Being adopted can be confusing, frightening and distressing for children of any age. This is only exacerbated if the child feels like have no say in the decision about who adopts them, or they don’t get enough information about their prospective adopters.
In a new guide for Community Care Inform Children, Elaine Dibben summarises key messages from research which has captured children’s views and experiences of adoption. Elaine Dibben is adoption and fostering development consultant for CoramBAAF. Here, we present an excerpt from her guide. Inform subscribers can read the full guide, which is part of the adoption knowledge and practice hub.
Research is referred to using abbreviated titles, with full references at the end.
Idea of adoption
Adoption is a difficult concept for children to grasp. Many children in the adopted children speaking study (1999) who were adopted after infancy remembered that they had felt anxious and frightened when they were first introduced to the idea, and worried about the changes that were ahead of them. They wanted to know about the family they were going to join, and the place they were going to live and go to school. They remembered that the reassurances that their foster carers and social workers had given them were helpful but had not completely allayed their fears.
Some of the children in the study recalled that when they were initially introduced to the idea they had wanted to stay with their foster carers rather than being adopted, but they had subsequently settled well into their placements. However, some of the children in the beyond the adoption order study (2014) were clear that they had never wanted to be adopted. Instead they had wanted to stay with their birth mothers, although with hindsight they also recognised that this would not have been possible.
Given the anxiety the concept of adoption generates in children, it is understandable that the about adoption children (2006) expressed the need to know and understand “what being adopted would actually mean for them (how it would feel) as well as what would actually happen (how adoption works, and how much say they would have in what happens”).
First meetings and introductory visits
In the adopted children speaking study (1999), the children’s first meetings with their adoptive parents were characterised by feelings of trepidation and confusion. The children were anxious to know whether their adopters would like them, what they should say and how long the meeting would take. The children were also concerned about whether they would like the adopters. Many of the children recalled feeling shy and awkward during these meetings. Some reflected that they generally found it difficult to meet new people, especially in unfamiliar surroundings.
The children’s subsequent introductory visits were generally remembered as more comfortable. Nevertheless, some children recalled that they were unclear about the purpose of these visits and continued to feel anxious. They described feeling on trial and as though they had to be on their best behaviour. They were also unsure whether they were going to be offered opportunities to say that they did not want the placement to go ahead.
The about adoption children (2006) similarly described these first meetings and introductory visits as a ‘scary’ time. They suggested their five “best ways of getting to know their adoptive family”:
- Visiting and staying a few days before moving in.
- Going on days out with the family.
- Spending time talking with your future adoptive parents.
- Being given a video or book about the family.
- Having fun and playing games with the family.
Register now for Community Care Live London for two days of free and essential learning to boost your CPD, sharpen your legal knowledge and improve your practice, on 26-27 September.
‘Adopted children speaking’
Thomas, C and Beckford, V with Lowe, N and Murch, M (1999)
Adopted Children Speaking
Morgan, R (2006)
About Adoption: A children’s views report, Report by the Office of the Children’s Rights Director
Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI)
‘Beyond the adoption order’
Selwyn, J; Wijedasa, D and Meakings, S (2015)
Beyond the Adoption Order: challenges, interventions and adoption disruption