Exclusive: Adoption breakdowns on the rise

The number of adoptions that break down, resulting in a child being removed from a placement, have risen in recent years, despite government attempts to tackle the issue, an investigation by CYP Now has found.

Figures obtained following a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to all English local authorities indicates that since 2012, across all council areas, there have been as many as 679 breakdowns within the first year of a placement.

During the same period there have been 528 breakdowns after the placement becomes official - making a total of 1,207 breakdowns over the five-year period.

The statistics show that the number of breakdowns has been rising since 2012/13, peaking in 2015/16.

Responses provided to CYP Now by the 65 councils that provided full data and four that provided partial data reveal that they recorded a total of 42 breakdowns of initial placements - technically known as disruptions - in 2012/13, rising to 85 in 2015/16, before dropping slightly to 68 in 2016/17.

Extrapolated across all 152 local authorities, this equates to 93 breakdowns in 2012/13, rising to 187 in 2015/16 and 150 in 2016/17.

Meanwhile, the number of breakdowns occurring after an initial placement has been finalised by a judge issuing an adoption order - which makes the adoption permanent - has also risen.

Responses provided by the 50 councils that supplied full data and four councils that supplied partial data show that there were 31 breakdowns in 2012/13, rising to 57 in 2015/16, and 47 in 2016/17.

Extrapolated across all 152 local authorities, this equates to 87 breakdowns in 2012/13, rising to 160 in 2015/16 and 132 in 2016/17.

The true figure for placement breakdowns is likely be higher than the responses to CYP Now show because many councils said they stopped monitoring adopted children three years after their adoption.

Others said that they would only be aware of an adoption breaking down if the family was still living in their local authority area at the time.

The rises have occurred despite the introduction in May 2015 of a government fund designed to pay for therapeutic services and other support for adopted children to reduce numbers of breakdowns.

A total of £52m has been spent through the fund since it launched, but a report by the Department for Education in August 2017 found demand for support was so high that some therapeutic services were struggling to keep up.

Andy Elvin, chief executive of The Adolescent and Children's Trust said that, taking both pre- and post-order disruptions into account "it appears adoptive placements, in their broadest sense, break down more often than received wisdom suggests".

He added that the sector needs to start recording and publishing the number of breakdowns as a whole, as it is the kind of information that could potentially influence the decisions of councils, adoption panels and judges, and inform practice.

"We need much better detail on both adoptive and special guardianship orders (SGO) breakdown rates, and these findings seem to be beginning to give us a glimpse of this," he said.

Sue Armstrong-Brown, chief executive of Adoption UK said the findings broadly mirror the accepted reality - that many families are experiencing serious challenges.

"These children need particular parenting techniques and access to therapy to overcome early childhood trauma," she said.

"This is why timely and appropriate post-adoption support is so crucial."

John Simmonds, director of policy, research and development, CoramBAAF, said there should be more robust requirements from the DfE about recording and collecting data.

For full analysis of the figures, click here.

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