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How can adoptive parents be supported to cultivate parental sensitivity towards their child in the early years?

Paul Dugmore, Consultant Social Worker and Associate Dean, has co-authored a new research paper evaluating our Video feedback Intervention to promote Positive Parenting (VIPP) service.

This specialist programme was developed to help adoptive parents cultivate parental sensitivity towards their child in the critical early years. As Adoption Week draws to an end, Paul explains how this unique intervention can make a substantial difference for adoptive parents as they adapt to their new role.

What is parental sensitivity, and why is it so important for the development of adoptive children?

Parental sensitivity is the extent to which a parent identifies (through observing or listening), understands and responds to the cues of their child. A high level of parental sensitivity allows a child to feel safe and understood and therefore more likely to develop a healthy attachment to their parent, which is essential to the child’s long-term psychological health. We also know that adoptive children are much more likely to develop a diagnosable mental health disorder, so it’s particularly important for adoptive parents and children to build a healthy attachment.

What are the benefits of using video feedback in therapeutic settings with adoptive families?

Video feedback offers the therapist an opportunity to observe parent and child together, but crucially it also offers the parent an opportunity to view their interactions with their child. This allows parents to view the relationship from a new perspective and reflect on how they be receptive to their child’s emotional cues.

How does it work? What happens when a family receives this intervention?

The intervention takes place in the family’s home, and comprises an initial introductory visit where the first recordings are made, followed by a further six visits of approximately 90 minutes each. Each session starts with a video recording of the parent and child undertaking basic activities, such as playing together and tidying up, after which the recordings of the previous visit are viewed and discussed.

How can adoptive parents who are struggling with their new role access this service?

VIPP is one intervention that can be accessed via the Adoption Support Fund. Adoptive parents should contact their local authority or Regional Adoption Agency that placed their child with their family. This agency is responsible for assessing a family’s support needs for three years after the adoption order is made. Until the end of March 2025 the ASF can fund up to £5,000 per child per year for therapy.