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Advertising children, shocking or successful?

I will always remember the first time I was passed a child’s details to create a profile, it made my heart sink. This huge wad of papers and photographs.  When I saw the magazine ‘Be My Parent’ the profile was to appear in, my heart sank even further.  Page upon page of children staring up at me, how powerful it was, and still is.  I had recently moved jobs from a successful internet software company, all hip and cool who mainly employed twentysomethings (which I still was), with regular trips to London and a couple to the US, to join a local authority adoption and fostering service.  As you can imagine, it was a shock to the system, moving from my cool office and Apple Mac to a ‘shared’ phone line with 4 busy social workers and a rather dusty PC.


I had wanted to ‘do something good’ with my marketing skills, not ‘line someone else’s pockets’ I had told myself, and this was the only job I had applied for. Back then having a marketing person in the team was a novelty and it was me who pushed that we should be marketing our children more. The children who had waited too long and for whom this really could be their ‘last chance’.  And yet I was sat at my desk staring at this magazine trying to hide the lump in my throat.


That was a long time ago (as were my twenties!) and things have moved on so much since then, or have they?


The concept of profiling children in the media is still a hotly debated subject. There are now several online profiling systems, many agencies regularly feature children in the media, TV, radio and even social media and, of course, we now have adoption activity days where adopters get to meet children in the flesh.


But is it right? I feel there is only one answer to this. If it works, if it finds a family for a child who has been waiting, then how could it be anything but right?


Of course marketing has to be handled professionally, with all parties informed and fully involved, especially birth family. People often ask, how will that child feel when they are older about being paraded over the internet? Whatever the outcome, I hope they will feel that professionals did absolutely everything they could to find them the right family. Wouldn’t they feel more aggrieved if they found out as adults that they were not given that chance as the decision was taken that ‘advertising’ wasn’t right?


Profiling and marketing children for adoption and permanency is a finely honed skill and one at which I do not profess to be an expert. As we all know, children are all different, as are families, so each profile is unique.  The bespoke family finding service, my team and I work with our Centre for Adoption Support and don’t just read the child’s file or reports; they meet the child personally, their foster carers, their social worker, the important people in their lives be it a nursery worker, keyworker or CAMHS worker.  They gain personal information that may not be on the CPR and only those close to the child would know, like… ‘he hates peas with a passion’ or ‘she loves dancing to Olly Murs in the car’.


It’s these little details that bring the child alive in their ‘profile’. I have to say (much to my social worker colleagues’ dismay) I believe sometimes a little magic comes into play! I spoke to an adopter once who wanted more information on a little boy as the anonymous picture featured him in his wellies jumping in puddles just stuck with her. She and her husband lived on a farm and the picture just struck them.  They were approved for a girl aged 0-3, they adopted a boy aged 6!  A very recent case was a couple who saw one of our profiles on Facebook (controversial in itself) and this little boys’ cheeky smile just drew them in, it was his real picture.  He had complex health and emotional needs and had been in foster carer for 4 years, this truly was his last chance of adoption.  They have said that if they had read his details first perhaps they wouldn’t have enquired, but perhaps they would – who knows?  The main thing is this little chap now has his forever family, and they now have the pleasure of seeing that cheeky smile every day.


Of course, ongoing support is the key in maintaining the adoption and permanency of children with additional and complex needs which is exactly what the Centre offers all of our families.


I am so glad I moved jobs all those years ago and whilst family finding is only one aspect of my role – it is one of the most rewarding. When our bespoke family finding team calls to say we need to remove a child’s profile from the website as they are now matched, it’s the best job ever!


Jenny MacQuire – Marketing Manager, Adoption Matters