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Adopting Together: supporting the adoption of children who wait the longest

A family enjoying the outdoors.

Our research has strengthened adoption services across Wales by finding permanent homes for children who typically wait the longest for a family.

It is challenging to find permanent homes for children in care who are aged 4 years and over, especially when in sibling groups. Many of these children can have their adoption plans changed to long-term fostering and can be separated from their brothers and sisters.

Our research identified the factors that influence the success of early adoption placements leading to the first national adoption service for children who wait the longest called ‘Adopting Together’.

What is Adopting Together?

Adopting Together is a therapeutically informed service for children who wait the longest for an adoptive family. Its evolution was shaped through the Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Cardiff University, Welsh Government and St David’s Children Society - an adoption specialist dedicated to finding families for vulnerable children across Wales.

This partnership enabled St David’s Children’s Society to use our academic expertise, translating research findings from the Wales Adoption Cohort Study into a practical methodology to facilitate the adoption of children who wait the longest for a permanent family. This was achieved by working with other statutory and voluntary sector partners that make up the National Adoption Service in Wales and a therapeutic partner.

By gathering expertise from clinical psychologists and therapeutic social workers, Adopting Together has improved the lives of many children by delivering early intervention and increasing the number of placements of children who wait for adoption.

Adopting Together Key facts

  • 25 children placed with their adoptive parents since 2018 (many of whom were on the cusp of having plans changed from adoption to long term fostering)
  • Secured a financial return of £14.4M
  • Now referenced as part of the standard protocols for all social work professionals in Wales.

“This highly innovative service means that children who typically wait longer than 9 months to be placed with adoptive families, often those children with complex health needs or who are part of larger sibling groups, are being therapeutically supported to make the transition to their new home.”
Professor Katherine Shelton - Adopting Together Research Lead

Underpinning research


In 2019, the National Adoption Service in Wales evidenced a shortfall in adopter numbers by almost a third since 2014, with a consequent 64% increase in the number of children waiting for a family. There was also an increase in the number of ‘priority’ children waiting over 12 months to find a family.

These include:

  • children aged 4 years and over
  • sibling groups
  • children with medical or additional needs.

In addition, a 2014 Department for Education report highlighted the effects for both children and parents when adoption placements break down. This often occurs when children display extraordinarily high levels of challenging behaviour (e.g. aggression; violence; self-harm) and parents receive inadequate professional support.

Subsequent research

Research led by Professor Katherine Shelton investigated the factors that characterise and underpin early placement success for families who adopted a Welsh child or sibling group..

They did this by:

  • Pioneering the Wales Adoption Cohort Study, which followed a representative sample of families across the first 5 years after adopting a child or sibling group.
  • Revealing that adoptee’s behaviour and mental health disorders remained consistently high over a 4-year period and that early adversity (e.g. neglect and/or maltreatment) was associated with increased problems.
  • Warm adoptive parenting was associated with a marked reduction in children’s symptoms of mental health problems over time.

The findings highlighted the value of biographical information about the child’s life before and during care to support foster carer and professionals to manage a child’s transition to an adoptive family, including post adoption support.

Meet the team

Key contacts


Adopting Together has won numerous awards for its work in improving adoption services across Wales.


‘Adopting Together’ wins top UK award

A partnership which places children who wait the longest for adoption in Wales has won a top UK award for its societal impact.

Low carbon image News

‘Outstanding’ adoption services partnership

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between Cardiff University and St. David's Children Society has been graded ‘outstanding’ by Innovate UK.

Adoption News

‘Adopting Together’ wins UK accolade

A joint project to strengthen adoption services has won a prestigious national award.