The complexity of adoption is again in the news – although the process is being presented as a simple exercise that only takes a lot of time because of “politically correct” (and therefore incompetent) social workers.

Figures are thrown around without explanations of the context.  For instance, “3600 children under the age of one were in care last year” a  with no explanation of the proportion of those babies who were actually available for adoption – in contrast to those in temporary care arrangements, whose parent(s) may not have released them for adoption, who may have complex disabilities requiring particular family circumstances, or who may be part of family groups including older children.   One press report compared the number of adoptions in 2010 with the numbers from the years before the full impact of changes in the abortion legislation reduced the number of babies who were given up at birth. b

Adoption procedures aim to find families to meet the needs of children and are not primarily designed to ensure that all willing families get adoptive children.  Applicants may be assessed as unsuitable adoptive parents for a range of social or psychological reasons.  Some of these adults may themselves lack the insight or the humility to accept that they may not be suitable parents for the available children.

A few questions that need to be taken into account in the current debate are as follows:

  • How many of the babies currently being looked after by local authorities are actually available for adoption?
  • To what extent and in what circumstances is it acceptable for social workers to take children away from their birth parent(s) and give them directly to adoptive parents without the cooperation of the birth parent(s) or judicial consideration of the situation?
  • What is the profile of the babies who are available for adoption?  eg.  what are their particular needs – family groups?  disabilities?  heritage/ethnicity?
  • For those who are available, what are the reasons for the delays in permanent placements?   eg. delays in court procedures?   availability of social workers and other staff to carry out the required procedures?
  • What is the current rate of breakdown of adoptive placements?  What have been the reasons for any cases where there has either been a serious risk of failure or actual breakdown in adoptions?
  • Why has there not been an emphasis on finding more potential adoptive parents from minority ethnic groups?
  • Why has so little attention been paid to the views expressed by those adoptive parents and children who confirm the importance of heritage in the placement and development of children from minority ethnic groups?

Unfortunately, adoption agencies cannot answer back when families who have not been approved may misrepresent the reasons for their rejection.  Contrast, for example, a couple claiming that they were rejected because they were “too white and middle class” with a white middle class couple, who choose not to mix socially with any BME people and who demonstrate negative (possibly social class-related) attitudes to such people and their cultures, who were turned down for the adoption of a BME child.  A complex judgement could be reduced to a tabloid headline which completely misrepresents the situation.

When the Prime Minister gives asking a prospective adopter to give “the age of your youngest natural child” as an example of a “pointless question”, it is clear that some of the commentators have little understanding of the process that they are discussing.

This sort of ill-informed political and media intervention into a complex process can only end in tears as ill-informed placements result in an increase in failed adoptions and psychologically damaged children.

Dr Marie Stewart MBE




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