Local authorities underestimate adoption breakdowns, study suggests

By Neil Puffett

| 10 April 2014

Adoption breakdowns are higher than official figures suggest with lack of post adoption support a major factor in placements being disrupted, a study commissioned by the Department for Education has concluded.

Children who were younger when they were adopted were less likely to become disruptive. Picture: Morguefile

The research by the University of Bristol, that involved analysis of local authority records as well as interviews with nearly 400 adoptive parents, is thought to be the first to assess the reasons for adoptions breaking down.

The local authority data put the breakdown rate at 3.4 per cent over a 12-year period, but the report said this was likely to be an underestimate. The survey of adoptive parents found that around nine per cent of adoption placements break down before the child reaches 18.

The report found that adoption placements are 10 times more likely to break down in the teenage years, compared with children under the age of four, with violence towards parents and siblings given as the main reason (in 80 per cent of cases) why adoptees had left home.

Children who were older at entry to care, who had experienced more moves while looked after, and who had waited longer to be placed with their adoptive families were more likely to have a disrupted placement.

Just more than a third of adoptive parents reported no or few difficulties, but about a quarter of families described major challenges in parenting children who had “multiple and overlapping difficulties”.

Where adoptions had broken down, parents noted that the move from home had been triggered by a combination of challenging behaviour, inadequate support, and feeling blamed for the child’s difficulties.

Parents cited examples of being beaten, suddenly attacked, threatened, intimidated, and controlled.

“Some had been prevented from leaving their homes and had their support networks undermined,” the report states.

“Many parents said they lived in fear. Child aggression and violence within the adoptive home raises important issues for post-adoption services and for children’s services more generally.”

The report found that when parents tried to get help and advice they were faced with numerous hurdles and barriers to accessing services.

These included not knowing which services were available, not being able to get through the “front door” because their child’s difficulties did not meet agency criteria, a failure to deliver services following assessments, and inappropriate services being offered.

The report makes a total of 41 recommendations including:

  • Calling for the development of an online national database of adoption support services and evidence-based practices to support adoptive families
  • Requiring adoption agencies to demonstrate that adopted children know about and have access to support services, as well as their adoptive parents
  • Develop interventions that focus on the child/parent relationship and whole family interventions, and for child and adolescent mental health services to be required to provide a comprehensive service

Hugh Thornbery, chief executive of Adoption UK, said it is crucial families receive the support they need if they face challenges.

“Many adopted children have experienced abuse and neglect and it is vital that support is available for their entire childhood and beyond, not just in the early years of an adoption placement.

“We are encouraged that this research heralds the start of a new era in our knowledge about adoption and will allow us to focus our vital work supporting adoptive families.

"Adoption UK is pleased to see that the overall disruption rate is low highlighting what we know from our members – that adoption has the potential to transform children's lives."

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