Going before an adoption panel is one of the most stressful parts of the adoption process. Adopters are told about panel by their social worker. But it’s often difficult to understand who everyone is and exactly what panel’s role is in the process.
I just remember a sea of faces for all of the panels we’ve been before. I don’t think I’d recognise anyone again. And I certainly couldn’t tell you what their connection to adoption is. I was so nervous, I was just focusing on not bursting into tears.
Adoption panels are made up of social workers, adopters, adoptees, foster carers, medical and educational professionals. It’s vital that panels have a wide range of experiences so they understand the likely issues adopters are going to face.
As well as reflecting a wide range of adoption experience, it’s also vital that panels represent different ethnic backgrounds and cultures. One thing I do remember about the sea of faces from all of the panels we went before, is that they were all white.
Adefunke Larigo realised there was a need for a central point to connect panel members with agencies, following her experience of sitting on a number of different panels. In this article, she explains why she set up Agency Connection and how it’s helping agencies ensure their panels represent all parts of the communities they serve.
My journey to Agency Connection
48. That’s the number of different agencies I contacted when I started trying to get onto a fostering and adoption panel about eight years ago. It was a big struggle as I had no way of navigating the system.
It was challenging to figure out which agencies needed people. And even if I could overcome that, getting through to the right person in each agency was another battle. The times I did get hold of the right person, I was met with “send us your CV and we’ll contact you soon”. Do you know what I mean? Maybe you got similar feedback too when jobhunting? I recall asking myself and others on many occasions “Why do we not have any agencies that recruit panel members for these organisations?”
Eventually I got an opportunity to get on to panel through a colleague who is an Independent Chair of a fostering panel. I had an interview which was successful, and the rest is history. I went on to sit on about 12 panels altogether for about six years.
I’m telling you this to paint a picture of how difficult it can be to find a position on a panel. This may be because agencies tend to recruit for panels within their own networks. In many cases, panel members have previous connection to the agencies where they become panel members.
After I’d been sitting on a panel for a while, it started to occur to me that I was one of the few people who raised questions in relation to a child’s heritage. Or how is a foster carer being supported to meet the needs of their multi heritage child/young person?
I also started to notice that not many people have the same skin colour as me amongst my panel member peers. In fact, I was the only person who was not of white British heritage in some of those panels for a few years.
On reflection, I realise some of my colleagues may not have considered the impact of some of these issues for Black and Asian children because it simply didn’t occur to them. I enjoyed doing this work. But it became emotionally exhausting and draining raising the same issues around race and ethnicity time and time again.
I started having conversations with the appropriate people within the services where I was noticing the gaps. However, I didn’t observe significant shift in recruitment towards diversification of panel members.
It was clear that some services struggled to engage and recruit from diverse communities. Sadly, however, in some cases it was because they were not truly committed to being more inclusive of diversity.
As a panel member, part of my role is to ensure that children’s voices are truly represented. This is done by asking the questions children may want to ask their potential adoptive or foster parents, to find out how they can meet their needs to a high standard.
It seems to me that to represent children’s voices, there needs to be people who bring various characteristics of diversity such as age, race, sexuality, gender, faiths, abilities/disabilities, equality and so on. However, if you reflect on your experience of going to panel, you could probably count on one hand how many individuals represented these characteristics.
Currently there’s little research available about the statistics for panel members in UK and their backgrounds. It’s therefore difficult to state any figures accurately. But it’s clear from my experience and that of others I’ve spoken to, that there’s little diversity on panels across the UK.
So, I decided it was time to do something that could support children’s voices and experiences to be heard more. I also feel it is important for adoption and fostering applicants to be able to identify with some individuals on the panels they appear before as part of their assessment process.
I’m passionate about creating solutions to this problem and that spurred me on to set up Agency Connection in May 2021. Agency Connection offers a unique service which helps adoption and fostering services diversify panel membership by sourcing and connecting people from diverse communities who wish to serve on panels, with the agencies who need panel members. As far as I know, Agency Connection is the only agency of its kind in England.
We’re currently working as part of the adoption national strategy, supporting regional adoption agency panels to improve diversity on their central lists. So, if you are reading this and you are interested in sitting on an adoption panel, you’ll be pleased to know you don’t have to contact 48 agencies like I had to.
Just visit www.agencyconnection.co.uk/Contact to register your details and send in your CV. Agency Connection are looking to work with individuals from various communities regardless of their ancestry and ethnicity, abilities and disabilities, faiths and beliefs, sexuality and gender. We are very much looking forward to meeting you and finding out how Agency Connection could serve you.
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