You might expect the Head of a regional adoption agency to be proud of the work they and their team do, but for Kath Drescher, Head of Adopt South West, adoption has been her life.
As Adopt South West celebrates its fourth year since conception, Kath reflects on how things have changed during that time.
“Before I even mention coronavirus, which has featured heavily during the last few years, I want to start at the end.
“I want to start with the children we help find permanent homes for, and whose lives now are surrounded by loving families, stability, hope, and ambition.
“I talk a lot to children we help and was chatting to a 14 year old young girl very recently.
“’‘What makes you proud?’, I asked her.
“‘I’m proud of being adopted,’ she said.
“‘Why’s that?’ I asked.
“‘Because I’ve been through so much in my life, and here I am now in a loving family. And it just means so much to me that I’m settled now in my life, and here with my family.’
“That right there is why we do this, and why even when it’s difficult and challenging, we are steadfast in our commitment to keep on improving our service.”
Kath Drescher really does live and breathe adoption.
“I grew up with adoption all around me. We’ve got birth parents in my family, we have adopters and adopted children in my family. It’s always been part of my life.
“I think adoption takes us back to the very heart of what ‘family’ means, and what identify means. It’s as interesting to me still today as it always has been.”
Adopt South West went live as a regional adoption agency in October 2018, drawing together previous council-run adoption services from Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay.
While the goal was always the same, the ways of working across the those services had varied, so pulling together the broader regional agency, to share a common understanding, take what works best from all and make that the new shared way of working was a first task.
“We now have developed really strong teams that are absolutely committed and passionate,” says Kath.
“And having got that down, we then looked at what we do from the adoptive parents and children’s perspective.
“We’ve worked hard at making the adoption process easier. We want our adopters to be able to come forward into a process that works for them. Usually, this is a new experience for them, a learning experience, and we’ve worked hard to get that right.
“We’ve also worked hard to make it quicker for children so that they are placed with their permanent family at the earliest possible stage, and we’re proud of what we’ve been able to achieve for those children.”
But the learning experience works both ways. Adopters’ experience of the process, which they are encouraged to feedback, is helping Kath and team continue to fine-tune the support they give to individuals and families.
Four years on, what does adoption in the south west look like?
“We’ve been buffeted by the same challenges as everyone else these last four years. No sooner did we feel that we were getting our feet under the table and making positive headway as a regional adoption agency, than we were thrown in the coronavirus pandemic. That in itself posed immediate challenges as we, and everyone, had to immediately adapt how we work.
“Thankfully through that now though, we’ve learned a lot, and paradoxically although a lot of our service had moved quickly online due to COVID-19 restrictions, the relationships that we built in different ways with adopters and children have grown.
“We’re back to face-to-face contact of course, so we’re visiting people in their own homes, but we’re taking the best of what worked during the pandemic and continuing to work in a hybrid manner.
“Our adoption panels for example are still held virtually, and feedback we’ve got from our adopters is that it works really well – they’re sat comfortably in their own home on their own sofa and don’t have to dash into an office to be sat somewhere strange.”
Recruitment is another ongoing challenge, even prior to the pandemic. Adopt South West say they need 30 more adopters ideally for the number of children they have waiting for adoption.
“We need potential adopters from all over our region to come forward. We have a broad range of children needing adoptive families, but sadly some groups tend to wait longer for adoption because we haven’t yet got enough assessed adopters ready to provide them loving homes.
“Those groups tend to be older children, or children with complex care needs, or sibling groups. Children who wait the longest of all in our region at the moment, are boys. Older boys, and by that I mean aged four, five or six, so still very little really. We want to find families for all these children as promptly as we can so that they can grow up in loving families.”
Might households’ rising costs for food and energy also be a consideration holding up recruitment right now?
“I’m not sure. Certainly, we’re all feeling it, and many households I know are having to prioritise and manage their spending. Rising costs are real, and the choices people are having to make are very real. It’s a big issue for all of us, and we are concerned about it.”
Another part of Adopt South West’s ‘offer’ that has developed over the four years is the training and support that is available for adoptive parents.
“We have a huge amount of information now on our website that can give a good grounding in what adoption may mean to people.
“Through the assessment process, our training encourages people to think about children’s needs, helping potential adopters to understand themselves better, to anticipate what they think they may need support with. We are finding that this helps prepare would-be adopters, and that they’re then better placed as the process evolves.
“Once a child is placed, we work very hard to make sure parents understand their child’s needs, and we maintain that communication with them, meeting up with adopters on walks and many, many other events and activities.
“We’re also now learning much more about the needs of some children, for example fetal alcohol syndrome, and that helps us support the adoptive parents better. We’re training our staff now in therapeutic support services that we’re finding really effective.”
And after four years, what are you most proud of?
“I suppose when I look back, I Just feel really proud of all the work that our teams have done in getting it right for children. And I feel really proud of all our adopters and how hard they’ve worked to make it right for the children.
“But most of all, I just feal really proud of the children. They’re all little stars and I’m so pleased that they are with the families that they need to be with.
“If you are interested in adopting, then we are interested in talking to you. Please give us a call.”
Contact Adopt South West on 0345 155 1076 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Kath Drescher has worked in adoption services for 20 years. She first qualified in 1990 and worked in safeguarding at Westminster City Council for several years, before moving to work with fostering services, and then into adoption. She was a senior manager at Devon County Council, where she was responsible for adoption, a secure children’s care home, and youth offending. Kath became Head of Adopt South West when the regional adoption agency began in 2018.