Adoption ‘significantly better’ than foster care for abused children, research finds

Abused and neglected children who were adopted had significantly better life outcomes compared with children who stayed in foster care, according to new research.

25/04/22

Adoption ‘significantly better’ than foster care for abused children, research finds

Abused children who were adopted did ‘significantly better’ than those brought up in care, research from the University of Oxford and Barnardos Australia has found.

Though adoption has often been shown to produce better outcomes for children, researchers said they were ‘surprised’ by the scale of difference that adoption made.

The study, based on more than 200 children, found almost two thirds (63%) of adult adoptees completed Year 12 (Australian equivalent of GCSEs) or higher, compared with 42% of adults who grew up in foster care.

Researchers also found that 62% of adult adoptees were engaged in full-time employment, education or training compared with 34% of adults who grew up in foster care.

“I was surprised by the scale of the difference that adoption made. But the difference between foster care and adoption is considerable. Adoption is a lifelong connection, a new family, for a child. Although some foster carers are permanently committed, most placements end when children enter adulthood,” said Harriet Ward, Professor of Child and Family Research at Loughborough University and Honorary Research Fellow at the Rees Centre Oxford University, who led on the research.

The study looked at outcomes for children who were permanently removed from their families and adopted through Barnados Australia between 1987 and 2013. According to Professor Ward, there was no prospect of them being able to live safely with their birth parents – although all adoptions in Australia are ‘open’ and the children were able to remain in touch with their birth families.

The study, ‘Outcomes of Open Adoption from Care’ was undertaken by Professor Ward and colleague Helen Trivedi of Oxford’s Rees Centre, part of the university's Department of Education. According to Professor Ward, it presents new and vivid findings concerning the extreme vulnerability of children placed for adoption from care, the impact and durability of face-to-face post adoption contact and adult outcomes of adoptees.

There are over 45,000 children in foster care in Australia but only 171 children were adopted from foster care last year. The findings are said to have important implications for Government support and funding of open adoption in Australia. Currently only New South Wales (NSW) and Australian Capital Territory (ACT) have legislated for open adoption.

Barnardos Australia CEO Deirdre Cheers, said: “This is a children’s rights issue. All children have the right to an education and to grow up in a stable and supportive environment.”

“Currently adults working in child protection are the making the decision as to whether a child can be adopted. Barnardos world-first research will serve to inform our state governments about the urgent need to bring about open adoption reform in order to improve life outcomes for the children and young people currently in foster care.”

Watch the two of the authors of the study and two adult adoptees speaking about their experiences of foster care and open adoption: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAE5h3Mv9Q8

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