About AAY and UK DonorLink

After Adoption Yorkshire (AAY) officially opened its doors to service users in the Yorkshire and Humberside region on 30 September 1994. During the 20 years to the day that it existed as an independent organisation its focus was always to provide an accessible non- judgemental service for people whose lives had been personally affected by adoption.

It took four years of graft by a steering group of 12 people in the area, some professionally involved in adoption and an equal number who were personally involved in an adoption, to establish the service. Three of the original members of that steering group were still actively involved with AAY 20 years later, an indication of the commitment to the service that has always been at its heart.

Between 1990 and 1994 the steering group met regularly and worked on preparing a business plan for a post adoption service, sending out letters and requesting meetings with social services directors to put the case for financial contributions to a new service. Barnardos came forward in 1992 offering to manage and financially contribute to an after adoption service in the area for three years providing that enough social services department made a financial contribution. Five local authorities eventually agreed to an annual £3,500 for three years, and another offered two rooms at 80 – 82 Cardigan Road, Leeds as premises for the service. These rooms were on the same floor as the northern office of the British Agency for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) who allowed AAY to share a group work room and were very supportive in those first three years. Two part-time staff were appointed to set up the AAY service, a manager and an administrator employed for the initial three years by Barnardos.

The first year of the service between 1994 and 1995 was all about setting up and the next two years about survival after 1997 when Barnardos management would withdraw. All the members of the original steering group had a role to play in AAY either as an employee, as a member of the advisory group set up by Barnardos to help operationalise the service or as a volunteer. During this first three years with just two part-time paid staff the service depended on half a day a week of seconded staff time from the six local authorities involved and a similar contribution of staff time from two voluntary adoption agencies in the area, Catholic Care and NCH Action for Children as well as from Barnardos. In addition, as the service was based on the belief that people with personal involvement in adoption would have an important part to play in the service provision, six volunteers helped run an advice line, support groups and training events. AAY’s overall aim was to help participants in adoption live with that experience as positively as possible. The first three years of the service were evaluated by a researcher from York University in collaboration with a researcher from Barnardos and that evaluation helped guide the next stage of AAY’s development.

In 1997 AAY became an independent charitable organisation. The advisory group became the trustee group with some new members to diversify the skills base. Having been provided with a high quality service for three years at minimal cost the six local authority social service departments made service level agreements with AAY to finance the service at the level of usage from their area. A tariff system of units relating to work provided was negotiated but at that point the arrangement for seconded social work time from these authorities was withdrawn. New funding streams were a priority and in 1998 small grants provided enough to appoint a part-time social worker/counsellor to take over the work previously done by seconded staff. There was no money for real growth in the service provision but on a shoestring and with a lot of good will from volunteers, trustees and the three part-time staff we ran an advice line, a counselling service, support groups and held training events and well-attended conferences with nationally renowned speakers including Nancy Verrier, Frank Kunstall and Holly Van Gulden. Our main service users were adult adopted people seeking help to reunite with their birth family, adjust to the effects of reunion or to the effects of being adopted. Birth parents who had lost babies through adoption and a growing number of birth parents losing children through the courts were the second largest service user group followed by a small but increasing group of adoptive parents struggling to care for children who had experienced early trauma.

To grow AAY needed more space but had little spare money. We searched for many months and eventually accepted an offer from Catholic Care to take over rooms at 31 Moor Road, Headingley, Leeds in part of a building that had once been a mother and baby home. The move happened in 1998 with the plan to seek money to provide services in outreach bases which would allow greater and more equal access to AAY services in the large geographical region it covered. Two more local authorities made service level agreements with AAY at this time.

The rooms at Moor Road became the administrative centre and base for the immediate locality. AAY’s first big grant came from a National Lottery award to establish ten bases around the region between 2000 and 2003. This brought with it money for a worker and administrator to set up the bases. There was a change of manager for AAY in 1999 and her task was to take over this new phase of developing outreach bases and with it an administrative system fit for purpose in the 21st century. The first base was opened in Huddersfield in September 2000 followed by one in Bradford in July 2001, Barnsley in September 2001 and York and Wakefield early in 2002. This was a really busy and exciting time when the profile of AAY and its services was raised and consequently the demands on its services increased significantly.

From the autumn of 2003 to the end of March 2013, AAY was also responsible for setting up and running UK DonorLink (UKDL), the voluntary information exchange and contact register service for donor-conceived adults who had been conceived, and donors who had donated, prior to 1991 when a statutory register was established.  This service was funded by the Department of Health and was the first of its kind in the world in using DNA testing and a DNA database to identify adults with a high probability of being genetically related (DNA results in this context are never 100% accurate).  Using transferable skills and experience from its post adoption work to develop the service, AAY employed a national co-ordinator and administrator at its head office and professional support staff around the UK to provide information, advice and support to registrants.  The DNA database was kept at a government-approved laboratory.  The service won national and international recognition.

In April 2013 after a lengthy and ultimately successful battle to keep the Register alive, the service was transferred to a new provider, the Donor Conceived Register – www.donorconceivedregister.org.uk. AAY Trustees decided against continuing to run the Register following a decision by the Department of Health to combine it with a service recruiting sperm, egg and embryo donors as they considered this to introduce a conflict of interests.

Associated papers (pdfs available on request from marilyn.crawshaw@york.ac.uk):

  • van den Akker O.B.A., Crawshaw M.A., Blyth E.D., and Frith L.J. (2015) Expectations and experiences of gamete donors and donor-conceived adults searching for genetic relatives using DNA linking through a voluntary register Human Reproduction Vol 1, pp 111-121
  • Crawshaw M., Gunter C, Tidy C. and Atherton F. (2013) Working with previously anonymous gamete donors and donor-conceived adults: recent practice experiences of running the DNA-based voluntary information exchange and contact register, UK DonorLink Human Fertility 16, No 1, pp 26-30
  • Crawshaw M. and Marshall L. (2008) ‘Practice experiences of running UK DonorLink, a voluntary information exchange and contact register for adults related through donor conception’ Human Fertility Vol 11 No 4 pp 231-237

AAY was registered as a charity and company limited by guarantee in August 1996 and went on to register as an Adoption Support Agency in 2006.