More adoptive families are in crisis than ever before and adult adoptees face a void of support as we launch our annual Adoption Barometer report, the most comprehensive stocktake of adoption in the UK. 

Adoption remains a vital intervention for children who cannot safely grow up with their birth family, but support services for adoptees need urgent and dramatic improvement. These results come against a backdrop of multiple pressures on all families, including the legacy of the Covid-19 pandemic, the cost of living crisis and stretched public services. But it is the most vulnerable families who are hit hardest when times are tough.  

Adoptive families face complex challenges. Most adopted children have experienced significant trauma before being placed for adoption and all are living with the loss of their birth families. This can have lasting impacts on their development, learning, health and relationships.  

The results captured from 2023 show that adoption support services are letting adoptees of all ages down, but particularly teenagers and adults. This is exacerbated by increasing pressures on wider services that many adopted people rely on, such as mental health support and support for children who need extra help in school. In England only 1% of adoptive parents and 3% of adult adoptees completely agree that statutory services have a good understanding of the needs of care experienced people.  

An adoptive mother who has had to fight for support to address her 12-year-old son’s complex needs, says adoption has huge potential for children but that families are being left to cope against the odds.  

She says: “I have a lot of fear for the future but I love my son. We have met some amazing social workers who have saved our family and I totally believe in adoption, but the system is so broken that you can have a child placed with you without getting the wrap-around care you need, and that’s really hard. “There needs to be a reset on adoption. It’s not just about placement: it can’t be about hoping families don’t collapse. It’s about supporting families all the way through. There has to be a pathway of care otherwise families are being asked to do what often feels like the impossible.” 

For the first time, the Adoption Barometer’s survey of nearly 4,000 adoptive families, prospective adopters and adopted adults has focused separately on England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to reflect the devolved adoption policies in each country. 

 In England the survey revealed that in the last 12 months:  

  • Nearly one quarter (23%) of adopted children were known to have harmed themselves or attempted to do so; 

  • 75% of adopters felt it was a continuous battle to get the support their child needs; 

  • 29% of adopted young adults were not in education, employment or training (NEET) at the end of 2023, compared to a national average of 12%. 

Our CEO Emily Frith said: When record numbers of families say they’re in crisis it's time to listen and to take urgent action. Adoption support must be reliable and accessible, especially at the toughest times, and mustn’t disappear when people turn 18. We must also fix the disconnect with other services such as mental health and education. Support for adoptees will be a litmus test of any future government’s commitment to all those who’ve had a difficult start in life. 

Adopted people of all ages are being let down. Among adult adoptees, the survey shows there continues to be little therapeutic support available, with the cost often making what is available prohibitive. There was a very low level of confidence among adult adoptees that they would receive appropriate support in accessing their historical records, which contain information about the circumstances of their adoption and their birth families. Almost a third (32%) ‘completely’ disagreed they would be suitably supported, with 81% having accessed their records or attempted to do so. One in six of these had recent experience in 2023.  

An adult adoptee, born in 1975, says : Looking back I’m glad I was adopted – it wasn’t safe for me to stay with my birth parents and I wouldn’t have had anything like the life I’ve had. But it definitely isn’t easy or perfect. It’s incredibly important to be recognised as someone who is adopted, because it has lifelong implications. I’ve struggled with relationships and with being able to be myself. When I went to access my records, they were hugely redacted. My own life story was being kept from me. It just compounded that sense of disconnect between myself and others.”    

There has been tangible progress in areas that have been targeted by governments and adoption agencies, particularly at the start of the adoption process. This includes training and preparation for prospective adopters, and a sense among adoptive parents that schools were more understanding of their child’s experiences and needs. While families flagged delays in accessing the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund, 82% agreed the support they had received because of the funding had a positive impact on their family.  

The report also shows that intervening early can build confidence between families and support services, prevent crises from escalating and improve long term outcomes for adoptees 

We are calling for permanent funding for adoption support, including a ring-fenced pot for crisis support in all four nations of the UK. Currently only England has a fund - the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund, but it is tied to short-term spending rounds. We are also calling for tailored support for teen adoptees and their families, and access to adoption-informed counselling and therapy for adult adoptees. We are also joining calls for the Westminster government to make an official apology for historic forced adoptions, to follow the apologies made in Scotland and Wales. 

Read the report:

Adoption Barometer 2024 (England)

Adoption Barometer 2024 (Wales)

Adoption Barometer 2024 (Cymru)

Adoption Barometer 2024 (Scotland)

Adoption Barometer 2024 (Northern Ireland)