One in four mothers and a fifth of fathers of children placed for adoption grew up in state care, a study has found.
Researchers at Cardiff University’s Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre said there was an “urgent need” to review parenting support for care leavers after their analysis found 27% of birth mothers and 19% of birth fathers of children placed for adoption were themselves care leavers.
In a paper published in the Children and Youth Services Review, lead study author Louise Roberts said the research did not aim to debate the merits of adoption or the circumstances in which it was appropriate, but the findings raised important issues for social care.
“It is of concern that sizable proportions of parents within this study, subject to the most drastic form of state intervention in respect of family life, had themselves been parented by the state. During their childhoods they were visible to professionals; their vulnerabilities, histories and needs were known,” she wrote.
“Yet it would appear there were missed opportunities whilst in state care and/or during the process of leaving care, to positively influence the trajectories of these individuals. The outcomes for care leavers in this study suggest that state care was ineffective in supporting young people to overcome difficulties or to help break cycles of family separation.”
Roberts added: “We argue that there is a moral imperative to seek to address these poor outcomes for care leaver parents and an urgent need to review how children and young people in state care are both prepared for future parenthood and supported as parents.”
The study was based on an analysis of 374 social work records for all children placed for adoption by councils in Wales between July 2014 and July 2015.
This found care leaver birth mothers and fathers were more likely to have experienced childhood abuse and neglect than non-care leaver parents in the sample. It also found mothers who had grown up in care were more likely to have diagnosed mental health problems and were less likely to appeal an adoption plan than non-care leaver parents.
The authors said the appeal findings could reflect care leaver parents having “limited resources” to secure legal support to oppose local authority plans. Or it could indicate the potential for care leaver parents to have had “fractious relationships with social workers” in the past that left them feeling “powerless against ‘the system”.
“As such, care leaver parents may have been less likely to appeal the adoption orders because they perceived their actions as futile and/or may have lacked the necessary psychological and practical resources to pursue an appeal,” the paper said.
“Viewed in this way, continued attention is needed regarding the relationship care leavers have with the state as parent, as well as examinations of social work practice with care leaver parents.”
The study did not uncover significant practice differences in relation to the age children were removed from care leaver parents or the age the children were placed for adoption. The authors said this provided “some evidence to dispel concerns regarding the potential for social workers to discriminate against care leavers on the basis of case history.”
The research also found children born to parents who had been in care were no more likely to have been subject to abuse or neglect than others placed for adoption. Both groups were also comparable in respect of the birth weights of children and prevalence of learning difficulties, development concerns and attachment difficulties.