11. The social workers for the adoptive parents
'More information shared with Social workers beforehand re the children attending? If I had known the age range, I might have suggested other couples attend. It would have been nice if adopters were given an idea of how the children were prepared for this day, in terms of understanding what it is for?'
Comment by social worker
'My adopters found the experience positive but also they felt more overwhelmed by the presence of the children than they had anticipated. They thought they would have done better at engaging and playing with the children but found in reality they were anxious and overwhelmed and this hindered their ability to relax and engage naturally.'
'Comment by social worker
11.1 The social workers for the adoptive families were not all present but there was a good response of written feedback. Their responses recognised the experience of the children and also of the prospective adopters. I was able to meet with three social workers and I was also able to talk to two staff at the Adoption Exchange Day who were responsible to recruiting prospective adopters in England.
11.2 The staff who had experienced several activity days in England were very positive about them and felt they gave people wanting to adopt another view of the process and the chance to meet other adopters in different contexts. The staff discussed some prospective adopters who in their view were unwilling to be flexible in the children they wanted to adopt, they felt a minority had too high expectations and wanted the 'perfect' child. They felt the activity days brought families into contact with 'real' children and that having met older children, sibling groups and children with additional needs they were more willing to think again about children they could care for.
11.3 The social workers for the adopters were aware of the emotional impact on their families and that all had found the event stressful. Whilst they thought the briefing on the day was useful some adopters had said they were too keyed up at the thought of meeting the children to take in what was being said.
11.4 The social workers were clear that the activity day was not part of the assessment as their families had already been approved but they did see another side to the families. In England there have been occasions when prospective adopters had not completed their approval before attending events but this had now been stopped and prospective adopters invited were expected to have been approved for certain categories of children e.g. those over a certain age. The activity days had led some families to change their minds and to be more flexible in terms of thinking they could take two siblings, or an older child.
11.5 The social workers were aware of the impact on the children and most commented that they thought the children were enjoying the day, but two noticed that 'one or two children did not find anyone taking an interest in them, whether they were aware of this being an issue or not I am not sure.'
11.6 The adoption social workers I spoke to from England referred to 'adopter led adoption' whereby prospective adopters had a more proactive role in their recruitment and child placement. They felt that the Activity days complemented these processes as they enable prospective adopters to meet not only the children but their foster carers and social workers at an earlier stage in the process. One very experienced foster carer who had fostered over twenty children who had all been placed for adoption told me that she welcomed the greater involvement of the prospective adopters and thought in the long run it would contribute to quicker identification of families. She also felt that it would help to focus the minority of families who were looking for the 'perfect child' and would help them to decide if they really wanted to adopt at all. She believed that all adoptive families faced challenges especially in the teenage years and families needed to be resilient.
11.7 This view is reflected in the Bristol University study which found that;
'About a quarter of families described major challenges in parenting their child who had multiple and overlapping difficulties and their struggles to get support. Parents reported that they were physically and mentally exhausted and that there had been a negative impact on marital and family relationships.
With more maltreated children being adopted out of care and resources pumped into reduce delay and recruit more adopters, the support needs are easily forgotten, as they are mainly needed some way down the line and services especially for adolescents are under-developed. Although disruption rates are low (and could be lower with better support), each one of the parents and young people who were interviewed had a story of personal tragedy and pain. It is important not to forget the hundreds of families who are 'At home' managing very challenging children. The survey results estimate this group at about a quarter of adoptive families who are parenting teenagers and even one in five of the 'Going well' group had teenage children whose SDQ scores indicated probable mental health problems'.