November is World Adoption Month. A month committed to exploring adoption. As Angela Tucker from The Adopted Life says repeatedly, adoption is nuanced. In an ideal world, no children would need to be considered for alternative care – whether temporary (safe care or foster care), or permanently (adoption). While we work towards strengthening families, we know that we aren’t in this ideal world and so our energy is focused on strengthening existing families – regardless of how they are formed, as well as future families.
For World Adoption Month 2021, Arise sought to commit to doing what we repeatedly hear from people who have been in care – whether foster or adoption – which is identifying what would be helpful in supporting children’s families so that the children in care can thrive. To paraphrase a number of adult adoptees “Parents need to do the work”. We did an informal anonymous online survey and had 114 participants. We want to provide an overview of the responses received for you to consider as you listen and lean into what we are hearing so that you know what to advocate for in the spaces where you have influence!
Who responded? Adoptive parents, Foster parents, parents caring for children in temporary safe care, and parents who are caring for children who aren’t born to them and have no legal care order for, through informal arrangements. 80% of the respondents had children 9 years and younger, with 48% of all respondents having children 6 years younger in their care.
What were the primary reasons that children were placed in care? As was to be expected due the majority of respondents being adoptive parents, 68 % were due to an adoption plan being made, while 15% was due to direct social work intervention. 31/114 respondents cited parental abandonment as the reason that their children joined them. Only 11/114 respondents stated that children were said to be placed as a known consequence of teen pregnancy. Private social workers (20%), Private agencies (69%) and government organizations (11%) were responsible for the processes and experiences when it came to adoptive families.
Did you know? The biggest concern parents identified in their their children was the struggle with anxiety. Evidenced based research indicates that behaviour, learning and emotional regulation are all impacted by anxiety. The experience and feedback given by parents was that this concern was complicated by the fact that there was a lack of adoption competent professionals, with specific reference to understanding adoption dynamics. As such, some of the interventions ended up harming rather than helping children and families: well intended but damaging in their impact.
Post placement support by the social workers was understood as the home visits and telephone calls to ‘check in’ by the majority of respondents. Respondents in the Foster Care system noted that there had been no post placement support. Additional post placement support for children as well as parents who wanted to access support was impacted by a lack of access to appropriate resources, as well as financial constraints. The details of life story work elicited a range of responses, with an overwhelming sense that parents would like to have more documented information as well as where possible, openness in being able to ask questions as their children grow and ask questions. Some respondents did reflect a sense of mistrust in the information that they were giving, providing reasons for this too.
The support that parents seek includes, but is not exclusive to the following:
- Parenting skills for children whose starting point is before you (regardless of age when meeting them)
- Children’s life story work (including deeper and documented information as opposed to verbal information)
- Understanding alternate care (Foster/ Adoption) dynamics and processes.
- Increased access to information for families whose diversity includes race, gender and responding to the questions that are asked by their children.
A recurring theme in response to the different sections within the survey revealed a mistrust of social workers professional insights when it came to the needs to children’s psychosocial needs. Respondents felt that much of the work and learning that they had acquired was dependent on their ability to access information and support, rather than social workers specifically imparting information and skills as part of the preparation process. One respondent noted that this wasn’t specific to social workers only, but across multiple sectors where there is a lack of inclusivity and understanding with regards to adoption.
78% of respondents stated that there was insufficient support for families in South Africa, whose children joined them through adoption or foster care.
We are listening, leaning into these challenges as Arise and practically exploring how to advocate for children and their families in response – through this survey as well as the evaluations and feedback given throughout 2021. As we reflect on the broad outcomes of this survey, we recognize that professionals as well as parents and caregivers need extra support and upskilling in seeing children through lenses which see the fullness of the children and their stories. We recognize that this is a small snapshot of a much larger cohort of people, but also acknowledge that it affirms the anecdotal evidence that has happened in conversations, during Arise’s On the Couch evenings as well as in the Q&A’s that happen during our workshops and events.
In 2022, we plan to engage and offer professional workshops to offer learning opportunities that will upskill professionals and as a direct and positive consequence, impact families and children. Thank you to everyone who took the time to participate – thriving children and thriving families need to be supported. We press on with this as the goal!
Survey results summarised by Alexa Russell Matthews