Quarter of adopted children ‘may have preventable brain damage caused by mother drinking’

A quarter of adopted children are diagnosed with or suspected of having a preventable form of brain damage caused by their birth mothers drinking alcohol during pregnancy, a report has found.

More than half (55%) of families polled for Adoption UK waited at least two years for their child to be diagnosed with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

The neurodevelopmental condition is irreversible, and symptoms can include poor growth and problems with learning, speech, movement, social skills, attention, concentration, hearing and vision.

If it is not diagnosed early children are more likely to experience challenges such as learning difficulties, drug or alcohol misuse and mental health problems, the NHS says.

After diagnosis, 82% of the families polled said they had not received effective support.

And 78% felt healthcare professionals lacked basic knowledge about the condition, even though it is more common than autism.

Seven in 10 parents felt their child’s school did not understand their condition.

The charity published its Adoption Barometer report after surveying 4,926 UK existing or prospective adopters about their experiences in 2019.

Adoptive mother Gemma said: “When Isabelle came to us at eight months old she was described as a perfect baby.

“At two-and-a-half she started headbutting, kicking and biting. Then she became obsessed with sharp knives.

“She told me she wanted to ‘cut me open and see me bleed’. We went to countless GPs, health visitors and social workers but we got nowhere.”

They finally received a diagnosis when Isabelle was four years old, which made a “huge difference”.

Another family told of how their son, adopted at age three, had violent fits every night which involved throwing things, hitting, kicking and scratching.

They said: “Aged seven, he ran away. He thought he either had to leave our house or kill himself as his violence wasn’t fair on us. We found him wandering the streets in a state.”

He was later diagnosed with FASD, but the family was discharged that day without any offer of support.

Mike Rebeiro, chairman of trustees, said: “Given its scale and its devastating impact, this needs to be treated as nothing short of a health and social emergency and Adoption UK will be pressing authorities to take urgent action.”

While three-quarters of adopted children experienced violence abuse or neglect in their birth families, missed opportunities to provide support means these problems often escalate, the report said.

The survey found 46% of families who asked for post-adoption support in 2019 were experiencing significant difficulties or already at crisis point.

Around half (48%) of families with older children reported severe challenges such as criminal exploitation, child sexual exploitation and county lines involvement.

Almost a fifth (19%) of adopted 13-to-18-year-olds were known or suspected to have been drawn into criminally exploitative activity in 2019.

And 64% of established adopters stated that they had experienced violent or aggressive behaviour from their child during 2019 – 3% more than the previous year.

Despite these problems, only 32% of adopters in 2019 had a written post-adoption support plan.

Report author Becky Brooks said: “It is morally and economically imperative that adoptive families are given the right support from day one.

“Yet 68% of new adoptive families who responded to the survey had no support plan in place.

“The cost to the child, the wider family and society when an adoptive family falls apart, is unacceptable.”

A Government spokesperson said: “Adoption can transform the lives of children waiting in care for a permanent, loving home, but we know that many adoptive parents have additional challenges to overcome when opening their homes to a vulnerable child.

“That’s why we have invested more than £150 million in our Adoption Support Fund, supporting thousands of new families with access to activities like therapy, counselling and access to helplines.

“We’re also investing £84 million over five years in projects that help keep more families safely together, where it is in their best interests, through our children’s social care Innovation Programme.”

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