Modern adoption is in crisis – make no mistake. Too many adopted children are ending up back in care because timely expert support was not provided – Adoption UK estimates this figure to be around 2k children per annum in its latest Barometer. To put this figure into perspective, there are around 4k adoption orders made each year. That is half the number of children who are adopted each year – eventually going back into care.
Special guardians are in the main parenting younger children than adoptive parents, which is why the key statistics for families with older adopted children (in the 16-25 year age group) are so important for the Department of Education to look at in the Adoption UK Barometer. They make bleak reading. Nearly half (48%) of respondents in this category said their family was experiencing severe challenges.
Our children’s vulnerabilities mean that serious 21st Century social problems are brought into the family by our older children such as drug and alcohol abuse, sexual exploitation and grooming, county lines trafficking, online bullying and abuse – along with our children being able to easily connect with their birth parents online – but little support for them or us, in this emotionally difficult scenario. It is worth remembering that birth parent contact was considered to be one of the highest sources of stress for special guardians in our Health and Wellbeing Survey (see Table 31).
There are also systemic problems with child safeguarding – when it comes to understanding that it is the child’s vulnerabilities and trauma fuelled behaviour that causes harm and puts family members at risk – not the other way round. We also don’t need assessments when we are in crisis – we need urgent support.
At the same time the present government seems more determined than ever to promote adoption: Edward Timpson MP explains, at the end of the Adoption Barometer launch event, how he wishes for us to extoll the joys of adoption to the British public on breakfast TV. His heart may be in the right place but his priorities are wrong when so many adoptees are ending up back in care.
When a child re-enters care, these cases often end up in the family courts where we find ourselves in a kafkaesque situation. In order to help our children, we must accept or even prove that we pose a risk of significant harm to them in harrowing care proceedings where we find ourselves hung out to dry by the professionals and organisation who were responsible for our family’s support. This makes no sense when all we seek and ask for is help for the child. The threshold of ‘beyond parental control’ is meaningless when the child is beyond anyone’s control due to trauma. Our families’ problems stem from abuse and neglect that occurred before we ever met the child – not from inadequate parenting.
It is also rare for there to be successful reunifications when a child leaves home prematurely – and the reasons for this need to be understood. From our perspective the professionals allocated to our child’s support in this situation may not appreciate adoption and special guardianship issues, and be unwilling to admit they are out of their depth.
It is a double blow for a child to go back into care from a second family and the costs to young person, the family and to wider society are incalculable (AUK Adoption Barometer, page 51). So we feel the priority of government should not be on adopter recruitment and getting children swiftly placed, as it is now, but on supporting families in crisis – and after children have left the family home prematurely. This support should only be provided by specialist experts who understand adoption and special guardianship issues.
The one thing that adopters and special guardians can provide a child with, which the state will always struggle to provide, is love. This love does not stop when our children are in trouble or when they leave home prematurely, for no fault of theirs or ours. So we would like to see the government’s adoption priorities shift away from recruitment and promoting adoption. We would like to see the emphasis put firmly onto helping us cope with the 21st Century problems that affect modern adoptive and special guardianship families – so our children are never cut off from the love we give them by state intervention and legal frameworks that seem to work against our children being supported to stay in relationship with us.