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A different approach to assessing prospective adopters

Posted in: Blog

Julia Press, Senior Social Work practitioner, reflects on Adoption Assessments at Family Futures

Joining the i-Adopt team at Family Futures really enlightened me as to how assessments of prospective adopters can, and should be done. That is, effectively, therapeutically and meaningfully, while always holding the ‘developmentally traumatised child’ in mind – the child who will, if all goes well, be placed for adoption with the families who are being assessed.

While following the standardised two stage assessment process, Family Futures ventures away from the traditional style of assessing, which may typically involve a social worker travelling to the home of a prospective adopter and asking questions which enable the professional to get to know them and assess their ability to adopt.

An assessment at Family Futures is approached quite differently – it is an education programme, for both the prospective adopter/s and the professional team – a two-way process where each party is learning, and equal to the other.

Stage one of the assessment entails completing a Taster Day at Family Futures which helps the team and applicants to understand their attachment histories and styles. This includes their ability to confide and the active use of their family and friends network. Prospective Adopters also gain insight into the therapeutic tools used with families who are engaging in post-adoption therapeutic support at Family Futures. These tools are experiential and incorporate creative arts and drama techniques. For example, we utilise paint, clay, sand and movement to explore a variety of issues which help prospective adopters to emotionally engage with the material.

Those who struggle to relay information verbally also have the opportunity to convey information in an alternative format. The tools are powerful in terms of their ability to unlock what’s beneath the surface (the unconscious) and they allow the Assessor to observe the capacity of prospective adopters to engage with difficult material, their openness to a variety of therapeutic approaches and their capacity to be creative and playful – crucial information for us when we are considering placing complex needs children within these families.

Using the approach and tools described above, Stage two of the assessment process builds on Prospective Adopters’ understanding of themselves; their histories, relationships, strengths, vulnerabilities, stress responses and triggers. This stage also addresses each applicant’s journey to adoption, paying meaningful attention to experiences of loss and possible unresolved feelings associated with infertility or miscarriages. Crucially one module of learning is devoted to the experiences of children who are removed from birth families and the impact of this, with particular focus on Adverse Childhood Experiences and Significant Harm.

In my experience an in-depth understanding of trauma, plus a commitment to apply, and the ability to deliver, therapeutic parenting, aids the success of a placement.   

Crucially, an assessment and education program at Family Futures also involves a multidisciplinary team, including a Social Worker, Therapist, Occupational Therapist and Education specialist, who are there to guide and support, offering varied experience and insights from diverse perspectives. Family Futures also pledges to continually nurture a family’s support network, to strengthen the placement by assisting their understanding of the reality of adoption today and what it entails. Our team also identify what support people can offer the family to avoid isolation often felt by adopters post placement.

While I fully endorse the Family Futures approach to assessing prospective adopters and think that this acts as a strong foundation to healthy family life, I am sure this is not enough for children who have suffered trauma and abuse. Matching children for adoption is not the happy ending of a nightmare. Wounds do not disappear. They may reopen, become infected and hurt.  They need thoughtful and ongoing aftercare, to help the healing process. Scars are a reminder that we need to care for families’ long term needs. Families require ongoing therapeutic support to ensure that they can continue to heal, grow together and thrive – this is something that urgently needs to be secured for adoptive families now and in the future.

Information about Family Futures i-Adopt adoption service

Information for Social Workers placing a child with Family Futures

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