Adopted Children

Safeguarding Network

February 2024 - 4 minute read

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When a child is adopted, parental responsibility for the child passes from the birth parents to the adoptive parents. This is the only time when a birth mother’s parental responsibility for a child is completely removed, with the child becoming the full responsibility of the adoptive parents. Whilst there may be adoption support plans in place through the local authority that matched the child with the adoptive parents (if the child is adopted from within the UK), there is no other support provided or involvement from social care.

Whilst some adopted children may have been relinquished for adoption by their parent(s) (CAFCASS defines relinquished as “a term used to describe where the parents feel that adoption may be the best option for providing a permanent, safe future for their child”), many children and young people adopted from within the UK are adopted from the care of the local authority after experiencing abuse or neglect whilst in their parents’ care.

The pre-care experiences of the adopted child/young person may continue to impact on them for many years and there is the potential for this to have an impact on their education.

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Contact with birth parents

After adoption, children may continue to have contact with their birth parents. The type and frequency of the contact are dependent on several factors and determined as part of the overall adoption plan. Contact may include:

  • letterbox contact – letters, cards, etc., are sent via the local authority at predetermined times of the year;
  • telephone contact;
  • face-to-face contact.

If sibling groups are separated, then there may also be contact between them to a greater or lesser degree.

Contact may have an emotional impact on children and young people – both in terms of the lead-up to it and after contact sessions, and they may require more support around these times.

Impact on education

There is no “one size fits all” approach to being able to determine the impact of being adopted on the child or young person. Equally, there is no clear way of determining who may experience issues relating to their pre-care experiences. We therefore need to be aware that research in the UK and the USA identifies that adopted children are more likely to be excluded from education, have behavioural issues in classroom settings and have additional needs.

As providers, you may not necessarily know whether a child has been adopted. There is no compulsion on the family to tell anyone that the child in their care is adopted, and in some cases, the child may not be aware at the point at which you are working with them. In this regard, we must respect the wishes of the adoptive parents.

Adoption UK has a resource for schools that sets out more detailed information about the potential impacts that a child’s pre-care experiences may have on the development of their brain, and, hence, why they may experience difficulties in education settings as they get older. PAC-UK offers specialist support and education resources in this area and identifies that pupil premium plus can be used by education settings to purchase specialist services.

In general, adopted children are more likely to have issues with developing trusting relationships with adults and peers, developing appropriate social skills and managing strong emotions. Research has also shown that adopted children are more likely to have additional educational needs.

Step-parent adoptions

Step-parent adoption is a way for an individual to become the legal parent of their partner’s children from previous relationships. There are certain criteria that a step-parent must meet regarding age, relationship with the children’s parent and living requirements. In the same way as people adopting children from outside their family are assessed, a step-parent will be assessed, and a report made to the court that has the final say as to whether the adoption order is made. Similarly, as adoption orders in general end the parental responsibility of the birth parents, an adoption order made out to a step-parent will end the legal relationship between the child and the birth parent who is no longer in the family home. This may cause resentment and feelings of having to choose sides for the child, and additional support may need to be put in place.

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