Modern Family: Adoption in the UK

Posted on 11 January 2022

Conversations on the legal topics affecting businesses and individuals today.

George Irving

In this episode we discuss issues prospective parents should be alive to when seeking to adopt, questions of identity that adopted children face as they grow older and advice for parents who prevent adoptions from breaking down particularly in the age of social media and the Internet.

Sarah Infante
Hello and welcome to the Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions podcast and to this the third in our Modern family series.  I am Sarah Infante, an Associate in the Family Department at Mishcon de Reya.

George Irving

And I am George Irving, also an Associate in the Family Department at Mishcon de Reya.

Sarah Infante

We are delighted to be joined today by Dr John Simmonds, OBE from CoramBAFF, commonly regarded as the leading organisation in the UK that focuses on adoption and foster care.  Now John is a qualified social worker and has substantial experience in child protection, family placement and residential care settings.  He is responsible for CoramBAFF’s contribution to the development of policy and practice and social work, health, the law and research and John also sits on the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board, the Public Law Working Group and the UK Trauma Council, so he is clearly very busy.  Now to top it all off, John was awarded an OBE in the New Years’ Honours List 2015 for services to children and families so we are really fortunate that John not only has such a wealth of experience in this area but he can also talk to his personal experience of adoption as he adopted two children with his wife over 40 years ago.  So welcome to the podcast and to Mishcon de Reya, and thank you very for joining us today.

Dr John Simmonds

A delight thank you.

George Irving

Welcome John.  To start us off, can you tell us about some of the challenges and highlights you face in adopting your own children and whether these experiences have informed your advice and assistance you provide to both children in care and prospective adoptive parents?

Dr John Simmonds

Yes so I, I suppose the thing that comes across most clearly in my memory is the surprise and then the trauma of finding out that it was difficult for my wife to become pregnant, to finding out some of the reasons for that and I think there was much less understanding about fertility issues and infertility issues than there are today.  So exploring that with our GP, being referred to various specialists in the NHS, it was a very hit and miss affair.  I think that that was something that was very clear but I think that the other thing that accompanied that, both the uncertainty and the trauma of trying to understand whether it was a soluble problem and we would find ourselves on the life course that most parents find themselves on in becoming pregnant and giving birth etcetera, etcetera.  Or whether there was no alternative and that we were going to remain childless and the detail of that still rings quite dark warning bells for us and there are various things that, on a regular basis, that stir up still that memory of what that bit of the journey was actually like.  We did have an interim solution and there is something of this solution that is kind of reflected today in that we acquired a puppy.  So all the puppies that are now acquired as a solution to some of the issues about the pandemic and Covid etcetera, etcetera that was one of the solutions that we had for ourselves.  She was utterly delightful.  She quickly settled in and she changed our life.  So we cared for her, we did all the things that you have to do with dogs and living near Hampstead Heath there were lots of advantages to be able to take her for long walks, she loved diving into the ponds so it did, it built up a sense of positivity, of that kind of interactional nature that parents have with their children, the building of relationships, the warmth, the excitement, the curiosity.  So she was, she was part giving a major kind of reaffirming to us about the kind of importance of, of children and having a family life.  So I would never underestimate that but it didn’t mean that the issues about us wanting to have children of our own evaporated, that certainly was not the case.   I don’t remember how we came to discuss the possibility of  adoption but we did and I think there were two issues that stood out at that time and I think these issues are still relevant today; one is having to open up our personal and intimate lives to a Local Authority, to a social worker and there were many issues and I think, again I think this is not an uncommon issue about why couldn’t you do it in the normal way and that kind of sense of blame, of guilt, of being seen to fail were a part of that.  There are also all the other issues that typically come up when talking to social workers, Local Authority employees, Members of the State about whether there were things that she would come to judge us for so it was a bit step to make that first approach to the Local Authority.  In fact we made it to two Local Authority’s to see what the message they wanted to give to us about taking next steps and so we started that journey and there were then interesting issues about the first visit by the social worker to our home, we had to fill in various forms, our history, our status etcetera, etcetera, also including the reasons that we couldn’t have children of our own so what was our motivation and then the social worker would come and talk to us about various aspects of that.  One of the things that stands out for me and it goes back to how you kind of come to focus on specific issues for you, personal issues for you was that my anxiety that when she came to visit that our dog would firstly want to sit on her lap, as friendly as she was and that she was very keen to eat biscuits as we know from a whole range of other kind of personal friends that would come round to us and we’d serve the coffee, tea, cakes and biscuits and that was definitely on our dog’s agenda and you know, I think that the kind of the fear that we had that she would say to us, ‘you know, if you can’t control your dog how are you going to control a child’ was a personal thing.  Actually it never came up at all but again it kind of indicates somethings of that personal journey where all your kind of pre-occupations and worries very easily come to the fore.  So we went through that process, again there were kind of other personal things in our house, about kind of whether she would ask questions about why you’d done this and what adaptations would you make if you, if you turned your spare room into a, into a bedroom for the child etcetera, etcetera.  Lots of issues about children who were available for adoption at that time and I suppose one of the things that really made an enormous difference is that the social worker was so open minded and on side with us that it really became a very powerful experience of being able to talk to her in ways where you felt that she was really on side in understanding some of the challenges that we had actually faced in our marriage and in the decision to think about adoption.  So I don’t remember how long it went on for.  There were various things which we found difficult but I actually and absolutely, or both of us understand why she asked so there was a piece of reading that she gave us which came from a psychiatrist in the States which said that any time that an adopted child had been referred to him, his view was that the difficulties for the child started at the point at which they were told that they had been adopted and she said to us, ‘read it and when I come back next time, tell me what you think’.   We were worried that she was actually saying to us that keeping it a secret is pretty important.  Actually we said to her, ‘we could never keep it a secret, starting a family life with a lie would be the kind of worst of possible starts in life’ and she said, ‘yes of course it is’ and you know, so she was on side.  I don’t think she was…

Sarah Infante

Was that a test?

Dr John Simmonds

Huh?

Sarah Infante

Was that a bit of a test then?

Dr John Simmonds

I think it was a bit of a test.

Sarah Infante

You passed.

Dr John Simmonds

Yes we passed.  But again I think it is probably a kind of fairly standard thing for all perspective adopters about kind of why am I being asked this and what is the right question and you know, can I unravel it a bit so that we give the right question but actually the truth of it was that she was not misleading us, she was never misleading us and so eventually we were approved and we then waited and we waited I think for eighteen months.  Got a phone call one day, it was our social worker and she said that there was a baby in the Royal Free Hospital and it was likely that her mother wanted her to be adopted but there were some issues about that.  There was a discussion about sort of what we should actually do next.  So she told us a bit about mum and her circumstances and why she was thinking about not being able to care for the baby and her being placed for adoption.  It all made sense to us.  She was young, she had life ambitions and at that stage in her life it wasn’t to become a mum.  There were similar issues about the dad.  So we explored that.  They sounded right to us.  We said to her and to the social worker at the hospital that we certainly felt very keen to meet the baby and hear more about what was actually happening and so all of that was arranged.  Even at that time it was a relatively unusual arrangement in the social worker and the Local Authority saying that they would discharge the baby directly to our care because some of the legal processes had not happened and it may well be that mum or dad could change their minds but from our point of view starting to develop a relationship with that baby at that particular… you know, from very early on, it felt to us to have very strong advantages to it you know, both of us had had a lot of training and education in the kind of development of early relationships between parents and children etcetera, etcetera.  So that was very strongly motivated so in the end I think she was two weeks’ old, she was discharged from hospital and we took her home.  So that’s the beginning for her of the next forty years and there were, there were issues about that.  Every time the doorbell rang or the telephone went, we had telephones at that, at that point in time, we were worried you know, that it was the social worker saying mum had changed her mind and of course if that was the case then we would have had to have given her up but actually that didn’t happen so the consent was signed.  We then made our own application to the Court for an Adoption Order and that went all very smoothly, again the social worker was very supportive, the Judge that made the Order was a very nice, a very nice person, very kind of personable despite kind of having to appear before him in the Court and as I said, it was the beginning of forty years of further development.

George Irving

Wow.  One of the few Court hearings that is probably a very happy, happy turn out.

Dr John Simmonds

Yeah.

Sarah Infante

And it is just so interesting in terms of all the journey that you have been through.  Just out of interest, where did that future in terms of you being a social worker, did you already have that experience or did that almost prompt you to go into it?

Dr John Simmonds

Yes I had had the experience, I think that probably, yes when I started in social work that was in Hampshire, I had probably been involved in the placement about six to eight children for adoption.

Sarah Infante

Right.  So given all your wealth of experience and forty years of being an adoptive parent, what would you say to anyone who listens out there who are potentially prospective adoptive parents?

Dr John Simmonds

Yeah.

Sarah Infante

And what should they be thinking about when they are looking to start out their journey to adopt?

Dr John Simmonds

I suppose one of the things which is really important is that adoption has changed since we had adopted.  That’s not to say that some mums and dads they can’t look after their babies, they weren’t planning the pregnancy you know, they are young, they have other aspirations in their life and they do see adoption as a solution to that.  I mean that’s fallen off dramatically, it’s probably a couple of hundred a year now.

Sarah Infante

In the UK?

Dr John Simmonds

Mm.

Sarah Infante

Oh really?

Dr John Simmonds

Yeah and adoption has, has moved towards becoming a solution for children in care where those children have been removed because of serious safeguarding issues in relation to their parents.  Through the 80’s and 90’s that became the dominant issue when it came to adoption.  The adoption of children from care and a family life forever and I think that that’s been recognised as kind of one of the fundamental drivers when it comes to issues about children in care.  They need a family for life you know, there are possibilities of something like that happening when it comes to foster care but legally the parental responsibility if there is a Care Order remains with the Local Authority, not with the foster carers so there are lots of uncertainties that come with foster care.  So adoption became seen to be a solution.  The Labour Government in the late 1990’s undertook a major review of adoption and wanted to change the law to make sure where it was the right thing to do, agreed by the Courts, that children should be placed for adoption if that was an agreed and lawful plan.  So the Adoption Children Act was a major revision.  It was aligned with the Children Act ’89 and it came into force in 2005 and over the five years from… well since 2002 when it was passed by Parliament to the point at which it was enacted there were a lot of actions and agenda for change when it came to adoption of children from care.  So that, that’s continued and what, what we have seen is a rise and fall in the number of children leaving care as a result of that.  It reached probably its highest number of about 3… this is just in England, about 3,500 children a year.  Currently or for the last year it was about 2,800.  If you compare that to the numbers of children adopted in 1968 that was 25,000 children.

Sarah Infante

Wow that’s…

Dr John Simmonds

Yeah.  You know, and there’s a significant societal issue that’s been raised about that you know, about children borne out of wedlock, the complete unacceptability of single parenthood, the absence of any social policy which supported single parent heard whether that was money or housing or whatever but particularly the kind of the moral condemnation about women who became pregnant and gave birth to a child out of wedlock and the position that you know, it was partly a religious issue but it was partly a societal issue that really the best solution for those children was to place them for adoption so 25,000 in 1968, it started to drop off from that number at 1968 and as I said, the model of adoption has actually changed particularly through the 80’s and 90’s.  There is an investigation going on in Parliament about adoption at that time and whether… well as there have been in other countries where there needs to be an apology for the way that the whole system actually operated so we await to see what Parliament actually decides about that particular issue.  But I suppose you know, everything that I said has been somewhat changed by the fact that it’s the adoption of children from care and particularly the adoption of children who have been maltreated so in many ways they’ve had the worst of possible starts in life unimaginable you know, and we’ve just seen that with Arthur in Solihull so there are very significant issues from adopters today.   I think the first thing, it’s still a child and a child that needs a family for life but there are also a whole range of issues that need to be taken into account by trying to kind of think about it means for that child to come to live with new parents you know, who are in a completely different position but often where many of their memories will have been influenced by whatever the specifics were of the maltreatment that they experienced you know, so it can be abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, it can be neglect in not being properly fed, your health not being attended to, your need to kind of learn and to play etcetera and all of those issues being ignored.  So I think that one of the things for adopters today is to orientate themselves specifically to their motivation to adopt and the issues about motivation to adopt is still I think as strong as they were although the numbers are much smaller but there are those specific question about understanding in some detail about the kind of challenges of becoming an adoptive parent to children who have experienced over the first twelve, twenty four, thirty six months of their life, the worst of possible starts in life.  So most of the children that have an agreed adoption plan are under the age of five.  Age eighteen months to three years is probably the largest proportion and the detail of those experiences as I’ve just said is something that really needs to be understood in the detail of what that actually has come to mean for the child.  There are various other factors which have been significant, particularly those children that come from minority ethnic backgrounds so with whom should those children be placed.  Should it be adopters from a similar ethnic, cultural, religious, national background.  There are issues about those children, it’s not unusual for them to have brothers and sisters so should they be placed together and are these… this whole set of developmental issues when it comes to you know, common factors like children have special needs, children who are disabled and the part that that play sin understanding the significance for any specific child about what that might actually mean when you come to think about that child being placed in your home.  We have a standard protocol and process in terms of becoming an adopter.  You register your interest with an adoption agency and that’s a regulated agency, it has to meet all the various regulations and standards that are set out both in law and by Ofsted.  You register your interest, you give agreement or your consent to various status issues being explored and you also undertake a series of preparation courses which deal with some of the issues that I’ve just talked about.  So often in groups, maybe individual issues with a social worker, you may come to meet other adoptive parents, possibly birth parents, possibly children who have been adopted who are now adults so there is a whole range of material and some of the research evidence about kind of the adaptations that children make over a course of time to getting back on to a developmental pathway which is more ordinary.  So, so two months of preparation, if you come to the end of that phase you still want to carry on so you have to express that to the adoption agency and the social worker that’s working with you.  So you then agree and the adoption agency agrees to undertake a formal assessment.  So there are a whole range of issues that have to be explored in that formal assessment.  It takes four months typically.  A report is prepared, again the details of that is set out in regulation, adopters are shown a copy of it, they can submit their own views about that report or any other issues which they feel are significant.  That then goes to an adoption panel within the adoption agency.  The panel is made up both of experts and experts by experience.  They discuss that report, they discuss the report with the prospective adopters and if that seems the right thing to do then they are approved as adopters and then they move on to the next stage of linking and matching.

George Irving

Just to jump in before you…

Dr John Simmonds

Yep.

George Irving

…move on to the next stage.  You mention those various training sessions at the start of the process and group sessions and you also mentioned previously that now a lot of children being adopted are coming from a history or trauma.  Do you think those training sessions are sort of in-depth enough to properly equip prospective parents to be able to recognise issues with trauma and to deal with the very complex issues that adopted children may have?

Dr John Simmonds

Yeah, that’s a really important question.  I mean I think that my overall answer to that would be yes but we are continually discussing you know, research evidence and what it tells us about the long-term impacts on what part of the kind of child’s developmental system you know, so, so for a long time the concept of attachment, the development of a sensitive, available, responsive relationship of the child to their parents is hugely significant as a developmental issue you know, so that’s, that’s very commonly dealt with and about how parents learn from their own experiences or the experiences of others, kind of what that means to them and what that might mean to the child but there have been so many other issues.  I mean trauma is one of them, particularly issues of complex trauma you know where children learn to anticipate threat when they have experienced threats from their parents or other people you know, which really kind of stir up their bodily and psychological systems to say, hey what’s going on here I have to protect myself.  So I think there’s been a lot of focus about those issues again from research over the last five plus years, so that’s been incorporated into those preparation sessions.  There’s a continual evolution about what’s presented, what’s talked about, what’s discussed, what’s reflected upon but I think it will also need to reflect that emerging set of issues…

George Irving

Yep.

Dr John Simmonds

…and in other words you know, we need to make sure that we keep all of that up-to-date.

George Irving

Yes absolutely.  You mentioned earlier that you didn’t want to start your family off as a lie in respect of adoption and you also have discussed that you adopted your children from birth but now it is more common that children are being adopted slightly older, they may have had foster parents before and come through the care system.  So I very much imagine your answer to this question is going to be there’s not one answer fits all but in terms of a child’s identity especially when they grow up into their teenage years and they are trying to explore their sort of personal history, is there a way you believe parents should inform their children they’ve been adopted or best to approach concerns with the child’s identity when they are becoming more inquisitive?

Dr John Simmonds

Yeah I mean that’s a really important question.  I suppose the first thing and I mean this was true for us too, I think that children need to know right from the beginning.  Of course if it is a baby or if it is a one year old or two year old, that issue is about no what is a very significant question.  So there’s both kind of insight and sensitivity and also again kind of learning from best practice that needs to inform what any adoptive parent does when it comes to identifying that you were not born to me.  Every child, and again this is something that is set out in regulation, has to be provided with a life story book and that was true for us too although I don’t know if it was a regulation then, I am not sure it was.  The regulations say that within ten weeks of an Adoption Order being made that life story book has to be provided to the adopters so there will be a whole range of issues that that should cover, photographs, names of the child’s birth parents, locations if that’s the right and safe thing to do because there may be safeguarding issue about you know, identifiable information.  There may be particular objects that would be a part of that.  So it’s giving a start to a life story and it is a very important starting point in life.  I mean there are other materials that are available to adopters.  We publish quite a lot ourselves you know, that actually whether they are story books about animals that have been adopted you know, just introducing that idea.  There is the issue, all the things that I said about kind of adapting to the fact that the child has had a very bad start in life and whatever that means specifically for that individual child but it has to be accompanied by a sense of a narrative that we use together, the significance of the child’s history, the fact that they are adopted, why they were adopted and trying to make sure that that narrative is both balanced you know, because there are painful issues in some of that and accurate.  If it is a baby or it’s a one or two year old you know, obviously how that happens does require some thought you know but when, when children start to develop relationships with their, with their friends whether that’s at nursery or whether it is at school, there are often physical characteristics which don’t kind of match those of the adoptive parents so with my daughter, she has blonde hair, I don’t have any and my wife is not blonde too so I do remember she was saying, ‘why do I have blonde hair’ and she doesn’t look like us you know so those issues started to be raised at school and you can imagine that you know, you are standing with your adoptive child at the school gate and there are all kinds of curiosity type questions that people can ask so you need to be in a good position to be able to answer those questions.  There are standard issues about curiosity but also particularly for the children that they need to kind of have some sense of that because if your friend’s say it you know, ‘why did your mum not want to look after you’ you know, ‘where you a bad person’, that can be one way of kind of phrasing it.  There needs to be the kind of evolution of a series of answers to those kind of issues and it’s one of the issues so often comes up if a child from a minority ethnic background is placed with white adopters, there’s issues of skin colour and hair particularly kind of stand out as a significant difference and that can become a difficult issue for the child to explain or for the adoptive parents to explain you know, and they have been some of the challenges to the sector about these issues about what a match looks like between the child, whether its physical characteristics or its other characteristics which evolve and develop over time and you know so my daughter has very strong blonde hair but her artistic capabilities are quite out of depth when it comes to my artistic capabilities which are non and my wife so we never kind of understood it, you know actually it’s a kind of rich source of a characteristic for her and actually it has gone on to influence her as she developed through the teenage years and now into adulthood.  You know so in some ways kind of parents are always dealing with those kind of issues about you know, the child is an individual, there is probably some link to kind of whether its genetic inheritance or you know, whatever kind of determines how the child comes to see themselves over time but that issue of difference always plays some degree of part so it’s not an unusual thing for all parents to have to deal with that but it is a very significant one when it comes to adoption you know and I think there are those very specific questions, ‘why was I given up’ and what do you say to a child who has been maltreated you know, ‘your parents were cruel to you, they hit you, they didn’t feed you’.  What do you say to a child who has been sexually abused.  How do you explain sexual abuse to a child you know, they are some of the kind of significant challenges about the development and evolution of those issues of identity and how you come to have a reasonably settled sense of who you are and through, maybe through middle childhood and in adolescence, they are also common questions that come up, ‘can I meet my mum or dad’.  There are even more issues when it  comes to ‘can I meet my brothers or sisters’.  So the kind of development of identity means a kind of relationship identity and, well particularly recently there have been a lot of issues raised about the child’s relationship with their birth family, whether it’s mum or dad or grandparents and with foster carers too.  Foster carers you know, have often had a very significant part to play in the child’s life and about how you weave a set of relationships and network of relationships for the child as they develop over time and the other thing that I think has played a very significant part in the evolution of all of this has been social media because you can find anybody now through social media.

Sarah Infante

And it’s, it is such an interesting point in terms of the impact of social media obviously how adoption has, has moved, has transformed over various decades…

Dr John Simmonds

Yeah.

Sarah Infante 

…but with social media because it seems you can carefully craft the perfect life story in consultation with social workers discussing how do we actually get across these very difficult messages about what this child has experienced and that was controlled…

Dr John Simmonds

Yes.

Sarah Infante 

…maybe twenty, thirty years ago, no social media but now you can have that carefully crafted message and the child just goes online and then whether its they’ve got a Christmas DNA test and they’ve found all these cousins or on Facebook or other social media platforms, how do, how do you say that parents should try and deal with that because the children can be out there connecting with whoever they want and the safeguarding issues then come into play because maybe there is obviously a reason why those children weren’t with those parents.

Dr John Simmonds

Exactly so the issue can be that it might become a rich re-establishment of a set of relationships, that’s possible.  There was an issue recently that actually did impact on the news of a teenage boy that made contact with his birth parents through social media and eventually went back to live with them and the adoptive parents had no control over that and actually he also had a brother and the brother went back too so that then raised a whole set of contextual safeguarding concerns and how, how to deal with that you know, was there actually a risk to him and his brother as a result of going back to live with them.  That’s raising a whole set of other issues is this, is this a good and the right thing to do or is it… does it raise safeguarding concerns and I don’t think there is any easy answer to that question at the moment you know, I think probably it is something that most parents would say that exercising control over your child or your adolescent child’s use of social media is almost impossible.

Sarah Infante

Mm.  That’s a point in terms of the practical points of what can a parent do because I suppose most children will have a mobile phone and if they do then they have access to social media so what would the tips be because is it saying they don’t have access to a phone, they don’t control it or is it having maybe the, the honest, open discussions and would you suggest that they look on Facebook together as a family or they look into it so it’s going down the route of there are no lies in this family and being very open to try and have those discussions so the child doesn’t feel the need to furtively find out about their family.  I don’t know if there are any practical points that you could recommend?

Dr John Simmonds

Yes I think I would go back to some of the things that I said a few minutes, I think that openness and creating an open narrative for the child from day one is probably one of the best starts.  The child doesn’t need to become curious to find out something that they feel that they don’t know.  Somehow we have… and I think it’s going to have to become a part of preparation for adopters about not, not leaving this until the child is more grown up or they understand better.  It is an evolving narrative that you have a complex history and there are a number of people that are involved in that, some of it is really upsetting to think about, we do know that things change over time, they certainly do and we want to support you in exploring the things that you want answers to.  I’ve talked about contact and I think a part of that is that there is probably more opportunity now, again partly because of social media about rebuilding something of a relationship with the birth parents and sometimes that can be really positive or indeed about brothers and sisters or foster carers that enhances that kind of sense of a child.  There are these people in my life that actually I would like to kind of meet again you know, and then setting up a meeting you know, whether that’s in a park or whether it’s in a… I mean whatever the kind of whatever the best arrangement actually feels like just to kind of begin exploring something so that it doesn’t become a kind of secret journey where there are significant risks.

George Irving

Mm, that’s really interesting and in terms of, I think we’ve touched upon it already briefly, adoptive relationships between the parents and the adopted child breaking down, I think is estimated about 3% of adoptions at the moment break down which is tragic and the child either returning to care or to the birth parents where there could potentially be safeguarding risks.  What advice do you give to sort of adoptive parents to ensure that a relationship doesn’t break down or what can they do from an early stage to, you’ve already mentioned openness and sort of honesty with the child from an early age, any other advice you would give to adoptive parents?

Dr John Simmonds

Yeah, okay so one of the things that I haven’t said anything about so far is in the changes to the adoption model which started with the Labour Government in the late 1990’s, the issue of the provision of support services were recognised as being hugely important so there were changes to the law and regulations which placed a duty and responsibility on all adoption agencies to provide an adoption support service.  Any child that had been adopted from care and their adoptive parents were eligible for an assessment of their adoption support needs.  So one of the things that recognised was that as I said a number of times, many of the children that were placed for adoption, the greater majority of them because of their poor start in life it will raise for them a whole set of developmental concerns which may be physical, it may be emotional, it may be behavioural, it may be learning which the adoptive parents are going to have to address at one level but I think it was seen to be a hugely game changing recognition and they will need support to actually do so.  Adoption support wasn’t available to us at all.  We did access various expertise and support but it was done by us, we never went back to the Local Authority to ask for any of those issues.  Nowadays it is now recognised as a fundamental part of the adoption model and adoption practice.  There was something of a question for some time about, about the availability of funding and resources and also establishing what helped whom, when.  So that started to be developed really since the Act was implemented for the next five to ten years and eventually in England the Department for Education established in 2015 the Adoption Support Fund so what now happens is if in an assessment undertaken by the adoption agency there are range of issues in relation to the child’s development or their welfare or their wellbeing or their learning or their behaviour or their emotions, if those issues are identified then the Local Authority and social worker undertaking the assessment can say I think that what you need is this particular intervention.  They can then make an application to the Adoption Support Fund who will then fund that intervention.  So it’s been a game changing development in the adoption model and there’s been a very strong investment both in trying to understand in more detail of what those issues actually are you know, so some of them are very familiar issues when it comes to ADHD or autistic spectrum, foetal alcohol syndrome is not an uncommon issue and drug use and that can have an impact on the development of the baby in the womb etcetera, etcetera.  So all of those things I think have been articulated in a way which never existed before and the Adoption Support Fund has come to be very significant in providing interventions.  That’s not the end of the story, there’s still you know, some way to go in thinking through those issues and coming to understand the significance of those issues but that fund has become a game changer.

Sarah Infante

So now we’ve explored a lot of the challenges and what is it adoptive parents need to think about particularly, they had to enter into it with eyes open that they are unlikely to be given a baby who has no problems and actually there are likely to be some issues with the child.  What would be nice is to focus on potential positives for adoptive parents, so it’s what would be the benefits for them, for any listeners out there not thinking actually it is obviously an incredible journey but also how rewarding it would be so maybe if you could let us know your thoughts?

Dr John Simmonds

Yes I think that, that’s a really important point and I suppose the first thing I would say is that above all these children are children and whatever they have experienced in their early lives and you know, we can’t underestimate that at all but they are human beings, and our capacity to adapt to change, to learn, to re-learn, to re-think is hugely significant and that we know from the research evidence that children who are adopted do developmentally recover.  All of the issues may not be dealt with, foetal alcohol syndrome is a lifelong issue, autism is a lifelong issue but the commitment, the motivation, the insight, the sensitivity that adults bring and adopted adults bring to providing opportunity for those children, it’s remarkable and it is supported by the research evidence.  Where you said earlier that about 3% of adoptive placements break down, 3% is very, is very low and it also breaks down after eight to twelve years of placement as well you know, I think that kind of sets out that these placements, adoptive placements do become stable and they typically last a lifetime.  The narrative may kind of weave in all sorts of different ways but I would say that that was true for families where children are born to the parents, there’s nothing straight forward about the adaptations that parents have to make as they kind of learn and discover and face various challenges you know, at whatever point of life it is. I can’t say that it’s absolutely a kind of parallel set of issues when it comes to ordinary family life and adoptive family life but I would never underestimate that, the evidence is so clear about what that commitment, what the determination, what that sensitivity comes to influence when it comes to the child’s developmental recovery and how they become an individual adult which you know, very close to what we expect individual adults to actually be like, whatever happens at kind of 16, 17, 18 and of course it is a family for life.

Sarah Infante

I think that’s a really positive point to end the podcast on and it has been so interesting hearing about your expertise in this area and the current challenges and opportunities that children in care and adoptive parents are facing.  So thank you so much for joining us John for this Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions podcast.

Dr John Simmonds

Well thank you very much, it’s been a great opportunity for me to reflect on forty years of experience and I hope it has been useful in some ways to all the people that will be listening to this podcast.

Sarah Infante 

Well absolutely.  Thank you and please do look out for the next episode in the series.

 

The Digital Sessions are a new series of online events, videos and podcasts all available at Mishcon.com.  If you have any questions you’d like answered or suggestions of what you’d like us to cover, do let us know at digitalsessions@mishcon.com.  Thank you very much for joining us John and until next time, take care.

 

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.  To access advice for businesses that is regularly updated, please visit Mishcon.com.

In the third episode of our Modern Family podcast series, Associates Sarah Infante and George Irving spoke with Dr John Simmonds OBE, CoramBAAF, about adoption and the foster care system in the UK.

John is a qualified social worker with substantial experience in child protection, family placement and residential care settings. He is responsible for CoramBAAF’s contribution to the development of policy and practice in social work, health, the law and research.

John shared his own experience of adopting his two children over 40 years ago. The discussion focused on questions of identity that adopted children face as they grow older, and advice for parents to prevent adoptions from breaking down, particularly the age of social media and the internet.


Visit the Mishcon Academy for more learning, events, videos, podcasts and reports.

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