A bold new project is transforming the lives of some of Wales’ most vulnerable children. 

The Therapeutic, Education and Support Services in Adoption (TESSA) programme aims to empower adoptive parents, who are raising traumatised children, by giving them early access to a clinical psychologist as well as peer support. Up to two-thirds of adoptive parents in Wales require professional support at some point, often over the long-term.  

TESSA's early achievements were celebrated on Tuesday when more than 60 child psychologists and social care professionals joined adoptive parents at the Temple of Peace in Cardiff.

The event, The Role of Psychology in Supporting Adoptive Families, was organised by Adoption UK Wales. It saw attendees unite in song in support of adoptive families.

Adoptive parent Julie Moseley is one of the parent partners offering peer support via TESSA. Julie and her husband Robin adopted a sibling group of three, 16 years ago.

Julie said: “We experienced real difficulty in accessing post adoption support during our first year as adoptive parents.

“As time went by, we experienced difficulties with behaviour from our children – temper tantrums and aggression. This was linked to attachment and early trauma, but we couldn’t get the help or support we needed. I remember one professional telling me: ‘Well…you didn’t think adopting was going to be easy, did you?’, which was very hurtful.

“Had TESSA been around back then we’d have had someone to talk to, who gets adoption and who appreciates exactly what you’re going through as an adoptive parent. This is so important as there can be a lot of challenges.”

Mary is one of the adoptive parents who is currently receiving peer support from Julie. Mary and her partner adopted Llewelyn when he was nine months old. By the time Llewelyn was four he had already gone through five nursery and school settings, all of which had broken down.

Mary said: “The lowest point came following the termination of one placement when we were told that he was “a naughty and nasty child who was bad for business”.

Mary recalled: “We were told about TESSA by Adoption UK and within weeks we had spent some quality time with a psychologist who helped us to piece together the jigsaw of Llewelyn’s life and together we started to explore how we could approach things through his eyes.

“The support didn’t stop there - we were partnered with a peer who also came to our house to listen and share experience.

“Less than two months on we’ve a detailed view of Llewelyn’s needs; strategies to help ensure he feels happy and reassurance that we’re doing the right things.”

Mary added: “We now look forward to working towards finding the right placement for Llewelyn to achieve his potential in September when he starts school.”

The programme received a £3.6million grant from the National Lottery Community Fund, to be delivered across the UK, and saw Welsh Government provide match-funding to ensure that the National Adoption Service (NAS) could provide the same level of support.

Around 5,000 children are adopted in the UK every year, with three-quarters of them having suffered abuse or neglect.

Ann Bell, director of Adoption UK Wales, said: “The symposium event was so important to champion the voices of our adoptive parents here in Wales. We are hoping that TESSA will be able to improve the support they are offered in the future to prevent families reaching crisis point. It is vital that the programme has the ability to become a sustainable early intervention for families, by integrating psychological intervention into real world scenarios, so that both sides learn from each other.

“It was a really successful day and it was great to see so many people get involved, celebrating what TESSA is achieving and its value to adoptive parents in Wales.”