National Adoption Week is a time to celebrate children that have been adopted, their adoptive parents and wider family networks, as well as the practitioners who support them.
My Independent Family Review showed me that a loving family, whatever form it takes, casts a protective shield around the children within it, setting them up thrive. For those children who cannot remain living with their birth families, I want to see a system which provides them with a loving, meaningful, alternative, with no child growing up in an institution. For some children, adoption will be the answer to providing them with the loving, stable family life that every child deserves.
However, many children move into adoptive families after spending a substantial period of time within the care system and across multiple other placements, including in foster and residential care. The complex challenges and trauma that some adopted children have experienced at a young age must not be forgotten when they enter into adoptive families. As Children’s Commissioner I am absolutely committed to ensuring that adopted children have their voices heard and have access to the support they need. Adopted children have the same goals as other children – for a brilliant education, a loving family, good mental health, a great job when they grow up. And I share those ambitions. I was therefore pleased to see that the government’s Adoption Strategy that was published last year clearly outlines its commitment to putting the voices of adopted children at the heart of the system, but I want Government to go further and faster in supporting these children.
I want to make sure that adopted children and their families get the right support throughout a child’s life, including with developing and maintaining healthy contact arrangements with birth families where that is in the child’s best interests.
I have heard from many families that adolescence can be a particularly challenging time for adopted children. It is a time when all children begin to explore their identities, and when many adoptive children may start thinking about initiating connection with their birth families.
I want to see adoption agencies providing a clear support offer that is tailored to teenagers and young adults, up until the age of 25, to help them process their experiences and support them in navigating contact with their birth families. But it is also essential that schools, and mental health support teams, understand the needs and experiences of adopted children. Children have told me that school is often where they turn for help, so it is vital that teachers and support staff are aware of trauma that adopted children may have faced in their early lives, and are prepared to offer targeted support.
As contact with birth families is a central part of adopted children’s exploration of their identity, it is vital children, and their adoptive families, are supported to navigate the process. This is particularly crucial given that adopted children are now growing up in a digital world, but formal contact arrangements have not always kept pace. Adopted children may seek to contact their birth families online, or indeed may be contacted online by their birth families. This poses challenges for adoptive families, adopted children and birth families, with it not always being possible to plan contact with the care it needs. There is a clear need for children to be supported to navigate the online world, both if children want to initiate contact with birth families themselves and to educate children around how they can protect themselves online if they would prefer to not be contacted.
As Children’s Commissioner I am committed to doing all I can to ensure that adopted children’s views are heard, and that adoptive families, birth families, schools and wider services are given the right tools to support them. I believe that no child should grow up in an institution, but in a family environment with parents or carers who love them. If it is not possible for a child to remain at home with their birth family adoption can be a transformative alternative.