Oct 31 2010 7:36PM
The first post of Adoption UK's Chief Executive's blog, Jonathan Pearce talks about the ways and means, and the realities and perceptions, of recruiting and supporting adoptive parents.
National Adoption Week starts here ...
What finer time to start a blog than on the eve of this year’s National Adoption Week. The Week always offers a great opportunity to highlight the importance of adoption to the thousands of children in the care system each year who benefit from adoptive placements in stable, secure and loving adoptive homes. As such, the Week invariably focuses on trying to raise awareness among the general public about those children’s needs and encouraging people to come forward to adopt – after all, there are thousands of children in the system waiting to be placed for adoption.
Yet, like all things, if we look behind the main media messages, we might see a more complicated picture. Is it really true that we need all those adoptive parents? After all, many people tell Adoption UK that they want to adopt, but can’t get their local adoption agencies to accept their interest or applications, let alone approve them as suitable to adopt. Sometimes this might be for good reason – perhaps the person with the interest has entirely misconceived notions about what adoption is all about, believes the adoption service to be a service for parents’ needs, rather than children’s needs, and/or has an issue or issues that will make a successful adoption application highly unlikely, even where consideration has been given to overcoming the potential obstacles. The reality is that not everyone will be suitable to be an adoptive parent.
But not everyone can be like that surely? Or is there not the case for taking some people on a journey of understanding and development towards a fuller understanding of what adoption and adoptive parenting is about? There are some who are interested in adopting who are told that their agency doesn’t need any more adopters at the moment, or their profile doesn’t fit the children in the agency’s care (and sometimes because of a mismatch of ethnicity). In some cases, the potential adopters simply don’t get a response at all, whether positive or negative. In those cases, whatever the reasons behind the lack of response, it can only be assumed that recruitment of adoptive parents is not a priority within those agencies.
This is not to say that we don’t need to recruit adopters and we shouldn’t take anything away from the many agencies that carry out their work, including the recruitment of adopters, to very high standards. It does, however, call into question the national strategy and approach to adoption. Recruiting adopters needs to be a national priority –there’s no doubt there. You only have to look at the national statistics for children in care to see that (see http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SFR/s000960/sfr27-2010v2.pdf for the latest England figures to 31 March 2010, which also include links to comparable statistics for the other UK nations). Implementing that national priority locally via local authorities that are allowed to exercise their own local discretion, though, inevitably leads to the priority being diluted, due to all the variables that can come into play as the message filters down to each region and locality. No more so than when you consider we’re talking about 250 or so adoption agencies (whether local authority or voluntary) in the UK which are involved in the roughly 3,700 adoption orders for children from care that are granted each year in the UK.
When these issues are raised with agencies, there can be a collective denial that anything is wrong with the system – the wrong sort of people are expressing an interest in adoption, and agencies know best – a simplistic response to a varying and complicated situation. Despite this, the fact remains that many prospective adopters are assessed as suitable to adopt, but then wait a long time for children to be placed with them – sometimes no children are ever placed. It’s a fact that voluntary adoption agencies have many approved adoptive parents “on their books”, but local authority agencies are reluctant to use them, because they will incur costs and fees through working with voluntary adoption agencies (known as the interagency fee). It’s also a fact that nearly 1,500 adopters each year are referred to the National Adoption Register for England and Wales (see the Register’s Annual Report for 2008/09 at http://www.adoptionregister.org.uk/files/annualreport08.pdf), because a local match cannot be found for those adopters. The Register will match children with roughly 150 to 200 of those parents each year, and some adopters will have children placed with them from elsewhere. Still, there will be many parents who will wait and wait – and at what cost to children in care and to the parents who so desperately want to parent? Of course, it’s not that simple, and many point to the fact that there is a mismatch between the types of children that prospective parents want (the starting point being as young and as healthy as possible) and the children that are in the care system (often traumatised by abuse and neglect, with particular special needs, older, with a range of mixed ethnicities, and regularly in sibling groups). Even so, the Adoption Register already says that many agencies limit the potential families for their children through an over-reliance on the need for two-parent families and a belief that a child is “hard to place” simply because they are from a black and minority ethnic background. Yet, we already know that the recruitment processes are good, and that the right adopters are being recruited. Don’t we?
Adoption UK survey
As a way of finding out more about current recruitment and assessment and preparation practices, Adoption UK is carrying out a survey. If you’ve got current or recent experience of being interested in adoption, applying to adopt and/or being approved as suitable to adopt, then why not complete our online survey at http://www.adoptionuk.org/information/100172/223730/surveys/.While the mismatch between prospective adopters’ needs and the needs of children in care is likely to play a part, it’s facile to think that everything can be laid at the door of the “mismatch”. There will always be some sort of “mismatch”, as most people, given a choice, will endeavour to increase their chances of adopting as healthy and “undamaged” a child as possible, although at the same time, for some adopters it is true, altruism plays a role, to a greater or lesser extent, in the decision to adopt. Then again, just how important is the match between parents and children. In contemporary adoption practice in the UK, a great deal of weight is attached to good linking and matching, without there being much real evidence around about what makes a good match and the effectiveness of current matching practices. A good recent assessment of the pros and cons of these practices can be found in the government-funded Adoption Research Initiative’s study by Farmer and Dance (June 2010) from Bristol University (see http://www.education.gov.uk/research/programmeofresearch/projectinformation.cfm?projectId=14652&type=5&resultspage=1). In contrast, however, the longitudinal study on the experiences of the English Romanian adoptees who were adopted from severely deprived backgrounds in institutional care in the 1990s reveals remarkably successful adoptions with little or no consideration given to good matching, other than parents having the desire to offer homes to deprived children without families (see the 2010 BAAF book on the study for more information).
What needs to change
The real facts of any mismatch might be that it’s as much a perception of the adoption system itself as a reality. Whatever the reality, some key points remain: if recruiting adoptive parents is a national priority, then we have to deal with it nationally, rather than through a vast array of local approaches that don’t deliver the required national result (ie, parents for abused and neglected children), and risk losing potential adopters. Adoption UK has previously recommended a central recruitment agency or clearing service to coordinate this work, ensuring that the right messages are provided about adoption and giving potential adopters somewhere to go to have their initial interest assessed, particularly where they can’t get through any of the other “front doors”. It’s never been needed more.
Secondly, adoption support is vital if more children are to be placed successfully. There’s no point recruiting adopters and placing abused and neglected children with them if we don’t recognise the needs many of those children will have, be they social, emotional, educational, health, therapeutic or developmental needs – all of which need specialist help and services. Many adoptions don’t happen because there is no commitment to a high quality, often expensive, therapeutic support package – although, perversely, if the child remains looked after in the care system, it’s more likely that they will receive some or all of those services (but without the advantage of a permanent family).So, what does this mean for National Adoption Week. Well, we do need to recruit adopters, but we need to change the way we do it and we need to make adoption support services for those children a reality. If we don’t change the ways things work, then we’ll get what we’ve always had.