Date: 9 June 2021

John SimmondsThe motivations and routes to considering adoption as the means to building a family life are complex. For some individuals, there will be the drivers such as infertility, failed IVF or surrogacy. Where this is so, there may be a significant set of issues resulting from a sense of failure when conception, pregnancy and birth are seen to be so fundamental and this may result in a significant sense of loss and grief. For others – a single heterosexual person or an LGBTQ+ person or a couple – adoption is one of the only routes to parenthood creating a real sense of opportunity.  

Adoption brings a specific set of challenges although the individual nature of these must be acknowledged. Who gets to be approved as an adopter? Do I, or can I, meet those criteria? Will I have to jump a whole series of stressful hurdles to even be approved, let alone be matched with a specific child or children? And who are the children? How old are they? Are they fit and healthy? Have they suffered significant maltreatment or neglect, and what does this mean? Why are they being placed for adoption? Who are their “real” mum and dad? Each one of these questions is highly personal, specific, and not subject to easy or ready answers. 

An adoption order severs the legal relationship between the child and their birth mother, father and the wider family, with profound consequences. Most adoptions result from the State deciding that the standard of care of the child by their birth parents is not adequate to ensure the child’s safety, welfare and development. Some placements for adoption happen with the consent of the birth parents but for most, this adoption is a contested issue that will be resolved by the courts. And while adopters are not involved in these legal proceedings, they will be generally aware that the placement of any child with them will be the result of an incredibly challenging set of circumstances that are likely to have left the child’s birth parents and the child highly stressed, distressed and traumatised.

The motivation to adopt and the pathway to adoption are complex and will include very personal, intimate and complex sets of issues that combine emotion, thoughts and actions. Notwithstanding the joy of creating a family, adopters  are likely to experience a wide range of other thoughts and feelings as the reality of a child being placed strikes home. Major adjustments in routines and expectations will need to be made, past difficult experiences may come to the fore and result in stress, anxiety or disputes. 

And adopting a child/ren comes with a set of distinct issues. This includes engagement with agencies that are lawfully allowed to deliver adoption services – exposing the deeply personal set of issues that has led a single person or a couple to adoption to the scrutiny of compliance and evidence. From an adoption agency point of view, its primary duty is to the child in need of an adoptive placement. The process of recruiting, preparing and assessing prospective adopters is set out in regulations, as it needs to be, and compliance is required and indeed subject to lawful inspection. 

At the same time, the deeply personal and intimate journey for the prospective adopters must be acknowledged throughout that process, with all the potential fear that may arise about being judged as “suitable” or found to be “wanting” in certain respects of past or current experiences or circumstances. 

And then there is the challenge of combining the personal and the regulatory framework in such a way that this enables the best of what prospective adopters can bring when they are matched with a child. It is a complex journey that requires imagination, sensitivity, openness and engagement on the part of prospective adopters and the professionals who work with them, throughout the different stages of placing a child for adoption.

We know that adoption social workers already have a range of tools and practice frameworks to support them with their work and understand that the current context of the pandemic has added considerable pressures to their already demanding workloads. And our experience reinforces the view that adoption is a complex and demanding psycho/social process for all those involved. 

During this process, careful attention must be paid to the internal, family and wider systemic issues involved. Through this process, children in our society who have experienced an exceedingly difficult start in life, and those who step forward to adopt them, will gain the best chance of achieving the outcome desired by all – a stable and loving family home. 

We hope that the process model we are suggesting – ‘Adopting Minds’: Working with the internal, family and systemic (IFS) issues in adoption, both offers a contribution to those working in the field, to support them in their work, and ensures that our current system is focused to offer a robust, thoughtful and effective path to adoption for those children in urgent need of an adoptive family.


John Simmonds, Director of Policy, Research and Development