In England and Wales around 3,200 children are adopted annually from the care system (Department for Education, 2010). As a result of the Prime Minister's Review of Adoption (Performance and Innovation Unit, 2000), government policy set out to increase the number of adoptions by 50 per cent by the year 2005/06 but this target fell short by some 21 per cent. Since then, there has been a further drop in adoptions, despite legislative changes allowing unmarried and single-sex couples to adopt (Adoption and Children Act 2002) and the development of strategies to link prospective parents with children regionally (via consortiums and exchange days) and nationally (via the National Adoption Register). This shortfall in the availability of adoptive parents may in part be due to insufficient numbers of suitable applicants coming forward in the first place. Published research suggests that using popular media (Lunken, 1995; Triseliotis et al, 1997; Creedy, 2000; Fenton, 2001) and targeted recruitment campaigns for specific groups (Simon et al, 1994; Bausch and Serpe, 1999; Rule, 2006) are effective ways of generating enquiries, but little is known about how many of those responding pursue adoption and ultimately become parents (Geen et al, 2004).
The focus of this study is National Adoption Week (NAW), the UK's most high-profile recruitment campaign, organised annually by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF). It utilises national and local media and invites interested people to request an adoption information pack to be sent to them. In one of the few studies on adoption recruitment, Simmonds's (2000) survey of NAW found that 23 per cent of enquirers had gone on to approach an adoption agency and a further 13 per cent had started the adoption process. Recruitment drives attract a lot of initial enquiries (for example, NAW had over 5,000 enquirers in 2003), but only a small proportion of respondents initiate the adoption process and become parents. Factors such as personal characteristics, agency experience, motivation, levels of support and the profile of the children available can all affect the decision to pursue adoption.
The most common thinking about what prevents people from pursuing their interest in adoption is that there is a mismatch between the children available and the type of children sought by prospective parents, as evidenced by the hundreds of children left waiting on the National Adoption Register (Cousins, 2003). Prospective adopters have to accept that most of the children available for adoption in the UK are of toddler age and often present challenging behaviour, learning difficulties and developmental delay, frequently due to past experiences of abuse and neglect (Howe, 1996; Selwyn et al, 2006). Enquirers who decide on adoption have to be accepting of the children and willing to support their needs, yet research has repeatedly shown that most enquirers have an initial preference for healthy infants (Simmonds, 2000; Wallis, 2006). Indeed, over 90 per cent of agencies represented in Dance et al's (2010) linking and matching study did not have enough adopters for older and for black or minority ethnicity (BME) children, and those with complex needs.
Perception or experience of the adoption process is another factor that might potentially influence people's desire to become adoptive parents. The first step of calling an agency is a critical turning point in their thinking about adoption (Daly, 1988); this can be reassuring if handled sensitively or demotivating if not (Simmonds, 2000; Geen et al, 2004; Katz, 2005; Wallis, 2006). Simmonds (2000), for example, found that 23 per cent of NAW enquirers who had contacted an agency cited a lack of positive feelings from the agency as their reason for withdrawing.
Recruitment campaigns and information are widely thought to build on enquirers' motivations to be interested in adoption (Geen et al, 2004). This motivation is usually associated with infertility, altruism and/or the desire to create a specific type of family (Thoburn et al, 2000). It is considered a necessary condition for making an enquiry in the first instance and maintaining interest beyond. Research into how these motivations interact with decision-making is limited, although Wallis's (2006) study of enquirers to 17 adoption agencies indicated that people motivated by infertility may be more likely to apply. Other research suggests that those who adopt older children or youngsters with significant needs are often prompted by their existing experience of children (Feigelman and Silverman, 1983; Glidden, 1989; Lowe et al, 1999; Corbett, 2003). However, caution should be taken when generalising as most adopters share similar motivations and most adopters of older children or children with complex needs started the adoption process not necessarily planning to adopt such a child (Cousins, 2006).
Personal characteristics have also been associated with pursuing an adoption application. Simmonds (2000) found that of those who had approached an adoption agency, marital status seemed to be an especially important characteristic linked to further enquiry, with only 11 per cent of single people pursuing an application compared to 50 per cent of married couples. In Wallis's (2006) study, professionals were revealed to be more likely to pursue their interest compared to non-professionals. Black enquirers, non-professionals and people with disabilities were found to be less likely to state that they had an encouraging response from an agency. Concerns around age, finances, health and marital status were highlighted, issues that if not adequately addressed in the initial stages are likely to deter possible applicants who are single or on low incomes from proceeding.
Familial and societal support networks are also important to adoptive family success (Selwyn et a , 2006) and enquirers who have a wide support network have been shown to be more likely to apply (Wallis, 2006). However, the extent to which the level of support affects the decision to become an adoptive parent, along with the other factors outlined, such as the profile of the children, the adoption process, motivation and personal characteristics, has not previously been assessed, especially with adoption enquirers who have not even approached an agency.
The research study
This study sought to investigate enquirers (including those who had taken no further action) to the 2003 NAW. It adds insight into why some pursue their interest and others do not by considering five points:
who responds to NAW;
what proportion of enquirers are likely to start the adoption process;
why some enquirers do not pursue their interest in adoption;
what characterises enquirers who start the adoption process;
what characterises enquirers who are positively interested in adopting noninfant children.
The sample was drawn from the 5,000 enquirers to the 2003 NAW. Two thousand were sent a questionnaire one year after receiving the 2003 information pack. Potential respondents were accessed via the paper records of NAW enquirers kept by BAAF (equal numbers of records were randomly selected by hand from each box of records) and questionnaires were sent out by BAAF on behalf of the researcher. Half of the sample was contacted via post and half by email to represent the different ways enquirers approach BAAF for information; the postal sample had requested an information pack by telephone while the email sample made contact online. The overall response rate was 25 per cent, with a total of 493 enquirers returning a completed questionnaire--245 of the postal and 247 of the email groups. While this is a passable response rate for an unsolicited survey, caution has to be taken when generalising from the results.
The questionnaire was organised in sections exploring enquirers' personal characteristics and concerns, perception of the adoption process, familial support, motivation and the profile of the children available--factors which, as discussed, can affect the decision to pursue adoption. All the questions were closed and most asked for a categorical response. Data were gathered on enquirers' perception of family support and expectations or experience of the adoption process using five-point Likert scales. As no scales that measured these phenomena were found, new ones...