Adoption Regional Information System

Helping place children for adoption through a pandemic


When a twice annual adoption family finding event was at risk of being canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Adoption Regional Information System (ARIS) in Northern Ireland needed a way to communicate to prospective adopters that local children were still in need of a permanent home.


ARIS, which sits within the Health and Social Care Board, hosts an event twice a year to bring together families hoping to adopt a child.

While many children are placed in their local area through their local HSC Trust, it can be difficult to find a home for sibling groups, children over the age of four, and children with disabilities or developmental delay. The event ARIS organises allows families from all over Northern Ireland to gather in one location to learn about children outside of their own area. Attendees at the event can see film footage and photos of the children, and talk to foster carers and social workers who know them well.

ARIS Manager Sarah Johnston, who is in charge of organising and running the event, said:

“Our children often have difficult back stories. They’ve suffered early trauma, abuse or neglect and many have been exposed to domestic violence, alcohol or drug misuse. On paper sometimes this doesn’t look great, but their history is not what defines who these children are. This event is all about bringing the kids to life; sharing details of their little personalities and interests and really trying to help families get a real sense of what it would be like to live with and look after them on a daily basis.”

When Northern Ireland went into lockdown in March 2020, the ARIS team couldn’t hold their event planned for the spring. Sarah needed a solution to help find families for the children waiting across Northern Ireland and she didn’t want the pandemic to get in the way.


Sarah approached BT for a solution. Because of the lockdown and rules around public gatherings, the event needed to happen online and strong security was a must because of the sensitive information involved.

BT proposed and designed a solution to host the event virtually through Cisco WebEx Events, a leading webinar platform for large meetings and corporate events. Known for its strong security features, the platform also offers a secure registration process.

The BT team introduced Sarah to the platform and provided familiarisation training so she was able to run her own WebEx event. The team coached her on the steps for creating an event and helped with planning for any issues or problems she ran into during the preparation, such as ensuring all videos played correctly and putting together a contingency plan should something go wrong with her computer on the day.

In addition to WebEx Events, BT also trained Sarah on WebEx Meetings, secure video conferencing and online meeting software, so she and the social workers involved could set up private follow-up calls with prospective adopters who were interested in finding out more about the children.

As part of BT’s overall response and commitment to support the public sector through the exceptional challenge of Covid-19, BT and Cisco provided their services to ARIS free of charge.


More than 200 people from across Northern Ireland logged on to the virtual event. The families learned about each child through viewing their photos and videos and hearing personal stories from their foster carers and social workers.

Since the virtual event, more than half of the children have been placed with a family – a phenomenal result as previous events typically place one in three children.

“The feedback from families has been absolutely amazing and people commented on how well the format captured the kids,” Sarah said. “Families also enjoyed participating from the comfort of their own home – they could take time to privately consider the details shared and didn’t feel like they had to compete with others in a physical space. The online event also made it easier for attendees as they didn’t need to travel to Belfast for the event.”

Sarah has since received calls from adoption registers in England, Scotland and Wales asking about the virtual adoption event and she is confident, no matter what happens with the pandemic, she will likely continue with the virtual format.

She adds, “We’re not going to go back to the physical event any time soon.”


What is the PSSN Contract?

The Public Sector Shared Network Contract (PSSN) is a Strategic Partnership between the Northern Ireland Public Sector and BT and is available for use by all Northern Ireland Public Sector bodies.

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