Participation work with adopted children and young people, East Midlands and East Anglia

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • General resources
  • Adoption and Fostering

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

Coram: East Midlands and Adopt Anglia Adoption Teams

Local authority/local area:

Both groups draw children from a wide area. East Midlands: Leicester, Leicestershire, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, Derby, Derbyshire, Stafford and Northamptonshire.
Adopt Anglia: Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk.

The context and rationale

Coram is a voluntary adoption agency and provides support services for adopted children and young people, to address the emotional needs of children who have suffered losses and trauma. As a result of consultation with young people themselves, Coram has developed its support in three main areas which is described in this practice: long term group work; annual holiday camps, participation projects.

Background Details
Over the last 10 years Coram has been working to develop effective support services for adopted children and young people. We have worked to provide adopted young people the opportunity to influence adoption policy and procedures. Resources have been developed: art work books, resources packs, and training DVDs, which have been effectively used in training for teachers, social workers and prospective adopters. 

Description of the idea
Coram is a voluntary adoption agency which recruits, prepares and trains people to become adopters and provides ongoing support to adoptive families. Over the last ten years there has been a clear recognition in research, policy and practice that children who have suffered losses and trauma may bring additional needs with them to their adoptive family, and adoption does not automatically resolve such issues. Because of the trauma and disadvantage adopted children have experienced in their birth families, they and their new adoptive families may need support to enable children to thrive. Our practice recognises the need to provide services directly for and with adopted children and young people.

In 1999 the Coram East Midlands team consulted with 12 adopted young people (21% of our adopted young people) to explore the kinds of services they would like provided for adopted children and young people at our project. At that point, post adoption services tended to focus on adopters and the ‘adopted family’ rather than adopted children and young people. The main findings were:
• They wanted more opportunities to meet with other adopted children and young people to break down the isolation some of them felt as an adopted child. 
• They viewed other adopted children and young people as a vital source of support.
• They felt it was important to develop long term relationships with other adopted children and young people.
• They wanted more support when they were first placed and during disruption.
• They had a lot of questions about their birth family. 

Learning from the young people, three main elements to Coram’s work was developed:
• Long term group work with adopted children and young people (we run 4 groups spanning the age range of 0-25 years). 
• Three annual holiday camps.
• Participation projects.

Knowledge base
No other organisation was doing long term group work with adopted children; there were therapeutic groups for children in placements (although nothing written about them) and groups to prepare children for adoption, but the children in the consultation said they wanted long term groups. There was little to nothing on children’s views of adoption at the time either. The idea for camps came via partnership work with Adoption Support, an organisation which provides post adoption support to adopted children and young people across the West Midlands, but our survey of adopters as part of the Natural Breaks project confirmed that camps were appealing to adopters because it provided respite that was child focused. 

The aims
Coram aims to help adopted children and young people to:
• Network with other adopted children and young people and develop long term supportive friendships
• Access support directly themselves
• Participate in the development and delivery of adoption services.

The principles of participation are used – creating positive opportunities for children and young people and actively involving them in decision making. This can include anything from involving adopted children in the recruitment process to them deciding the name and rules for their groups. Adopted young people become young leaders at groups and camps, help develop ideas for participation projects, organise their own camps, and make presentations to disseminate their work.

The practice

Two Coram teams provide group-based post adoption support to adopted children and young people, in slightly different ways. In both cases the way the provision is organised is adapted to a situation where children come from a wide geographical area, so sessions are infrequent and relatively long. It would not be feasible to run, for example, a weekly group session. Coram has found this mode of operating to be effective.

(A) East Midlands
Four groups for adopted children and young people are run, which span the age range of 0-25 years. Each group meets 3-4 times each year and the children make decisions about how the group is run and the activities they undertake. The groups are run by two workers and volunteers, some of whom are older adopted young people, and their support is particularly valued by the group members. The groups are an important source of friendships for some children and young people who may be struggling to develop relationships with their peers. It is place where people understand their background and how they might feel and where they can talk about issues that affect them. 

Three times a year, workshops are held which aim to support children with their emotional and social development using a range of media. Express Yourself workshops used drama, art and writing to help children express their views. Currently a series of workshops are being run called Strength to Strength which uses drama, singing and group work with horses to build on the children’s strengths and help boost their confidence. 

Three camps are held each year, usually held at an outdoor activity centre. Like the groups, the camps provide an opportunity to meet others who are adopted, and face challenging activities where they will receive support and praise. They also have an opportunity to talk to staff who understand their background and how feelings of insecurity or anxiety may affect them when they are away from their home. 

Coram has also run participation projects exploring a theme identified by adopted children and young people and using creative ways for them to express their views and help challenge views and practice. 

Those involved
Coram’s services are open to all children who were placed for adoption through our project; local authorities can also refer their children to join the groups, camps or projects. Coram is keen to work in partnership with other agencies to develop our work and enthuse others to develop participatory work with adopted children and young people, e.g. we have a long term partnership with Adoption Support, 
with whom we have worked for the last seven years.

Examples of our work include: 

Participation projects
In May 2005, 14 adopted young people from three voluntary adoption agencies were consulted about what they felt were the important issues for adopted children and young people. The three themes they identified were: the need for group work with adopted children and young people; education; and contact with their birth families. Over the years Coram’s work with adopted children has confirmed the importance of these issues and it has worked in partnership with Adoption Support to develop projects to enable adopted children to have their say about these issues and have an impact on practice within Coram and beyond. 

March 2006 – ‘Adopted young people: our messages’ 
A conference weekend attended by 24 adopted young people from voluntary and statutory adoption agencies across the Midlands was held, which was funded by Y Speak and carried out in partnership with Adoption Support and St Francis Children’s Society. The young people used drama, art and music to express their messages about adoption. Their messages were disseminated by presenting to four adoption teams in the Midlands, making a DVD which Coram uses in its preparation groups for prospective adopters, and holding an exhibition of the young people’s art work in Birmingham and London.

January 2008 – ‘You don’t look adopted - do you?’
The young people developed a resource pack for schools, aimed at year 10. The focus was to help educate their peers about adoption and bullying. They were keen to make something that was creative and engaging, and with the help of the film company, One Small Barking Dog, 16 adopted young people wrote, filmed, acted and edited their own film funded by Mediabox. They also wrote a magazine with eye catching designs, and we included a book of the art work from the exhibition described above. Alongside interest from schools, the resource pack has been used in primary schools to train teachers. A number of packs were bought by adoption teams but requests for packs came from a wide range of professionals including those who worked in secure units, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), libraries and the looked after system. A group of adopted young people who have made a long term commitment to our work have become known as ‘The Adoptables’, a name which developed out of the making of the film, ‘You don’t look adopted - do you?’

“Both Coram and Adoption Support formed together as a team to raise awareness of how adoption can affect us. They wanted to show others how we wished to be treated when they found out about our lives and to also show our bravery as young people to carry on with day-to-day life given the problems we have had.” An adopted young person who helped create the resource pack.

September 2010 – ‘What adults need to know and understand about contemporary contact’ 
Again in partnership with Adoption Support, Coram gained money from Community Voices to buy equipment and training to create films about the young people’s views and experiences of contact with their birth families. The aim was to enable the adopted children and young people to express their views on adoption and impact policy and practice, and to help adopters/prospective adopters and adoption workers to understand contact from the adopted children’s point of view. Presentations were given at one local and one national conference, and films and training resources are being developed for dissemination.

(B) Adopt Anglia
Over the past two years another Coram adoption team, based in Cambridge and serving East Anglia, has also developed support groups for adopted children and young people on similar lines to the groups described above.

The beginnings: The groups began in 2009, as a result of identifying a need for young adopted people to get together. A consultation was held with young adopted people within our services in the East Midlands and it transpired that they wanted more opportunities to meet with other adopted children and young people to be able to build friendships.

Planning: Due to the wide geographical area covered, it was felt impractical to meet more than 4 times a year. As such, it was also felt that the groups would initially target the 7 to 10 age group and 11 to 17 years. Any younger than 7 years old, and it would be a struggle for the children to hold in mind any familiar faces, thus defeating the objective of the children being able to form friendships. It was also felt that the number in each group should remain small so that it would not feel overwhelming for the young people and that they would all get the chance to have a say and be very much involved in the planning and running of the groups.

Where: Young adopted people often struggle with the concept of permanency so it was with this in mind that it was agreed that the groups should be held in the same place each time. It was important that it be accessible to all and also easy to get to so it was decided that a country park on the outskirts of Cambridge would be ideal. There is a lot of space for the children to run around, climb trees, make fires and also be very much involved in the maintenance of the park doing coppicing and clearance work. Nature itself would also then dictate when the meetings would be and promoted the idea of permanency. For example, the children were told: ‘we will next meet when the leaves have turned orange/when there is blossom on the trees’ etc.

Aim: The aim of the group is for the children to get together and have fun and build friendships. The children may talk about adoption and issues around being adopted would definitely arise and, although the child/ren and family would certainly be supported in this, the aim was not for it to be a therapy group. Many aspects were taken into consideration when setting up the groups such as the length of time that a child has been adopted, what level of contact the child has with their birth families and the level of support available to the families. The aim was for the adopted children to be in the majority rather than the minority as is probably the case in everyday life, especially at school. The idea was for young adopted people to be able to thrive in the supportive environment of the groups and this is confirmed by what they have said, such as, ‘you can have a friend like you who understands what you are going through.’

Help: Volunteers were recruited in the form of adults who have been adopted through us in the past. This had a particularly positive impact for the young people who were able to see that it is possible to get through to adulthood as an adopted person! Prospective adopters have also helped and found this a positive experience debunking the myth that all teenagers are a nightmare and out to get you. Some of the young people from the older group have also come to help with the younger ones. The country park provides a Ranger each time and they lead us on activities such as fire building, orienteering and a wealth of woodland activities.

Feedback: At the beginning of each meeting, some time is spent going over what happened the time before, what has happened in the interim period and also doing a few games that ‘gel’ the group. At the end of each group, time is also spent talking about what has gone well and what has not gone so well. Photos are taken throughout the day and pieces written for a newsletter.

Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

Coram’s services for adopted children and young people received special commendation in a recent Ofsted inspection and Coram’s East Midlands Adoption team was judged outstanding (Ofsted 2011). 

When asked ‘what they liked about going to Coram Adoption East Midlands’, 16 (80%) respondents said they agreed that they got to meet adopted children and young people, of which eight ‘strongly agreed’. 14 (70%) said they made friends with children and young people who were adopted. 12 (71%) said they enjoyed the activities such as ice skating and swimming. Ten felt they could get their feelings of their chest, ten felt they had someone to talk to about adoption and seven said they can join in projects, like the one about contact with birth family, and have your say about adoption.

Of those who specified ‘not applicable’ on the tables, one respondent mentioned the distance impacted on their access to these groups - ‘because we live in Nottingham and not Shepshed – the distance restricted us using the clubs’ and another said their child was too young to complete the form.” 
Parents feel it is important for children to have the chance to meet others, in a safe environment where they can be open about their adoption status. Professionals have greatly valued the opportunity to hear from adopted children directly, and to learn from them about their views on adoption. 
Social workers’ comments:
• ‘Food for thought, such a wonderful idea’.
• ‘Your work really made me think and understand adoption from a child’s prospective. Thanks’
• ‘The pictures are very powerful, as are the words a reminder of some of the tension you experience and this will help me in the work I do with adopted children. Thank you.’

‘You don’t look adopted - do you?’ 
At the end of making the film, questionnaires were sent out to young people and their families to evaluate the experience and the following feedback was received:

Young people’s comments:
‘I realised that other adopted people have similar thoughts to me.’
‘The film is awesome. I think we all put in effort to make it, and it shows.’
‘I really enjoyed making the film and also becoming friends with other young people that are in the same situation as me.’ 

Parents comments:
• He is more confident. He has relaxed a bit more about his adoption and realises he was ‘chosen’. 
• It has helped with her BTec in performing arts. Her teacher is very pleased with what she has been able to bring back to class. 
• She has greater confidence, taking more risks, she has now applied and gained part time employment for herself. 

What adults need to understand about contemporary contact with birth family
Again ,after presenting the films young people had made about contact to social workers, we asked how it might impact their practice. Comments included:

‘Thank you for everything you have taught me today. I look forward to receiving your resource pack which I am sure will help social workers understand the feelings of young adoptees and help them provide good contact experiences.’

‘Dear Adoptables! A very moving experience. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings on contact.’

‘I am humbled by your presentation, and found it fascinating to hear the views of adopted children and young people. I will take away many thoughts from today about how we work with adoptees and birth parents and how decisions are made and shared. I think the information pack will be a great resource for professionals.’

‘It has been so powerful to hear the views of children and young people for what I think may be the first time. We will use the DVD on our preparation but all other stages as well.’

The Express Yourself Workshops. 
The work was funded by the Children's Workforce Development Council (CWDC). An evaluation was undertaken: ‘The impact, value and outcomes of creative workshops (Express Yourself) for adopted children and young people aged 7-13 years’ by Lorraine Wallis, Charlie, Dan, Steve and Vicky (February 2010) Available at (last assessed 17 July 2012). Feedback from the workshops:

‘I got a lot of things off my chest because we did things to sort them out,’ 11 year old girl attending the drama workshop.

‘We are sure all the activities are beneficial...for our daughter, it is good for her to see other people talking about emotions – that it is ok to admit to those feelings. We would welcome more and hope that she would acknowledge feelings and maybe share with Coram if not with us. Apart of that they are enjoyable activities and our daughter certainly likes to meet up with the other children for a structure activity. Thank you.’ Adoptive parent.

Helping others to replicate your practice

The key to this has been developing relationships. The older adopted young people, having gained experience of participation projects, have supported and encouraged the younger ones to develop their skills and interest in having their say. Working in partnership with children, young people, parents, funders and other adoption organisations enabled us to develop and sustain the work. 

Costs and benefits: 
This work is provided by Coram as part of its duty of care to children adopted through the agency. Special targeted fundraising is undertaken to support the direct costs of these activities. For the camps, families that can afford to make a contribution towards the costs. For some group work, local authorities may contribute at a rate of £25 per session, but only when the child was placed by them with a specific agreement to support the placement in this way. These payments cease when the case is closed by the local authority, but children will often need to continue to attend in order to have continuity in important peer relationships. 

The following costs information includes only the direct costs of this provision – there is additional cost in staff time spent planning and preparing this provision, plus management and overheads.

• Group sessions, East Midlands – 6 hours each; 4 sessions per year: annual total cost: £1750. Annual cost per child @ 8 children per session: £219 for 4 sessions. Cost to Coram: four groups meet four times per year, costing about £7000.
• Camps, East Midlands – 3 days, 2 nights. Three camps per year. Cost per camp of £3900 minus parental contributions of £2100, leaving a net cost of £1800. Average (net) annual cost per child (14 children attending) £92.60. Cost to Coram, three camps per year: £11,668.
• Participation Project – for example a project that produced a film about contact issues, including workshops using art and drama, training in film techniques, technology costs etc: £8,500.
• Group, Adopt Anglia – direct costs are £1000 per year, fundraised for specifically, plus 12 days of a social worker’s time per year.

Cost savings: The immediate benefits to children are outlined above. Longer term benefits include prevention of breakdown of adoptions. The cost of adoption breakdowns, when a child becomes looked after, start with the cost of foster care at a minimum of £25K per year, plus leaving care provision as children grow up, plus further costs occasioned by the emotional harm sustained. For a larger group of children this provision may also reduce the need for mental health interventions in childhood and later life. 

Learning from the experience:

Key messages:
• Listen to young people– they have wonderful ideas, if they help develop a project they will have more ownership of that project ensuring it had a greater impact on them and on the practice of others. 
• Find the skills and positives in each young person and help them to develop and build on them, believe in them and eventually they will start to believe in themselves (it may take years!) 
• Work in partnership with other agencies – you will achieve more and learn more. 
• Children value the support of other children and young people who share their experience – there is no substitute for this. 
• There are lots of funding opportunities out there for children and young people; especially if you are exploring the different kinds of media young people can use to express their views. Money is often for very short periods of time which means working under pressure. 
• Always have an ending, a celebration of what has been achieved, something that everyone can enjoy.

C4EO Golden Threads:
• You can do it
• Holding the baton
• Together with children, parents and families

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