Children in care to make TV plea for new families

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The Independent Online
ADOPTION AND fostering experts are supporting plans for a BBC television programme allowing children to appeal for adoptive families on television.

They say that far from being exploitative, it is one of the best ways of finding homes for those who have spent a long period of time in care.

In January, the BBC will show a series of programmes over four weeks called A Family of My Own, which will feature 19 children who are in care and who are desperate to find adoptive parents. The programme has been condemned as exploitative of vulnerable children, and there have been fears that it will attract the wrong type of would-be parents, seduced by the glamour of television into a deal for life.

In Britain, more than 100,000 children are in care and looking for new homes. However, most people want to adopt babies; older children, sibling groups and children with physical or mental disabilities are much harder to place.

Felicity Collier, director of the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering, said that many local authorities spend years unsuccessfully trying to find a suitable family for an older child or a group of siblings. "The American experience has shown that the wide audience reached by television guarantees that many more families come forward, and can dispel many of the myths about who can adopt," she said.

"The worst thing that can face a child is to go through their adulthood without a family they can call their own. There is always a balancing act. The impact on these already-vulnerable children must be assessed, but for many the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages," she said.

Shelagh Beckett, who has been an adoption and fostering consultant for more than 10 years, said large sibling groups were often split up and sent to different families or homes that removed the only security they had, because of the problem of finding families that will take more than one child.

"The biggest difficulty is that there are not enough adoptive and fostering parents nationally coming forward at the moment. It is necessary to widen the net and reach out to more people. Later this week I am visiting a five-sibling group who found a family willing to adopt after going on television. Before, they were all living in different foster homes, and could easily have spent their whole childhood apart," she said.

"It is perfectly legitimate to advertise in a high-profile way provided that the children's histories are not exploited, or their birth families over- exposed about why the children came into care in the first place. If it is done sensitively a lot of children benefit from the experience and feel that something is being done to help them."

Jill Robinson, the series editor of the programmes, which are being made by Planet 24, said that care had been taken to comply and co-operate with social services. Local authorities have selected the children to be featured, and they have been filmed with care not to identify their backgrounds.

"There will be no shortcut for families who wish to adopt one of the children featured," Ms Robinson said. "They will be put in touch with social services and will go through the normal selection and interview procedures. We hope for success stories but it takes a long time to adopt. At the moment there is no planned follow-up programme."