BAAF) have been running in the UK for just under two years. The idea is to invite children from the care system who, for various reasons, have been hard to place and allow them to meet a group of approved adopters. The two groups can then mingle in a party environment rife with activities to encourage interaction.
So far, this idea has worked well – with 20% of children being adopted as a result which is almost double the rate expected through traditional methods. The traditional way of matching children with families usually involves paper profiles and no meeting between the two parties. A crucial element to the success of these parties is the fact that there is no secrecy involved; the children are aware of the purpose of the parties and know that it may not lead to them finding a family.
Despite their success, adoption parties have attracted some controversy. Anne Marie, Head of Barnado’s, wasn’t convinced:
“This is not Battersea Dogs Home. I am concerned about the aspect of beauty parades.”
Other critics have dubbed them ‘speed dating for toddlers’ and ‘cattle markets’. Such worries are understandable, the children involved are vulnerable by nature and many have experienced multiple rejections. Bridget Betts, the programme manager of the adoption activity-days project doesn’t believe there is an alternative and says “it’s not as if the children aren’t well prepared”.
Perhaps most importantly, the children feel better about this type of process. One young boy who was successfully adopted this way told The Independent that it stopped him feeling like a bystander during the process, “I chose my mum every bit as much as she chose me and that feels good.”