Adopted children facing “mental health emergency”, charity warns

Adoption UK says two-thirds of adopted people aged 16 and over have requested mental health support in the last year.

30/06/21

Adopted children facing “mental health emergency”, charity warns

An adoption charity is warning of a mental health emergency amongst some of the UK’s most vulnerable children, caused by failings in a system that is not set up to meet their needs.

Adoption UK’s annual ‘Barometer’ report reveals that two-thirds (64%) of adopted people aged 16+ have sought help with their mental health – and the charity says the numbers are rising.

Almost half (46%) of adopted people aged 16-25 were involved with mental health services in 2020, compared to a figure of just 17% for the same age group. However, most say they have been unable to access services that understood their specific needs as an adopted person.

The survey also revealed that most adopted young people suffered abuse, neglect, or violence in their early years, with lasting impacts on relationships, learning and health. Adoption UK says this often leaves their adoptive families to “pick up the pieces” when professional support is not provided.

Sue Armstrong Brown, CEO of Adoption UK, said the numbers show a worrying trend.

“For the third year running, 71% of ‘Barometer’ respondents said they face a continual struggle for support. 

“All too often these families are being failed by a system which invests heavily in the placement of children for adoption, then fades into the background, often with terrible consequences for the mental health of the children and their adoptive families.”

Adoption UK says the survey results highlight the consequences of failure to provide early and consistent support for adopted young people. More than a quarter of 16-25-year-olds were not in education, employment, or training at the end of 2020 – more than twice as high as UK averages. 

Involvement in high-risk and criminal activities has steadily increased since the first ‘Barometer’ report in 2019. Problems are often compounded by children falling through the cracks between child and adult services. Almost three quarters of parents said their child’s support reduced or ceased when they aged out of services for adolescents.

Mimi Woods, aged 18, said she suffers from mental ill-health, which is linked to her past trauma. “This happened when I was very young, but it affects you later in life,” Woods said. “It comes from a feeling of not being wanted and not having a place, or an emotional connection to anyone.”

“I had a meeting with CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services] in which I explained I was really ill but didn’t know why I did what I did. I had no feelings and wanted to end my life. I was put on medication but when they were happy I wasn’t going to do anything, contact just stopped and I’ve not heard from them since.

Woods says she is part of a young adopted people’s group and revealed that everyone in the group has also suffered from trauma, depression and suicidal thoughts. “I’ve recently realised it was all linked to me feeling lost within myself.”

The ‘Barometer’ survey also shows that contact with birth family often looms large during adolescence and early adulthood. More than a quarter (28%) of 13-18-year-olds had direct contact with a birth family member outside of any formal agreement. For some, this has devastating consequences for mental health and family stability.

When families do get support, their assessments of its quality and the impact on their family have increased on all indicators since last year. Adopter experiences in Wales have improved at both approvals and matching stage, and among families with older children. Adoption UK also said the emergency COVID-19 adoption support fund in England has been widely praised by families.

Sue Armstrong Brown said that the current moment presents an opportunity to reset support for adoptive families.

“The ongoing review of children’s Social Care in England and the debate about COVID recovery are both opportunities we must grab if we’re going to give our most vulnerable children an equal chance in life.”

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