This is a higher number of matches between children and families than any single adoption agency has achieved over the same period, and equates to a match for 1 in every 4 children attending an AAD.
AADs, run by Coram since 2011, are informal events bringing together children waiting to be adopted with approved adoptive parents who have not yet found the right child for them, allowing them to interact through fun activities and establish whether there is a connection.
The restrictions imposed under the pandemic demonstrate how vital AADs are for finding adoptive families for children who wait longest to be adopted. Prior to the pandemic in March 2019, when AADs were running twice a month, 41% of children awaiting adoption had been waiting at least 18 months. In March 2021 – when pandemic restrictions had limited the frequency and scale of AADs over the past year – it had risen to above 50%.
AADs are the only events open to all adopters and all adoption agencies to refer children, enabling matches to be secured across geographical boundaries, where a match hasn’t been found in the local region, and where other traditional forms of family finding have been unsuccessful. A third of children attending the events had additional complex needs, a third were from a black or minority ethnic background, a quarter were part of a sibling group and three-quarters were boys.
In a new video, Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi spoke of the importance of AADs and said: “AADs have added a new dimension to Coram’s work, they are bringing adopters and children together, giving prospective parents a chance to meet the children and vice versa to form a bond and begin an emotional connection that’s hopefully going to last a lifetime.”
The report highlights that attending an AAD is often seen as a ‘last resort’ to finding these children an adoptive family, and if a family is not found for a child at the event, the child is likely to remain in care until they turn 18. New analysis by Coram shows that if the 1,400 children matched through an AAD were still in care now, it would have cost the state an additional £250m to care for them over the past decade – a hundred times more than the cost of delivering AADs themselves. If the children stayed in care until their 18th birthday, the estimated extra cost to the state between 2011 and 2031 would be £550m.
Single adopter Laura met her son Sam* at an AAD when he was 19 months old. Sam has a disability which affects his speech, swallowing and eye sight; he cannot walk or talk.
Laura says: “If you just read a child’s paperwork, you don’t really get a sense of who they are. And for children with disabilities it’s easy to focus on the disability and not actually see the child. At an Activity Day you are able to see the children interact, smile, play and discover their little characters and their potential. If I had read my son’s Child Permanence Report instead of meeting him then I might have decided his needs were too great but as soon as I met him, I knew he was my son. Our paths crossed that day and I’ve got the Activity Day to thank for that.”
Dr Carol Homden, CEO of Coram, said: “There are currently over 2,000 children in England waiting to find an adoptive family and more than half of these children have been in care for more than 18 months. These are the children at risk of being left behind and they cannot afford any further delay.
“We believe that all children waiting should be given the chance to find a family at an AAD and that this should be an entitlement as part of the Government’s proposed national matching service.** Currently the majority of children waiting are not given this opportunity, and so commitment is needed to extend AADs to all adopters and children as part of a range of family finding approaches to make sure that every option is explored and every child has the best chance to thrive within a permanent, loving family.”
*Name changed to protect anonymity.
**The Government published its Adoption Strategy in July 2021, recommending that the “opportunity to attend and Adoption Activity Day or a national Exchange Day needs to be extended to all who could benefit” and that the government’s vision is to explore the “value of developing a national matching service and real-time information and access for all children who are waiting” with “use of all existing methods and tools including national Activity Days”.