The first study looking at why, and how often, adoptions break down has been commissioned by the Department for Education.
The research – which many adoption experts have long been calling for – will be carried out by Julie Selwyn and Dinithi Wijedasa from the Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies at the University of Bristol.
In a statement, the pair said they hoped the study would fill current “gaps in knowledge”, such as whether adoption breakdowns are increasing, or decreasing, and how rates of adoption breakdowns compare with those for other kinds of permanent orders.
Due to the sparsity of data on the issue, there is disagreement about the national rate of breakdowns – when a child returns to care after an adoption order has been made.
Some experts have claimed that as many as one in three adoptions will break down at some point, while the government’s adoption tsar, Martin Narey, has said he believes this is vastly exaggerated.
Pending the results of a feasibility study – which will test whether the national data on adoptions is robust enough to draw accurate conclusions from – the researchers will interview adopters, children and professionals to understand the reasons behind breakdowns, as well as their impact and outcomes.
They will be writing to every adoption manager in England asking them to identify the number of children legally adopted from their authority between April 1 2000 and March 31 2011, and where the placement broke down after the order had been made.
News of the study will please many in the children’s services sector who have complained that the government has been promoting adoption, without giving due regard to the possible high rates of disruption.
A spokesperson for the charity Adoption UK said today: “This research is important because it will provide us with more specific statistics on the number of adoptions that disrupt and will help define disruption.
“At present, there are no official statistics in this area and it is often not acknowledged that a disruption can take place at any stage of the adoption journey. Furthermore, the research will also provide us with more knowledge as to why adoptions may break down or disrupt and therefore we can better support adoptive families and help to prevent this outcome.”
Date for your diaries: Community Care will be holding a conference on March 29 2012 titled ‘Adoption reform: Establishing stable, secure and supportive family environments’. More details, including the full programme and list of speakers, will follow soon.