The lives of some of the UK's most vulnerable children are being devastated by a string of missed opportunities to provide them with timely and adequate support, a new report reveals today.

The Adoption Barometer, published by charity Adoption UK, also describes the dramatic impact the right support can have. Now in its second year, the Barometer is based on the biggest ever survey of adopters. This year, 5,000 people responded to the survey.

One of the main themes to emerge is the failure in diagnosing and treating brain damage caused by children being exposed to alcohol in the womb. The report reveals more than one in three adopted children in Scotland (35%) are either diagnosed with or suspected to have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Almost two thirds (63%) of families polled in Scotland had waited two years or longer for a diagnosis, and more than half (53%) felt healthcare professionals lacked even basic knowledge about the condition, even though FASD is more common in the general population than autism.

Adoptive mother Gemma said: “When Isabelle came to us at eight months-old she was described as a perfect baby. At two and a half she started headbutting, kicking and biting. Then she became obsessed with sharp knives. She told me she wanted to ‘cut me open and see me bleed’. We went to countless GPs, health visitors and social workers but we got nowhere. We finally got a diagnosis of FASD when she was four years old. It has made a huge difference to the support we’ve been able to access.”

Scotland is leading the field in the UK, as the first nation to establish an FASD diagnostic pathway. In 2019 the Scottish Government backed Adoption UK in Scotland to launch FASD Hub Scotland, supporting all parents and carers of people who were, or may have been, exposed to alcohol during pregnancy, including Gemma and her family. The service includes a helpline, online support communities, one to one support, access to enhanced therapeutic support, training and information, as well as training and resources for professionals.

FASD Hub Scotland Project Manager, Aliy Brown, says: “During the month of September (FASD Month) we have been working closely with professionals within Scotland, other parts of the UK and further afield to drive the campaign around the need for awareness of FASD, both for prevention as well as support for families, which is so badly needed, as evidenced in the report. We are committed to doing everything we can to see the condition recognised in the same way the other neuro-diverse conditions are, and enable both individuals and their families to access early diagnosis, support and intervention to promote positive outcomes for life.”

Around three-quarters of adopted children experienced violence, abuse or neglect while living with their birth families, often with life-long impacts on their relationships, their health and their ability to learn. Despite the considerable challenges, the report shows that adopters remain positive and resilient – 73% of respondents in Scotland would encourage others to consider adoption.

But failures in policy and practice and missed opportunities to intervene mean that problems often build into a crisis. Almost half (48%) of families with older children report severe challenges, such as being drawn into criminally exploitative behaviour, including child sexual exploitation and county lines activities. Almost two thirds (62%) of respondents from Scotland with secondary aged children anticipate they will leave school with few or no qualifications because they lacked the right support.

Director of Adoption UK Scotland, Fiona Aitken, said: “It is crucial that adoptive families are given the right support from day one, from both a moral and economic perspective. The survey shows 68% of adoptive families had no support plan in place, which we know can lead to crisis situations. The cost of a family breakdown is too high for all involved, particularly the children who have already experienced so much.”

The Adoption Barometer also assesses the government policies that regulate adoption. Welsh policies scored best, with three areas of policy scoring ‘good’. However, all nations score poorly in at least one area of policy. Policy relating to finding families for children scores best across the board.

Policy relating to FASD scores worst, with all nations assessed as ‘poor’, and adopter experiences also ‘poor’ in all nations, however Scotland does come across better than the other three nations in respect of their nationwide strategy.

There has been some progress since last year’s Barometer, including the extension of the English Adoption Support Fund (ASF) and the first experimental data collection on school exclusions in England, both of which were recommendations from last year’s report. In Wales there has been a £2.3m investment in adoption services.

Although respondents in Scotland were most likely to consider their social worker to be knowledgeable and understanding they were least likely to be satisfied with the range of support services on offer, perhaps reflecting the comparatively low proportion who were able to access enhanced support services. Currently all support services are expected to be provided by agencies, with the exception of the Big Lottery Funded Therapeutic and Education Support Services in Adoption (TESSA), hosted and provided by Adoption UK Scotland.

The Adoption Barometer calls on the governments in all four nations of the UK to provide detailed therapeutic assessments for every child before they arrive in their new family, with up to date support plans to be maintained into early adulthood.

For further information and interviews please contact Joe Lumley: 07584 669577 or [email protected]