Adopted children

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 who 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 define 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 following 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.

Contact with birth parents

After adoption children may continue to have contact with their birth parents.  The type and frequency of the contact is dependent on a number of 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 impact on children and young people – both in terms of the lead up to it and after contact sessions and they may therefore 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 or not.  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 you work with them.  In this regard it is important that we respect the wishes of the adoptive parents.

AdoptionUK has a resource for schools which sets out in more detail 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 in this area, and identifies that adopted children are eligible for pupil premium which can then be used to support the purchase of specialist materials to support adopted children.

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 heir partner’s children from previous relationships.  There are certain criteria that a step-parent must meet around 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 who have the final say as to whether the adoption order is made.  In the same way 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 therefore additional support may need to be put in place.


  • Realistic Positivity: Understanding unexpected additional needs of children placed for adoption

    This report, published by the Council for Disabled Children highlights that for many children being placed for adoption and subsequently adopted is the end of a very traumatic journey. Needs associated with their pre-adoption journey can often arise after placement leading to families struggling with extra demands they were not prepared for. This research looks at the process leading to adoption and how this can prevent needs from being identified early on before looking at how professionals respond and what may support families in these circumstances.

    This is of relevance, particularly with the changes in early 2018 around supporting the educational attainment of previously looked after children.

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