More adoption contact could improve outcomes

Derren Hayes
Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A review has concluded that current arrangements around adoption contact are not meeting the needs of birth families and adopted children.

The finding has prompted the British Association of Social Workers, which commissioned the review, to call for new legislation that makes it easier for contact to take place, while the report's lead author says improving social work practice is the answer. Regardless of the method pursued, there are strong arguments for change (see Analysis).

A key part of the problem is the perception - cultivated by policy makers over many years - that only adoption can provide children with the permanence they need. It is a perception borne of the view that a "clean break" from the past is best, but for some children not retaining birth family contact may actually be damaging. The review heard from adult adoptees who had spent many years searching for answers and may never feel at peace until they understand where they come from and the context in which they were parted from birth families.

For some children, contact of any sort would be inappropriate or undesirable. However, that does not mean the system should not promote and encourage contact wherever it is possible.

Official figures show there have been significant falls in adoption placement orders, completed adoptions and the number of children identified for adoption since 2013. Meanwhile, analysis published by CYP Now in February suggests adoption breakdowns are rising. The factors behind these trends are complex, but taken together it suggests the adoption system is not working well. It could also explain why the number of prospective adopters coming forward has fallen. The time may now be right to undertake a comprehensive review of adoption practice and legislation, including the role played by contact. It could consider whether the Northern Ireland system - where judges can recommend how much contact should take place - would work in other parts of the UK.

Such an approach would be challenging for professionals to manage and would require significant additional resources, but the government is currently spending £30m a year on post-adoption support, much of which pays for therapy for children to deal with the trauma of separation from birth families and helping them make sense of who they are.

An improved approach to contact - one that places birth families into the wider context of an adopted child's life-long relationships - may help alleviate some of this.

Derren Hayes is editor of Children & Young People Now

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