Adoption counselling for children

Written by Emily Whitton
Emily Whitton
Counselling Directory Content Team

Last updated 20th March 2024 | Next update due 20th March 2027

If you or a young person you know has felt an impact following adoption, it can be helpful to know that there is support available for parents and children, which can guide both you and them through possible bumps in the road and help navigate any associated emotions. 

Here, we explore some of the common issues relating to child adoption and how counselling can help. 

Understanding child adoption 

Adoption is a process whereby children who can no longer be cared for by their birth family formally join another family. The adoptive parents then become legal guardians of the child/children. Whether you’re an adoptee, a birth parent, an adoptive parent or a sibling of an adopted child, the impact of adoption can span across the family unit. Each experience of adoption is unique, which will generally shape the child’s understanding and identity as they move through life. 

On this page, we refer to children as anyone under the age of 18 years old. Learn more about adult counselling for adoption on Counselling Directory, including the support available for birth parents and adoptive parents. 

The impact of adoption on children 

Adoption is a complex process that can bring with it many mixed emotions. On one hand, there is often a sense of stability, security and connection felt by the adoptee, who may have had a previous adverse experience. 

In this video, counsellor Stephanie Smith (BA, MBACP Accred) explores the impact of adoption and how counselling can support you. 

Though adoption generally benefits most children, there may also be several challenges that come to the surface as they begin to make sense of their experience and identity. This life event can heighten existing child-related issues such as low self-esteem and attachment difficulties. It can also lead to feelings of rejection and a sense of “not belonging”. Troubles with identity formation and feelings of abandonment can also follow, particularly during teenage years. Other mental health concerns that can arise in adopted children include:

  • Anxiety and depression. The Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition notes that adoptees are almost twice as likely to experience mood disorders when compared to children who grow up with biological parents. 
  • Trauma and PTSD. Particularly in more challenging experiences of adoption, such as in cases of past neglect or abuse, trauma can come to the surface during childhood or later in adult life. 
  • Disenfranchised grief and loss. This is the term given to describe a loss which cannot be openly acknowledged or publicly mourned. In the example of adoption, adoptees may feel a deep sense of loss of their biological parent. 
Approved adoption counsellors

Adoption counselling for children

Understandably, it can be hard for children to adjust to living with a new family. Children who are aware that they’re adopted may find it hard to come to terms with this. Naturally, adoptees may struggle to understand their identity and might remain curious about who their birth parents are or why they were adopted. Counselling can provide the space to work through these challenges and emotions in a safe, supported and compassionate environment. 

As every adoption journey is highly personal, processing the feelings that can come with it may be hard to manage if working through them alone or with a parent. Counselling can help you or your child:

  • explore your/their feelings 
  • develop coping strategies 
  • develop a better understanding of oneself/their identity
  • build a sense of trust and security 
  • build stronger relationships within the family unit

Tracing birth parents

Understandably, many adoptees wish to learn more about their life before they were adopted. Some people may choose to try and reconnect with their birth parents and/or relatives. When you reach 18 years old, you can apply for your original birth registration form. Your birth parents may also wish to make contact with you. Working with an adoption counsellor before you take this step is advised as this process can be an emotional pursuit. 

Types of therapies used in adoption counselling for children 

The types of therapies used by an adoption counsellor will vary from person to person and will often depend on the specific concerns of the adoptee. Below, we’ve outlined some of the most common types of therapy used when working with adopted children. 

  • Arts therapies. Using a mixture of creative approaches like music and art, this approach can be particularly beneficial for children processing emotional trauma. 
  • EMDR. Eye movement desensitisation reprocessing is a therapy that is designed to remove distress associated with difficult memories. It can therefore be really helpful for children who may have experienced neglect or abuse before being adopted. 
  • Play therapy. Similarly to arts therapies, play therapy helps children communicate at their own level. Where adults typically benefit from talking, children can 'play out' their thoughts and feelings, instead. 

These are just a few of the many types of therapies available. If you’re unsure which approach would be best for you or your child, talking to a counsellor can help. 

Finding a counsellor 

The Adoption and Children's Act of 2002 was updated in 2010, requiring counsellors working with adopted children or on central matters concerning an adopted child to be registered with Ofsted or under contract with an adoption support agency (ASA), such as PAC-UK

This legislation ensures that those working with adopted children are suitably qualified and experienced to do so, and are subject to regular inspections. Where adoption is not the key issue, help can be sought from any counsellor. If you’re unsure whether your child’s concern should be addressed by an approved adoption counsellor or not, speak to a counsellor who will help you determine the best option. 

This law applies to the UK (excluding Scotland). We recommend consulting an adoption counsellor or support agency directly if you are in Wales or Northern Ireland as there may be additional requirements to be aware of. 

Learn more about the laws and regulations surrounding support agencies, including counselling, on GOV.UK.

Remember, adoption is likely to be very different for everyone. However you or your child experiences it is unique and, no matter the journey, your feelings are equally as valid. There is support available. Don’t be afraid to reach out. 

Useful resources:

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