What governments should know about adoption 

Earlier this summer, we published the first UK-wide assessment of modern adoption: the Adoption Barometer. Based on a survey of 3500 adopters across the UK, the abiding message of the Barometer is that adopters are optimistic, resilient parents who find great joy and love in their children, despite dealing with the legacy of early childhood trauma on a daily basis.  

Adoption misconceptions 

The Barometer had some more surprising findings. It showed that adoption was the first choice for a quarter of us. The majority of adopters are open to contact with our child’s birth family – in fact more want it than have it. Two thirds of us are experiencing aggression from our child. And, despite significant challenges, four out of five adopters would encourage others to adopt.  

Most of these findings challenge a widely-held view about adoption. And it’s very telling that while we have demographic information about children up to the point of adoption, very little is subsequently collected – which is partly why we carried out the barometer survey, and will do so regularly from now on. It’s critical that the adoption sectors around the UK are run on an understanding of who adopters really are, rather than who we’re assumed to be. 

Adoption policy works 

Here’s another interesting finding: investing in adoption policy works.  

We assessed policy provision for different stages of the adoption journey against the experiences of adopters. The results demonstrate that where Governments have invested in adoption, the results show up in the lives of adoptive families.  

The recent major focus on the early stages of adoption, aimed at improving adopter recruitment and reducing waiting times for children in care, is paying off with most prospective adopters feeling well-informed and speaking highly of the support they are getting from their social workers. Most new adoptive families say they and their children were well prepared for the huge change in their lives.  

Overall, English and Welsh policies score best, reflecting the stage of development of policy provision for adoption in these two nations. If you want to be a happy adopter, move to Wales, which scored highest overall for adopter experience. The results reflect the impact of the Adoption Support Fund in England, the additional investment in life story work in Wales, and the effect of the pupil premium plus to support adopted children at school.  

But all nations scored ‘poor’ in at least one area of policy. Our findings are clear that despite considerable advances in understanding early childhood trauma, and positive results at the recruitment, matching and early placement stages, we have further to go in every country of the UK to ensure that adoptive families can rely on getting the help they need.  

Put support in place till adulthood 

Post adoption support has received less attention in policy circles. The Barometer paints a picture of families with older children left to cope with an emerging legacy of childhood trauma and neurodevelopmental problems. Half of established families are facing significant or extreme challenges.  70% of parents told us that it’s a ‘continual struggle’ to get the support their family needs.  

It’s clear that families with older adopted children have it hardest. Our report reveals that adopted 16-25 year olds are twice as likely not to be in education, employment or training (NEET) as their peers, 39% have been involved with mental health services. Adopted children moving into adult services are falling through the gap, with three quarters of parents telling us that their adopted young people need significant ongoing support to live independently. 

We found that for far too many adopters, getting the right help at the right time for their child is a daily battle. Those parenting our most vulnerable young people should not be battling to get basic support.  

Evidence-based policy 

Overall, the Barometer results show us that there is much that is going well in adoption, especially in the early stages of creating new families, and many adopted children go on to bright futures. And where politicians have invested will, capital and finances in adoption it is paying off. But we’re only at the beginning of developing fit-for purpose adoption systems which truly recognise the impact of early trauma on child development, and the far greater demands this places on their families.  

It is time to make a UK-wide commitment to ensuring that every adopted child gets the future they deserve. This means comprehensive assessments of need, fully-resourced support plans from placement to adulthood, and trauma-aware schools. It means adopters knowing that adoption, social services and health professionals are committed to helping their families to thrive.  

We’ll be back with another Barometer survey next year.