ADOPTION POLICY REVIEW GROUP -REPORT PHASE I
THE PROVISION OF POST- ADOPTION SUPPORT SERVICES FOR FAMILIES
- Local authorities have a duty to provide counselling and assistance to adopted children and adopters, after placement and adoption. There is also a duty to provide counselling to others affected by adoption, including birth relatives. The duty is on the local authority where the individual lives and is on the whole local authority, not just the adoption agency.
- The sub-group ( see Annex 10) considered post-adoption services from the perspective of the three parties in adoption - adoptees, birth families and adopters. They considered 5 questions relating to current services and identified principles on which future services should be based. There are a number of recommendations consistent with these principles.
Adoptees - Children, Young People and Adults Who Are Adopted
- Adoption support does not begin with the granting of an adoption order. The way in which children and families are prepared for their adoption sets the tone for expectations thereafter. For the adopted child issues will arise or re-emerge at different developmental stages and at different stages of placement. For example, when the depth of a child's unmet needs becomes apparent or when adoptees wish to search for their birth family members, or when changes to contact arrangements need to be considered.
- Services for adoptees seeking information about their origins are usually provided to children and young people aged around 12 or over or, when children are younger, in consultation with their adopted parents. In some cases, the practice regarding the disclosure of records to adoptees varies. The practice of sending written information to an adopted person without personal contact is not seen as helpful.
- Adoptees should have access to confidential counselling and advice services. The sharing of information requires skilled approaches particularly with regard to young people. For example, in responding to approaches from birth family members of young people aged 16 & 17, Barnardo's Scottish Adoption Advice Service uses a degree of discretion. For those under 16, the Service shares information with adopters. It is recognised that some adopted young people do not wish to respond to initiatives from birth families.
- Children, young people and adults who are adopted need access to good quality, general information about adoption and to readily available services that offer more specific advice. There are models of good practice, for example BAAF produces a range of helpful information leaflets and adopted persons can make use of Talk Adoption which is a unique national free and confidential helpline for those who want to talk about anything to do with adoption.
- As contact between children and young people who are adopted and those who were important to them prior to their adoption is increasingly maintained, either directly or indirectly, post-adoption support services must develop to meet the challenges this presents.
- Adopters report that the provision of post-adoption support services is variable and is often dependent on where people live.
- The knowledge and skills of professionals working in post-adoption support is also seen as variable. For example, mediation skills, often valuable when placements run into difficulties, are not always available.
- At times the perspective of adopters is not seen to be adequately taken into account in the planning of contact between the adopted child and birth family members, whether direct or indirect. Planning of contact is seen as inconsistent. For example, it is often not clear who will be responsible for initiating contact links or who will be available pre- and post-contact. The provision of letter box contact (or other forms of indirect contact) is a skilled task
- A significant number of adoptive parents experience difficulties in helping their children to make secure attachment relationships throughout their childhood. These families are likely to need more extensive post-adoption services in order to support the placement whether these services be focused particularly on the whole family, on supporting the adoptive parents, or on direct work with the children.
- Adoptive families very much value advice beyond the focus on 'what went wrong', to the development of practical strategies which are compatible with families' own style and culture. This implies both knowledge and skill in the adoption field, beyond social work practice, to include professionals working in the areas of mental and physical health, education and other services. For example, services need to acknowledge the feelings of guilt experienced by some adoptive parents when there are problems at any stage in the adopted child's upbringing. There is a need to incorporate the adopter's perspective even in work with adult adoptees.
- Adoption leave from employment is seen as valuable. A period of leave allows the household to focus on the transitions involved in the establishment of a new set of relationships during the crucial early months of placement.
- In the past, birth parents mostly relinquished their babies voluntarily. Now more complex issues are common, including those of mental health problems, substance abuse and the neglect and abuse of children. Many birth families remain opposed to the adoption plan for their child. This has implications for the notion of establishing birth parents' rights in legislation to contact with their adopted child.
- Birth parent groups emphasise that services are inconsistent and variable and dependent on where they live.
- Birth parents can benefit from the help of their own support worker from the point that an adoption plan is agreed. Resources should remain on offer to birth parents, beyond the placement of their child for adoption. For example, support to promote effective, direct and indirect contact.
- The group does not recommend that there should be any universal method of contacting adoptees as a matter of course when birth families seek information or contact, but rather that good quality information should be readily available in the community.
- One birth parents' support group was not in favour of birth parents having a new right to initiate contact. They felt strongly that adoptees should be given information about the birth family's interest but that the initiative should remain with the adoptee.
Five key questions
1. Should there be national standards for post-adoption services?
- National standards for post-adoption services for children, birth families and adoptive parents are seen as necessary.
- There is particular recognition of the value of a post-adoption support agreement between the agency placing the child and the parties involved.
- Voluntary agencies throughout the country provide a range of post-adoption support services on behalf of local authorities.
- Expert help and support around contact is often provided by voluntary agencies. For example, letterbox contact requires considerable input from staff and is a key professional role.
- Birth family members may need to be supported and encouraged to make use of services. Many of these services are provided in specific areas by the voluntary sector. Equitable provision across Scotland is likely to require increased levels of expenditure.
- The extension of post-adoption services has resource implications for social work, health and education services.
- Some local authorities have developed service level agreements with voluntary agencies. This may be a starting point for extending services around the country.
- Adoption allowances are seen as a key component of post-adoption support. There is support for a uniform system across Scotland and for a payment of allowances without means testing.
- There is information on models of current good practice. These should be harnessed in the development of future provision.
- There are strong arguments for the accreditation of professionals working in the area of adoption.
- Information currently available from adopters' support groups and from the Pilot Post-Placement Support Project run by BAAF suggests that services around the country, both from social work and other agencies, are inconsistent in terms of availability and quality.
- Surveys involving adopters, birth parents and adoptees would help to clarify where there are gaps in provision and highlight models of good practice.
5. Are there grounds for re-enforcing the statutory duty to provide post-adoption support in order to give the existing legal position more bite?
Half the local authorities were surveyed and supported this . There were 3 caveats:
- such a duty should extend to other agencies, and the fact that the duty already extends to the whole authority must be emphasised and publicised.
- additional funding should be made available to service providers.
- staff in all relevant agencies must be able to develop the skills required.
The sub-group identified key principles for the provision of post-adoption support that should form the basis of future services. These principles are:
- Knowledge of the needs of adopted children and their families is a necessary basis for effective post-adoption practice.
- Effective access to experienced professionals who are knowledgeable about adoption is a vital part of post-adoption services for all parties.
- Post-adoption support services should be equitable and not dependent on where parties live.
- The range of post-adoption services available should reflect the requirements of all parties in adoption emerging at different life stages and pay attention also to health, education and housing needs.
- If contact between the parties is in the interests of the child, relevant support services should be available
- There should be recognition of the importance of counselling and mediation services at different points in the process for all parties.
- Services provided at point of disruption of adoptive placements need to be supportive and non-blaming.
- Services available post-adoption should be family-based in recognition of the context in which adoptees are living. This does not deny the need of parties to information and appropriate individual services.
- Services should be delivered on the understanding that adoption is of life-long significance, requiring skilled responses and interventions at all stages.
- Comprehensive, multi-agency post-adoption support services need to be promoted actively.
- Expertise in the area of adoption is a vital consideration but the availability of such expertise around the country is variable. Adoption professionals working in the area of post-adoption support should be fully trained and accredited.
- The Scottish Executive should consider drawing up national standards for post-adoption services for adoptees, birth families and adoptive parents.
- Adoption support services should be explicitly available to all parties. Proposals for services should be set out in local authorities' Children's Services Plans, as part of their adoption services. This duty should be emphasised to authorities and publicised.
- The agency placing the child and the parties involved should draw up a post-adoption support agreement detailing what services are available or will be offered to meet the identified needs of all parties.
- Some local authorities have developed service level agreements with voluntary agencies to extend the range of services for all parties. All local authorities should consider the benefits of partnerships between local authorities and voluntary agencies to deliver post-adoption support services.
- Additional resources should be allocated to current services offering confidential advice to young people including those under 16 years of age, to ensure that adoptees are aware of services and that those providing them have adequate knowledge and skills.
- It is proposed that an Adoption Support Network for Scotland be established. This could be delivered through a consortium of all Scottish adoption agencies including the 32 local authorities.
The network could provide
- information on adoption for all parties
- dissemination of best practice, literature and research
- contact details for all parties about local information on support services
- training for professionals in post-adoption work
- a network of experienced adopters
- a contact point for professionals experienced in adoption available to agencies without dedicated adoption specialists
- a consultancy phone line for professionals.
- additional specialist services such as adoption clinics for professionals and family members which could have a multi-disciplinary composition.