Number of adopted children returned to care has doubled in five years
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By Rosemary Bennett
July 10, 2009 /Timesonline
The number of adopted children who have been returned to care homes because their new parents cannot cope with them has doubled in the past five years.
Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the number has increased by a third in the past year alone as parents struggle with often challenging children who have suffered years of neglect or abuse in their natural families.
Going back into care after living with an adoptive family is a traumatic experience for children, and for the adoptive parents who have to accept their only chance of having a family has gone. It is also a huge cost to an already over-stretched system with the children likely to need expensive specialist care.
The increase in breakdowns comes despite a fall in the number of children being adopted. Only 4,637 children were adopted in 2007, the lowest number since 1999.
The data on breakdowns is in a survey of local authorities, conducted by More4 News and shared with The Times. More4 News will broadcast its special report tonight at 8pm.
Experts say the figures show that many children are being left to suffer at the hands of dysfunctional natural parents for too long before being taken into care by social workers. By the time they are adopted, many have severe emotional or behavioural problems.
Local authorities are not obliged to keep any data on adoption breakdowns and the vast majority of those contacted by More4 News had no figures or only partial records. However, according to the numbers kept by 92 out of 450 local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales, 57 children were returned to care in 2008-09 compared with 26 in 2004-05. If the pattern is repeated across the country, it means more than 250 children were returned to the care system last year.
The Adoption Act of 2002 was supposed to speed up adoption so that children do not have to languish in the care system for too long. However, the bigger problem may be that they are allowed to stay with their natural parents for too long before social workers remove them from their home.
Lord Laming, Britain’s foremost expert on child protection, highlighted this issue in the wake of the Baby P tragedy. He urged social workers to be far more realistic about parents’ ability to turn their lives around and to act more decisively when there are problems.
The figures are also a reflection of the changing face of adoption. Before the 1970s, most adopted children were babies born to single mothers, but today more than three quarters have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect. The increase in alcohol and drug abuse among parents is also a growing factor in care proceedings, with parents often being given several chances to break their habit before children are removed.
According to data provided to More4 News by the local authorities, last year only four per cent of adopted children were babies, with the majority aged between one and four. A quarter were aged between five and nine.
Adoption UK, the charity which supports adoptive families, said not enough was being done to help parents to care for a challenging child.
Jonathan Pearce, of Adoption UK, said: “The figures starkly illustrate the difficulties and complexity of modern-day adoptions from care and also highlight the lack of support for adoptive families in their challenging task of being therapeutic parents for traumatised children.”
The charity says the system is still too preoccupied with the intense and lengthy approvals process for would-be adoptive parents, rather than preparing them in advance and helping them afterwards.
‘I had naively believed in love’
Initially, the adoption seemed to be going well. But Kate discovered that Alex, whom she had adopted when the child was four, had an attachment disorder and heard voices.
“She never left my side, ever,” Kate says. “She couldn’t watch television, she couldn’t play, she didn’t want to play with other children. There was nothing that she could do by herself.”
Alex’s behaviour deteriorated rapidly and she began to torture the family cat. She tried to kill her rabbit. Social services had warned Kate that her daughter’s background was “as bad as it gets”. Alex’s natural mother was an alcoholic and a drug addict.
“I naively believed that with enough love and enough attention and security we could make it all better for her,” Kate says. “But it became a nightmare caring for a child who isn’t attached to you.”
(All names have been changed))