Understanding permanency in the life trajectories of children adopted from care in Australia
Purpose: International research has shown that children in long-term foster care often experience frequent changes of placement and school, insufficient integration into a substitute family and inadequate support when they make the transition from care to independence in early adulthood. The purpose of this study was to explore whether open adoption (with regular face-to-face contact) offers better opportunities for stability and permanence for children in out-of-home care in Australia who cannot return to their birth families.
Methods: This study is one element in a more extensive programme designed to explore the life trajectories of a cohort of children adopted from out-of-home care in New South Wales between 1987-2013. For much of this period the programme focused on finding permanent adoptive homes for children identified as ‘hard to place’. Data concerning children’s experiences before entering their adoptive homes were collected from administrative files and adoption records; quantitative and qualitative data concerning subsequent experiences were collected through responses to an on-line survey and through face to face interviews with adult adoptees and adoptive parents.
Findings: The whereabouts of 121 (58%) of the adoptees were known at follow-up. The findings suggest that the vast majority, including those who had experienced numerous placements while in care, found stable, permanent adoptive homes. The adoptees were also older when they left home than most care leavers, and they received more extensive, long-term support as they made the transition to adulthood.
Not all placements were stable. At least twelve (9%) adoptees had left home before they were eighteen, and fourteen (28%) of those who were no longer living with their adoptive families had left for non-normative reasons. However, the findings also demonstrate the strength of the relationship between adoptive parents and children. Adoptive parents continued to support adoptees who had returned to birth families or who had left their homes following intense conflict. Most adoptees had face-to-face contact with birth parents following placement; however almost all became closely integrated into their adoptive families. By the time of the survey (on average 19 years after placement) only five adoptees appeared to have no ongoing relationship with adoptive parents.
Implications: The study provides policy makers and practitioners with strong evidence of the value of adoption for children in care who cannot return to their birth families, and demonstrates how such placements can offer a route to permanence for older children who have extensive experience of abuse. The findings can also inform debates concerning the advantages and disadvantages of face-to-face post adoption contact in helping very vulnerable children to develop a sense of stability and security as they become integrated into substitute families.