Why is this needed?
The views and experience of birth parents have long been the most neglected dimension of the adoption triangle. There is increasing evidence that engaging birth families can have a positive effect on the child’s adoption in terms of future contact, reduce the likelihood of mothers becoming pregnant and experiencing the removal of subsequent children; result in a range of benefits to the parents themselves and a reduction in the need to access a range of services over time. In an era of social media, work with birth parents to support placement stability in adoptive and special guardianship families has become increasingly important.
12.3 Birth parents are given access to, and are actively encouraged to use, a support worker from the time adoption is identified as the plan for the child. The support worker is independent of the child’s social worker.
12.4 Birth parents are given information on how to obtain legal advice, contact details of local and national support groups and services, and support to fulfil agreed plans for contact.
Birth parent perspective
Research has identified the high level of need among birth parents related to mental health problems, learning difficulties, literacy problems, high levels of unemployment, and isolation from family and community support networks. Birth relatives need support to help them fulfil their role in contributing to better outcomes for adopted and special guardianship children, whether through letterbox contact, direct contact, or other routes.
Tresiliotis and colleagues (2005) report:
From the parting to contact, intense feelings of loss, sadness and guilt dominated the lives of these birth mothers. For example, 79 per cent of all mothers reported guilt as one of a number of lasting impacts arising from the parting decision.
During the years between the adoption and renewed contact, 98 per cent reported thinking about their child and wondering whether s/he was well and had had a happy adoption. Knowing what had happened to their child might have helped to reduce the guilt arising from feeling that they had rejected their child.
The agencies surveyed had only basic information available for birth parents on their websites. Standard services include:
Access to the Duty Support Helpline.
Independent Birth Parent support services commissioned from the third sector
ATV and Adoption Counts have examples of successful groups for birth parents, but both have experienced challenges in effectively regionalising this provision. Both agencies have links into services which work with birth parents to prevent the removal of subsequent children.
PACT manage Alana House providing support to women who may have had children removed from their care
The PAUSE programme was not referenced by any agencies in the survey but is used by a number of local authorities with women who have experienced, or are at risk of, repeat removals of children from their care. It aims to reduce the number of children being removed into care by working with women who have had children removed to improve their wellbeing, resilience, and stability. Pause offers women an 18-month, individually tailored, intensive package of support, delivered by a dedicated Practitioner, which is intended to address a broad range of emotional, psychological, practical, and behavioural needs. As a condition of beginning this voluntary programme, women agree to use an effective form of reversible contraceptive for the 18-month duration of the programme. The evaluation of PAUSE Findings from qualitative and quantitative data suggests that:
- Pause generally had a positive and significant impact on the women engaging with the programme, many of whom had complex, multiple, and mutually reinforcing needs.
- It was extremely effective in reducing the number of pregnancies experienced by women during their 18-month interventions.
- Many women began their interventions with limited aspirations for the future, but by the end, many had formulated new goals, and were taking steps toward their achievement. This included entering employment, education, or volunteering.
- The full costs of delivering Pause to the cohort of 125 women are likely to be offset by savings to local authorities within 2 to 3 years.
AdoptionPlus Birth Fathers’ Counselling Service – Adoption Plus have developed a therapeutic approach that supports and identifies ways of working with fathers.
Possible future developments
The Nuffield (2017) research, Vulnerable Birth Mothers and Recurrent Care Proceedings, revealed the high level of birth mothers who are subjected to the repeat removal of children and the effect which high quality birth parent support could play in reducing this number. Challenging though this is to achieve, the indications from this survey are that there is much further to go in ensuring a robust and joined up approach to services to birth parents.
VAAs identify a lack of interest from LAs/RAAs in commissioning services in this area.
In turn, statutory agencies expressed regret that they were unable to offer a greater level of support to birth families, particularly birth mothers.