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“The system is so broken”: Number of adoptive families reaching crisis point at record levels

The number of adoptive families in England facing severe challenges or at crisis point has increased from 30% to 38% in just one year.

21/05/24

“The system is so broken”: Number of adoptive families reaching crisis point at record levels

An adoption charity is warning that more adoptive families are in crisis than ever before, with adult adoptees facing a severe lack of support.

In its annual Adoption Barometer report, Adoption UK highlights that while adoption is crucial for children who cannot safely remain with their birth families, there is an urgent need to drastically improve support services for adoptees.

The findings come amid numerous pressures on all families, such as the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cost of living crisis, and overstretched public services. However, it is the most vulnerable families who are hardest hit during tough times.

The report spotlights the complex challenges encountered by adopted families. Many adopted children have faced significant trauma before adoption and all are coping with the loss of their birth families, leading to lasting impacts on their development, learning, health, and relationships.

Data from 2023 shows that support services for adoptees, particularly teenagers and adults, are inadequate. This issue is worsened by increasing pressure on broader services that adoptees depend on, such as mental health support and educational assistance. In England, only 1% of adoptive parents and 3% of adult adoptees completely agree that statutory services understand the needs of care-experienced individuals.

Julie, an adoptive mother (whose name has been changed), struggled to secure support for her 12-year-old son’s complex needs. She said she believes in the potential of adoption but feels that families are left to cope against the odds.

“I have a lot of fear for the future but I love my son. We have met some amazing social workers who have saved our family and I totally believe in adoption, but the system is so broken that you can have a child placed with you without getting the wrap-around care you need, and that’s really hard.

“There needs to be a reset on adoption. It’s not just about placement: it can’t be about hoping families don’t collapse. It’s about supporting families all the way through. There has to be a pathway of care otherwise families are being asked to do what often feels like the impossible.”




For the first time, the Adoption Barometer’s survey of nearly 4,000 adoptive families, prospective adopters, and adopted adults has focused separately on England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to reflect the different adoption policies in each country.

Worryingly, the survey revealed that In England in the last 12 months, nearly one quarter (23%) of adopted children had self-harmed or attempted to do so, and three-in-ten (29%) adopted young adults were not in education, employment, or training (NEET) at the end of 2023, compared to a national average of 12%.

“When record numbers of families say they’re in crisis it's time to listen and to take urgent action,” Adoption UK CEO Emily Frith said. “Adoption support must be reliable and accessible, especially at the toughest times, and mustn’t disappear when people turn 18.”

“We must also fix the disconnect with other services such as mental health and education. Support for adoptees will be a litmus test of any future government’s commitment to all those who’ve had a difficult start in life.”

The report also shows that intervening early can build confidence between families and support services, prevent crises from escalating and improve long term outcomes for adoptees.

As a result of the research, Adoption UK is calling for permanent funding for adoption support, including a ring-fenced pot for crisis support in all four nations of the UK. Currently only England has a fund - the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund, but it is tied to short-term spending rounds. The charity is also calling for tailored support for teen adoptees and their families, and access to adoption-informed counselling and therapy for adult adoptees. It is also joining calls for the Westminster government to make an official apology for historic forced adoptions, to follow the apologies made in Scotland and Wales.

Find out more: www.adoptionuk.org

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