3.3 Moving to adoption
Throughout history, poor families have given children what they believed to be a better chance in life by allowing them to be adopted by more affluent people. Adoption began as an informal process, but gradually became formalised through legislation, policy and procedure. Adoption has often been seen as the best solution for children in certain circumstances and has been at times the subject of much debate among policy makers. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 (England and Wales) is an example of legislation in this area.
In the UK, 800,000 people have been formally adopted since 1926, when the first piece of adoption legislation was enacted. Approximately one in three people in the general population have been touched by adoption either directly or indirectly since that time (Triseliotis et al., 1997). Adopters must be approved through a formalised process undertaken by agencies. They may be relatives of the child, step-parents, foster carers, couples, single people, heterosexual or gay.
There are approximately 4,000 to 5,000 adoptions each year in the UK (Department of Health, 2004). Three out of four of these adoptions are likely to be of children who have experienced some form of care away from their birth families. At the beginning of this course you heard from Christina, a young woman who had various experiences of foster care. Two of her younger siblings were placed with foster carers but as their mother's mental health needs became more complex a range of workers, including those from health as well as from social services, concluded that adoption was the best means of ensuring the children's long-term well being. The next highest proportion will be adoptions by step-parents of their partner's child (Douglas and Philpot, 2003). Many adopted children will retain some form of contact with their birth families, either face to face or via a ‘letter box’ system, in which professionals act as intermediaries to enable, for example, letters and photographs from birth families to be given to adopters or directly to a child (Neil and Howe, 2004). Some children, especially those placed at a very young age, may have very little knowledge of their families of origin. This may be because their families of origin cannot or do not wish to maintain contact, or because information has been lost over time, for example when children have had frequent changes of placement.