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Support for contact between adopted children and birth family not fit for purpose, report finds

SUPPORT for adopted children, young people and adults wanting to establish and maintain relationships with birth relatives is not fit for purpose and requires radical improvement, a new report reveals today.

The Adoption Barometer report published by the charity Adoption UK, shines a light on the challenges facing some of the UK's most vulnerable children as they seek to navigate complex relationships with birth relatives. Adults who were adopted in childhood are also struggling with the legacy of poorly supported contact, and inadequate services to help with tracing relatives.

Most people adopted in recent decades will have direct or indirect contact with their birth family at some point in their lives, either decided by the courts when they were adopted, or through an informal arrangement.

Only 12% of adopters had been offered any training or advice about establishing direct contact after adopting their child. Among adopters whose children were having direct contact, 85% said that their agency does not regularly review their contact arrangements, and 86% said their child had not been offered any emotional or therapeutic support related to their contact arrangements.

The importance of well-managed contact was highlighted in the Government's National Adoption Strategy, published last year, and was the only significant reference to adoption in the recent Review of Children's Social Care in England.

Adoption UK is calling for free national contact services to be set up for adopted people from childhood into adulthood, in each nation of the UK.

When Frankie was 14 she discovered her birth mother's name and made contact by herself. When she confided in her family's social worker, she was told it was a:- 'stupid decision.'

Frankie said:- "I'm pleased I instigated contact, but unfortunately it has now broken down, so I feel very rejected. There should be way more support for adopted young people who want to contact birth relatives. I also think we should be allowed to make contact when we want, rather than having to wait, and our choices should not be labelled as wrong."

(For more information on this case study and other case studies who are willing to provide media interviews, see Case Studies File, attached, below).

The report found that 28% of 13 to 18 year olds had direct contact with a birth family member, outside of any formal agreement, during 2021.

Report author, Adoption UK's Rebecca Brooks, said:- "Contact with birth family is an important part of many adopted children's lives and often looms large during adolescence and early adulthood, when people are exploring their identities. But too often, the preparation and support available does not meet the needs of adopted children, their parents, or their birth relatives. Contact plans made at the time of a child's Adoption Order can go out of date very quickly as circumstances change and children grow older. Later, families can find themselves navigating complex situations without the support they need, with devastating impacts on children's mental health and family stability."

Only 17% of adopted adults surveyed received professional support when they were children, to help with birth family contact. Around a third (37%) were offered counseling as part of the process of tracing birth relatives in adulthood, half (52%) of whom said it felt like a tick box exercise. Respondents described the process of tracing as:- "frustrating," "costly," "full of red tape," and stressed the importance of long term support after the initial reunion. Many expressed concerns that went beyond their own experiences, calling for a complete overhaul of the system. 

Despite the complexities of navigating contact with birth family, 80% of adopted adults who had contact during childhood were glad to have had the chance to do so. The majority (69%) who did not have this opportunity, or did not pursue it, were regretful about it.

Data from the report shows that the majority of adopted people (75%) and prospective adopters (70%) think contact with birth family should be normalised, even though it can prove to be both daunting and difficult. The figure amongst adopters is lower, but half still agree that contact should be normalised. Informal contact with birth relatives among adoptive families with 13 to 18 year old children, has increased steadily over the 4 years of the Barometer.

Mrs Brooks added:- "Traditionally adopters are characterised as being resistant to contact with their children's birth family, but repeated Barometer reports have shown this is simply not the case. There is increasing openness towards it, if the right support is available."

For the fourth year running most (76%) Barometer respondents said they face a continual struggle for support in many areas of their child's life, including:- contact. The survey results also highlight the consequences of failure to provide early and consistent support for adopted young people. More than a fifth (22%) of 16 to 25 year olds were not in education, employment, or training at the end of 2021; more than twice as high as the UK average.

Mersey NHS Care Trust Specialist Perinatal Services now offering DadPad App

MERSEY Care NHS Foundation Trust's Specialist Perinatal Service is marking International Father's Mental Health Awareness Day by supporting a new app for dads across Cheshire and Merseyside. The DadPad app is an easy to use, freely downloadable resource for new dads, partners, parents and dads to be in the Cheshire and Merseyside area, packed with relevant information, as well as details on local support groups and service providers. Its aim is to provide new fathers with guidance on how to develop the mindset, confidence and practical skills needed to meet their babies' physical and emotional needs.

"1 in 5 women experience mental health problems during pregnancy and the 1st 2 years after birth. When things don't go to plan, this can have a lasting impact on mums, babies, partners and families. Our service provides important perinatal mental health assessment and support for local women experiencing moderate to severe mental health issues during this time. This includes interventions to support family relationships to thrive including:- the relationship between mum and baby, and between mum and dad or partner. We should always remember to keep the whole family in mind and that it can be a difficult time for dads / partners in their own right; the launch of this app will provide vital access to support."
explained Dr Ruth O'Shaughnessy, who is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Mersey Care.

Building a strong attachment will not only enable dads to better enjoy their new role, but also contribute towards positive long term social, health and educational outcomes for their babies. Crucially, the app also provides dads with guidance on how to support and seek help (when needed) for their partners and themselves as they adjust to their new roles, and cope with the physical and emotional strains that this can place on individuals and relationships.

The app covers topics such as:-

Feeding, holding, changing and cleaning your baby.

Surviving without sleep and coping with crying.

Getting to know your baby.

Home safety and 1st aid.

Looking after yourself and supporting your partner.

Julian Bose, Director of Inspire Cornwall CIC said:- "The DadPad was created because babies don't come with a set of instructions, and dads told us that there was important information that they wanted to be given on what to expect and how to care for their baby.  We listened to what dads, their partners and health professionals asked for and combined it all in the DadPad. With technology playing such a big part in everyone's lives today, developing an app to complement the existing DadPad seemed the obvious next step. This has opened up a world of possibilities in delivering new content and features and, crucially, getting updates and news out to the dads quickly and easily. We are delighted to have been given the chance to work with the teams at Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust Specialist Perinatal Service to be able to now launch this resource for dads and dads to be across the Cheshire and Merseyside area."

Working in partnership as part of a Cheshire and Merseyside wide service, Mersey Care has teams covering:- Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens and Warrington.

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