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Adoption breakdown extract from times rept


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My analysis of adoption breakdown from my report for The Times (2011)

My analysis of adoption breakdown from my report for The Times (2011)

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  • 1. ADOPTION BREAKDOWN Sometimes even those sympathetic to adoption express caution because of what they see as a worryingly high level of adoption breakdown. They are right to be concerned: a breakdown in adoption simply adds to the instability which can be so damaging to a child. I would not advocate adoption for many more children if I believed that amongst the additional number there would be a high proportion of breakdowns. But the truth is that when adoption takes place early in a child’s life the chances of breakdown are genuinely minimal. But even adoptions taking place when a child is older break down less frequently than is often believed. Sometimes the competitiveness of the voluntary adoption agencies can be unhelpful. ***********, for example, claim on their website that the breakdown rate for *** adoptions is just 3% but they compare that with an average breakdown figure of between 25% and 30%. The Guardian recently estimated adoption breakdowns as running at 20%. In Adopting A Child, a key BAAF publication and just re-printed, the 20% figure is quoted. I believe there is significant evidence that estimates of 20% and more may exaggerate the reality of adoption breakdown. Evidence from Romanian adoptions
  • 2. The reality is that we do not know, with any certainty, what proportions of adoptions break down, and, as with so much debate around adoption, anecdote sometimes dominates discussion. However, two recent studies of long term outcomes following the adoptions of highly challenging children suggest that the breakdown rate may be lower than traditionally quoted. Over some years and as Chief Executive of Barnardo’s I was told frequently of the tragic experiences of children adopted from Romanian orphanages and the very high breakdown rates as damaged children wore out parents unable to compensate for the harshness of the treatment experienced by these babies and young children while in public care in Romania. These children’s treatment in Romania was certainly harsh. As Professor Michael Rutter described in 1998, this was the experience of children in Romanian orphanages which was exposed by the fall of Ceausescu in 1989: In most instances the children were mainly confined to cots; there were very few toys or playthings ,and sometimes none at all; there was very little talk from caregivers; no personalised caregiving; children were fed gruel by bottles using teats with large holes, often left propped up without any caregiver being involved; and there was a variable, but sometimes harsh, physical environment. The children were often washed down by being hosed with cold water.
  • 3. Professor Rutter followed the fortunes of 165 of these children adopted into the UK and aged up to three and a half years of age but concentrated on those (98 of the sample) who had lived in these appalling conditions until at least the age of six months. They were followed until they reached their fourteenth birthday. It is significant to point out that at the time these adoptions took place that their failure was widely predicted. Many local authorities did all they could to prevent them taking place and in the event some of these children, immensely challenging as they were, became adopted by parents who would not have been approved for the adoption of a UK child, perhaps because they were too old or they had children already. This encouraged the dire predictions of catastrophe and – as I experienced subsequently – confident assertions that the predicted breakdowns had indeed occurred. When arriving in the UK the children provided an immense challenge. Rutter described the children as having a developmental level which was severely impaired. But while other studies followed the fortunes of those children who remained in Romanian institutions and whose psychological impairment did continue, Rutter found that in all cases the children adopted into the UK caught up developmentally and of the 165 children studied there were only two breakdowns. That is not to say that some of the adoptions had not been difficult, particularly for children who experienced the emotional poverty of Romanian care for more
  • 4. than six months, half of whom experienced psychological problems as they grew up in the UK. But contrary to popular opinion their parents had not given up and those problems had been managed. Very significantly for wider adoption policy, Rutter found psychological problems in children who left the orphanages before they were six months were negligible, leading him to conclude that psychological deficits are uncommon even after profound institutional deprivation, as long as that deprivation lasts only some months. UK breakdowns after older adoption The second study which places some doubt on estimates of up to 30% for adoption breakdown was of older and more challenging children placed for adoption in the UK. If a general adoption breakdown rate of 20% or 30% were accurate we might expect the breakdown rate for this group to be much higher, perhaps 60%. But in 2006 Rushton and Dance published research into a group of children, all adopted between the ages of five and eleven, a very high risk group. The children were followed until their fourteenth birthday by which time only 23% of adoptions had broken down. This suggests that the overall adoption breakdown rate may be rather lower than the 20% to 30% figure which is quoted so often. It may be much nearer to 10%. I found BAAF’s consideration of this thoughtful and convincing and they suggested that the
  • 5. breakdown rate for the over five group might be generally around the 23% figure discovered by Rushton and Dance. But they believe that the figure for those adopted between one and five might be nearer to ten percent and for those adopted under 12 months just three percent. All this reinforces the point that adoption, compared to almost any other sort of social work intervention is dramatically successful. Even for those adopted after five, success is achieved in nearly 80% of cases. For younger children and babies the chances of disruption are genuinely minimal. From The Times, July 2011