We developed and conducted a survey to better understand about the stress factors for adoptive parents and special guardians, and consider what alleviates stress and improves their health and wellbeing.
The data was collected during January 2018 (1st -31st Jan) and participants/respondents were recruited by word of mouth, our website, and various social media platforms. Confidentiality is of utmost importance to us, as is conducting ethical research, and an ethics and confidentiality statement for the survey can be accessed here.
Here we present early findings in relation to the views and experiences of the Adoption Support Fund on the part of Adopters and Special Guardians. No formal policy evaluation of this fund has been done and we hope this report will be helpful to policy makers and government.
Further more comprehensive reports of survey data will be forthcoming.
We began representing the interests of Special Guardians at the end of October 2017, and realise, from the survey response rates that we needed to change the name of our group to show solidarity, support and unity with Special Guardians.
Profile of survey respondents
- We had 403 responses to our survey and of these respondents, 389 were eligible. 309 are adopters (79%) and 83 are Special Guardians (21%). 3 of the survey respondents are both adopters and special guardians (SGs)
- Of the special guardians two thirds (67%) are grandparents
- 92% of all respondents live in England, 5.6% in Wales and 2.7% from Scotland. There are no responses from Northern Ireland.
- Just over a fifth (22%) of all respondent are single parent/ carers. One fifth (20%) of adopters in the survey are single parents and this rises for SGs where 30% are single carers.
- 95% of all respondents are female
- 80% of all survey respondents are 40+ years of age
- The age range of SGs tends to be older than Adopters where 63% are 50+ whereas for adopters only 38% are 50+
- 86% (333) of respondents identified as white British and the next largest group identified as white European (4%, 15). Other ethnicities were poorly represented in our survey population. We did not ask about ethnicity of children. This was an oversight on our part.
- In terms of household income adopters were evenly distributed across the income ranges we asked about (10-20k; 20-30k;30-40k; 40-50k; 50-60k; 60+k), but Special Guardians tended to be clustered across the lower ranges with 80% having an annual household income of less than £30K.
- Over half of survey respondents have given up work all together to care for their children (51%). The rate for SGs is higher, almost two third (63%) and for adopters just less than half (48%).
- Adopters in the survey are more likely than Special Guardians to have changed to a less paid/ less stressful job (14% against 5%).
- Just less than half all respondents struggle financially as a result of caring for children (46%). The rate is higher for Special Guardianss (57%).
- Almost three quarters of all survey respondents get no respite at all (74%), there is little variance between the two groups.
Profile of the children we parent and care for
- Together, our respondents cared for/parented/provided permanence for more than 600 adopted and special guardian children ranging from newborns to adults – 80 of the respondent’s children were 18+
- Of these children 16 are living away from their family under Section 20, with only one of these a special guardian child, and six are separated from their adoptive parents under Section 31 care Orders, all of these were adopted.
- Three of the respondent’s children were homeless/sleeping rough, one was in prison and one had died of drug addiction – these were all adopted children.
- Ten young adults were at university – these were all adopted children
- Attachment disorders and patterns and anxiety are common diagnoses among adopted and SGO children with almost four in five having and attachment diagnosis and almost two-thirds with anxiety diagnosis.
- Attachment disorder diagnosis/ patterns are reported at the same level for adopted and SG children. Reports of anxiety are slightly higher in SG children (57% against 62%)
- A diagnosis of Complex Trauma/Developmental Trauma and/or PTSD is more common among adopted children. Almost two in five (56%) of adopted children with a diagnosis have some kind of trauma diagnosis and for SG children almost a third (32%) have a trauma diagnosis.
- Special Guardian children are more likely to have a FAS (Foetal Alcohol Syndrome) or (ARND), Alcohol Related Neurological Disorder diagnosis than adopted children: 29% compared with 19%.
- Autistic Spectrum Disorder diagnosis is reported in 25% and 24% of all adopted and Special Guardian children respectively.
- Almost a third of children with a diagnosis have an ADHD diagnosis (31%), the rate is only slightly less for SGO children (29%, compared with 32%)
- Percentages of children receiving Disability Living Allowance/Personal Independence Payment, or with applications pending, were broadly similar, at 47% for SGs and 50% for adopters with 347 respondents answering this question
Views and Experiences about the Adoption Support Fund
- Only 9% of Special Guardians had accessed the Adoption Support Fund compared with 52% of Adopters (Table 1)
- Approximately 10% of respondents considered the Adoption Support Fund sufficient to meet the needs of their child and family, whilst 50% considered it inadequate. (Table 1)
- 73% of Special Guardians said they did not know whether the fund was sufficient. (Table 1)
- Experiences of accessing the ASF were mixed in terms of satisfaction ratings (Table 2)
|Is ASF Sufficient for your Child and Family’s Needs?|
|Experience of accessing Adoption Support Fund|
|Extremely positive||Good||Acceptable||Dissatisfied||Extremely Dissatisfied||Total Number|
Match Funding by Local Authorities with the Adoption Support Fund
315 respondents answered a question on match funding with 59 being Special Guardians.
- Most of our respondents (71%) say they do not know if the Local Authority match funds. Only 14 (4.4%), of respondents say their Local Authority does match fund.
113 respondents commented about the Adoption Support Fund in response to the question about the £5k limit being sufficient to meet the needs of their child and family. Several respondents were unequivocally positive about the Fund, but many were concerned that the limit would not be sufficient, and that there was a lack of evidence for therapies. One respondent below describes how therapy providers avoid fully engaging her daughter because the funding will run out:
Accessed therapeutic life story work which has been really useful, excellent independent worker
It’s a fantastic provision but….what thought is given to the evidence base of therapies available? How is that being collected since the fund was made available? Very slow process which means the help can’t be joined up with existing health care provision (which I have had to fight to access also, (in particular OT) and too short term for my child’s needs. A sense that ‘match funding’ unlikely to be successful. Lack of expertise within post adoption social work with regards to effective therapies? No consideration of the impact on children with attachment problems to the short term nature of the relationships they make with therapists via ASF. Good therapists very aware of this and therefore cautious in how they deliver the therapy leading me to question the validity of the therapy? (We are getting a watered down version of evidence based therapy because my daughters needs are complex and therapists cautious to fully engage her for fear of implications when the money runs out).
My daughter accessed ASF before the limit was in place and received about £15k which has helped her considerably. My son’s needs will not be met by the £5k limit.
At the moment yes but may not be longer term
Funding just secured. My son is having an attachment and sensory assessment next week with the funding, I don’t know whether it will provide payment for any necessary treatment at this stage.
My daughter accessed the ASF before the limit was in place and received about £15k which has helped her considerably. My son’s needs will not be met by the £5k limit.
There were a number of respondents that commented the application process was lengthy and distressing:
We had to fight for over a year to get assessments and now the LA are refusing to match fund the therapy so we can’t access it. I now have a solicitor!
The LA conducted an assessment that we did not consent to and submitted this without our knowledge. This was accepted by Mott MacDonald instead of an assessment done for court. It was inaccurate and caused hurt and offence to the degree that I felt the police should be informed – and I informed them, as well as our MP. There was a Supervision Order in place at the time and this was discharged by the court before it ran out when the LA did not meet statutory obligations in regards to Pathway Planning…. £5k is ridiculous – it cost £5k PER WEEK to keep my son in care – against his wishes. Our LA do not match fund at all I have been told……..The police have been to see the DCS but said there was nothing ‘criminal’ just distorted reports
Has been an appalling experience…..Recently, we have experienced appalling delay, lack of decision making and grip. LA trying to coerce us to accepting the support they provide – parenting training – using ASF to fund their own services rather than enabling us to access support we identified would be helpful. Taken us a year of meetings and having to contact DCS to access what we asked for – and this is minimal support for v complex child. After years of asking – we are finally accessing a specialist assessment.LA worried that the care plan following on from this will be more than £5k – already talking about making priorities. We are saving them thousands – parenting our son.
Applied in March, got told in November we are successful by social worker, silk waiting in January for paperwork to be able to access anything. Almost a year wait is ridiculous.
I applied for ASF funding 2 years ago to pay for play therapy for child 1, but after 15 months slow assessment, we were turned down. No reason was given.
Some respondents spoke of it being a drain on the public purse when therapy was not provided and commented that returns to care for a child might have been prevented. Providing ASF support was considered to have saved parents from a breakdown:
I paid for an assessment at Family Futures which outlined a three year intensive therapy programme for me and my son when he was aged 7. It would have cost &73,000 and the LA refused to pay. In the end they paid up to £750,000 for the special school where he recieve no therapy or healing.
We got funding for DDP but part of whole plan was for us to have respite. LA refused. things got worse and they eventually took her into care on section 20 but LA were very aggressive to us in their attitude and told daughter untrue things which meant she wouldn’t speak to us for months so DDP didn’t really get started
It saved us from breakdown and by limiting it you are risking individuals not getting the support they actually need costing more money in the future
Several respondents reported being too worn down by daily struggles to apply
If I had more emotional energy I would make further use of the fund. That we don’t use it more does not mean we don’t need more support, it is just that I am utterly worn out from holding things together day to day.
Respondents were disappointed about the lack of support for aspects of adoption that were not covered by the fund, with no other provision either:
My children, after 8 years, have recently made contact with an older birth sibling who is still in care. It would be lovely to access funding for them to spend time together, perhaps in a residential setting, with therapeutic support.
A number of respondents were disappointed that the fund was not available in Scotland and Wales
No ASF in Scotland – any amount would be good 🙂
Eight Special Guardians reported not knowing of the funds existence at all and two Special Guardians spoke of their wariness and inability to trust social care and adoption social workers. The reasons for this are explained in this quote, where the respondent emphatically suggests a renaming of the fund to make it clear it is for Special Guardians:
I find it very difficult – as a Special Guardian who, in common with many other SGO holders, has had a very negative family experience of the “permanency” team within Children’s Services – that it is the local authority adoption team who are the gatekeepers for this support fund. It is easy for the Government to decree that children who are ex-LAC and now under SGOs are now able to access this fund. However the practicality is that many, possibly most, SGO holders will have had horrendous experiences – often in court and at huge personal financial and emotional cost – with the very social workers and their managers who hold the key to the door to therapeutic support. This reality will no doubt deny access to many many children in need. Many families have fought local authorities to prevent their children being adopted out of the family – so it is highly inappropriate to require them to contact the authority’s adoption team to access therapeutic support for their child. We have asked about the possibility of accessing the Fund for filial therapy for our child – via his Social Worker – and, four months later – haven’t even had a response to the basic question. We are wondering if the slow response is a result of us currently having a formal complaint in to the local authority (the second complaint – the first being found in our favour), and have also just informed the authority that we intend to report the social worker who assessed us for fostering/special guardianship to the HCPC for unacceptable practice. Adoption teams in local authorities tend to be small and social workers tend to be close and very supportive of each other. Families who have fought colleagues in court – or are perceived to have caused colleagues and friends distress – may well be resented. And families will feel that they will be judged harshly if they seek help – and that there may well be other consequences to seeking support (the previously-experienced horror of child protection investigations may well be a great fear). The last people they will want to disclose difficulties to is the team who wanted the child to be adopted anyway. The Government needs to be lobbied on this as a matter of urgency – there needs to be another “way in” to the Fund (which also needs to be re-named) other than through local authority adoption teams.
There were concerns raised that Local Authorities were using the funding to pay for statutory services and not reunifying children living apart from families:
The cap is too low, and LAs are using it for everything, including to pay for things they are obliged to pay for under post adoption support
Application for £19,000 prepared while S20 but never submitted as social worker. unilaterally decided there was no plan for rehabilitation.
The price of assessments was considered too high and seen to benefit organisations, but the fund did allow access to these costly assessments
However organisations are using the rules to their advantage – it does not cost £2500 to assess a child but that is what they charge the LA. It’s a disgrace.
We accessed 7.5k to have a family assessment at the ……………….
Recommendations in the light of findings
- We recommend that the Adoption Support Fund is renamed the Special Guardian and Adoption Support Fund as soon as possible and the fund is actively promoted to Special Guardians.
- We recommend formal policy evaluation of the Fund to consider if it is addressing unmet need, which should include a health economics study to investigate potential resource savings through increasing the fund.
- We recommend that the Fund is accessible to all adopted and special guardian children and that it is used to support relationships with family if children re-enter care with models of reunification developed that are appropriate and respectful – not based on ‘risk reduction’.
- We recommend respite is available through the Fund. This should be creatively thought about and might include mentoring for adolescents who can become socially isolated because of trauma and anxiety issues.
- We recommend that a ‘practice based evidence’ outcome measure is developed that focusses on the outcomes that are important to children and families. We would like to help develop this.
- We recommend that there is better transparency about Local Authority expenditure on adopted and special guardian children – Transparency is important to build trust.
- We recommend that court assessments are given priority over Local Authority assessments and that independent assessments are done for Special Guardians and adopters that have experienced an adversarial rather than a supportive approach to service provision.
- We recommend statutory guidance about length of time to access the Fund.
- We recommend the Fund should always be available immediately if a family is in crisis or there are the following problems: Grooming; Child to Parent Violence; Risk of Sexual Harm/Problems stemming from a child’s history of sexual abuse; Risk of Suicide. These are grave risks for the family to cope with and delays will be potentially extremely harmful.
Finally, we welcome any donations, no matter how small, to help with our survey costs. This link takes you to our Just Giving page