The groups are open to children conceived using sperm, eggs, embryos and double donation (with or without surrogacy) aged between 8 and 12 years old and any non-donor conceived siblings in that age group.
Although the lower age is 8 years old it is quite common for children not to be ready for the group until they are 9 or 10 years old. It is best to wait until your child is keen to come and has started to ask questions or express curiosity about how they were conceived or would like to meet other donor conceived children.
The cut off at the top end is 12 years old because generally by the time children hit early teens their needs are quite different.
The groups are heavily subsidised by the Network and our annual fundraising drive and as such are only open to DCN members. If you’re not currently a DCN member you would need to join for your child to attend.
'My son enjoyed the Children’s workshop tremendously,
so much so he says he wants to attend again next year if he can.'
Who runs the groups?
The groups are run by an experienced and qualified team led by Dr Sharon Pettle. Sharon is a clinical psychologist and family therapist. She first piloted the groups with Janet Marks over 10 years ago and has been developing them with her team since. She is currently supported by Dr Emma Hewson and Dr Jasmina Harris-Cherguit as well as other qualified members of the team.
What are the groups about?
The groups are usually made up of 7-10 children, from a variety of backgrounds. Some may be in solo mum families, some in same-sex families and some in heterosexual couple families. They may have been conceived through sperm or egg donation, or both, or embryo donation, sometimes also with surrogacy. They may have donors who are totally anonymous (forever), unknown now but identifiable at 18yrs, or known personally to the child (a family member for example).
They may have brothers and sisters or be only children. Sometimes they have brothers or sisters who are not donor conceived, might be fostered or adopted or who have different donors to them. Non-donor conceived siblings can also attend and they are very welcome.
What sorts of topics are covered?
Each group is different and follows topics brought up by the children attending. The topics that tend to come up in the younger groups are different to the groups with older children – or are talked about at a more simple level. Older children may be attending the group a second or third time. However, the sorts of topics that CAN and usually do come up are:
Why people use a donor
What do people know about their donor
Who counts as part of the family
Can they meet their donor(s)
Why people donate
What is a half-sibling and whether others know anything about them [bear in mind that there are a minority of families who have located half siblings through the donor and have made connections]
Differences in the family and what that means
Who are you like and not like in your family
Not having a dad (solo mum and lesbian families)
As the children lead the sessions it’s really important that families have raised these topics at home BEFORE attending. This ensures that children are not confronted with new information for the first time in the group, they know it’s safe to talk about these topics at home and will hopefully feel confident in continuing the conversation with parents after the groups.
NOTE: if this feels daunting, you are not alone in feeling that way! We can help and support you with ideas about how to raise some of these topics so if this is your situation see the section ‘what to do before registering’ below and please do get in touch.
What topics are NOT covered?
The groups don’t cover sex-education. The expectation is that parents will have given children some basic information about how babies are usually made to the level that is in the DC Network Our Story books, i.e. that you need a seed and an egg and a warm tummy to grow the baby. We have noticed over time that children may know lots about IVF but not know how babies are created without any help.
Why might it be helpful for my child to attend?
We know how valuable they are - the feedback from the kids is great and they often attend more than once. They are unique opportunities for children to meet others conceived ‘just like them’ and talk about family and donor conception (‘donor stuff’) in a supported, open and relaxed space.
Parents have told us that they value the pre-group telephone calls and believe the groups have helped their children be more able to talk about DC with them, and their friends (if they choose to do so).
What do I need to think about before registering?
The groups are often very diverse. There will be some children, particularly those with older siblings, who know a lot about how babies are made. Some may be very curious about their donor and/or half siblings and have therefore asked a LOT of questions. Other children may have far less knowledge and little curiosity.
Some children will have known donors or lots of information about their donors. Others will have no information and no possibility of finding out more. Some children may have had contact with half siblings, or have information about them. Others may have no half siblings or no opportunity to find that information out. Some are aware of changes in the law in the UK.
Families are different, situations are different and interest levels are different. Because of this diversity it’s really important for parents to consider raising the following topics to prepare their children for the groups. Any topic might come up depending on the others in the group, and it’s good to be prepared.
Simple information about how babies are made (at least to the level that is in the Our Story books – you need a seed and an egg and a place to grow) – although be aware that children can get curious about how the seed gets there if the doctor does not help!
Information about the donor (even if there is hardly any – there may be other children attending the group who are in different circumstances)
Half sibling information (even if there is none – again, other children may be in a different position)
We also recommend parents get a copy of Archie Nolan: Family Detective and either read it with their children, or read it and then pass it on to their children. The book is aimed at 8-12yrs olds and is written in a similar style to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid. It follows donor conceived twins and their friends as they explore what family means. It’s a great conversation starter, and is a great way to introduce some of the topics that may come up in the groups.
Will my child automatically get a place?
No is the simple answer. After registering and completing the questionnaire, Sharon or one of her team will arrange a phone-call to discuss things with you in more detail. It may be that after that call you decide that it isn’t quite the right time for your child to attend or there may be another reason why it isn’t suitable.
Why do I have to complete a questionnaire and then speak to a member of the team?
Because of the diversity of the groups the team need a lot of background information, plus time to speak to you personally. This enables them to get a good sense of the children and their individual needs and then prepare fully for the groups. It helps them organise who is in which group, and be aware of specific issues or particular issues or needs. There is usually a group for younger children coming for the first time, and another for returners/older children – there can be a lot of difference in children between these ages, and the information helps to form the groups that will be most useful.
Do siblings and twins attend together?
We put siblings in different groups where possible. This allows them to have an experience of the group on their own and can express their thoughts and feelings without a family member listening. It also means the group is confidential for them. However, we cannot always guarantee to have the numbers to run more than one group so sometimes siblings are together.
Can I sit in on the group?
Parents are not part of the group so it’s not possible to sit in. They are unique opportunities for children to meet in a donor conception friendly, parent-free space that is safe and supportive.
All parents are sent a summary of what happened in the group and what was discussed but this is anonymised so no particular child is identified.
Can children attend more than once?
Yes absolutely! We encourage them to and most do attend more than once.
What happens after the group?
Children complete a feedback form straight afterwards which helps us get an indication of what they thought at the time. Parents get a summary what happened and what was discussed in the group a few weeks after. Parents then complete a survey to help us quantify their experience and any benefits. It’s essential that parents complete this survey so we can evaluate the groups properly. The surveys also enable us to present the value of the groups in funding applications and to help raise awareness.
Where and when are they?
The groups run for half a day (approx. 2.5hrs) and normally take place at the DCN national conferences in April and October. They are separate to the childcare provision at our conferences. If we have enough bookings we often run more than one group (for example a group in the morning and another in the afternoon) and/or concurrent groups.
How much do they cost?
The half day group fee
£80 per child
This includes the fee for the session with Sharon Pettle or a member of her team ahead of the group (this part is paid whether the child attends the group or not), the group itself and childcare at the conference for the other half of the day.
The sensitive nature of these groups means we invest significant resources in them. We need a professional team to ensure we offer a safe and supportive space and we keep the groups small so they get a really valuable experience. The work to prepare the groups is enormous, aside from the general booking and admin.
Each family has personal contact with one of the qualified psychologists in the team, and this alone can be an incredibly helpful experience for parents. It requires a very careful juggling act to balance the groups in terms of the mix of children and the team spend a lot of time planning and preparing to ensure the children are really well supported on the day and after, if needed.
The Network fundraises for the groups annually to keep the cost as low as possible as we recognise that it is really important that we can continue to offer them and they stay affordable for DCN member families.
In light of the above we consider the groups to be incredibly good value and are enormously grateful to Sharon and her team for the unpaid hours (many) and discounted work they do developing and running these groups and supporting our children.
How do I book?
Below is a rough outline of the booking process which can take several weeks.
Complete the questionnaire (one per child) and return it to the office.
You will pay for the phone session with Sharon Pettle (we will send you a payment link).
Sharon Pettle or one of her team will be in touch, ideally by email, to arrange a time to talk to you – this will probably need to be a daytime slot between 9am and 5pm Monday-Friday.
After this conversation you can decide whether you are still interested in a place – you may decide it’s not suitable or to wait another year.
Once Sharon and the team know exactly who is definitely interested they will look at the balance of children in terms of ages/family circumstances etc. and decide what groups they can run.
Allocation of spaces will take into account the ages and family circumstances of children to ensure a balance. However, we always try our best to accommodate any children who want to attend.
You will be contacted with confirmation of whether you have got a place and a payment link for the group attendance.
Where possible, siblings (including twins) are in different groups to allow them to have their own experience although this depends on whether we get enough bookings to run more than one appropriate group.