Felicity Collier wishes that it took less time for her and adoption workers to listen to children’s wishes
There is one policy issue I regret not tackling when I first came to BAAF Adoption and Fostering in 1995. Practice in placing children for adoption had moved on since the early 1980s when I had been in social work planning for children in care.
It was widely believed that foster carers had a specific task to do. Their preparation, training and motivation were seen as different to that of adopters. Children placed with foster carers temporarily, even where the relationship had stood the test of time, would often be moved to stranger adopters who had been assessed as able to meet their needs.
Children could then be moved to a “bridging placement” where they could be prepared for new adopters, rather than risk the foster carers, to whom the child was attached, making it too difficult for the child to move on. Contact with the first foster carers was suspended lest the child became upset, instead of offering continuity and reassurance so desperately needed. Three sets of foster carers in six months could result.
When children did not want to move, their opinions were not always given weight by professionals who believed they understood better the lifelong implications, perhaps because the foster carers were older or not in robust health. One social worker told me how Vince, aged nine, and of mixed parentage, scribbled repeatedly during his review “please let me stay with Jane and Tom – I love them and they love me”. In this case the social worker convinced the review that Vince should stay with clear plans in place to support his identity needs as a transracially adopted child.
Policy is now moving on but change comes slowly. Some children are still moved to a family which meets “all their needs”, despite their attachment to the less than perfect family. In trying to do the best for children we must hear their voices and for those who cannot yet speak, we must listen to those who love them. I wish I’d had the courage to shout this years ago.
Felicity Collier has just retired from her position as chief executive of BAAF Adoption and Fostering