Whether you are an adoptee, an adoptive family, or the birthparent of a child who was adopted - the emotional impact of the adoption process is likely to be life-long.
Though the experience of each individual involved is likely to vary, for many the journey will be a double-edged sword leading to both a great deal of happiness and an equal number of challenges.
According to statistics, 70% of the children placed for adoption during the year ending March 2010 came from a background where they experienced some level of abuse and/or neglect1.
As well as having a turbulent start in life, many children placed for adoption then have to spend months - sometimes years - in the care system. Being transferred back and forth with no real support from a 'family' unit can be traumatic for a child of any age, often leading to the development of behavioural, attachment and development issues that can follow an adoptee into adulthood.
Irrespective of the circumstances of the adoption or the personalities and backgrounds of all who are involved, the process more often than not triggers a series of responses that can have an impact on how you live your life.
If your life has been affected by adoption then it may be you are looking for some answers to specific questions, or you may just feel as though you require some additional support in your life.
Recognising and acknowledging issues that are central to adoption, and learning to understand and cope with them is something that Approved Adoption Counselling may be able to help you with.
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According to statistics from adoption services and charities throughout the UK, adoptions are currently at a record low. Though the exact reasons as to why are unknown, experts believe it may be related to the very lengthy and bureaucratic current assessment process.
Additional statistics show that children wait an average of two years and seven months before being adopted, and some research has shown that as many as one in three prospective adoptive parents fail to actually adopt at the end of a process which can take years2.
Below you can find some of the most recent statistics and figures relating to adoptions within England, originally compiled by Adoption UK1:
- the average age at which a child was adopted was three years and 10 months
- 51% of adopted children were boys and 49% were girls
- 2% of children adopted were under the age of one
- 24% of children adopted were between five and nine
- 3% of children adopted were between 10 and 15 years old
- 72% of children who were placed for adoption had experience neglect or abuse
- 91% of looked-after children who were adopted were adopted by two people and nine per cent by one individual.
Anyone who is over 21 and feels that they are in a position to provide a child with a permanent, stable and loving environment is eligible to adopt - irrespective of martial status, sexuality, race or religion.
All UK adoptions are controlled through local adoption agencies, so if it is something you are considering then this should be your first port of call.
Adoption agencies will usually hold regular information evenings for prospective adoptive parents to attend. The purpose of these events is to give prospective adopters the opportunity to ask questions and discuss their options with adoption experts, social workers and adoptive parents. It is here that prospective parents will also learn about the basics of the adoption process (which can be found outlined below).
Individuals who are considering adoption will also be offered a counselling service as part of the process. The idea of the counselling is to help prospective adopters to explore their feelings and make sure they are serious about adopting a child.
Many children will have experienced neglect, abuse or major upheaval in their lives and will therefor present a different set of challenges in terms of being cared for. Counselling will help prospective adopters to understand and prepare for these challenges.
The application process involves a lot of commitment, participation and time. The prospective parents will be asked to fill in a comprehensive application form, which will include supplying evidence of how they will be supporting the child. They will also be required to attend preparation classes, undergo a medical examination, and have visits from a social worker to help assess suitability. Friends, families or colleagues will be required to be referees. They will need to submit a character reference about the prospective parents, and also be interviewed by the adoption agency or a social worker.
Children’s charity Barnardo's have been finding families for children and supporting foster carers and adoptive parents for over 100 years now and have a skilled team of professionals on hand to guide prospective adopters through the process.
Although there may be variations depending on your local authority and circumstances, Barnardo's have broken down the adoption process into 14 key stages3:
- Initial contact made with the local adoption agency.
- An information pack is sent out.
- Potential adoptive parents invited along to an information meeting.
- Potential adoptive parents complete an 'Expression of Interest' form.
- Potential adoptive parents undergo a counselling visit to help them decide if adopting a child is a suitable option for them.
- The application form for adoption is completed.
- Background and reference checks begin.
- Assessment and preparation classes begin which will usually continue for a few weeks.
- Prospective adopters are allocated a social worker who will undertake an assessment and complete a report. This will usually involve between six and ten home visits.
- An assessment plan is agreed upon.
- At the end of the process a report will be compiled by the social worker, which the prospective adopter will look over and sign it before it is presented to the adoption panel.
- The report will be presented to the adoption panel who will make a recommendation as to whether the adoptees are suitable adoptive parents, if certain children are suitable for adoption and what children may be a suitable match.
- A senior member of the adoption agency will then make the final decision as to whether the prospective parents can adopt and a written letter of confirmation will be sent within approximately five working days. Whilst a senior member will take into account the panel's recommendations, they may reach a different decision.
- Once the prospective adopter has been approved, identifying a match can then begin.
The length of time the process will take from start to finish will vary from case to case, though it can take up to eight months for a prospective adopter to be assessed and approved.
Being matched with a suitable child can also be a lengthy process, taking anything from a few short weeks to an entire year.
Once a prospective parent has been approved, the agency responsible for their case will forward them detailed information about any children they are matched with. Adopters will then discuss with their social worker which children to meet, and both parties will get to know each other during a series of meetings.
If all parties agree that a match should go ahead, the child will then be placed with their prospective adopters for a 'trial' period. This period gives the social workers the opportunity to monitor and review the placement to see how it is going and also will give both adopter and child the chance to get to know each other before the adoption is made.
A court will not make an adoption order until the child has resided with their prospective family for a minimum of 13 weeks. When the official adoption is made, this means that all legal ties with the child's birth family are cut and all parental responsibility transfers over to the adoptive family.
From this point onwards, adoptive parents will be responsible for providing and caring for the child on an emotional and financial level - just like that of any other parent.
Adoptive parents who have worked in their current place of employment for more than 26 weeks before being matched with a child may be entitled to statutory adoption leave (for up to 52 weeks). Adopters may also be entitled to statutory adoption pay for a limited period. Information about qualifying criteria should be available in your employee handbook.
Each individual involved in adoption, from a birthparent through to an adoptive parent - is likely to encounter some difficulties along the way.
More often than not, the emotional rollercoaster does not end when the papers are signed and the child moves in with their new family - the impact is likely to be indefinite and associated problems will probably sporadically emerge and then retreat again for an entire lifetime.
Below you can find information about how adoption may affect the key individuals involved - the adoptees themselves, prospective adoptive parents, adoptive parents and birthparents:
Individuals who are adopted as children tend to face an entire lifetime of difficult and conflicting emotions.
Generally speaking, society views adoption as a positive solution to a negative problem that should lead to happiness and gratitude.
Those who have no experience of adoption (the majority) naively believe that children and adolescents who are removed from abusive situations should feel relief and ultimately appreciation when they are adopted. However, the reality of the situation is very different, with children and adolescents unlikely to view their placement as anything other than rejection from their birthparent.
Adoptees also very often feel deserving of rejection, believing strongly that perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with them which led to their placement.
These intense feelings of rejection, loss, shame and a lack of identity can reverberate throughout the life of an adopted individual and whether they are acknowledged or suppressed can result in problems in the development of forming attachments, bonds and intimacy.
Identity is often a huge issue for adoptees, particularly during adolescence when we experience many physical and psychological changes and ones identify becomes very important. Those of us who know our family, religious, genetic and medical history very much take it for granted, rarely questioning how we would feel and who we would be if the pieces of our jigsaw were scattered.
It is the not knowing that results in many adoptees having burning questions about who they are; the circumstance behind their placement, their birthparent and ultimately why they were given up.
Though wanting answers is a completely natural response to filling in the blanks, society often wrongly portrays an adoptee who accepts their placement without asking questions as 'good' and an adoptee who is inquisitive as 'bad' (because it could lead to the adoptive parents feeling rejected).
Whilst adoptive parents will usually have been anticipating this moment for their adoptive child’s entire life, hearing that they want to trace their birthparents will not be easy.
It is only natural for adoptive parents to feel protective and concerned for their child at this stage, but they should also ensure that they offer unyielding support during what will almost certainly be a very emotional process.
Adoptees and their adoptive parents should prepare themselves for the following outcomes:
- One or both birthparent/s may have a new family/partner/children.
- Birthparent/s may not want to meet their child or might lose interest in staying in touch after a short time.
- The birthparent/s may be unable to provide answers to certain questions and might not want to go into detail about the adoption itself or life before or after the birth.
- An instant parent-child connection may not be formed which could result in disappointment being felt.
If you were adopted, at 18 you are within your rights to apply for a certificate of your original birth registration form. Similarly, your birthparents may also be able to contact you. Before you take this step, it is advisable to discuss it with your adoptive parents and/or an Approved Adoption Counsellor. For further information about finding your original birth or adoption record, please visit Directgov.
Additional issues that may arise for individuals who have been adopted may include the following:
Finding out you are adopted
Whether you are told as a child or later in life that you are adopted, it can come as a huge and devastating shock. Common reactions include disbelief, confusion, anger, sorrow and loss.
Adoptive parents/prospective adoptive parents
Whilst it is true that many adoptive parents go onto live an extremely happy and fulfilled life, caring for a child who has had a difficult start in life and giving them a future filled with love and support carries with it a huge amount of challenges.
Adoption is rarely ever a first choice. In most circumstances the adoptive/prospective parents will have experienced some degree of loss - whether that may be through the inability to conceive, a miscarriage, surrogacy, failed IVF attempts or the death of child.
Whatever the circumstances that lead to the decision to adopt, until adoptive/prospective parents have grieved for their loss, attaching to their new child and developing a relationship with them may be difficult.
Other issues that may arise for prospective adoptive parents and adoptive parents include the following:
- Bonding issues - Some adoptive parents and children have difficulty bonding with one another.
- Reconnecting with birthparents - An adopted child wanting to get in touch with their birthparents or vice versa is a concern that adoptive parents are likely to experience until it actually happens. Supporting your adoptive child in their endeavor to seek out their birth family and watching them reconnect can be a heavy emotional undertaking.
Placing your child for adoption is an enormous decision, and very rarely an easy one to make.
There are many reasons as to why a birthparent may feel that adoption is the right choice for them - perhaps they feel they are not in a position to provide the child with a loving and safe environment, or it may be that they are currently experiencing their own problems that render them unable to raise a child.
No matter what the circumstances are, even if a parent knows that adoption is the most suitable option, the pain and sacrifice involved can make it the most difficult decision an individual ever has to make.
Many birthparents will find that after undergoing an initial period of grief when they have placed their child for adoption, well meaning friends and family assure them they have done the right thing and encourage them to move on with their life because the child is now 'better off'.
Whilst it may be true that the child is indeed in a more stable environment, the grief and regret many mothers experience does not just vanish and can last a lifetime.
Additional issues that birthparents may encounter both pre and post adoption may include the following:
Before the adoption
- Telling the birth father - Deciding whether or not this is the right decision is often very difficult.
- Telling family members and friends - This is a huge concern for many parents considering placing their child for adoption. Will their loved ones support them or will they disapprove?
- Considering an open adoption - This would mean some contact would still be allowed between the child and their natural family after the adoption.
After the adoption
- Secondary grief - Grieving for the loss of their parenting role or for the person their son or daughter may have become.
- Identity issues - Placing a child for adoption can lead to the development of identity issues, especially in that of open adoption cases in which some contact is maintained. Birthparents may feel incomplete as a parent without a child, or if they go on to have more children they may find it affects their ability to bond.
- Reconnecting - The turmoil that surrounds the decision to search for children is often overwhelming. Is it the right thing to do - do they want contact to be initiated?
On the other hand, birthparents may not want to see their adopted children. Some birthparents would find it too difficult or painful, others may have new families.
Other possible adoption concerns:
There are various kinds of adoption that may give rise to certain unique ethical issues:
- adoptions by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families
- transracial adoption
- transcultural adoption
- intercountry adoption.
Approved Adoption Counselling
In December 2010, the law changed so that only counsellors and psychotherapists registered as an adoption support agency (ASA) with Ofsted are able to offer specialist adoption services.
These amendments to the Adoption and Children's Act of 2002 were designed to ensure that the one in four UK individuals affected by adoption in some way, are provided with support and services from practitioners who hold the proper qualifications and experience.
The introduction of this legislation now means that any counsellor working with a client for whom any aspect of adoption is the main focus, must be registered with Ofsted (or RQIA in Northern Ireland) and subject to regular inspections. You can check an individual's registration on Ofsted's website.
Some counsellors may offer adoption counselling under contract with an Adoption support agency, such as Barnardo's Link Counselling Service or PAC-UK (in Northern Ireland these organisations are called Voluntary adoption agencies). In these cases, the counsellor doesn't need to be registered directly with Ofsted themselves - but they can only carry out adoption counselling on behalf of their registered agency (i.e. they cannot provide this service independently). Your counsellor will be able to explain this in more detail, or you can approach their agency if you have any questions.
It may be that some individuals are seeking counselling for issues they feel may be related to adoption (such as low-self esteem) but where adoption is not the key issue. In cases such as these, where the entire counselling experience is not likely to revolve solely around the adoption itself, it is fine to seek help from a professional who is not an Approved Adoption Counsellor.
If you are unsure about which type of counselling is going to be the most appropriate, talking to a counsellor or psychotherapist and simply explaining your needs will allow them to advise you on the best option.
How could counselling help with adoption?
If you have been affected in some way by the experience of adoption then you may benefit from seeking help from an Approved Adoption Counsellor or psychotherapist.
A counsellor or psychotherapist who is trained in this area could help individuals struggling with adoption to:
- understand and explore the way they are feeling
- develop new coping strategies
- find ways of managing stress
- learn more about the life long effects of adoption.
Though the approach of each counsellor will differ from case to case and from person to person, psychoanalytical and psychodynamic therapies are commonly used in this area because they are based upon an individuals past thoughts and perceptions and how these affect their current behavior and thoughts.
For example, a depressed adult who was adopted as a child may benefit from psychoanalysis - a form of therapy that focuses on an individual's unconscious deep-rooted thoughts that were developed during childhood. Using this therapy, clients are then taught how to interpret deeply buried memories and experiences that may be causing them distress.
1Adoption UK, Adoption Facts and Figures
2Davies, C. (2011 ) Adoption system changes planned to speed up process, the Guardian
3Barnardo's, Fostering and adoption
What our experts say
- Adoption Issues - Difference, Personal Tales and Therapy
Lin Travis MBACP(Accred)26th September, 2012
- The Adoption Triad
Paula Martin11th March, 2011
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