Children adopted out of care face a multitude of problems, but with the right support, adoptions can succeed. Investing £475 per month in adoptive placements saved up to £500 per week in a recent study of early adoptive placements.
More than 3,000 children are adopted from care in England every year. Many of them had a difficult start in life and their new families may face severe behaviour difficulties and attachment problems as well as additional needs that stem from long-term health conditions and learning disabilities. Where families are unable to cope with these challenges, adoptions can break down. Early on in the placement, when the child has settled into the family and problems become apparent, the risk of breakdown can be large, with recent studies finding rates between 5% and 11% (Selwyn et al. 2006; Farmer et al. 2010).
To help these families succeed, a legal framework for the provision of adoption support is set out in the Adoption and Children Act (2002) and the Adoption Support Services Regulations (2005). Families have the right to an assessment of their support needs – but the provision of support is at the discretion of Local Authorities, resulting in variations in the levels of support provided in practice (Select Committee on Adoption Legislation 2013).
Research in this area is notoriously difficult, so little is known about the type of services used early on in the placement. Our study was part of a larger research project looking at family finding and matching in adoption services (Farmer et al. 2010). Nineteen adoptive parents reported their use of services during the first six months after a child was placed with them (Bonin et al. 2013).
The children in our study were quite young when they were placed with their families (average age 23 months), and at the time few experienced acute problems. Core support was provided by Social Services Departments (SSD), through social workers or adoption workers. Adopters would have appreciated more or better support from SSD, with needs ranging from better communication and more information to parenting advice and general reassurance in challenging situations with the child. Another issue raised was the (lack of) availability of specialist services, where NHS waiting lists were long and SSD were reluctant to facilitate contact for the adoptive families.
Despite these problems, six months into the placement, none of the placements were considered at risk of breakdown. Having a stable placement is in itself valuable for a child. In addition, the total monthly cost of supporting these placements, including services and financial support, was £475 per month (2007/08 prices), while Local Authority foster care costs on average over £500 per week (Curtis 2008). Supporting adoptive placements adequately can therefore provide a stable placement for children – and likely provide them with better chances in life than staying in care would – while at the same time reducing public sector costs.
The research and its findings are explained further in Bonin E, Beecham J, Dance C, Farmer E (2013) Support for adoption placements: The first six months, British Journal of Social Work, Published online 28 February 2013.
For further information please contact Eva-Maria Bonin
Curtis L (2008) Unit Costs of Health and Social Care 2008, Personal Social Services Research Unit, University of Kent, Canterbury.
Farmer E, Dance C, et al. (2010) An Investigation of Family Finding and Matching in Adoption. Report to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, University of Bristol and the Universities of Bedfordshire and Kent.
Select Committee on Adoption Legislation (2013) Second Report. Adoption: Post-Legislative Scrutiny, House of Lords, London.
Selwyn J, Sturgess W, et al. (2006) Costs and Outcomes of Non-Infant Adoption, British Association for Adoption and Fostering, London.