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The post adoption support issue

The need for post adoption support

Adopted children leaving care are considered as taking the best possible exit route, being lucky and on a track for an improved life. However, all of those children have gone through the painful process of being separated from their family (even if it is for their own good, it is still traumatic) and 70% of them experienced abuse or neglect (according to DfE's statistics for the year ending 31 March 2016). Consequently, many adopted children, if not all, have complex emotional, behavioural, and developmental needs arising for some time after adopted. 

Potential adoptive parents who genuinely want to provide a family to a child can be discouraged due to the fear that they might not know how to satisfy their adoptive child's complex needs. Having a structured and supportive post-adoption plan can increase potential adoptive parents' confidence as well as the number of people willing to adopt. 


Evidence, although scarce, consistently shows that post adoption support in England is definitely in need of improvement. Pennington (2012) revealed that adoptive parents, under the Adoption and Children Act 2002, were often not aware of their right to request an assessment for adoption support services, with 64% stating that they had not been informed of this entitlement. Moreover, Sturgess and Selwyn (2007) found that adopters' satisfaction with services is mixed and over half (58%) of adopters described feeling inadequately supported. 

A recent paper (Lushey C, Holmes L, McDermid S (2017) "Normalizing post adoption support for all." Child Fam Soc Work. 2017;1–9) explores post adoption support in England by using the results of a survey of 22 English LAs in 2011 and 11 in-depth interviews. The results showed that it is common for families to request an assessment at crisis point, i.e. when the adoption is at risk of breakdown and that parents are reluctant to ask for help because they think that they will be perceived as failures or they worry about protection issues. Consequently, the results showed a need for normalising support and promoting the idea that asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of a good adoptive parent. Another potential solution is to put in place systems of ongoing support throughout the adoption process, as it is already happening in some LAs. The results also reflect a lack of capacity in the adoption and post adoption teams, the need for specific training and a lack of specialist knowledge and expertise. 

To conclude

Evidence, although scarce and usually coming from small sample surveys, indicates that support is rarely continued post adoption. Those families that do require support often request it at crisis point, rather than when issues first emerge. If they do receive an assessment of need, identified needs cannot always be met due to resources, and English LAs are not required by law to provide support.

On the bright side, the increased Adoption Support Fund and the regionalisation of adoption agencies can contribute to addressing these issues. For this to be true, though, the first step is parents to be fully aware of what post adoption support is available for their family and not be reluctant to ask for help early on. 

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In the search for the right counterfactual for guardianship with kin

The best exit route for children in care is still far from being identified and universally agreed. Some argue that adoption is the best solution but what happens when adoption is not feasible? Apart from the long-term foster care, who has always been an option, although not a good one, another option is guardianship. Is guardianship better than other exit routes?

A recently published new article explores which counterfactual should be used for guardianship, for comparisons to be meaningful and robust. More particularly, Rolock and White (2017) examine two counterfactuals for guardianship as a permanent placement type:  adoption only and adoption or long-term foster care.  The results show that children with a guardianship arrangement have a higher risk of discontinuity than adopted children, but when the same children are compared to those who are either adopted or in long term foster care, then the proportion of discontinuity is the same. 

The article makes two important suggestions. Firstly, simply matching guardianship to adoption does not reflect the complete set of counterfactuals. Secondly, guardianship might not be the best option for a child if the child can be adopted, but it can be a potential solution for children in long-term foster care whose care givers are not planning to adopt. 

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Do care-leavers give birth to care-leavers?

What happens to children-looked-after when they leave care? Do they face further vulnerabilities? Is the vulnerability transferred to the next generation?

A new paper (Robert et al., 2017) shows that young people in and leaving state care are more likely than the general population to become parents at a young age. The paper used data from the Wales Adoption Study to show that 27% of birth mothers and 19% of birth fathers, whose children were placed for adoption, were themselves care- leavers. The results highlight the need for better information and preparation of children in state care for parenthood, as well as more support when they become parents. 

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Are unsubstantiated reports really unsubstantiated?

"Many children with unsubstantiated reports of child abuse and neglect repeatedly return to the child protection system, indicating that unsubstantiated reports may represent actual child maltreatment or risk for future maltreatment." 

A new study (Jedwab et al., 2017) from the University of Maryland shows that 81% of children with initially unsubstantiated reports were re-reported, of which almost two-thirds were substantiated. Children who were younger, non-white, and had caregivers with more depressive symptoms were are at increased risk of a substantiated re-report. 

The central message is that identifying re-reporting can prevent further maltreatment and risk of re-reporting.  This is extremely relevant to the social care services' assessment of whether children referred to them should be considered "In need" and receive services or not. During the year ending 31 March 2016, 138,700 referrals (DfE, 2016) were completed, in England, within 12 months of a previous referral. Consequently, although a small-sample study (378 children), it reports a message that is crucial and applicable to the UK social care policy. 

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