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It's like picking a puppy. Except the puppies are human children.

Adoption party anyone? How could you say no?

Imagine you and your family go out one day to choose a new puppy.

You walk up to the pen and see numerous little nuggets running around and looking longingly into your eyes, begging you to take them home.

Now imagine this same situation but bigger. Imagine 50 puppies in a room filled with toys and snacks. And now imagine those puppies are children.

And the people standing around them? Imagine they are not potential owners but rather – imagine that they are the kids’ potential parents.

Welcome to the world of Adoption Activity Days or ‘adoption parties’ as they’re more commonly known in the United Kingdom.

Adoption parties are part of a scheme introduced two years ago by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering. They’re based on a similar initiative in the US and are used as a way to encourage adoptive parents to think differently when choosing the kind of child they’re planning to adopt.

You see, it’s apparently common for potential parents to automatically gravitate to babies and girls when selecting a kid. They choose babies because parents like the idea of raising a child from the beginning of their life and they tend to choose young girls because they’re perceived as being easier to raise.

The reality of these choices however are that many children – particularly boys, disabled children, children from ethnic minorities and groups of siblings – who never find a permanent home and end up being raised in a long-term foster homes.

It is hoped that by going to adoption parties, parents might meet a child and automatically connect with them – and that’s something that’s not necessarily possible if they’re only seeing one of the 4000 children who need homes “on paper”.

The people behind the idea say it’s something of a last resort; that they’ve exhausted all other traditional options when it comes to finding a home for these kids.

This from a UK adoption website:

Adoption activity days have proved successful in finding matches as they give prospective adopters and the children a chance to make a real connection.

An advantage of activity days is that adopters often find that their preconceptions about the kind of child they initially feel they might want to adopt changed once they had the opportunity to meet the children in person. This means that children who may not have been considered ‘on paper’ have a greater chance of being adopted.

According to the UK press, around 50 children aged from 0-10 attend the party and meet with as many as 30 adoptive parents.

Doesn’t sound like much of a party, does it?

Well, at least, not for the kids who go home without parents.

Two of those children are five-year-old Daniel and his seven-year-old brother Connor. The two boys are yet to find homes after attending three adoption parties in as many years.

The boys were taken to the adoption parties by their 45-year-old foster mum Katy, who says she cannot take the boys permanently given she is already a mum of six.

Daniel and Connor’s story is set to feature on an upcoming documentary about the controversial adoption process.

Here’s a snapshot:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1Q73oQzwv0

“We told the children it was a party for children like them, foster carers and some people looking for their forever families. We didn’t make a big deal out of it — I didn’t want them to feel any pressure. They took it at face value,” Katy told the UK press.

But she said “it was like trying to sell a product that nobody wanted”. 

Daniel and Connor. Their foster mum is hoping that featuring the boys in the documentary will help them find a home.

“We played with the boys all day but no one came near them. I wanted to wrap them up and run out of there. It felt very personal and very distressing. I came back and sobbed my heart out,” Katy said.

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“They’re fabulous boys, warm, loving and giving. You get a lot from them and they’ve got cute appeal, but you can’t put that on paper. That’s why I thought the adoption days were a good idea,” she said.

Critics of the scheme have labelled Adoption Activity Days as ‘cattle markets for kids’ and ‘speed dating for kids.’ But early results suggest that the campaign is working; 20 per cent of kids who attend the parties subsequently get adopted, whereas only 14 per cent are adopted using traditional methods.

But social worker Bridget Betts, who came up with bringing the idea from the UK to the US, stands by the idea.

“We’re talking about finding families for children in care – the most vulnerable in our society,” Betts told the Guardian UK.

“So it’s right that we should be concerned about what happens to them. And I understand why aspects of these events make people feel uncomfortable.”

Betts argues that chemistry is as important in adoption as it is in any relationship and that the Adoption Activity Days allow those connections to take place.

“You can write down their story – and that can sometimes sound quite scary – and you can give their age and other facts and figures. But it’s when you come face to face that you find out whether there’s chemistry,” she says.

Thomas and his mum

Chemistry is exactly what happened for husband and wife Ruth and Craig when they went to an adoption party and met two-year-old Thomas.

‘That day we weren’t seriously looking for a child, just going along to see what it was like, but as soon as we walked in, we found Thomas,” she said.

“He immediately toddled over and parked himself on my knee,” Ruth says. “Straight away I knew this was someone very special.”

Thomas had a heart condition and although Ruth and Craig has initially ruled out adopting a child with any medical problems, but they just knew that Thomas was meant to be their son when they met him.

“Meeting the children is so special. You get to see the whole child, to know their personalities, if they’re anxious or energetic, and interact with them. We were lucky to be able to do that,” she said.

So would we ever see something similar in Australia?

Realistically, the answer is no.

Previously in Australia, we’ve been much less transparent in adoption. You’d never children advertised like they are in the UK or the US because there’s a much greater focus on bringing kids back together with their families. (The result of which has seen adoption rates decreasing across the country. Between July 2012 and June 2013 there were just 339 children adopted in Australia –  some of whom were adopted from overseas countries.)

But that situation could be set to change.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently announced the government was setting up a task force to make it easier for Australian families to adopt children from both Australia and overseas.

“For too long adoption has been in the ‘too hard’ basket,” he said late last year.

“For too long it has been too hard to adopt, and for too long it has been a policy no-go zone and that must change.

“I am absolutely determined to change… and we will change within 12 months.”

No word on adoption parties yet.

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