England

Smoothing the adoption process

Newborn baby Image copyright PA
Image caption The Foster to Adopt scheme was introduced in 2012 by Prime Minister David Cameron

Finding a permanent loving home for a baby approved for adoption can take several months. In 2012, the government said it would change the law to allow potential adopters to foster a baby while the courts were deciding on its future. So what has the Foster to Adopt experience been like for those taking this route?

In 2013 David and Jane, from Somerset, were placed with a three-week old baby boy.

"We met him on my birthday which was the best birthday because we'd gone through IVF and had miscarriages so that's why we were doing this," Jane says.

"We really wanted to be parents and to have a baby and what it felt like from the very beginning."

Another couple, Mary and her husband John, volunteered to try out the scheme in 2013. They met their adoptive daughter when she was three months old.

"A lot of the professionals we come in contact with comment how happy and sociable, how well adjusted she is," says Mary.

"They seem to see a real difference in her compared to children the same age who have been in care for longer and that's wonderful for us to know."

Those in favour of the foster to adopt scheme believe it increases the likelihood of an adopted child receiving a stable upbringing.

Children in care in England

As of March 2015

69,540

Total number of looked after children

  • 52,050 were in a foster placement

  • 3,715 were under the age of one

  • 3,320 were placed for adoption

  • 2,630 were unaccompanied asylum seeking children

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Image copyright Other

Most experts believe a stable start in life with a safe parent figure is among the most significant factors in preventing a child developing behavioural difficulties.

"I think with the multiple moves, if you're not careful you're embedding a pattern that says chaos, saying, 'I can't cope, I'm overwhelmed'," social worker, Richard Reddington, said.

He added if babies or children could not regulate their own emotions, they would revert to a "fight or flight" mode to stay safe, something they had no choice about.

Another mother, Alison, who adopted her daughter before the law was changed, says she wishes she had done so when her daughter was younger.

She adopted her daughter when she was five years old after she had been taken into care aged three and then placed with different foster carers.

"I have got a very satisfying career and I would have had to have given that up in order to have been a foster carer so that wouldn't have worked for me," says Alison.

"But if the question is would I have rather had my daughter when she was a baby then of course, absolutely categorically the answer is yes because then I could have spared her five years of considerable trauma.

"We could have built our lives together from a very good start rather than from a very rocky start."

Baby adoptions via the Foster to Adopt scheme

since 2012

  • 14 Gloucestershire County Council

  • 12 Somerset County Council

  • 10 Bristol City Council

  • 6 South Gloucestershire Council

  • 5 Wiltshire Council

  • 1 Bath and North East Somerset Council

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Image copyright Other

She said her daughter displayed behavioural problems.

"One minute she would be very loving and caring and clinging to me and the next minute she would be very confused and angry begging to be taken to her foster carers and she could be very physical with me," she says.

"There was a lot of pinching, pushing, shoving, biting so it was unpredictable and an absolute rollercoaster emotionally in those first couple of years."

Although the foster to adopt scheme is intended to smooth the adoption process, the placement period is still a worrying time for prospective parents while social workers establish the best option for the baby.

Birth parents also continue to see their child under supervised contact sessions.

For Mary, this also meant meeting a relative of the birth mother who was also being considered as a prospective adopter.

Although she liked the woman, it was an unsettling experience.

"I felt that we were a barrier to stopping the baby being with her family and that was a real low point for me," she says.

"It was a real wobble and so that was quite a difficult time."

However her fears turned out to be unfounded and her application to adopt was approved.

For Jane, meeting her son's birth mother was "very hard" as she already felt like his mother.

"We wanted to form a good attachment with him so giving him back to his birth parent was hard (during the contact sessions).

"There was a couple of times I had to go in and and help her and show her what to do and I found that quite sad because she was his birth mother."

If a child is approved for adoption, birth parents are allowed a final goodbye visit. Birth parents are also told their child is on this type of placement from the start.

"They were never hostile to us, or rude to us in any way, they were always polite and courteous," explained Jane.

"Social workers got the brunt of their displeasure because they knew our role was foster parents.

"Our role was to give our son the best possible start and look after him - as they saw it - until they got him back."

As Foster to Adopt is taken up by more councils, children's charity Coram believes more babies will be placed in this way, but only on a case-by-case basis.

Managing Director Jeanne Kaniuk said: "It's only something that should be undertaken if you feel that the carers really understand the complexity of the role."

Mr Reddington now runs specialized parenting sessions and training for adopters and foster carers with traumatized children, having worked in the field for more than 20 years.

"My big concern is, having worked in this for so many years, that in many cases (of children in care) we've allowed far too much drift and neglect," he added.

"These children need a real heart connection again to an adult or parent.

"We can do so much with our heads but the rest has got to be heart."

Parents' names have been changed to protect the identity of the children.

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