Last week we launched the Adoption Barometer 2021. Alongside its analysis of the experiences of adoptive families during 2020, it contains a deep dive into the lives of adopted young people. For me, the over-riding message from this section is that the teenage years herald the biggest challenges for adopted young peopleSo I’m delighted that Adoption UK is a partner in a major new research programme about the mental health of care-experienced young people. 

The four-year programme, funded by UKRI – UK Research and Innovation, led by Dr Lisa Holmes (University of Oxford) and Dr Rachel Hiller (University of Bath), involves a a multi-disciplinary  team drawn the Universities of Bath, Oxford, Cardiff and Bristol, with AUK and Coram putting together panels of young people to help guide the research. It will look at two key transition moments – the move from primary to secondary school and the transition from adolescence into adulthood.  

For AUK, our involvement began with a conversation with Professor Julie Selwyn from Oxford University (one of the co-investigators) at the AUK office near Banbury just before the pandemic put paid to such meetings. We were talking about thirteen year old adopted girls, their view of the world, and the fact that adolescence seems to be time when their trauma so often catches up with them.  

Mimi Woods and Lucy Reynolds, both adopted young people, spoke powerfully during the day of the Barometer launch about their own experiences of this time in their lives.  

Mimi said: “I suffer from mental ill-health, which is linked to my past trauma. This happened when I was very young, but it affects you later in life. It comes from a feeling of not being wanted and not having a place, or an emotional connection to anyone.    

“I had a meeting with child mental health services in which I explained I was really ill but didn’t know why I did what I did. I had no feelings and wanted to end my life. I was put on medication but when they were happy I wasn’t going to do anything, contact just stopped and I’ve not heard from them since. 

“I’ve recently realised it was all linked to me feeling lost within myself. I’m part of a young adopted people group [called Connected] and everyone in the group has suffered from trauma, depression and suicidal thoughts.”   

Lucy said: “…Trauma is life lasting and impacts all areas of our lives…I found staying in education difficult and when I was 13 I got to the point where I had to spend several months out of school. I know isolation and identity relating to adoption were big factors in this. At times it felt like it would have been easier to fall off the radar than to stay on it.  

The things that stand out for me are the need for trauma-informed educators and wider access to mental health and other forms of support up to and beyond teenage years.” 

The UKRI research also coincides with AUK starting to develop a UK programme of support, connection and influence for adopted young people, building on our successful Connected service in Wales, and our Banter Project in Northern Ireland.  

As the programme leads highlight: “Ultimately, this is not only about building resilience among care-experienced young people but also building more resilient systems and services to support them.” We’re proud to be part of this new research, which goes beyond just understanding what’s going on for adopted young people, to make recommendations for ways to prevent the challenges too many of them face. 

Sue Armstrong Brown, Adoption UK CEO 

Find out more about the research programme: Major £2.8 million UKRI funding to explore mental health outcomes for care-experienced young people (