This week's summit on adoption, called by the Prime Minister,
was conceived out of pure politics. It was a knee-jerk reaction -
to myths and outdated criticisms of social work, to the Waterhouse
inquiry, and to a simplistic interpretation of statistics.
In other words, the government wanted to be seen to respond in a
high profile way to the most high profile issue in social services.
That is the only logic behind the Prime Minister's move.
Nevertheless, thanks to level heads at the Department of Health
and elsewhere, some good has come of it. The fact that a national
register of approved adopters is under consideration is welcome, as
is a more inclusive notion of who is suitable to adopt. National
standards are, of course, important.
It is tempting, therefore, to praise elements of the
government's approach, while conveniently ignoring the context.
But those who work in adoption do not have that luxury. Child
care services, as a whole, face daunting challenges, with
professionals pulled in many directions at once to meet the needs
of difficult and terribly disadvantaged children and families.
Child protection workers are exhorted both to support vulnerable
families, and to judge "feckless" parents more quickly and harshly.
Of the children who must come into care, many will never be
adopted, and professionals must work either to reunite them safely
with their families, or to care for them for years without a
permanent family. And residential child care is still struggling
with low morale, recruitment crises and its traumatic history.
It should hardly need saying yet again, but adoptive parents are
just one option - albeit often the best option - for young people
in care. They are people with rights, and should be treated as a
valuable resource. But they are not people with the right to adopt
Pressure from those who wish to adopt should not prevent us from
viewing child care services as a spectrum, for only a spectrum of
flexible services can meet the demands placed on us. The government
is right to criticise local authorities who have not seen adoption
as an intrinsic part of that whole. But all child care services, as
the government's Quality Protects programme recognises, need to be
able to respond to each child's individual needs and circumstances,
otherwise they will not succeed. And they all share other problems,
such as a shortage of social workers, which must also be addressed
as part of any plan to improve quality.
All children who cannot live with their birth families need the
highest possible quality of care, not only those who can be
adopted. Children in care would be better off if they were all as
dear to the Prime Minister's heart as those suitable for adoption
appear to be.
There is an implied threat from government that this summit is
the last chance for local authorities. But there must be no threat
of removing adoption from the local authority child care system,
however much it fits the skewed, knee-jerk logic of a government
often more concerned with image than substance.