Adoption needs support too
Key figures within the Coalition Government have recently spent considerable energy communicating the importance of committed, stable relationships to our social fabric. As Theresa May recently wrote in the Times on the subject of gay marriage, 'Society is stronger when people enter into a stable relationship; when they commit to each other; when they make binding vows to love, honour and cherish one another.'
In recent months, various high-profile speeches by David Cameron, Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith have emphasised the importance of both marriage and adoption as the ‘gold standard’ for committed relationships. In the case of both marriage and adoption, the people concerned have chosen to enter into a legal bond as evidence of their commitment to each other. However, while these two themes of marriage and adoption have much in common, it is notable that the politicians’ approach to these issues diverges considerably from the point at which the commitment is made.
At the launch of the Government’s Social Justice strategy last month, Iain Duncan Smith highlighted the strategy’s ethos that 'marriage should be supported and encouraged'. The Coalition Government has a whole range of proposals for how marriage should be supported: by recognising marriage in the tax system; by removing the ‘couple penalty’ in the welfare system and perhaps most importantly, by providing relationship support to prevent the breakdown of marriages and keep families together.
Therefore, it is a notable omission that in the context of adoption, no such emphasis is placed on the need to provide on-going support. In recent months speeches by David Cameron and Michael Gove have particularly focused on the need to drive up the rate of adoptions and to reduce unnecessary delay in the adoption process. Both aims are important and the need for such reforms is evidenced by a large body of research demonstrating the negative impact of delay and instability on children in care (see our 2010 Demos report In Loco Parentis). However, this political rhetoric emphasising the superior level of stability that adoption can provide implies that once an adoption has taken place then this is a done deal and everyone will live happily ever after without a backwards look. It does not recognise that most children who are adopted from care will have experienced either abuse or neglect and many will have emotional and behavioural difficulties and special educational needs that could have a substantial emotional and practical implications for their adoptive parents.
Without ongoing support, some adoptive parents may not be able to cope with the new demands placed on them as parents. Small-scale longitudinal studies indicate that in the long-term, between a fifth and a quarter of all adoptions break down. In most cases the breakdown of an adoption will mean the adopted child needing to return to care. Therefore, to help prevent the huge distress caused by adoption breakdown for all concerned, it is essential that reliable and good quality post-adoption support is on offer to all adoptive parents. Local authorities should also be required to publish figures on the rate of adoption breakdown in their area, to enable external monitoring of their progress in this area.
To its credit, the Government’s new Action Plan for Adoption recognises that the provision of post-adoption support is currently very patchy and that it can be very difficult for adoptive parents to find out what kind of support they will be eligible for following the adoption. However, what the strategy does not recognise is that current paucity of post-adoption support will only be exacerbated if the rate of adoption is successfully driven up, spreading already thin resources among an even greater number of adoptive parents. As with marriage, therefore, the Government needs to demonstrate its commitment to stable adoptive relationships by being willing to commit resources to supporting them – not just during the adoption process, but as long as that support is needed.