Digital help at hand for adopters in Bucks

By Cllr Anita Cranmer | 15 March 2022

Making the decision to adopt is not a quick process. It can take months or even years to decide if it is the right choice or the right time to embark on the journey. Naturally, prospective adopters will have many questions that they might want answered before taking the plunge and making that first contact with an adoption agency.

Many organisations, including ours, post frequently asked questions and answers on websites to the most commonly asked queries.

While helpful, we wanted to take it one step further and give prospective adopters the opportunity to have a more interactive experience to help them find out if they are ready to adopt. Not aware that anything like this that already existed, we created our own digital tool – the Adoption Readiness Checker.

At Buckinghamshire Council, we want to make sure anyone contemplating adoption is able to access the information they need in the easiest way possible from the outset.

The Adoption Readiness Checker was developed before the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social work to adapt to a new ‘digital normal’ although what we have developed has no doubt assisted in such times.

We secured some internal financial backing and during the summer of 2019, after a tendering process, we worked with TPXImpact (formerly FutureGov) which supports public sector organisations through digital transformation and service design.

We wanted to redesign prospective adopters’ experience of the recruitment process. It seemed that for some, their adoption journey ends before it has had the chance to begin, simply because they are apprehensive about asking the questions they need answers to in order to proceed.

The design and content of our tool was co-created, tested and improved together with a panel of adopters and staff through a series of prototypes, to help ensure that it is accurate, effective and intuitive for users. Our primary purpose was to enable prospective adopters to rule themselves in, not out, before even speaking to us.

We wanted to keep it simple – an online tool that was quick to complete and not off-putting with long, complicated questions or the need to input detailed personal information. We wanted something that allowed people to input answers to a few quick questions to find out how their circumstances could impact their hopes to adopt.

Users are guided through each stage and given practical tips and advice for how to progress on their path to adopt depending on their answers. They also have the option to save their answers and can return and amend them at a later date or email themselves their plan when completed.

The digital tool helps users develop a tailored plan to start their journey, whether that means making small or big changes in their current lifestyle to start the process now or putting their plans on hold until their circumstances change.

For people who are considering adoption but are unsure of where to start, the checker acts as a quick and practical way to learn more about the process, find out how they can prepare, and provides links to practical next steps.

Our Adoption Readiness Checker launched in October 2019 and, as of mid-January 2022, there have been 4,373 unique users and 277 plans have been emailed. We have seen many prospective adopters coming through better prepared for stage one of the adoption process too. From the last financial year 2020-21, we also had a significant increase in approvals.

Feedback has been hugely positive with one of our prospective adopters recently commenting: ‘I’d been putting off looking into adoption because I was afraid of finding out I’m not what they’re looking for but I’m so glad this tool exists as it put my mind at rest. I learned loads and the advice is more practical than anything else I have come across.’

The Adoption Readiness Checker also helps to dispel myths about adoption that can be common causes for preventing people getting in touch.

Many people mistakenly think their age, health or work status are barriers to adopting and so simply rule themselves out. The tool gives clear and simple answers to many of the most frequently asked questions and provides clarity on common misconceptions.

The tool is continuing to evolve based on feedback from users and new sections are being introduced shortly. We also have plans to launch a similar online tool helping support Special Guardians very soon and also a Fostering Readiness Checker.

As valuable as the Adoption Readiness Checker is, it doesn’t work in isolation. With 25 children in Buckinghamshire looking to find a permanent loving home at any one time, we have a dedicated team of staff working hard to match the children in our care to the right family.

Cllr Anita Cranmer is cabinet member for children’s services at Buckinghamshire Council


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