Skip to main content

‘She was a foster mother who said she didn’t give cuddles’: The adverse early foster care experiences of children who later struggle with adoptive family life

Foster care remains a valuable and safe intervention for many children unable to live with their birth family. When birth family reunification is not considered possible, a small proportion of children in foster care will go on to achieve permanency by way of adoption. This article reports on some unexpected findings to emerge from two national adoption studies of previously looked after children in England and Wales. Focussing on a subset of families who had experienced or were at risk of an adoption disruption, the findings revealed that not only did children carry elevated risks for disruption due to their older age at entry to care, multiple foster care placements and traumatic early histories, but once in care, many of the children whose placements had disrupted were considered by their adoptive parents to have had very poor, even harmful fostering experiences before being placed for adoption. Possible explanations for these findings are discussed, together with the implications for social work practice.