It was hard to keep up with all the interesting conversations at our conference today, which was mostly made up of academics, social workers and psychologists from across the UK. Although the event was aimed at doctoral students, we were surprised at the level of interest in the event from academics at all levels and from professionals in the field. There is a clear need for adoption-specific events and it was useful to discuss adoption-related issues with individuals with a range of perspectives.
Here’s an attempt to give you a flavour of the busy day. (It isn’t exhaustive – I will have missed things – but most of the presentations are available to you here (LINK?).
First off was a keynote speech from Dr Julie Doughty From Cardiff University who talked about adoption and human rights. Julie talked about what European Convention on Human Rights are upheld in an adoption and clarified that the child’s welfare is always at the heart of decisions being made. During questions, Julie helped clarify some of the developments from adoption judgements such as Re B and Re B-S. It was great to have such a clear update on adoption related legal issues.
Following this, Martina McCrossan from the National Adoption Service (NAS) updated everyone on the development of NAS in Wales. Martina told us that NAS Cymru estimate that there are around 4000 adopted children and young people in Wales. She explained that there is a mismatch between the adopters available and the children who are waiting. For example, 30% of children waiting to be adopted have 2+ siblings but 90% of adopters only want one child.
After the coffee break and lots more discussion, PhD student Andrew Brown from Cardiff University stepped in at the last minute to talk about adoption, education and wellbeing. He he explored adopted children’s education, aspiration and psycho-social well-being using data from the Understanding Society survey. Early findings indicate adopted children reporting higher levels of Hyperactivity/inattention and total difficulties than non-adopted peers.
Next up was Dr Ludivine Garside from Bristol University gave a presentation on care proceedings reform and patterns of adoption placements.
To finish the morning sessions, Shirley Lewis From Coventry University discussed the experiences of birth parents, focusing on conceptions of ‘consent’. Shirley explained how important it was for parents to fight for their children. It was a very emotive session.
To kick off the afternoon sessions, Dr Dawn Mannay and Dr Jen Lyttleton-Smith from Exchange Wales updated the conference about the ‘ExChange’, an all-Wales network that brings together workers, researchers and those who use services to share experiences and expertise and learn from one another.
Following this, our afternoon keynote speaker Dr Debbie Watson from Bristol University gave a very interesting talk about life story work and the trove project. She explained that children need to be taught to tell stories of the self and has found that often life story books are the adopted child’s most treasured possession. The researchers worked with young people to design a memory box to assist with the process of life story work and to keep their precious objects safe.
Next up, I (Rebecca Anthony) from Cardiff University gave a talk about adverse childhood experiences (ACES) in our sample of 374 children in the Wales Adoption Study. I examined the association between ACEs and child mental health problems.
Last, but not least, Dr Jan MacVarish from University of Kent discussed upcoming research around siblings, contact and the law.
The judges had a tough decision when it came to prizes, as there were so many great speakers and posters. In the end they decided to award Shirley Lewis the prize for best oral presentation and best poster presentation went to Sue Austin from Bristol University. Congratulations both!
Feedback from the conference was very positive and everyone appreciated having a full day devoted to adoption!