One in four mums with children placed for adoption grew up in care, finds study

Authors of Cardiff University research say findings highlight "urgent need" to review parenting support for care leavers

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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.

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9 Responses to One in four mums with children placed for adoption grew up in care, finds study

  1. Maggie Danesfahani July 1, 2017 at 12:02 pm #

    So often young people leaving care have not had the input needed for them to understand the impact of broken attachments in their own lives and this carries on down the generations. In many ways they need to be taught the skills to overcome past difficulties or rather how their past experiences may cause future problems in their own parenting abilities. This is much more complex because it can be the case that they don’t even know it is happening. A further legacy is then added to a troubled past. The sense of failure at losing their children. Waking up every day wishing they had done better. Longing to put things right but never knowing how to. Greeting each day without knowing where their children are and it never goes away. Last thing at night the loss and grief go with you in to sleep. Never able to truly accept your own failures and the impact they had on your children when you do much wanted to break the chains and be the difference in their lives. Teach young people about this. Show them they can make it. Above all help them when they are broken with a grief beyond measure. It is enough to mourn someone who has passed away but the bereavement and mourning for someone still alive is torture. Q

  2. Ann McCabe July 3, 2017 at 3:33 pm #

    professionals are continuing to abuse children in care by denying them the chance to change their lives for the better. It is time to look at a system where the overriding emphasis seems to be based on adoption/fostering as a first responce to problems within vulnerable families

  3. rebecca gaffney July 4, 2017 at 6:53 am #

    I know the reasons for adoptions are absent but i can say possibly 70 % of the taken babies were force adopted and most care kids woud be great parents. the LA messes it up again To maintain there cash encrusted care system cash conveyer of adopabel babies and toddlers

  4. Anne July 4, 2017 at 7:35 pm #

    Children bond with their parents while still in the uterus, so separating them clearly causes attachment difficulties, they are then placed with foster carers who they form attachments to and then removed from them for adoption. they are already severely damaged, a new way is very much needed

  5. K Wall July 4, 2017 at 8:48 pm #

    I would be interested in reading the research paper, where can I access it?

  6. Anita Singh July 5, 2017 at 10:41 pm #

    Maggie, I think your comments about the lack of understanding children in care have of attachment interesting. For example in at least one case that I dealt with as a Guardian, the LA had already decided to remove the child from a young care leaver at birth, but undertake a mother and baby assessment, after they had been separated. The LA thought it was okay that the baby had been placed in a separate placement to the mother. I had to kick up a fuss in Court in order for the LA to pull its finger out and do anything to urgently address this matter. If ever there was a lack of social work understanding of attachment, then this would have been a prime example. The LA planning did not take attachment issues into account at all, as they had kept mum and baby separated for months.

    The case was already in Court and proceedings had already been initiated, placing this young mother under incredible stress throughout her pregnancy and following the birth. Limited work was undertaken to plan for the birth and parenting support. The proceedings came at the most vulnerable time of her life. In fact she became so depressed that she attempted to take an overdose whilst pregnant, putting both her and unborn baby at risk. Her relationship with SWs was characterized by unresolved anger and distrust due to her own care experiences, as well as a feeling that she was not adequately supported. Her front line social worker had little time, as she was overloaded with cases. The mother had poor relationships with her birth family and had been in and out of care, which complicated the serious lack of support and there seemed to be no alternatives provided to bridge this serious gap.

    I found the 82 page parenting assessment picked up on every single minor issue and was more geared to the LA agenda of justifying the permanent removal and adoption. The mother’s solicitor did not really fight her corner and got into cosy chats with her friends representing the LA. Her weak representation in Court, meant that she was unable to really articulate her own voice. When the LA found out that she was in a relationship and had kept it secret, rather than exploring the reasons and checking out the details of her new partner, they used it to further justify the removal of her baby. This mother had feared that this is what the LA would do, which is why she did not work openly and honestly with her SW. She felt that her partner was her only source of emotional warmth and support. Following the major onslaught that ensued, with her being put on such a stringent written agreement, where she had virtually been put on house arrest, she eventually abandoned her baby and left the LA to get its orders. She believed that she did not have a remote chance of keeping her baby.

  7. Ann Edwards July 6, 2017 at 3:24 pm #

    I agree with Maggie but the debate is often one sided – social workers are frequently blamed for all societal ills. Have years of research findings about the effect on emotional maturity and the ability to empathise and care for others of early abuse including parental substance and alcohol abuse, emotional and physical deprivation and neglect, not reached people working with troubled families? It is not just about broken attachments, serious though that is. I accept that in some local authorities much more could be done to make good this early damage but sadly, some children will be so harmed that it is extremely difficult to help them. And the most damaged children are the ones most likely to enter care, often after years of ill-treatment and neglect. Unless these children receive skilled, longterm counselling and therapy many will find it difficult to parent. With mental health services unable even to cope with emergencies, these disadvantaged children and young adults just don’t get the help they need and deserve. And yes it is often intergenerational. And even where help is offered, young adults and grieving parents don’t get the help on their terms or refuse help. I know of many cases where huge efforts by sensitive and skilled social workers have been made to maintain children with their mothers. And it is usually mothers. One example: a young mother who had blossomed in care after a removal from a violent and abusive home became pregnant, was well supported and cared well for her baby. She became involved with a man with a criminal record for violence. He became violent to her. There were frequent police call outs leading to charges. The couple refused to accept there was a risk to the child despite evidence to the contrary. She refused to leave her violent boyfriend and her child was placed for adoption. Another case: a teenager came into care as a result of neglect by her mother, who before help by social workers to leave, had lived with a violent and sexually abusive man. Once in care, it emerged that the young woman had also been sexually abused by her father when she lived in the parental home. She received therapeutic help over some years, became pregnant as an adult and although she dearly wanted to care for her baby, she became involved with a group of men from another culture who passed her around, abusing her sexually and plying her with drink and drugs. She was unable to keep her child safe. This child was placed for adoption. What’s to be done? Children cannot always wait for parents to turn themselves around otherwise we risk the intergenerational cycle. I think most of us know there is no single answer. At the very least we need to cherish new mothers more than we do as a society especially those who do not have caring families of their own. Mothers need more time to bond with their babies while being cared for themselves. We need more health visitors and midwives who spend time with the new mother. More provision for assessing mothers along with their child, better prebirth assessments, antenatal classes or courses provide by health professionals tailored for young parents where care proceedings are being considered. Social workers cannot play catchup with a whole system, although I wish Children’s Services could/would involve their staff more in strategic thinking and not just fire fighting. More dedicated research in this area would provide evidence for a change of approach. There is much, much more of course….

  8. Anita Singh July 7, 2017 at 6:33 pm #

    Ann, many young people who have been in care can experience serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse in residential, fostering or adoption care system. We only have to look at the numerous enquiries, the latest being Jersey where there is even a suggestion that some of the children died. However, it is not about blaming social workers for societal ills, but addressing serious shortfalls in the provision of support to looked after children who have become parents themselves. There is a lack of a basic social work understanding of important issues such as Attachment, which I think is an essential prerequisite to the task of being a social worker and often observed SW practising to be lacking in this area. The YP I refer to earlier, was reported by the foster carer to provide good care to her baby, when she was eventually provided a mother and baby placement, yet surprisingly the foster carer’s views were not incorporated into the parenting assessment. I felt that the f/carer’s views were purposely excluded as the LA was more preoccupied with getting the CO. There was no evidence mum’s partner was violent nor was she alcohol or drug dependent. The main issue was about her ability to cope as a vulnerable young care leaver, yet virtually nothing was done to address the significant parenting support she needed. Standard mother and baby/toddler groups etc. would be insufficient to support and any alternatives would require more costly long term financial investment. So justifying permanent removal can, at worst, be a resource led decision and there was a strong bias because of her care history.

  9. Ann Edwards July 10, 2017 at 8:01 pm #

    I absolutely agree that an understanding of attachment theory is a prerequisite for social workers – both in terms of understanding what the parent brings to the parent/child relationship and how to promote bonding. I provided a couple of examples where care leavers had received therapy as well as a good level of support both while in care and afterwards from social workers and others, to make the point that early experience of harm can have an enduring adverse effect on emotional maturity. Care proceedings and plans for adoption followed concerns about the risk these babies were exposed to, despite the help given to the mothers. In the case you describe, it would have been helpful for the foster mother to be called to give evidence if her account was at such variance with the assessment report and the the social worker should have been cross examined on this issue.
    We cannot delay decision making overlong and leave very young children in limbo so we have to work with what we have but we must all campaign for better social work training and more resources – from contraceptive advice for young people to the availability of better assessment facilities as well as all the other things we list.