Preparation for adopters should place more emphasis on parenting skills, says research

Preparation for adopters should place more emphasis on the parenting skills and strategies needed for hard-to-manage behaviour, writes Alan Rushton, visiting professor at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London

Parenting programmes need to reflect the extra challenges adopters face

Recent research findings
Placement for the adoption of older maltreated children needs to be accompanied by better preparation and post-placement support. Earlier studies of preparation indicated a mixed picture of satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

Adopters particularly liked hearing from experienced adopters and learning about the kinds of children available for adoption. However, sessions were often found to be too global and not always relevant.

In a study by Rushton and Monck (2009), a sample of adopters, coping with children recently placed from care and known to have a high level of difficulties, reported that although some aspects of the programme were well received, most did not find the preparation helpful in developing the parenting skills needed for managing difficult behaviour.

In relation to post-adoption support, parenting programmes that have proved to be effective in helping parents in the community have been adapted to respond to the extra demands placed on adopters to parent maltreated children.

Rushton, Monck et al (2010) tested, through a randomised controlled trial, two tailored, manualised parenting programmes. Satisfaction in parenting rose following the advice sessions, while the satisfaction level of the control group fell slightly. However, no significant differences were apparent between the intervention group and the control group in reducing the children’s psycho-social problems. An evaluation by Selwyn et al (‘It’s a piece of cake?’, 2009) came to very similar conclusions. 

The impact on practice

Taking a lead from adopters’ feedback, preparation sessions should be more participatory and less didactic, with more emphasis on the kind of parenting skills and strategies needed for hard-to-manage behaviour such as non-compliance, aggression, lack of cooperativeness and inappropriate behaviour.

Preparation should also be more tailored to the increasing diversity of prospective adopters – such as single parents and those from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, gay and lesbian, and those adopting for the second time. In addition, the range of interventions being developed by practitioners needs to be more closely specified and subjected to tests of effectiveness.

Key questions for practice

  • How can preparation sessions best be organised to cover all the legal and procedural aspects of the adoption process as well as prepare adopters for parenting a specific child or sibling group?
  • What training do practitioners need to deliver a programme faithful to a parenting manual?
  • Practitioners may need to be accustomed to using an evidence-based manual rather than a less structured and more individual approach. 
  • Translation of evidence-based approaches into practice may involve greater restraints on delivering interventions. Might this be a source of conflict for independent-minded professionals or is this the way to make a difference to services for struggling adopters? 

Alan Rushton is the author of the recently updated Research review – Adoption preparation and post placement support for adoptive parents of older children placed from care 

This review is only available to Inform subscribers. Don’t already subscribe to Inform? Email Kim Poupart

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