Moving to Adoption: the development and piloting of a practice programme
The Moving to Adoption project started in September 2016, funded by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust. The aim of the project was to develop and pilot a practice programme for social workers involved in supporting children’s moves to adoption.
The first stage included individual consultations with professionals, foster carers and adopters who had offered to share their experiences and ideas with us, along with focus groups for experienced foster carers and adopters and a stakeholders’ consultation group.
This consultation process revealed national variation in practice connected with moving children to adoption. Some agencies were more flexible around planning the move, particularly in relation to timescales and the role of the foster carer after the move. Others were less flexible; moves were more rapid and the role of the foster carer limited, sometimes ending very abruptly. It became clear that managing separation and loss for the child in order to provide a good foundation for building trust in the adoptive family has often not been given the attention it needs. We concluded that there was a need to look in more detail at how practice can be developed and this led us to the second stage of the project: the development of the practice programme.
The practice programme is designed to be used by adoption, fostering and children’s social workers. It draws on theory, research and existing good practice and is underpinned by the Secure Base model https://www.uea.ac.uk/providingasecurebase/the-secure-base-model .
The practice programme identifies three stages of a child’s move to adoption. These stages span the period before, during and after the move, suggesting a shift from the traditional focus on the introductions as the critical element of the move. The three stages and some key issues for foster carers and adopters during these stages are as follows:
Stage 1: From placement in foster care to the link/match being identified
- Provide a secure base in short-term care – to maximise the development of the child
- Provide fully committed parenting and hold in mind that the child will move
- Manage uncertainty about the move – and help the child to do so
- Understand the value of secure base relationships in the foster family
- Think about how to support children to manage loss and build trust
- Understand the significance of the foster family in children’s life stories
Stage 2: From the link/match being identified to the 4 month post placement review
- Provide full information about the child’s physical and emotional needs
- Sustain emotional warmth and availability and support the child to prepare for the move/build trust in adopters
- Tune in to child’s thinking and feeling and report back to professionals
- Maximise their understanding of the child’s physical needs, thinking and feeling
- Build the child’s trust at a pace that is comfortable for the child
- Think about and respond sensitively to the child’s sense of loss but also parent with confidence
Stage 3: From the 4 month review, onwards
- Continue to build secure base relationships with the child
- Balance family life with professional involvement, as needed
- Recognise and support birth family and foster family connections
- Acknowledge and manage loss and grief, for all family members
- Cope with repeated loss without becoming detached
The practice programme promotes a flexible approach to planning each move to adoption, placing the child’s emotional needs at the centre, while also supporting the foster carers and the adopters. The programme suggests the following ‘key principles’ are held in mind when helping children to move:
- A positive relationship between the foster carers and the adopters is helpful to the child
- The timescale for the move should meet the needs of the child
- There needs to be overlap between the child’s current and new relationships, to enable trust to build gradually
- The child’s feelings should be held in mind and responded to sensitively
- Some continuity of environment and relationships will support the child in building trust
At the end of the pilot we will have information on a complete cohort of adoption plans and placements for these two agencies, providing a much more detailed understanding of a wide range of children and the process of making the move to adoption.
The aim is to influence practice both during, and after during project period. A final report of the project will be prepared in 2018, including practice implications for all parties. This, along with further consultation with stakeholders, will inform next steps regarding publications and further implementation and evaluation.
We would like to thank, most sincerely, everyone who responded to Beth Neil’s request for innovative practice and ideas. Your contributions helped to get the project started and will continue to feed in to the development of the practice programme. We will provide a further update for this website in 2018.
Dr Mary Beek: firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor Elsbeth Neil: email@example.com
Professor Gillian Schofield: firstname.lastname@example.org