1. A party of five young people attended the meeting to tell the Panel about their experiences of being adopted and, with two of their adoptive parents – Debbie and David – and three members of staff – Rebecca, Clare and Lindsay, the services available to support children and families following adoption.
2. The young people gave an introduction about the range and type of work undertaken by Coram’s ‘Adoptables’ team, including a drama group which had filmed productions to help with training in the issues facing young people going through adoption and the support they would like to have.
3. They then presented ‘interviews’ in which they asked each other about the benefits they had each gained from being part of the Adoptables group, how they wished to see it develop in the future and how they would promote the group to new members. BENEFITS included being able to talk to and network with other young people of the same age, who had experienced the same process, and being in an environment in which they felt safe and able to express their opinions about those experiences. FUTURE WISHES included expansion of the project to reach more young people.
4. They also spoke about their achievements as members of the group, including learning presentation skills as part of being in a theatre group, and the boost in confidence and self-esteem that this had brought. A video clip of the theatre group was then shown to the Panel.
5. Clare added that feedback from adoptive parents had emphasised the increase in confidence and self-esteem their adopted children had gained from being part of the Adoptables, as well as help to overcome their feeling of being ‘different’ from friends and classmates. Rebecca added that the group’s drama productions had been a great success and had been very well received, and the young people involved said they had gained a sense of belonging by being in a group.
6. Debbie said the services Coram were now delivering were ones which she had been seeking since becoming an adoptive parent 15 years ago. She thanked Rebecca, Clare and Lindsay for their work and for the great support they gave to adoptive parents. Young people felt safe at Adoptables activities.
7. David added that being part of the Adoptables had been a positive experience for his daughter. As an adopted child, she had felt different from friends and classmates, and being part of the group and being able to share her experiences had helped her to build confidence, feel ‘normal’ and fit in. He added that having friendly and accessible staff working with adoptive parents made a big difference to parents’ experiences. However, adoptive parents had to work with many different agencies, and finding their way through this could be difficult and confusing. He also placed on record his thanks to the adoption team for all their work and support.
8. Lindsay explained that the Adoptables were part of a national network of similar groups, in which the Kent group stood out as an example of best practice. She commended their work and said that good practice developed in one area would be shared with and spread to other areas of the country. The groups were started to address issues being faced by adopted children at school and to increase understanding among teachers and pupils of adopted status, increase awareness of ‘non-standard’ family set-ups and deal with how to broach questions about adoption. To achieve this, educational materials developed by the Adoptables had been included in PHSE lessons.
9. A video clip of interviews with Adoptables ‘Ambassadors’ was then shown to the Panel. This featured young people speaking about their experiences of being adopted and what they had gained from it, how they viewed their adopted status and what support they had received, and wished to receive. They also spoke about their experiences at school, how they presented their adoptive status among friends and classmates, and how many of their problems they had as young people were the same as those experienced by any young person. Managing adoptive status could become more complicated as young people grew older, but once friends knew and understood their status, the situation tended to become easier. They spoke about their status and how they felt about it, and what they would like other young people to understand about it. To be asked questions about being adopted was generally OK, but to have jokes made about it was not OK.
10. Lindsay added that the Adoptables had interviewed all young people who wished to take part and speak about their experiences, even if they did not want their faces to be shown in the video, which some had not. She advised the Panel that the video was available to view on the Coram website, and offered to send a link to it to Panel members, via the Democratic Services Officer.
11. Clare and Rebecca spoke about their vision for the future of the Adoptables, to continue to benefit young people and help them to express their ideas and develop confidence. It had taken time to build up the Adoptables project and for it to bed in, working with Coram and the County Council’s new Head of Adoption, Sarah Skinner, to increase engagement, make young people’s voices part of the process and establish links to other young people’s groups.
12. Lindsay added that the schools toolkit had been developed nationally, and included an element by which young people could develop learning programmes for adoptive parents. Young people’s knowledge of social media and input into clear and engaging literature would help in raising awareness, and they would be directly involved in developing workshops and training materials. Other work included a social group, run with the Young Lives Foundation, which had added advocacy to the engagement role, increasing levels of participation by young people aged 7 – 12 and the development of an apprenticeship scheme.
13. Clare, Rebecca and Lindsay thanked the Panel for allowing them to attend with the party of young people to tell the Panel about their work.
14. The visitors then responded to comments and questions from the Panel, as follows:-
a) some children were more used to having school friends who were adopted and so accepted the idea more readily. Children would naturally compare and express curiosity about friends’ families, and efforts to ‘normalise’ adoptive families and other set-ups, such as same-sex couples, could help children to accept them. However, many children had not come across adoption, so the toolkit for teachers would help to address questions asked by children at school;
b) Youth Advisory Groups (YAGs), which existed in each district of Kent, were suggested as another forum with which the Adoptables group could make useful connections to engage young people in care. It would also be useful to try to get some adopted children on to Youth Councils as ambassadors;
c) Mr Segurola asked the young people how good the County Council was at listening to them and was told that listening was ‘pretty good’ but that the process for providing a response was slow;
d) Rebecca explained that the schools toolkit had grown from young people’s enthusiasm to tackle issues around approaching adoption status at school, and they had developed it themselves. David added that he would like to see greater awareness in the education system of the issues faced by adopted young people. The conference held by Coram at County Hall on 7 October, about adopted children and education, had been good, but still it was difficult to get many schools to engage with the subject, and there were some areas of the county in which the education system was simply not set up to support adoptive parents. The Chairman suggested that a module on adoption could be included in teacher training courses, in the same way that it was in social work courses;
e) Debbie advised that all children in care, not just adopted ones, could experience challenges around attachment and trauma, with which they would need support, both at home and at school. She added that the Adoptables group was fantastic at helping adopted children to find a voice. It would be good to extend involvement to the NHS, to tackle issues around CAMHS;
f) a Panel member who served as a school governor commented that she had not previously known much about adoption. The schools toolkit would be excellent for raising awareness among governors and teaching staff and she requested that a link to it be sent to all local authority schools;
g) the young people who had attended today’s Panel meeting were able to speak out and express their feelings, but many young people were not so able to express themselves in this way. It was suggested that more confident young people could mentor and encourage others to find their voice. Rebecca advised that a mentoring scheme among adopter parents was being developed but there was not yet one for young people. It was important to bear in mind that young people were at different stages in their journeys through the adoption process, and some may simply be more ready than others to engage and start to tackle issues;
h) Debbie advised that, as a result of the support received from being part of the Adoptables, her adopted son had built up sufficient confidence to take up an apprenticeship, for which he commuted to London every day. Two years ago this simply would not have been possible for him; and
i) concern was expressed that the videos shown to the Panel, being accessible on the Coram website, might place participants at risk of potential exploitation. Lindsay assured the Panel that anyone seeking to access the videos on the website would be required to register and state their purpose in wishing to view the films, and that access was carefully monitored. In that way, the site operators would know who had access to it and for what purpose, and had contact details for all those who had requested access. Every young person involved in making the films had consented to share them.
15. The Chairman thanked the visitors for attending and said it would be helpful to see them again in perhaps a few months’ or a year’s time to see how they were getting on.