The Adoption Barometer 2022, published this week, shines a spotlight on the support available for establishing and maintaining relationships between adopted people and their birth relatives in childhood and beyond.

More than 2,500 prospective adopters and adoptive parents, and nearly 300 adopted adults responded to this year’s surveys.

Among adoptive parents, there was cautious openness towards maintaining children’s relationships with birth relatives. In fact, 70% of prospective adopters agreed that direct contact should be standard for adopted children where it is considered safe.

But those whose children were having direct contact told us that although practical support was often available at the start, this tailed off over time. Only 15% of adoptive parents said their agency regularly reviewed their arrangements for direct contact.

For many adopted adults, maintaining contact with birth relatives during childhood had not been an option. Of those who did have direct contact relationships, more than half said that it was sometimes emotionally challenging but fewer than one in five said they had any professional support to help them navigate these challenges.

However, despite the challenges and the difficulties finding support, 88% of adoptive parents and 80% of adopted adults who had been able to maintain direct contact with birth relatives were glad that they had the opportunity, and three quarters of adopted adults said that maintaining relationships with birth relatives had helped them to understand their identity and life history.

Although most adopted adults who responded to the survey had never had the opportunity for meaningful contact with birth relatives during childhood, 80% had attempted to trace a birth relative since turning 18. Most were not offered any counselling and, of those who were, more than a third said it was not well attuned to their needs as an adopted person. The process was described as costly, frustrating and full of red tape. Once relatives had been successfully traced, only 16% were offered any follow up support. One respondent described their peer support group as “the only network where you can feel understood completely,” but many did not have access to this invaluable support.

Now in its fourth year, the annual Adoption Barometer examines the impact of government legislation and policy on the adoption community from approvals and matching onwards. As the nation continued to grapple with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021, prospective adopters reported slower timescales than in 2020 and a higher perception of delays caused by Covid-19 restrictions.

Established adoptive families faced significant challenges at a time when services were already under pressure, and more respondents than ever before said they faced a continual struggle to get the help and support their children need in education, adoption support and mental healthcare. Nearly two thirds had reached out for specialist adoption support in 2021 and, of these, half said they were experiencing severe challenges or at crisis point at the time of asking for help.

Families with teens and young adults faced particular challenges. Only 12% of those with children aged 13-18 said their family was doing well, and 16-25-year-olds were twice as likely to not be in education, employment or training as the national average.

Over the years, the Adoption Barometer findings have been presented to hundreds of government officials and sector leaders across the UK. The reports have influenced the work of the Regional Adoption Agency leaders in England and the National Adoption Service in Wales, as well as helping policy makers strengthen the case for extending the Adoption Support Fund in England. Evidence from the Adoption Barometer has been used in contributions to the National FASD Experts Committee whose work has been instrumental in the publication of the NICE Quality Standard on FASD, as well as informing government consultations in all nations on issues including education, health, mental health and Covid-19, and Northern Ireland’s landmark Adoption and Children Act (2022).

However, as one respondent said, “It is not good enough to say that things are getting better than they once were because they still fall far short of what is needed.” Adoption UK is committed to taking forward the findings of this year’s Adoption Barometer to advocate for adoption policy and practice that has a real positive impact for adopted children, young people and adults and their families.

You can read the full Adoption Barometer 2022 report here 

Or the executive summary here