Adoption UK is urging the governments in all four nations of the UK to protect the mental health of some of the most vulnerable young people.

The leading adoption charity’s new report Giving adopted children an equal chance of good mental health documents how those who experience trauma in their earliest years are likely to suffer mental ill health, and that failing to intervene can be catastrophic in adolescence and beyond.

The report, published during Children's Mental Health Week 2021, also sets out how governments can intervene to give these children a much brighter future.

More than two thirds of adopted young people and adopted adults surveyed by Adoption UK last year disclosed they had sought help for their mental health.

Three quarters of adopted children suffer significant trauma in their birth families, which can cast long shadows over their mental health. Neurological disorders such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and Autistic Spectrum Disorder are also much more common among adopted children. If left undiagnosed, children with FASD are twice as likely to be at risk of mental ill health. 

Adoption UK’s chief executive Sue Armstrong Brown said: “Most adoptive families need professional and peer support at some point. But all too often these families are being failed by a system which invests heavily in the placement of children for adoption, then fades into the background, often with terrible consequences for the mental health of the children and their adoptive families.”

With 50 years of experience of working with adoptive families, Adoption UK is confident the key to protecting mental health is to intervene early; embed mental health support into front line services; and ensure people are well supported in the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Anna, who is adopted, was discharged from child services two days before her 16th birthday. She was then informed she did not meet the criteria to be accepted by adult services. After a crisis, Anna was admitted as an in-patient to a mental health unit, which effectively ended her college education. After repeated visits to A&E Anna was accepted by adult mental health services.

Anna, now aged 18, said: “Mental health support seems to be largely crisis led. Since accessing adult mental health services I have had five different Care Coordinators but only two of them have understood my long-term issues.”

She recently started work with a therapist funded by the Adoption Support Fund. Anna says: “Finally, I’ve got a therapist who sees me for me. For the first time in my life I feel supported, not judged.”

Mrs Armstrong Brown added: “Given the increase in isolation, depression and anxiety during the pandemic, it has never been more important to address some of the systemic problems in mental healthcare in the UK.”