Children’s charity, Barnardo’s Northern Ireland, has announced ‘foster to adopt,’ a new service that allows children in need of a safe and loving home to be placed with prospective adopters on a fostering basis.
Introduced during Foster Care Fortnight 2022, the vital service will help to achieve the best match for both a child and their prospective adopter and will reduce the number of moves that vulnerable children experience.
All prospective adopters are carefully assessed and prepared by the charity’s experienced and friendly local team. By placing children with their prospective adopters on an initial fostering basis, Barnardo’s Northern Ireland provides an opportunity for the child and foster carer to develop a relationship while the legal process of agreeing the plan of adoption is undertaken.
At present, 50% of children placed by Barnardo’s Northern Ireland are either in long-term fostering placements or have been successfully adopted. In the last six years, 12% of the charity’s foster carers have adopted children that they were fostering.
The service will focus on placing children with complex needs, older children and siblings.
Priscilla McLoughlin, operations manager of the fostering and adoption service at Barnardo’s Northern Ireland, said: “Adoption may be explored as a permanent care option for children for whom a return to birth family or placement with wider family members is deemed impossible.
“Here at Barnardo’s our focus will be on those children who wait longest to be placed for adoption, children who are older, who require placement with a brother or sister, or who have complex health and development needs.
“As a fostering service, we have always focused on finding families for these children and our Foster to Adopt service will continue to prioritise children who might not otherwise be placed for adoption because of their high level of need.
“By approving applicants as both foster carers and adopters, children can be placed as early as possible with foster carers who will hopefully become their legal family, through adoption. This also enables the foster carers to develop their relationship with the child so they can feel confident that progressing to adoption is right for them, their family and importantly, the child.”
The Charity reports that children across Northern Ireland enter the care system for a multitude of reasons, and that there is often a combination of factors in any one case, for example, drug and alcohol dependency, coupled with poor family support.
Other reasons may be mental health concerns, domestic violence, a relationship breakdown or parents who have been through the care system themselves, who have experienced disrupted attachments, and may be unable to sustain relationships or parent their child safely.
Statistics released by the Department of Health* showed that, as of March 2021, a record 3,530 children and young people were in care in Northern Ireland. Of these, 21% had been looked after for less than a year, and 31 per cent had been looked after for five years or longer.
Heather Watson, Barnardo’s foster carer and adopter, explained: “If I had to give somebody advice, or go back in time, I would have started this journey sooner. We’ve been doing this for ten years. You see the difference you can make in these wee children’s lives.”
Barnardo’s Northern Ireland is the only Independent Fostering Agency in Northern Ireland that is also registered as a Voluntary Adoption Agency. This allows the charity to support children and carers throughout the care process, right through from fostering to adoption.
Director of Barnardo’s Northern Ireland, Michele Janes, added: “We are incredibly proud to introduce our new Foster to Adopt service. It will provide children who are in desperate need of a loving, permanent home with the opportunity to be adopted by the family that they have built a relationship with. In doing so, it will also eliminate the potential trauma of another move.
”40% of children who require placement for adoption in Northern Ireland have a range of complex needs, including medical conditions, disabilities and developmental delay, are over the age of four years or need to be placed alongside a brother or sister. All of these factors can mean that these children often wait the longest for an adoptive family.”
As the longest-standing Independent Fostering Agency in the country, Barnardo’s Northern Ireland has been established for over 40 years. The charity currently works with approximately 18,000 children, young people and families across more than 40 services.
Helen Browne, assistant head of fostering and adoption at Barnardo’s Northern Ireland, concluded: “We work closely with prospective adopters, taking their skills and experience into consideration and providing ongoing support.
“Upon getting in touch with us, they will have an opportunity to speak to a Barnardo’s staff member by phone, attend a local information meeting, and then meet with a social worker during a visit to their home.
“We explain in great detail what the Foster to Adopt process involves, to help them to make the right decision for their family.”
To get in touch or find out more, visit: https://www.barnardos.org.uk/foster/northern-ireland to find out more or call 028 9065 2288 or 0800 0277 280.