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Child Care Health Dev. 2009 Jul;35(4):561-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2214.2009.00978.x.

Non-infant adoption from care: lessons for safeguarding children.

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Tyndalls Park Children's Centre, University of Bristol, 31 Tyndalls Park Road, Bristol BS8 1PH, UK.



To explore use of adoption in remedying abuse and neglect, to inform child protection practice and to identify professional responsibilities to adoptive families.


A cohort of 130 children was identified for whom adoption was recommended in 1991-1996 at a mean age of 5.7 years (range 3-11). All were in local authority care for child protection reasons.


information was gathered from social work records. The children were traced between 6 and 11 years later and their adopters interviewed. The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire and the Parent-Child Communication Scale were completed.


All but three birth parents had traumatic childhoods involving abuse, neglect and/or time in care. Eighty-six per cent had violent adult relationships. Mental illness, learning difficulties and substance abuse were prominent. Sixty-seven per cent of families were known to social services when children were born, but 98% experienced abuse or neglect. Most adopters found the first year challenging, though rewarding. Depression, anxiety and marital problems were common. Children's learning difficulties, conduct problems, emotional 'phoniness' and rejection affected closeness. At follow-up 28% described rewarding, happy placements, and 62% described continuing difficulties tempered by rewards. However, 10% reported no rewards. Hyperactivity and inattention frequently persisted despite stable adoption and were associated with conduct and attachment difficulties. Use of professional services was substantial. Thirty-eight per cent of children failed to achieve stable adoption. Later entry to care correlated with poorer outcome.


This study highlights the importance in safeguarding children of considering the implications of parental childhood experiences, and indicates the risk of delay. The high prevalence of domestic violence in birth families indicates the need for better resources for managing emotional dysregulation. Adoption is a valuable therapeutic tool, but professional responsibilities in supporting it need to be acknowledged and adequately resourced. Dysfunctional hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis programming may contribute to persisting difficulties. Supporting substitute care should be considered integral to safeguarding children.

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