What obstacles exist for children that are looked after by Local Authorities in England in finding adoptive families?
The goal of providing stable and caring living situations for some children has proved difficult to achieve. This is particularly concerning because of the increasing numbers of children in out-of home care and because such a high percentage of these children are very young (Hogbacka, 2008). Children who have government as their parent, no matter how well-intentioned or necessary that arrangement is, are often damaged by it (Trupin et al., 1993). There are many problems concerning the local authorities in England regarding the child adoption (Nickman, 1996). One major issue concerning adoption is that it has been recognized that many adoptive parents would only want to accept infant/toddler children as opposed to older children. With regard to racial and ethnic background, “many parents desire to adopt a child who fits their own racial and ethnic background believing the child will better fit into the family and be exposed to appropriate ‘intended’ cultural values (Patricelli, 2007; Morrison, 2004). Regarding the age of the adopted child, the problem that is often faced by the families adopting older children are the challenge to master the developmental tasks (including that of individual psychological feelings of emotional separation, interdependence, closeness, self-autonomy and other responsibilities) of the biologically formed family (Pertman, 2000). The children with special needs may possess a variety of potentially disabling conditions including mental retardation, blindness or deafness, or neurological damage secondary to the birth mother’s use of drugs or alcohol during gestation, among others. Research on disabled children and their families generally has highlighted that services can be inadequate with high levels of unmet needs (Chamba et al., 1999; Beresford, 1995; Mitchell and Sloper, 2001; Audit Commission, 2003). Other problem associated with the child adoption is the preference of some adopting families for the closed adoption. Closed adoption may be unhelpful to birth family members who must come to terms with the loss of the child, a loss that is both ambiguous and disenfranchised (Neil et al., 2010). Numerous studies have found that adopted children are overrepresented in mental health settings (Brand and Brinich, 1999). In addition, the adopted children may have experienced abuse and neglect early in their lives which can later affect their subsequent development, resilience and their relationships and may mean they are ill-equipped to deal with any emotional stresses that contact may bring about (Selwyn, 2004; Rushton, 2009).
A qualitative study was performed in order to identify if the children in professional care faced challenges in finding adopting families and what the challenges were. Semi-structured interviews were performed in order to understand the problem from a deeper perspective and it was found that the race, gender and age, among others, of the children played an important role in their being able to find an adoptive family or not.
Introduction and Rationale
The importance of family life to a child cannot be overstated.It is the fundamental right of every child to belong to a family; this principle underpins the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which the United Kingdom ratified in 1991. Finding the perfect adoptive families and matching children with them are complex social work tasks which require a range of skills and a sound knowledge base. In UK, currently many political initiatives have been taken to promote the increased adoption as a solution to the care of children who cannot live with their birth families (Performance and Innovation Unit [PIU], 2000). The UK Government, following the Adoption and Children Act 2002, has issued practice guidance on making more detailed assessments of the needs of adoptive families in the interests of providing better support services and improving practice (Bentovim and Bingley Miller, 2004). The UK and the US lead the world in non-relative adoption (Department of Health [DoH], 2002). According to department of education, about 64,000 children and young people are looked after by Local Authorities in England. 27,800 children started to be looked after during the year ending 31 March 2010. This is an increase of 8 per cent from the year ending 31 March 2009 and 13 percent from the year ending 31 March 2006.Adoption offers a very definite form of permanence for looked after children who cannot go home. The term ‘looked after’ was introduced by the Children Act 1989 and refers to children who are subject to care orders and those who are voluntarily accommodated by a Local Authority (Rushton, 2003). The Local Authority must also take steps to promote appropriate personal relations and direct contact between the child and any person with parental responsibilities unless deemed not safe. The aim is to ensure that they have the opportunity of reaching their full potential from a safe and secure base (Rushton, 2003).
According to the 2011 report by the Department of Education, 3,200 looked after children were adopted during the year ending 31 March 2010. This represents a 4 percent decrease from the previous year’s figure of 3,300 and a 14 per cent decrease from the 2006 figure of 3,700. This decrease in the number of looked after children adopted in recent years follows a trend in decrease in the number of children placed for adoption. The number of looked after children placed for adoption decreased from 2,900 to 2,700 between 2008 and 2009. This number fell again in 2010 to 2,300. It is therefore likely that the number of looked after children adopted will continue to decrease in 2011 (Department of Education).
To enable an understanding in the increase of children becoming looked-after in contrast to the number that is placed for adoption, it is important to study the obstacles and how they impact on the adoption of children in care.
There are many important aspects of adoption which have changed and they include non-traditional arrangements such as transracial, single-parent, kinship, and gay adoptions; open communication with birth families is also now more likely (Grotevant and McRoy, 1997). Research shows that although the majority of adopted children and adolescents are well adjusted (Andresen, 1992), a minority has serious adjustment or learning problems, in higher rates than their non-adopted peers (Bimmel et al., 2003; Juffer and van Ijzendoorn, 2005; van Ijzendoorn et al., 2005). Adoptive parents have the difficult task of disclosing and discussing the adoption with their child (Nickman, 1996). It is not surprising that children often respond to this information with painful emotions that may persist in one form or another for many years; parents need to support this long-term process. An inherent tension exists in trying to balance an adopted individual’s need for information and continuity with the past, the birth parents’ privacy rights, and the adoptive parents’ right to raise their child as they see fit (Appell and Boyer, 1995; Davis and Chiacone, 1996). “Open adoption,” which allows various degrees of contact between birth parents, adoptive parents, and the child, is one contemporary approach to resolving this dilemma (Demick and Wapner, 1998; Grotevant et al., 1994; Grotevant and McRoy, 1997). Ingersoll (1997) emphasized that adopted adolescents are in treatment more frequently for having more problems, particularly acting-out behaviors that “tend to be more distressing to parents compared with internalizing problems such as depression” (Miller et al., 2000b). Well-designed research protocols studying psychotherapy with adoptees are lacking, but numerous case reports (Bonovitz, 2004) suggest that simultaneous empathy with adopted children and their parents is essential. Issues that commonly arise in psychotherapy with adopted children and adolescents include feelings of worthlessness (Brinich, 1995), fear of abandonment, special aspects of transference and counter-transference (Zuckerman and Buchsbaum, 2000), and confusion about origins, loyalty, and personal narrative (Nickman, 2004). The United States and England & Wales have led the way in making adoption a central part of childcare policy. The impact of recent policy initiatives in the two countries will be considered, alongside a brief consideration of attitudes towards such adoptions in other developed countries (Selman, 2004). Adoption is becoming more common throughout the world and individuals have been more aware of the adoption process. Although, adoption has become more common and acceptable, there are still countless children, especially the older children with special needs, who are waiting to be acknowledged and welcomed into a family. A growing number of parents are making an excruciating choice to place their babies up for adoption while other parents are deciding whether they want to adopt a child in need of a home because they are unable to become pregnant or simply because they want an addition to their family. Whichever decision needs to be made, biological and/or adoptive parents have an important one.
Children who have a government as their parent, no matter how well-intentioned or necessary that arrangement is, are often damaged by it (Trupin et al., 1993). Worldwide, the goal of providing stable and caring living situations for some children has proved difficult to achieve. This is particularly concerning because of the increasing numbers of children in out-of home care and because such a high percentage of these children are very young. Adoption is a way of providing a new family for a child when living with their own family is not possible (Rushton, 2003). Adoption in England is guided by the Adoption and Children Act of 2002, which introduced various measures to reduce delay in the adoption process of looked-after children. Adoption carries developmental opportunities and risks. Many adoptees have remarkably good outcomes, but some subgroups have difficulties. Traditional infant, international, and transracial adoptions may complicate adoptees’ identity formation. Those placed after infancy may have developmental delays, attachment disturbances, and posttraumatic stress disorder. In the UK, where intensive and sustained birth family support has proved hard to provide, a serious risk exists that, in the name of family preservation, children can be returned to homes where they are not safe and their well-being is not secured. Multiple admissions to care, and returns home and moves within care, often take place sometimes followed, after indecision and delay, by adoption in middle childhood (Farmer and Parker, 1991). Over time and with effective post-adoption support, most adoptees become attached to their new families and their problems diminish (Rshton et al., 1995). Their quality of life improves, along with their sense of self. Nonetheless, delays in the adoption process still exist for children in care of Local Authorities in getting adopted (Turnell, 2004). Statistics carried out by The Department of Education reports a significant number of children were still waiting to get placed for adopted. Research study carried out by Barth (2006) suggested that factors related to race, age, disability and gender of a child affected the adoption practice.
Cultural Identity and Race
With regard to appropriate intended cultural values, adoptive parents typically desire to adopt a child that corresponds to the adoptive family’s racial and ethnic background (Patricelli, 2007). These racial/ethnic preferences of the parents were connected to their fears that a child who looked different from the majority might be subjected to racist remarks and other forms of racism later in life” (Hogbacka, 2008). While the new adoption guidelines remove barriers of race between children and potential parents, race has clearly had an impact on the number of children being adopted (Morrison, 2004). There are more non-white children in care, finding adoptive parents for these children tend to be harder as they are less non-white families looking to adopt (Patrick et al., 1999). In addition, social workers often resist the idea of placing children in families that do not reflect the child’s race (Morrison, 2004). Throughout the history of transracial adoption, the most heated controversy has concerned the placement of Black children with white parents. Black families have rarely adopted white children because significantly more white parents are looking to adopt (Morrison, 2004). Hogbacka (2008) stated that people prefer young, healthy and of the majority white child and if any such children are not available for adoption then they would be open to adopt a child who is a bit older and maybe has minor health-related issues but is at least white. Dorow (2002) states that a white skin color is the most highly desired followed by Asian looks, whereas, those with a dark skin color lie at the bottom. It is argued that when non-white children are placed with non-white parents, the children do not learn how to fend off racial assaults (Goldberg, 2009). Opponents against inter-racial adoption argue that only a parent that is of a similar race can teach that particular child how to deal with racism because white parents have not had similar experiences and do not know how to deal with society’s treatment of non-whites (Morrison, 2004). Many social workers are putting their efforts for the perfect cultural match, so suitable couples are turned away and children are staying in care for years as a result (The Guardian).
Adoptions may very well be distinguished based upon the age of the child being adopted. Pertman (2000) is of the opinion that in cases of adoption, many prospective adoptive parents prefer preschoolers than the grown up adults. This statement is supported by Hogbacka (2008), who are of the opinion that a healthy infant is considered to be the most desired option, while adopting an older child internationally is less desirable. Nelson (2009) attributed this preferential selection to the reason that older children have endured more trauma and numerous separations from care-givers which makes the adoptive parents perceive that older children have greater needs than what adoptive parents can meet. It has been found that families adopting older children are often faced with a challenge to master the developmental tasks (including that of individual psychological feelings of emotional separation, interdependence, closeness, self-autonomy and other responsibilities) of the biologically formed family (Elbow, 2001). So, it is imperative that families adopting older children need to sustain boundaries and autonomy to not only make their parenting less challenging for those older adoptees, but to provide the adoptee with a sense of security and stability without becoming strict or closed (Capello, 2010).
Preferences of gender
Like age, gender may perhaps be important aspect of adoption preferences; yet, some may feel indifferent about gender preferences when adopting a child. Dahl and Moretti (2008) report that majority of the prospective adoptive parents prefer adopting male children when compared to girls as adopting a girl would ascertain them with additional responsibilities. In determining gender adoption preferences, adoptive parents tend to decide in adopting a child depending on their gender by reason of traditional values or cultural ideas (Hogbacka, 2008). Adoption preferences for female children is thought to be connected to the cultural ideas concerning girls, who are usually thought to be easier to care for and are more submissive as they are growing up, while as, those who prefer adopting boys do so for the reason that the adopted boys would form the legacy of their property (Dahl and Moretti, 2008). In special cases, Black girls are preferred over the boys of the similar race (Goldberg, 2009).
Disabled children constitute a significant group in the looked after system. Despite this, research focusing on their particular experiences is lacking. The placing of disabled children in substitute foster-care or in adoptive families gained momentum during the mid-1970s. Prior to this, disabled children who could not live with their parents tended to be placed in residential provision (Baker, 2007). In a special needs adoption, the child being adopted has serious medical and/or psychological conditions or is considered at risk for developing medical or psychological problems (Goldberg, 2009). Research on disabled children and their families generally has highlighted that services can be inadequate with high levels of unmet needs (Chamba et al., 1999; Beresford, 1995; Mitchell and Sloper, 2001; Audit Commission, 2003). Failure to provide this support quickly may result in the decay of family bonds and in unnecessary cost to social services as children remain looked after. Evidence from the study of Baker (2007) and other research (Beresford, 2004; Morris, 2002; Rabiee et al., 2001) shows that transitions to adult services or to ‘independence’ for disabled young people are often unsatisfactory. There can be a lack of planning, and inadequate information and consultation with young people. The children with special needs have varying disabling conditions including mental retardation, blindness or deafness, or neurological damage secondary to the birth mother’s use of drugs or alcohol during gestation, among others (Goldberg, 2009). Further the susceptibility of such children to rape or other crimes can also be not ruled out (Department of Health 2000). So there is evidence that some disabled children can experience long delays in waiting for an adoptive placement and may be less likely to be adopted (Avery, 2000; Lowe and Murch, 2002). Rosenthal and Groze (1990) and Barth and Berry (1991) estimated an 11-13% disruption rate for adoptions involving children with special needs. Thus, consistent with family stress theories (Boss, 1988; Hill, 1971; McCubbin and Patterson, 1983), the adoption of a child with special needs can be viewed as a process in which families are presented with a series of stressors and psychosocial tasks. Overall, it is important that social services ensure that efficient monitoring procedures are developed to be able to identify all disabled looked after children. (Baker, 2007)
Large Sibling Groups
For children who have grown up in such an unstable environment that they have to be removed from their home and put into foster care, their siblings are often the only comfort and stability that they have ever known (Barth, 2006). Older siblings are often the caretakers of the younger ones, taking on the role of parent since the parents themselves were not doing their job. The bond between siblings in foster care can be a very strong one, as the children have only had each other to rely on, and separating them can cause them great emotional damage. Equally it can also be hard to find adoptive parents who feel that they are equipped financially or emotionally to handle the care responsibilities of large sibling group.
Single parent and inter-country adoptions
Studies of international adoption when abuse, neglect, or late placement is not involved indicate that children placed with single parents and with couples had equally good social adjustment (Benson et al., 1994; Kim, 1995). Further, it has been estimated that there are now about 400 adoptions each year of children from overseas by adopters living in the UK, over 300 that are through approved channels and about 100 that are not (Adoption bill, 1999).
Post-adoption contact in UK, where most adoptions that take place are domestic adoptions of young children in the public care system, in the past fifteen years or so it has become usual to consider some form of contact between adopted children and their birth relatives (Neil, 2010) which Pearce (2006) opined is to ensure that the issue is actively addressed and not sidelined. Closed adoption may be unhelpful to birth family members who must come to terms with the loss of the child, a loss that is both ambiguous and disenfranchised (Neil et al., 2010) and which is made harder to deal with when there is no information as to what has happened to the child (Howe et al., 1992, Neil et al., 2010). It is clear that many adopted people have a need to know about their roots, and about why they were adopted (Grotevant, 1997; Howe and Feast, 2003; Triseliotis, 1973). Where adoptive parents have an open attitude, where they can empathise with the child as an adopted person, where they can empathize with the birth family, and where they enter into contact arrangements openly and willingly, contact is more likely to proceed in a beneficial fashion (Neil, 2010). Some adoptive parents had to manage their own feelings of sadness or anger in relation to birth relatives. But the most common emotional complexity of contact for adoptive parents (reported in about one quarter of cases) was that contact served to remind the adoptive parent of the child’s connection to the birth family.
Risk and psychopathology
Numerous studies have found that adopted children are overrepresented in mental health settings (Brand and Brinich, 1999). Sharma et al. (1998) noted that adoptees constitute “between 10% and 15% of [children] in residential care facilities and inpatient psychiatric settings,” far higher than their percentage in the general population. Ingersoll (1997) is of the opinion that the adopted children are overrepresented in clinical populations which he attributes to the result of complex factors, including more frequent problems as well as a referral bias because adoptive parents, who today are often both more educated and of higher socioeconomic status, are more likely to seek help for their adopted children (Miller, 2000a). Chronic malnutrition, low birth weight, physical and emotional neglect, and stimulus deprivation before adoption is also a very important contributing factor in affecting the physical growth and cognitive-emotional development in the adopted children (Cermak, 2001; Johnson, 2002). In addition, the adopted children may have experienced abuse and neglect early in their lives (Selwyn, 2004; Rushton, 2009) which can later affect their subsequent development, resilience and their relationships (Dozier and Rutter, 2008) and may mean they are ill-equipped to deal with any emotional stresses that contact may bring about.
Preparation of adopters
Strong expectations have grown up that that all adopters receive appropriate preparation to adopt a child from care. Little up to date information is available on the typical content, methods and quality of the preparation and training typically on offer (seminars, airing views, structured experiential exercise) and its effects. Lowe and Murch et al (1999) in their study of supporting the adoption of older children found that agencies vary considerably in the way they prepare adopters. Although group meetings led by social workers and individual meetings were found to be the predominant form of preparation, agencies varied as to how much group and how much individual preparation was offered. Parents might need help setting boundaries and providing guidance which supports the emotional and behavioural developmental needs of the child. Parents may need support in understanding their adoptive child’s history and attachment difficulties so that they can develop a pattern of parenting and care most likely to help their child settle and make attachments. When planning support, it is helpful to assess how far parents have been able to help the adoptive child to develop an attachment to them and to provide consistent emotional warmth in response to the child’s changing needs. The other preparation would includeproviding individual counseling to help the adopters deal with any adoption- related issues that may be troubling them, putting them in touch with other adoptive parents who understand such situations and giving advice and guidance on how to explain adoption to the adopted child, in addition to offering help with finding other relevant resources.
3.1. Research Design
A qualitative approach was used to study the challenges that exist for children in finding families for adoption in England. This kind of research or study deals mainly with words and requires the researcher to examine a number of texts while recording everything that they come across. The analysis of these texts, facts and figures lead the researcher to make suitable conclusions (Silverman 2010). Maxwell (2008) stated that a qualitative study facilitates a reflexive research design through every stage of a project.
The research method was chosen as it allows a researcher to reconsider or modify the study design according to the need of the study at given point during the study. The perspective is usually deep and the research extensive (Silverman 2010). “The open ended nature of the qualitative research project leads to a perpetual resistance against attempts to impose a single, umbrella-like paradigm over the entire project” (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005). Merriam (2009) emphasised that sometimes, the researchers may be involved in uncovering the meaning of a particular problem rather than rather than find or analyze something. “Qualitative researchers are interested in understanding how people interpret their experiences, how they construct their worlds, and what meaning they attribute to their experiences” (Merriam 2009:5).
3.2. Research Method
Semi-structured interviews were used as methods of collecting data. Semi-structured interviews are the most commonly used methods for qualitative research (Halloway, 1997). While collecting the necessary theoretical data, interviews give the researcher a chance to obtain views of the participants/interviewees by giving them a chance to express their own thoughts and feelings.
This method is useful in the context of this study as the review of literature helps the researcher build an impressive database that can be used in interviews to focus on issues of particular importance to the research question (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005). This particular method was chosen because it gives the researcher an opportunity to get the details at an inter-personal level, which no other method provides.
Four social workers were interviewed and asked regarding the problems faced in finding adoptive families for children and the factors that affect the adoptions.
3.3. Strengths and Weaknesses of Research Method
Face to face interviews are characterised by synchronous communication in time and place. Due to this synchronous communication, as no other interview method face to face interviews can take its advantage of social cues. Social cues, such as voice, intonation and body language of the interviewee can give the interviewer a lot of extra information that can be added to the verbal answer of the interviewee on a question. In addition, in face to face interviews there is no significant time delay between question and answer; the interviewer and interviewee can directly react on what the other says or does. Another advantage of this synchronous communication is that the answer of the interviewee is more spontaneous, without an extended reflection.
Interviews can be a time-intensive evaluation activity because of the time it takes to conduct interviews, transcribe them, and analyze the results. Also, when interviews are conducted, generalizations about the results are usually not able to be made because small samples are chosen and random sampling methods are not used.
3.4. Limitation of Research
Local Authorities have different characteristics from one another and this is often reflected in the resources available to workers and residents of individual authorities. Consequently children who come into care are often a reflection of these characteristics. The research carried out only encompasses views of social workers from one Local Authority and may or not represent the national view.
3.5. Ethical Issues and Confidentiality
Due to the sensitive nature of the research the participants may be sceptical about revealing any information. The researcher may also discover some disturbing information, in which case it is vital that the participants are made aware that any private details such as their name, alias or email address will not be disclosed in the research findings, or to any other person. Due to the sensitive nature of the research, the interviewee participants were not asked any personal details such as name, address, age, etc. The participants were made aware that the research is for dissertation purposes only. All participants were entitled to a copy of the research dissertation to enable them to see what they partook part in. Lastly, none of the participants will be identifiable in any way in the research.
3.6. Data analysis
Data analysis was congruent with research design and a qualitative approach to analysing data was used. After reviewing the relevant literature and analysing the findings from the interviews, two specific themes were developed – “Obstacles encountered while finding adoptive families” and “Factors that affect finding an adoptive placement for a child”.
The findings of the study were compared vis-a-vis the available evidence on the same topic to validate the findings and to create a reasonable discussion that was used to draw some reasonable conclusions.
Findings and Interpretation
4.1. Obstacles encountered while finding adoptive families
The main purpose of this study was to gain an understanding of factors affecting the process affecting the process of finding adoptive placements for children in the care of Local Authorities in England. Specifically, the research aimed to determine whether race, gender, age and disability of a child had a correlation to the outcome of finding adoptive placements for individual children. The main research problem was divided into four more specific research questions: (1) What difficulties do practitioners encounter while in the process of finding adoptive placements for children (2) Does race, age, gender, disability and number of siblings affect the process of finding an adoptive placement for individual children (3) How does race, age, gender, disability and number of siblings affect the process of finding an adoptive placement for individual children (4) Why does race, age, gender, disability and number of siblings affect the process of finding an adoptive placement for individual children?
The research questions were answered with the help of two social workers who worked in a looked-after team and two social workers who worked in adoption team. Unanimously all four social workers revealed that they encountered difficulties in finding appropriate cultural matches for children in care.Additionally, all four practitioners stated that there was a shortage of adopters and foster carer from ethnic minorities. While some of these responses were similar, there was a disagreement as to why difficulties were encountered in finding appropriate cultural matches, in addition to the shortage of adopters and foster carers from the ethnic minority community. Three of the practitioners stated that in their opinion people from the ethnic minority community are more inclined towards kinship adoption. In their opinion this is due to the fact that certain cultures are wary of raising children who are not of same blood, who may go on to inherit family property. One practitioner stated that the reason why there was not enough adopters from the ethnic minority community, was due to lack of information about the process within this community.
Overall the findings supported the information found in the literature review, in particular, confirmed the view that race, age, gender and disability of a child were key factors in influencing the outcome of finding adoptive placements for individual children.
An attempt was made to understand what challenges have been faced by the authorities while trying to find adoptive placements for children in the care of the local authority. Regarding the racial perspective of adoption, in the first interview, it was found that it is harder for Black boys to find adoptive placements, while as the second interview revealed that black boys over the age of 3 will often wait longest to find adoptive parents. The authorities further stated that they are more likely to find adoptive parents for black girls quicker than the boys of the same race. Same observation was recorded in the second interview.
Regarding the gender, girls were adopted much quicker, which contradicts Dahl and Moretti (2008) that majority of the prospective adoptive parents prefer adopting male children. Further it was found that children who are 3 years and below have a higher chance in being adopted. This would seem to support studies which suggests that infants are considered to be the most desired option, while adopting an older child is less desirable (Hogbacka, 2008; Pertman, 2000).
The second interviewee emphasised that among the children who were 10 years old, all were white. On the other hand, among the black boys between 5 and 10, no adoptive placements could be found. The interviewee was of the opinion that for black boys it becomes harder to find adoptive placements if the child is above 3 years. With regard to appropriate intended cultural values, adoptive parents typically desire to adopt a child that corresponds to the adoptive family’s racial and ethnic background (Patricelli, 2007). The results confirm Dorow (2002) who states that a white children are the most highly desired by prospective adoptive parents compared to black and all other ethnic minority children.
Chart 1: Obstacles faced in finding adoptive placements for children in the care of local authority
It was found that although large sibling groups were found to be an effective obstacle in finding an adoptive family for the children, it was not a unanimous choice of unfavourable circumstances that hinder adoption.
4.2. Factors that affect finding an adoptive placement for a child
It was found that age, race, gender or health impact the process of finding an adoptive placement for a child. The first interviewee found no apparent reason for it and was of the opinion that each adoption case needs to be looked-into individually, which would perhaps be helpful in finding out the reasons. One of the interviewees thought that the reason was that there are less adoptive parents from the black and ethnic minority communities and the requirements of adoptive parents tend to favour girls over boys, young children over older ones and white children over children who are from an ethnic minority back ground while as another was of the opinion that it all depends on the available adopters whose requirements determines the outcomes of a successful match to a young child.
“I think it is a combination of reasons”, said one of the interviewees. “Firstly, more black and ethnic minority children come into care. However, there are less adoptive parents from the black and ethnic minority communities. Secondly, the requirements of adoptive parents tend to favour girls over boys, young children over older ones and white children over children who are from an ethnic minority back ground.”
Some families choose to adopt because it is believed a child would be saved who otherwise would not grow up with the benefits of a loving and supportive family. Such a belief in the goodness of saving a child through adoption often has its genesis in adoptive parents’ religious, ethical, and/or emotional feelings and their desire to make the world a better place, even if only for a single child or a few children (Patricelli, 2007). Adoption carries developmental opportunities and risks. Many adoptees have remarkably good outcomes, but some subgroups have difficulties.
Traditional infant, international, and transracial adoptions may complicate adoptees’ identity formation. Adoption may even be considered a protective factor” (Bimmel et al., 2003) because when adopted children are compared with illegitimate children who were institutionalized, remained with their mothers, or who were later returned to their mothers, adopted children fared far better, especially those in two-parent families (Miller et al., 2000b). Despite the common belief that better outcomes are associated with earlier placement, Moore and Fombonne (1999) studied a clinical population of British adoptees and found that although both boys and girls were at increased risk of disruptive behavior disorders, including conduct disorders and attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder, it made no difference whether the child was adopted before age 2 years or much later; however, lack of an adopted, nonclinical comparison group makes it difficult to assess how representative these children were of the adopted population at large.
The provisions of the Adoption and Children’s Act of 2002 emphasises that the primary concern of adoption process should be the welfare of the children. It also recommends adoption as one of the most prudent ways of relocating the children in foster care who cannot possibly go back to their homes. These children who need to be taken into government care can be helped by finding them loving and caring families. Adoption, in itself, is a personal decision and it tends to become even more personal when considering what types of adoption and adoption situations to which an adoptive parent is open. For instance, while some couples are open to adopting a child of a race different from that of themselves, others find it difficult. Children awaiting adoption need to be placed with appropriate families with the minimum of delay. Finding potential adoptive families and matching children with them are complex social work tasks which require a range of skills and a sound knowledge base. Once children are placed in permanent homes, we must ensure that the supportive resources needed to treat their mental and physical health issues move with them. Adoption and child welfare agencies could play a role in encouraging the use of informal networks by encouraging pre- adoptive parents to seek emotional and concrete forms of assistance from family members, friend etc. when feasible and inviting extended family members and friends to become involved in the adoption preparation process. The introduction of the practice of ‘open adoption’, whereby continuing contact is maintained between the adoptive family and the child’s birth family, has led some people to allow their enthusiasm to run ahead of the evidence. However, no research group has yet initiated a study to examine the short and long-term effects on the children and the involved parties of various forms of contact. Different models of professional contact management need to be tested, the level of skill required, including time and cost considerations. Information on children’s views of their contact experiences is important, as is the voice of children who are not in contact with the birth family. The balance of challenges and benefits may need to be kept under review especially where the former are as many as the latter. In some cases the risks of continuing direct contact may be too great, and some children themselves will want contact to be stopped. In situations such as these, it is important that all parties are not left to deal alone with the aftermath of contact stopping, but that support is available to deal with this inevitably stressful outcome. Research in both the US and the UK has identified a tendency for plans to be more acceptable, and more likely to be fulfilled, when adopters (and presumably birth relatives) feel an element of control over the proceedings. Research indicates that a child who possesses any physical and/or mental disabilities becomes more of a prohibiting concern for an adoptive parent during the consideration process. Hence, when a child possesses a mental or physical disability it becomes more difficult to find “appropriate and nurturing adoptive families. It has been found out that many adoptive parents would prefer a boy with the intent to speed up the adoption process and find someone to move on the legacy; still others prefer a girl for adoption owing to her submissive and quite behaviour. When looking at adoption preferences pertaining to ethnicity, research stated that adoptive parents prefer to adopt a child that is most compatible to the adoptive family’s own ethnic background making it less challenging to raise the child from societal views if the child looked similar to the majority.
Adoptive children are often involved with a range of agencies. It is important to ensure that assessments of support needs are contributed to by those agencies involved in the development, delivery and review of support plans. Education and health services are central in supporting the specific needs of adoptive children and their early involvement in the assessment of support needs is crucial. Adoption has profound developmental and lifespan consequences for all parties in the adoption triangle – adoptive children, adoptive families and birth families. Assessments should take account of the stage of the relevant adoption process for those concerned and the implications of this for possible support needs. Loss is an integral part of adoption for all parties and affects adoptive children, birth families and adoptive parents (except perhaps for adoptive parents who have their own birth children). Adoptive children have experienced the loss of their relationship with members of their birth family and their capacity to attach to new caregivers can be affected if they are unable to grieve these and associated losses. Adoptive children who have suffered neglect, for example, often recover their physical wellbeing quickly in the context of good care, but they can be the most emotionally damaged and amongst the most difficult children to care for. Children who have suffered maltreatment can show significant mental health problems. Adoptive parents should always be given as accurate, full and detailed information as possible about an adoptive child’s background and history. This should be presented in a way that makes clear the potential implications for a child’s emotional and cognitive development and the difficulties they may encounter. Adoptive parents should be advised that this information will never be complete and everyday family life may trigger traumatic memories for an adoptive child.
A small growth of adoption research capacity is evident in the last decade in the UK, mostly based in social work and social policy departments in universities and in large specialist treatment centres. However, little research capacity exists in either local authority family placement teams or Voluntary Adoption Agencies, where service innovations are often taking place. Child welfare agencies and professionals from related disciplines now have a unique opportunity to build upon current programs and to draw upon new innovative techniques to promote the long-term outcomes for neglected and abused children through adoption.
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