FAQ & user guides

User guide - for agency staff involved in adoption

User guide - for adopters

User guide - for local authority commissioners & placement staff

User guide - for placement providers

For any help with using Link Maker's services, please contact us

If you are a registered user and your question isn't covered here, why not ask other families, or practitioners, on the Q&A?

There are two ways our system helps to find placements for children. From 2016, commissioning features will help short-term fostering and residential placements to be identified quickly and efficiently, driven by children's needs. Currently our system supports family-finding for children seeking permanent placements, by involving adopters and foster carers in the matching process. Adopters create their own profiles, while practitioners create profiles for children and foster carers (they can create profiles on behalf of their adopters too). Both can then family-find in very similar ways, although families can leave this to their social worker if they prefer.

  • Searches guide users to the most suitable profiles. Practitioners often make their own selection of families rather than listing children widely, so families should ensure that their profile gives a full and accurate impression of what they have to offer.
  • Interest can be shown in profiles; practitioners can invite families to view profiles of children, and families can invite practitioners to view their own profile, with respect to a particular child or sibling group.
  • Discussions start when both parties would like to explore a potential match. This allows messages and documents to be exchanged securely through the system.

Throughout the process, users are actively encouraged to respond to each other appropriately, and to keep information up-to-date. Link Maker staff are always on hand to assist, and will contact users as necessary to help keep things moving.

We develop systems to improve the way children find placements, and our service has a number of unique features:

Direct access to adopters and foster carers. Link Maker is the only service allowing family-finders to search for families and express interest to them directly. This proactive searching is shown to be particularly effective in finding matches for harder-to-place children.

Coverage & performance. Link Maker provides the largest adoption matching database in the UK, and is responsible for the majority of interagency adoptive placements. Around 40 children are matched per month, and placements have been made across all four UK nations.

Speed. Link Maker is the only service giving instant access to potential matches, and instantly alerting other users about new profiles that are likely to be of interest. In half of cases the expression of interest that leads to a match is received within a week of a child's profile being added. We introduce no delays; family-finders can progress from searching in-house to a consortium and to a national search if needed, in a matter of days.

Accuracy of information. Link Maker is the only service allowing individual users to amend their profiles in real time. This saves a great deal of time, effort and money in chasing enquiries that will go nowhere.

Efficiency. Link Maker is the only service that allows family-finders to create a single profile to use internally, within a consortium, or nationally. The most appropriate families are shown instantly, saving workers from sifting through hundreds of profiles.

Security. Link Maker is the only service that comprehensively allows agencies to meet their data-protection obligations in the family-finding process. No personal information is transmitted by insecure email or post. Messages between users are encrypted, and sensitive documents are only made available through the system for as long as they are needed, with the originating agency retaining control over the original file.

Data. Link Maker's service ensures that data and activity relating to matching is collected, can be monitored and reported on efficiently, and is based on live information. Data for agencies can be made available on request, allowing accurate performance monitoring.

Administration & support. Link Maker provides a fully managed service, not a stand-alone piece of software. Link Maker is responsible for the user-base of the service – increasing usage through marketing and engagement, and verifying the identities of all new users with their agencies. Link Maker's support team help all staff and families to use the system effectively, intervene to ensure users keep their information up-to-date, and ensure that users respond to each other as necessary.

A complete agency portal. Along with the unique matching features above, Link Maker provides agencies with a secure portal for a range of agency functions. This allows families to share support in safety, and gives you a secure way to keep in touch, share resources, and facilitate support events.

Practitioners can register for free to view profiles, and to assist their families when links are identified. A local authority, voluntary adoption agency or independent fostering provider can also purchase a licence which provides additional features to all of their staff and families. The cost depends on the size of an agency, and if you would like to know the cost for your agency, or arrange a free trial, please contact us

Adopters and foster carers can register for free to use the community tools, and to view children. Adopters can also share their own profile with social workers if they are family-finding. Families from agencies with a license can also express interest in children. 

You can see which organisations currently provide full features to staff and families here

The service is developed and provided by Link Maker Systems, a social enterprise founded by adoptive parents. You can read more about us here

We are able to provide our users with the highest levels of independent assurance about how we keep information safe, and you can read more about our security arrangements here

If you are supporting adopters or foster carers with family-finding, here are some pointers to get you started:

  • Discuss with your family how you will use the system together – see the topics in the question 'how much should prospective families do themselves?', below
  • If your family does not want their own account, create their profile for them using the 'add family profile' button on your homepage
  • If your family has registered and added their own profile, connect to their account using the 'connect to your families' button on your homepage
  • Help your family to make the most of their profile – remember that you can see other family profiles, while they can't

Please note that some features require an agency licence - click here for details or contact us if you are not yet registered

Yes, by carefully making profiles available only to families they may want to consider. This allows practitioners to manage their workloads and respond to interest considerately, and helps to preserve a child's privacy as much as possible. However profiles are restricted from searches, family-finders can always view all families and express interest in them. Excluding a family from seeing a profile in searches does not rule them out - a quarter of matches made on Link Maker are as a result of interest shown in families in this way. You can find further consideration of some of these issues here

On the final page of creating a child profile, family-finders are presented with the guidance and options below:

Please choose carefully the most appropriate way to share this profile initially. Once made available, profiles cannot be hidden for 48 hours. You can widen your search at any time however, and progressive use of the options below will help you to manage your workload.

Below this, practitioners are asked to choose one of the following 5 options:

Keep profile hidden Keep control by expressing interest to a range of families you would like to hear from. This can reduce workload, and allows family finding to begin before consent is given to advertise a profile widely.
Advertise in-house Invite interest from approximately xx compatible families within your LA/agency for a short period, before widening your search.
Advertise to consortium Invite interest from approximately xx compatible families within your consortium for a short period before widening your search.
Advertise within area Invite interest from families within a selected area, which can be quickly expanded as required. Choose this option and define an area to see the number of compatible families.
Advertise to all UK families Advertise to approximately xx compatible families only after briefly trying other options above. It can result in a large amount of interest and unhelpful competition, and is a significant loss of privacy for a child.

Practitioners are additionally able to include or exclude families that do not meet the preferences stated on a child's profile. For each option, practitioners are shown the approximate number of families on the system that are compatible (and that may show an interest). The system is able to predict when a selected option may result in a large amount of interest, and displays the following warning in an orange banner, just above the 'save & finish' button:

Do you have sufficient time over the next few days to respond to interest shown? This profile may create a lot of interest, and you may want to consider changing the options above before continuing.

As a prospective family there is a difference between seeing a child profile in a list, and being approached by a social worker for that child because they feel you could be a good match. 'Exchange days' are valuable for this reason, and Link Maker gives family-finders, for the first time, the ability to proactively approach families anywhere, anytime, on behalf of children.

Around a quarter of matches made though Link Maker are identified by social workers showing interest in families in this way, and this strategy finds matches for proportionally more children who might typically wait longer. A family-finder simply orders their search page for compatibility with a specific child or sibling group, which will bring to the top those families who have stated that they are best able to meet the identified needs, and whose own matching criteria is a good fit. The first few pages of results should include the families of most interest, and interest can be shown in dozens of families if appropriate. There are no limits – a family-finder could approach hundreds of prospective families if this is what it takes to find a suitable match, and they have the tools to make this a practical option.

If you are a prospective adopter or foster carer, this is a question you should discuss with your social worker. Make sure you understand each other's expectations, to avoid any frustration and misunderstanding. As well as general points (such as how often you will meet together), we suggest the following topics in relation to family-finding on Link Maker:

  • Your profile. Review your profile together - is it is a good representation of you? Your social worker has the advantage of seeing other families' profiles, and can help make sure yours covers all of your strengths. You can hand over the ability to edit your profile to you social worker for a period of time if you prefer, via your settings page.
  • Showing interest. Is your social worker happy for you to show interest in profiles yourself, or will they do this on your behalf? Do they expect you to inform them before you show interest? How many expressions of interest do they feel it is appropriate for you to have at one time (up to the limit of 5 on Link Maker)? There is no 'one-size-fits-all' with any of these questions, and your social worker's advice might change over time… keep talking.
  • Contacting children's social workers. Make sure that you know your social worker's preference - they may be happy for you to have direct contact, but will often prefer to have a discussion themselves first. Children's social workers will have their own views - some will be glad to talk directly to you, while others will only want to talk to your social worker. Make sure the right people are in touch, but only discuss a child if you know that both practitioners are comfortable with this.
  • Chasing for updates. Once a discussion in underway, weeks or even months can go by before you receive an update. There can be a lot of complex issues holding things up; medical assessments, legal processes, ongoing discussions with other families. It is reasonable that you should be kept in the loop, and your social worker will advise you on how soon and how often to ask for an update, and whether you or they should do this.

In any situation, if in doubt, ask your social worker. They are there to support you.

There will be more children on Link Maker than you can see on your search page. You will only see children in your search if an agency has decided that 'advertising' the profile to you is necessary, and might lead to a match. This helps to ensure as much privacy for children as possible (since they don't have a say, after-all), and it also reduces unnecessary competition between families.

Family-finders are encouraged to start their search cautiously, but to widen the net quickly if necessary until they find a suitable family for a child. Often, a child that is young, and does not have complex needs, may not be advertised at all. A social worker will instead search for families that they think are the best match, and express interest. That's why many profiles don't appear at all, and is why it is important for families to make sure the information in their own profile is as complete as possible.

If a profile is advertised, it might be done very selectively at first. Family-finders often start by making a profile available to families in a certain area, or to families that match the preferences they have indicated. This shouldn't slow down matching for the child - it just helps social workers to manage the process of reviewing and responding to interest appropriately until they have a family they consider a good match for the child.

You can find further consideration of some of these issues here

You probably know that there is a difficult situation in adoption at the moment, with more adopters than are needed for the children waiting (see some statistics here). Nobody could have predicted the change, which started with a number of court judgements that resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of placement orders being granted (the legal orders allowing an agency to place a child for adoption). Unfortunately this happened after agencies had responded to the previous need for more adopters by scaling-up their recruitment. Many adopters have now been waiting to be matched for over two years, putting enormous emotional strain on prospective families, and creating a unique challenge for the agencies supporting them (Link Maker commissioned a study into how adopters are being supported during matching; see the report here).

This situation will change in time. The number of placement orders is likely to rise again, although at the time of writing (April 2016) there is little evidence of this yet. Official figures do show, however, that the number of new adopter applications has dropped, and this is the other way that the situation for waiting adopters can improve. On Link Maker the gap between between the number of children and families waiting is now slowly but steadily reducing (see this update from April 2016).

We try to make sure that Link Maker is as helpful as possible in the current situation. Whatever anyone says or does, the long wait, and repeated knock-backs, will be emotionally hard. Do keep talking to your social worker if possible, and if you are conducting your own family-finding, discuss whether taking a break and leaving things to your agency, or to fate, may be sensible. Your profile will remain available to family-finders, and things will change.

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