Disruption of adoption and permanent fostering placements: a Scottish perspective

The disruption of adoption and permanent fostering placements: a Scottish perspective reports on a research study undertaken by the University of Dundee and AFKA Scotland in 2021-22The study is based on analysis of a range of reports and minutes of meetings held following the disruption of permanent placements, conducted by or on behalf of local authorities. It was carried out by Paula Jacobs, Tim Armstrong, Kate Mearns and Maggie Grant.

The unplanned ending of a placement of a child or young person intended to be permanent is one of the most difficult experiences that can occur in fostering and adoption. The emotional impact for children and their families is far-reaching, and for professionals involved there are significant and often complex issues to manage in both the short-term and longer term. The ways in which the breakdowns of permanent placements are managed for children is critical in supporting them to recover and move forward in their lives. In recent years, research evidence from other UK and international contexts has re-shaped thinking about the extent of disruptions in permanent placements, and the experiences of children and families at the centre of these (Selwyn et al, 2014, Bombach et al, 2018). However, substantial differences in decision-making processes limit the relevance to Scotland of some of the messages emerging from this work.

The aims of the study were to:

  • improve current practice and outcomes for children and young people;
  • better understand reasons for the disruption of permanent placements in Scotland;
  • better understand how disruptions are supported and managed in practice;
  • identify what we can learn from the disruption of previous placements to help avoid future disruptions;
  • highlight approaches to managing disruptions that are supportive and constructive while tackling difficult issues honestly.

Research Launch Event

The report and briefings were launched at an event for participating agencies on 22 March 2022. Attendees reflected on the findings from the study and in small groups discussed the messages for practice, including:

  • many of the findings were familiar to experienced practitioners and managers, but likely to be less so to newly qualified and less experienced practitioners
  • the findings underline the need for resources to build in support for children, carers and adopters from the outset and to implement recommendations in assessments
  • children and foster carers’ grief when a child moves to a permanent placement are not always well recognised
  • any learning from agencies that have found meaningful ways to include children and young people in processes following the unplanned ending of placements would be welcomed

As far as we are aware, this is the first study of its kind in Scotland, but there is growing body of related research, particularly in relation to adoption. The following studies may also be of interest:

  1. Adoption breakdowns in Scotland Polly Cowan at University of Edinburgh is due to complete here PhD thesis on adoption breakdowns in Scotland, using a mixed methods approach. This research analysed the adoption breakdowns of 122 children in Scotland (across 24 adoption agencies). 81 of the children experienced an adoption breakdown prior to the adoption order being granted and 41 experienced a breakdown after the adoption order had been granted. Social workers and adoptive parents were interviewed as part of the research. A couple of emerging findings include: 70% of the breakdowns experienced a difficult transition process. For many of the children who were part of a sibling group in the adoptive home, the sibling dynamic was a cause of concern and distress.
  2. Beyond the Adoption Order studies These were major studies that explored adoption disruptions in England over a 12 year period and Wales over an 11 year period, including analysis of national datasets and interviews with adoptive parents: