The Adoption Support Fund (ASF) aims to provide adoptive families with funding support to access mental health services. The Fund was rolled out across all 152 local authorities in England from May 2015 to pay for essential therapeutic services for eligible adoptive and special guardianship order (SGO) families. However, little is known whether the ASF policy helped improve the mental health of adopted children. This study, conducted by researchers from the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health at King’s College London, used a quasi-experimental design to examine the impact of the introduction of the ASF on the mental health of adopted children.
This study aimed to examine whether the ASF policy improved mental health outcomes for adopted children who were eligible to receive ASF funding.
This study used a difference-in-differences analysis as a quasi-experimental design. This difference-in-differences approach was employed to compare changes in mental health for a treatment group (adopted children) to similar changes for a control group (non-adopted children). Data were pooled from three datasets: the Longitudinal Study of Adoptive Parents, the Millennium Cohort Study, and the UK Household Longitudinal Study. Mental health outcomes for children were measured using scores from the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) as a proxy for children’s mental health.
The study found that the introduction of the ASF policy had no impact on the mean SDQ scores for adopted children compared to the control group. However, the results suggest that the ASF policy has improved the mental health of adopted children with relatively high SDQ scores (17 and higher). This suggests that the ASF policy may benefit some groups of children in particular. No consistent evidence was found for specific externalising and internalising behaviour.
The results of this study suggest that the ASF policy led to some improvements in the mental health of adopted children, particularly among adopted children at high risk of ill mental health. This improvement may be explained by their increased access to mental health services, as provided by the ASF. Further research is needed to identify the effectiveness of specific types of therapeutic interventions on adopted children’s mental health.
The study’s findings regarding the limited mental health improvements among adopted children on average also highlight the need for complementary approaches that do not only offer therapeutic services to adopted families but complement this with interventions that address the broader social and economic wellbeing of adoptive families.