Where are the support services for families whose children are adopted?

Too often, parents whose children are removed go without the therapeutic support that can break the cycle of children's services involvement. A new project aims to map available support with a view to filling the gaps

A couple looking unhappy
Photo: Delmaine Donson_peopleimages.com AdobeStock

By Angharad Davies and Joe Smallman, Family Rights Group

Most of us never think about what it would feel like to have your child removed by children’s services and adopted by strangers, with all legal links severed and the fear that you’ll never see them again as they begin their new life without you.

We don’t think about it because the idea is too painful to contemplate and, besides, that sort of thing only happens to evil people who have deliberately hurt their children – right?

Wrong. While many children are removed for their own safety due to issues that their parents are facing, birth families’ stories are usually complex and resist the neat categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. These risk factors may relate to a parent’s mental ill-health, their learning disabilities or that they are a victim of domestic abuse.

Cuts diminishing service provision

As cuts in public services result in domestic abuse services shrinking, mental health services reaching crisis point and the cost-of-living crisis worsening, the options for help and support open to some parents are diminishing.

Research issued in 2018 by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory and Lancaster University revealed a doubling, from 2007-8 to 2016-17, in the number of new-born babies being subject to care proceedings in England, while a follow-up study showed that numbers continued to rise in subsequent years.

Many mothers in this position are very young, have been subject to domestic abuse, and were once themselves in care.

‘A cycle of involvement with children’s services’

This results in a system where  birth parents can get stuck in a cycle of involvement with services, with children removed and adopted, resulting in trauma that compounds the issues that led to intervention in the first place.

However, high-quality support services – whether before, during or after an initial removal – could have broken this cycle.

At the moment, these birth parents and wider birth families are too often left without any adequate support once their child has been removed. At present, there is no nationwide map showing the services available to birth families before, during, and after adoption proceedings have occurred.

Therapeutic support, for example, is often cited in family court proceedings as a necessity if a parent is to safely keep that child, or any future child, at home. Unfortunately, such support may either not be available or the parent may not know how or where to access it.

Local practice is often extremely variable, differing from one part of the country to another. This means that, too often, birth families are unable to find and access these vital services even when they are available.

How families are assisted in navigating the adoption process, in understanding their rights, options and what support is available at each stage, has a significant impact upon all involved, including the child and any siblings.

Mapping available support

For this reason, we announced last week the launch of a ground-breaking project to map, for the first time, support services – including advice, peer-to-peer support, and therapeutic services – for birth families in England whose children have been, or are at risk of being, adopted. Our aim is that this map will explain which services are available, the type of support on offer and who they are aimed at.

Data gathering for the map is beginning this spring, with surveys being sent out to local authorities, regional adoption agencies (RAAs) and voluntary adoption agencies (VAAs).

On completion, the services will be presented on an interactive map hosted on Family Rights Group’s website, where the public can learn more about the types of services offered. We also hope it can help academics and policymakers to identify gaps in service provision in specific areas, with a view to commissioning services to fill those gaps.

As part of the project, we want to consult with representatives from children’s services departments, RAAs and VAAs. We would also welcome contributions from practitioners or members of the public who can provide us with the details of any service that supports birth families in England.

If you are interested in providing your input and helping to pilot the project, please contact adavies@frg.org.uk by Friday 7 April 2023.

Angharad Davies is social work adviser and Joe Smallman communications officer at the Family Rights Group


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