Social workers ignore new government adoption plans

Adoption workers say they are already adhering to new guidance,
so fresh attempts to overhaul adoption practice are unlikely to
succeed writes Natalie Valios.

Ministerial attempts to overhaul adoption practice have little
chance of succeeding, it seems.

Social workers appear to have no intentions of changing their
practice and say they are already following new guidance. The
Department of Health issued guidance last month, saying social
workers should not rule out potential adopters on the grounds of
age, race, job or over-education.

A week later the government released its draft Adoption Bill,
which makes no provision for a change in practice along these

Most workers found the wording in the guidance which advocated
‘a more positive approach to adoption’ insulting and patronising,
in particular the reminder to use a ‘sensitive approach’ in the
assessment process.

John Bowis’s remarks insinuating social workers were more
concerned with taking a politically correct stance than placing
children with adopters were even less popular.

‘A lot of the guidance seems to be stating the obvious. I’m
bemused as to why it’s been issued. I can only imagine that a
number of cases came to the DoH’s notice where basic principles of
good manners and social work practice may have been breached,’ said
Chris Hussell, family placement adviser for NCH Action for

Tony Sharp, acting county adoption manager at Essex social
services department, agreed: ‘It’s unfortunate Bowis highlighted a
small number of cases where people did not feel they had been
sensitively dealt with.’

Cynara Ogden Smith, chairperson of the Greater Manchester
Adoption and Fostering Consortium, objected to Bowis making it
clear the government wanted common sense, not political correctness
from social workers.

‘He made it sound as if social workers don’t use common sense,’
she said. ‘We would have welcomed constructive criticism [in the
guidance], but I don’t think this is really where social workers
are at,’ she added.

Most adoption agencies would say they are already working
towards the principles outlined in the guidance, Ogden Smith

Bowis’s comments also gave the impression adoption might start
with the adopters’ needs. Social workers put the children’s needs
first, Ogden Smith added.

Both NCH Action For Children and Essex social services
department believe they have no need to change policies or practice
after reading the guidance.

‘It conveys the impression that social workers are being too
critical and ideological in the way they select people,’ said

The guidance implied social workers were making arbitrary
decisions during the assessment process, he added.

‘Social workers would fail in their duty if they didn’t explore
all avenues rigorously.

‘Part of our job is to make sure that those who are grossly
unsuitable do not adopt,’ added Hussell.

Potential adopters in Essex are not discriminated against on the
grounds laid out by Bowis, namely age, education and race.

Although social workers attempt to place a child with adopters
of the same race, following the Children Act principles, they look
elsewhere if that is not possible.

‘We would not be so dogmatic as to allow a child to remain in
care indefinitely while we continued searching,’ said Sharp.

Essex’s ‘common sense approach’ means high achievers or those
perceived as being in a ‘higher social class’ are not turned down.
Each case is treated individually.

‘We approve adopters from a broad range of backgrounds.

‘We are in the business of finding homes for children, not
children for homes,’ added Sharp.

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