A millionaire businessman who was adopted as a baby has called for a major overhaul of the system which places vulnerable children with new families.
Mike Welch, founder of the Edinburgh-based Black- circles tyre empire, is the driving force behind MyAdoptedFamily.com, a new support website for anyone with experience of adoption or fostering, which will launch later this year.
We have a system that’s just not fit for purpose anymoreMike Welch
The 37-year-old entrepreneur, who was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List, said he hoped it would ease the strain on adoption agencies by offering peer-to-peer advice in one centralised place.
“We have a system that’s just not fit for purpose anymore,” he told The Scotsman.
“I tend to look at things from a retail perspective, as that’s my background.
“The product is very different from when I was a kid. The majority of children being adopted then were like me – they were brand new, out of the wrapper, and could be placed with families very quickly.
“Now, it’s a lot more complicated. Kids being placed are two, three or four-years-old and often in sibling groups. Some have endured abuse or come from backgrounds where drink or drugs were problems.
“Adoption agencies need support and innovation. The funding model needs addressed. There’s a lot of work to be done. I see, in a lot of cases, more money being spent on talking shops that anything else.
“It needs its a*se kicked.
“We need to see changes happen. I know it can’t happen right away, but that’s direction I’m heading in.
“I want to develop more after care for families who decide to adopt.”
Welch was born in Liverpool in 1978 and was fostered aged six months. He was then placed with a second family in his home town, who later adopted him.
He left school at 16 to work as a tyre fitter with a city garage.
Spotting a gap in the market, he launched one of the first successful online tyre retail websites – supporting his new business with night shift work in a local Tesco branch.
At the age of 20 he was offered a job as head of e-commerce with Kwik-Fit, which brought him to Scotland, his home for the past 17 years.
Following the sale of Kwik-Fit to Ford, Welch launched his second business, Blackcircles, in 2001.
It has since signed a partnership deal with Tesco, and the former boss of the supermarket, Sir Terry Leahy, is among its non-executive directors.
Welch, a former amateur boxer and keen sportsman, had long hoped to help those with similar backgrounds to his own.
“I’ve been through it, I know what it’s like,” he said.
“My pledge to myself was, when I was able, to invest time and money to try and develop a framework to facilitate counselling and community peer-to-peer support networks for adopted families.
“My Adopted Family will have everything in one place. Parents and kids will be able to seek advice and support if they need it. It will centralise adivce from experts in one place – whether that be webcasts or so forth.”
Welch worked with adoption agencies to create the website. It will contemplate his existing charitable endeavour, The Welch Trust, which issues grants to charities and good-causes associated with adoption or fostering.
The businessman also hopes to see an increase in the number of families considering adoption. He believes a change in attitudes towards the practice will one day be followed by a more user-friendly system. “Adoption is not as front and centre as it should be for couples,” he said.
“I didn’t realise just how difficult it was for my dad among his peer group and wider family to make the decision to adopt. It wasn’t commonplace. While it wasn’t frowned upon, not everyone was accepting.
“The way people and agencies have to apply for funding has become increasingly complicated in recent years.
“It’s gone from a relatively straightforward process to something that is so complicated that people find very difficult. We need to ensure money reaches the right people. This is something I believe I can help with.”