It is with relief that we have learned that the Adoption Support Fund has been granted an extension until March 2021 although all efforts now must be on trying to get mainstream funding for this service on a permanent basis.
The following report is by Stephanie Hunter with her full evaluation report available to IRCT Members in the Resources/Reports section of the website.
On the second day of National Adoption Week October 2019, Gavin Williamson the Education Secretary announced he has extended the Adoption Support Fund until March 2021. This fund was introduced on May 1 st 2015 and it provides a vital lifeline for adopted families in crisis. Adoptive parents can access up to £5000 worth of therapy each year for their adopted child/ children. To date, £130 million has been spent and close to 50,000 families have benefited. In the hours following the announcement leading commentators in relation to adoption have praised the move but expressed caution that a further expiry date has been attached to funding from the original July 2020 date. Adoption experts, wisely question the concern that an expiry date is still in place proposing the need to identify mainstream funding (Coram, Adoption UK October 17 th ).
Eligibility for the fund was widened further in April 2016 to allow Special Guardians to apply. The author notes Special Guardians need to also satisfy an eligibility criteria which differs from adoptive parents. The children living with Special Guardians must have spent a period in Local Authority care to be allowed to access the fund. Professionally, the author has encountered many families for which this can be a significant barrier for their children. It seems unfair for the grandparents, aunts and uncles who in many cases collected their related children from maternity wards and hospitals to avoid them experiencing the stress and change of periods in care. Paradoxically, their willingness to help means they are actually denied future help. Williamson (2019) noted the aim of the fund is to assist children traumatised before legal orders are made. Arguably children can be traumatised within the womb due to substance misuse and toxic stress and by the perceived rejection of birth family (Rohner, 2016) The author evaluated Sunderland council’s use of the Adoption Support Fund in 2016.
At the time of conducting this evaluation she was employed as a Senior University lecturer and was therefore aware of the policy and research background preceding the implementation of the fund. Selwyn et al (2014) conducted a significant research report in relation to adoption. To summarise, a third of adoptions were stable, however a further third required mental health input and support and the remaining third needed significant input as the children experienced severe and enduring developmental trauma and attachment difficulties. It is ineffably sad that many of the families received too little help too late and adoption disruption rates were estimated between 4 and 12%.
The human and financial costs for these children to experience the loss of their birth family then the family legally promised as forever are immeasurable the author also published last year a chapter within Donovan and Rushton (2019) which highlighted the significant funding issues in relation to Children’s Mental Health Services (Camhs). This further supports the concerns in relation to expiry of the adoption fund. Put simply, there will be little help available for these vulnerable children if the fund ceases as NHS Camhs have been decimated by cuts in relation to austerity.
To summarise, the author welcomes the extension of the Adoption Support Fund, as do colleagues at the Institute of Recovery from Childhood Trauma (IRCT) but given the expiration date is still in place we remain concerned for the future of services for these children. The author urges service commissioners to pro- actively conduct needs assessments locally to highlight the legal and therapeutic circumstances of traumatised children in their area. The author recently returned to NHS Camhs work. Currently in Sunderland, the city in which the author works, close to 6% of cases treated are children inLocal Authority Care. This highlights the significant and enduring mental health needs of looked after children. Approximately 539 children are in care in Sunderland many of whom require ongoing support. It is evident there is a need to gather more detailed information to ascertain figures in relation to adopted children and those living with Special Guardians. It is highly likely the figures are higher still, as Sunderland has more children in care living with connected adults than with registered foster carers, reflecting national carer recruitment challenges.
These vulnerable children need access to services which can provide responsive episodes of care to meet the complex needs of those affected by developmental trauma. Currently an expiration date is in place without a clear national picture of the number of adopted children and children placed with special guardians who need help.
Steph Hunter Dip S/W. BA. BSC, MA. Advanced Award in Social Work, PGCE, FHEA