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Mental health emergency among adopted children

Some of the most vulnerable children are facing a mental health emergency as a result of failings in a system that is not designed to meet their needs, Adoption UK has warned.

Sad girl looking out of a rainy window

Many adopted children have experienced abuse or neglect or witnessed violence in their early years which has impacted negatively on their relationships, learning and health. Adoptive families are left to pick up the pieces when professional support is not provided.

Adoption UK’s CEO Sue Armstrong Brown said: “For the third year running, 71% of Barometer respondents said they face a continual struggle for support. All too often these families are being failed by a system which invests heavily in the placement of children for adoption, then fades into the background, often with terrible consequences for the mental health of the children and their adoptive families.” 

This year’s Adoption Barometer report reveals that:

  • Two-thirds (64%) of adopted people aged 16+ have sought help with their mental health, and the numbers are rising.
  • Almost half (46%) of adopted people aged 16-25 were involved with mental health services in 2020, compared to the national figure of 17%.
  • However, most say they have been unable to access the support they need.   

The issue is compounded by the fact that contact with their birth parents often looms during adolescence outside of any formal agreement. In fact the Barometer survey also shows that more than a quarter of 13-18-year-olds had direct contact with a birth family member outside of any formal agreement and this can have devastating consequences for mental health and family stability.  

The survey results highlight the consequences of failure to provide early and consistent support for adopted young people.

More than a quarter of 16-25-year-olds were not in education, employment or training at the end of 2020 – which is more than twice as high as UK averages. Involvement in high-risk and criminal activities has steadily increased since the first Adoption Barometer in 2019. Problems are often exacerbated by children falling through the cracks between child and adult services with nearly three quarters of parents saying their child’s support reduced or ceased when they became too old to receive services for adolescents.

However, when families do get support, their assessments of its quality and the impact on their family have increased on all indicators since last year - which is a massively positive achievement in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Adopter experiences in Wales have improved at both approvals and matching stage, and among families with older children, due to investment in adoption services in 2019.  The emergency COVID adoption support fund in England has been widely praised by families.

Sue Armstrong Brown added: “This year presents real opportunities to re-set support for adoptive families. The ongoing review of children’s Social Care in England and the debate about COVID recovery are both opportunities we must grab if we’re going to give our most vulnerable children an equal chance in life.” 

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