Parents' Perspective 3

School and friendships: What helped?

Most adoptive parents, foster parents, and birth parents believed their children were getting on well at school, although problems and difficulties with school work were reported.  They mentioned different causes for these difficulties: dyslexia, hyperactivity, ADHD, difficulty concentrating and/or retaining information, missing school due to ill-health, inability to cope with changes of school routine, and side effects of medication.

They explained how they used different resources to help their children with school, including classroom assistants, extra tuition, support for language and learning, and speech therapy.  Children who got additional support improved their performance at school.

 “She’s getting help with her reading now, and it’s on a one-to-one, so of course one-to-one she does brilliantly, so it has really brought her on and she’s doing really well now with that … hopefully that’ll just give her the help that she needs.”  (Adoptive parent)

 “Every wee bit that he learnt maybe took him a bit longer than another child but it was so rewarding to see him getting to A to B to C, and to see him now in mainstream and not having to be in any special unit or anything which is great.”  (Adoptive parent) 

Adoptive, birth, and foster parents noted that the children were forming friendships within the family circle, at school, nursery and at various activities, some having ‘lots of friends’ and being ‘a very popular child’.  Some of these children were going to each other’s homes and attended birthday parties.  Foster parents said that moving school had made it difficult for the child to make new friends, and both foster parents and birth parents were concerned that the provisions of a Care Order, and the perceived need for police checks were limiting activities such as ‘sleepovers’.  There is no legislative requirement for these police checks. This highlights a degree of confusion in relation to parental autonomy for both foster parents and birth parents in the context of a Care Order. 

 “She has a friend who would come on a Friday, she doesn’t really go to the friend’s house because they’d have to be police checked and it’s not really nice to start bringing that into families.”  (Foster parent)

What support was provided?

Support from Social Services, in general, was seen initially as not wanted by many adoptive parents; insufficient (or non-existent) by most birth parents; and mostly basic by foster parents.

What foster parents said:

Some foster parents said that they did not rely on Social Services support that much, but they felt reassured by the knowledge that support was there if needed.  Most felt that the financial support was little more than adequate and far from generous.

 “I suppose it meets the needs but only the needs ... you don’t get any money for taking them on holiday, if you’re going on a special holiday or anything like that there.”  (Foster parent)

What adoptive parents said:

Most adoptive parents felt support was more intense and frequent at the start but that it petered out afterwards, although they felt that help was still available ‘at the end of the phone’.  Many adoptive parents had not needed, nor wanted support.  They were quite keen to have Social Services out of their lives, so that they could get on with a ‘normal’ family life.  However, a few adoptive parents whose children tended to have more difficulties (i.e. disabilities, poor health, behavioural problems) were not happy with the level of support.

 “I needed a lot of support and encouragement, I think, in the early months, just about the way I was feeling and whether that was normal, and that (support) was available for us.”  (Adoptive parent)

 “Since the day your adoption is stamped and sealed that was the end of their job and I’ve never seen her since, or heard anymore ... apparently that’s it.  They’re adopted now, the child’s adopted, and that’s your problem.”  (Adoptive parent) 

What birth parents said:

Some birth parents felt that Social Services failed to give them the practical help needed to prevent their children initially being taken into care.  Most commented that they did not get any support to get their children back.  For those parents whose children eventually returned home, many felt Social Services were only concerned about checking up on them, rather than providing practical help.  Because of the perceived pressure ‘not to slip up’, some were afraid to ask for support and lived with an ongoing fear of losing their children again.  Most said they needed respite care that would give them ‘a break’.

 “It’s just Social Services don’t want to know us now because they say we haven’t given them any more trouble.”  (Birth parent) 

While foster parents and adoptive parents tended to have the support of family and friends, many birth parents did not have this source of support and felt that that they had been left to struggle on their own.

Other useful sources of support and information:

Adoption UK: provides support, friendship and information to adopters and prospective adopters.

Contact a Family: a UK-wide charity providing support, advice and information for families with disabled children.

Parents Advice Centre: Help and Support for families.

Who’s stressed out?

The birth parents, adoptive parents, and foster parents interviewed completed a questionnaire (the Parenting Stress Index- Short Form), which aims to measure parental stress.  It was found that adoptive parents experienced less overall parenting stress than foster parents and birth parents. They were more likely to feel that their child matched their expectations, and that being with the child was a rewarding experience.  Adoptive parents also experienced less distress in their role as a parent to their child, and found their child to be easier to manage. 

However, a small group of adoptive parents and foster parents experienced significant problems in relation to parenting stress.

Birth parents experienced the highest levels of parental distress, feeling that their child was difficult to manage.

 “When you become a mother you lose your identity ... you live your life for your children, you’ve no life for yourself ... I’m just a mum now, I’ve just been forgotten about, as long as the baby’s doing the crying, sod the parents ... that’s the way I feel.”  (Birth parent)

What does this mean?

High levels of parenting stress affect the physical and mental health and well-being of the parent and the child. There is a need for support in relation to these aspects of parenting.  Increased support has been found to reduce parenting stress and reduce the influence of stress on parenting behaviour.

Other useful sources of support and information:

Care in Crisis: provides help with crisis pregnancy, relationships, miscarriage, bereavement, post-abortion, self-esteem and stress:  

Barnardo’s Parenting Matters: Provides parenting education programmes to groups across Northern Ireland.  It has an accredited parent facilitator training programme.

What were the children’s strengths and difficulties?

The birth parents, foster parents, and adoptive parents interviewed completed a questionnaire – the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire – that looked at how helpful the children were, as well as any behavioural and emotional problems that they might have.

All the parents thought their children were considerate of others, helpful and kind.

Children who had been returned to their birth parents seemed to have more difficulties than the adopted and fostered children in terms of behavioural problems, hyperactivity and overall difficulties.

However, a sizeable number of children in all three groups showed signs of hyperactivity, behavioural problems and overall difficulty. Their parents found them to be restless, overactive, constantly fidgeting or squirming, easily distracted with poor concentration and concentration span, unable to think things out before acting, or to see tasks through to the end.

The SDQ is available free online from:

What does this mean?

The children who returned home appeared to have the most difficulties in terms of behavioural and emotional problems, and their parents were having the most difficulty coping.  This is an important finding for Health and Social Care Trusts to consider, particularly when thinking about how to support families on a long-term basis when children return home from care.  The finding that some adoptive and foster parents are experiencing high levels of stress, and their children are showing signs of behavioural and emotional problems, suggests that Trusts should review the level of post-placement support that is in place for adoptive placements, and on-going support to long-term foster parents. 

Other useful sources of support and information:

YoungMinds: national charity committed to improving the mental health of all children and young people, through giving advice, training, campaigning and distributing publications:

What are we doing next in this study?

The interviews with the parents gave us a sense of how the children are progressing.  But how do the children themselves feel they are getting on?  How has their care experience impacted on their lives?  Where do they consider to be home?  Where do they feel they belong?  How do they feel about contact?

The current phase of the study, The Children’s Perspective, aims to look at these questions through interviews with groups of adopted, fostered, and returned home children. 

 (Return to Publications) Page: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.