Parenting skills training programme adapted for adoptive families - Coram

A parenting skills training programme for adoptive families developed by Coram and  based on the Webster-Stratton Incredible Years programme. It takes account of adoptive families’ particular needs and circumstances.

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • General resources
  • Adoption and Fostering

Basic details

Organisation submitting example


Local authority/local area:

Families attend the programme from across London and surrounding areas.


The context and rationale

A widespread lack of support for adoptive parents was highlighted by Lowe and Murch (1999) and (post) adoption support was subsequently identified in the Prime Minister’s Review of Adoption (Performance and Innovation Unit, 2000) as a way to prevent adoption breakdown and help families adjust positively. The  Adoption and Children Act (2002) and Adoption Support Services Regulations 2005 now place a duty on local authorities to maintain a core set of adoption support services. These should include ‘services to support the relationship between the adopted child and their adoptive parents (e.g. training for the adoptive parents to meet the child’s special needs)’.

Older children being placed for adoption have often experienced abuse and neglect in their family of origin, frequently followed by changes of carer during a period of foster care (Quinton D, Rushton A, Dance C and Mayes D, Joining New Families: A study of adoption andfostering in middle childhood, Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 1998). They bring emotional and behavioural difficulties into their new families that seem to differ in important ways from the types of difficulty seen in intact birth families and that may require different parenting approaches. This is acknowledged in the Practice Guidance on Assessing the Support Needs of Adoptive Families (Department for Education and Skills, 2005) which states that:

The particular issues associated with parenting children with the emotional and behavioural difficulties associated with maltreatment, separation and loss need to be addressed through more specialised approaches to developing parenting skills.

Coram has a long history of placing children with adoptive families. Over the last ten years, Coram has worked with the Anna Freud Centre to run a research programme aimed at understanding the complexities of how adopted children’s attachment to their adoptive parents develop, and how to support their new parents in developing their attachments. One particular outcome of this programme has been the Parenting Skills for Adopters training programme which was conceived in order to build upon one of the most widely-used programmes – the Incredible Years programme developedby Professor Carolyn Webster-Stratton – with particular additions and amendments tailored to meet the specific challenges faced by many adoptive families. It was felt that the proven behavioural management strategies of the Incredible Years package would help parents to feel more confident and in control and allow a ‘breathing space’ in which to think about the specific issues related to adoptive parenting.

Evidence for the model

Parenting skills training programmes have been shown to be effective for a range of difficulties when used with biological families (see list below for reviews) and offer a framework for the development of adoption support (for example; Gilkes, L. and Klimes, I. (2003). ‘Parenting skills for adoptive parents’, Adoption & Fostering 27: 1, pp 19–25).

Barlow, J. (1997). Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Parent Training Programmes in Improving Behaviour Problems in Children Aged 3–10 Years, Oxford: Department of Public Health, Oxford University;

Scott, S. (2002). ‘Parent training programmes’, in Rutter M and Taylor E (eds), Child and AdolescentPsychiatry (fourth edition), Oxford: Blackwell;

Barrett, H. (2003). Parenting Programmes for Familiesat Risk: A source book, London: National Family and Parenting Institute;

Moran, P., Ghate, D. and van der Merwe, A. (2004). What Works in Parenting Support? A review of the International Evidence, London: PolicyResearch Bureau.

The Incredible Years parenting programme has substantial evidence of effectiveness in reducing conduct disorder in children and improving parenting competencies. 


The Incredible Years parenting programme aims to:

  • strengthen parenting competencies (monitoring, positive discipline, confidence);
  • improve the parent-child relationship;
  • increase parents' involvement in children's school experiences in order to promote children's academic, social and emotional competencies and reduce conduct problems.

The Parenting Skills for Adopters training programme aims specifically to:

  • improve adoptive parents’ ability to deal with parenting issues;
  • enable adopted children and adults to feel more positive about their background
  • provide adopters with a ‘toolkit’ of strategies to use to encourage positive engagement;
  • provide a forum for peer support.

The service model

Parents attended the training at Coram on Saturday mornings for 12 weeks and a crèche with a high staff ratio was provided for their children. This was considered a vital element as it enabled both parents to attend the course and jointly apply the material to their parenting. Each weekly session began with a round-up of how things had been in the previous week for each family and discussion on how the ‘homework tasks’ had gone. The material from the Webster-Stratton course was then covered, with discussion and feedback from parents.

Evaluation of the courses was undertaken by completion of widely used, validated questionnaires by all parents, before and after participation on the parenting course.

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