A new study from Australia suggests that a significant number of children who languish inside the care system may be going on to suffer much greater levels of psychological and physical harm than children who are placed with appropriate carers at an early age.
The study, which was published in the Australian Social Work Journal, also casts doubt on research from the UK which suggests that children who are adopted from care have similarly high rates of mental health problems to those who stay in state care.
The research paper, “Descriptive Analysis of Foster Care Adoptions in New South Wales, Australia”, was produced by Andrea del Pozo de Bolger, Debra Dunstan and Melissa Kaltner.
To the best of our knowledge, this is the first piece of research identifying the care system as potentially posing a risk of harm to children.
In addition, the research also emphasises the need to preserve birth family connections.
Looking at post adoption contact, the researchers concluded that care plans for children being adopted needed to be fluid throughout a child’s life and include contact with birth parents where possible, rather than the current provision of one care plan which is intended to last for the duration of their childhood and which very rarely features face to face contact with birth parents.
Unlike the UK, Australia appears to be committed to keeping birth family connections alive, which the researchers say is demonstrated by the frequency of face-to-face contact in the sample cases they studied from New South Wales (NSW).
In the UK, post adoption contact usually takes the form of indirect letterbox contact twice a year.
The research does make one mistake, though. It claims that recent legislative changes in NSW are consistent with what the researchers see as a drive to increase adoptions in the UK.
That is no longer the case in the UK, after several successful challenges in the European Court of Human Rights clarified the law in this area, namely that adoption should always be a method of last resort.
The researchers make several interesting observations:
- Children placed with appropriate carers at an early age and who experienced continuity of care displayed “seemingly small numbers of behavioural and emotional disorders.”
- Positive developmental outcomes may only apply to those adopted children who are placed in favourable circumstances at a very early age.
- This outcome differs from the high rates of complex psychopathology (attachment difficulties, relationship insecurity, sexual behaviour, trauma-related anxiety, conduct problems, defiance, inattention or hyperactivity, self-injury, food maintenance behaviours) identified in the population of children in care.
The research also offers alternative explanations for these outcomes:
On early adoptive placements that lasted:
“The finding [that children who are adopted at an early age and who receive consistent care] may suggest that an agency is more likely to pursue an adoption application if the child does not experience high needs.”
“Second, the finding may be the product of the timing of the data collection. An English study suggested that children adopted from care have similarly high rates of mental health problems to those who remain in care…
However, the data were gathered some years after adoption, whereas the present study describes functioning at the time of adoption.”
“Therefore, a longitudinal study under the new legislative arrangements is required to determine if this outcome is enduring. This study should include comparison groups featuring children placed early in stable foster placements to ensure that any developmental outcomes observed are not erroneously attributed to placement type.”
On post adoption contact:
“In regards to the arrangements for post adoption contact recorded in adoption plans, some important issues emerged…
Contact plans suggested the NSW Supreme Court attempts to contemplate fluid circumstances as well as consideration for broader birth family ties. This is consistent with recommendations from international literature…
Thus, a single contact plan is unlikely to meet a child’s needs as they develop. Likewise, further exploration of the impact of face-to-face contact on children’s wellbeing is necessary to inform Australian practice, given its infrequent use in other settings.”
Researching Reform advocates for a system which offers birth families in need tailored and dynamic support, while ensuring that contact with birth families remains, wherever possible.
This could be done through a truly open adoption process which allows birth parents to remain in frequent contact with their children while allowing adoptive parents and highly trained child welfare professionals to assist with the day-to-day love and care all children need.
Alternatively, where needs are less great, allowing children to remain with their birth families while providing families with expert support, including regularly updated care plans to reflect the ever changing needs of children.
It is absurd that we don’t do any of this already.
- Apolitical – Child health: Why campaigners are battling the UK’s adoption policy
- First Ever Post-Adoption Contact Appeal Confirms Adopters Have Final Say
- Top Social Work Professor: Adoption Works For A Minority Of Children.
UK law promotes children staying with the birth family & when that is not possible to have contact with family. Social Workers ignore the law & engineer the opposite. Lazy Judges accept social workers care plans without challenge. Later those care plans are changed, without going back to court, stopping contact altogether.
Social Workers wield too much power. It makes them believe they know best. I’m staggered how little they really know about families. They are not specialists & hiring specialists to write what they dictate is not credible even if accepted by lazy judges.
Little by little the truth is coming out, through research, about how their decisions are so damaging for the children they are supposed to protect. They really should have been able to see it for themselves but they are so blinkered. It speaks volumes that there is scant information about the actual welfare of children in care.
To stem the rot. They should arrange Contact for any child, currently in care /adopted who are not seeing their families with a view for reunification.
Social workers should look to support families instead of destroying them. A drastic change is desperately needed. Now!
Mike Howard said:
Yes Dana, exactly right, the system as it stands is broken to the extent that nothing short of a fundamental reform can fix it.
They are supposed to act in the best interest of the child, but they act in the best interest of the system.
They take children into care on the grounds of “Potential future emotional harm” , when as the report identifies, the one thing a child in care is guaranteed to experience is Certain future emotional harm.
To the day I die I will never forget a child on his knees with his arms wrapped tightly around my legs at the end of a contact session, begging to stay with me and being physically dragged off and away by a contact worker and social worker. People who can do this type of work should not be allowed anywhere near children.
I have My own children in Care they used fii level one on me as the merits they could not reach. Level one is in fact missed appointments and this was never checked, the missed appointments are infact for speech which was at my childs school and the parents do not attend. my youngest child has almost given up . they all love contact all ask to come home.
I’m so sorry.
America, Australia & other more enlightened countries have researched & implemented their findings to great success. Here in the UK it seems that the same mistakes are being repeated over & over again, failing the children & their families. At the same time, throwing more & more of tax payers money into the money pit of an growing, failing system.
The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.
The evidence is in: Foster Care vs Keeping Families Together. The definitive studies.
The largest ever 2 part study study involving over 15,000 cases initially & followed up a year later with 23,000 cases.
NCCPR had long argued that many children trapped in foster care would be far better off if they remained at home & given the right kinds of help. However that turned out to be not quite right. Not even close. Children fared better if they remained with their families even if they only got the typical help (which tends to be little help, wrong help, or no help) commonly offered by child welfare agencies.
Also Molly Mc Grath Tierney did an eleven minute video for TEDx Rethinking Foster Care explaining why the child protection services were repeated letting down the children in their care, simply because they were taken into care. She achieved success in reducing the numbers of kids going into care by the simple mantra of kids need to stay with their families. The results spoke for themselves.
Both research & video can be found on the NCCRP website.
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