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‘It feels like adoption has been singled out as the head teacher’s favourite so all the cool kids must take against it’

Credit: Rex features/West Coast Surfer/Mood Board

Credit: Rex features/West Coast Surfer/Mood Board

Adoptive parent and author Sally Donovan asks how adoption has become such a politically divisive issue, with the ‘social worker-hating right’ now in agreement with the ‘Michael Gove-detesting’ left.

“We need a system that aims to prepare pupils to solve hard problems in calculus or be a poet or engineer — a system freed from the grip of those who bleat bogus pop-psychology about ‘self image’, which is an excuse for not teaching poor children how to add up”.

So said Michael Gove in response to 127 educational professionals who argued that formal learning should be delayed from age four to six or seven.

It was a bizarre and eclectic response to what I thought was a well-argued position that early learning through play lays essential building blocks for more formal learning later on.  There was something of the ruler over the knuckles and the dunces hat about Michael Gove’s retort. And it was rude.

Adoption Support Fund

How strange then that a day earlier, from the same stable, came a press release about ‘therapeutic services’, ‘attachment-based therapy’ and ‘stable and fulfilling childhood’.

It was the announcement of a £19m fund for therapeutic services for adopted children. The press release carried Edward Timpson’s name, but I knew who had helped to drive it on. ‘I don’t always agree with you, but I mostly like you Michael Gove’, thought I. ‘Finally someone in a position of influence has acknowledged developmental trauma exists, significantly impacts upon children and requires therapeutic intervention. I am not crazy. I am not an amateur pop psychologist, despite being often made to feel like one’.

The next day, while still pleased with Gove’s work on adoption support, I wondered why he always has to go and ruin things by being horrid.

The head teacher’s favourite

The announcement of the adoption support fund was interestingly met with muted… well I don’t know quite what. It wasn’t covered very widely and where it was the emphasis seemed to be on what the scheme isn’t going to do. It isn’t putting money into supporting kinship carers, it isn’t improving foster care. It felt terribly depressing.

I feel a growing sense that adoption has been singled out as the head teacher’s favourite and so all the cool kids must take against it. That’s the trouble with having an unpopular supporter who sometimes says ridiculous things, the brand is devalued. Designers of super-expensive handbags don’t like to see their handbags being carried by those it considers uncool. It might still be a lovely handbag though.

I adopted under a Labour government, back when the debate was whether a child’s rights to shelter, nourishment and emotional care were being squashed under the rights of birth families to keep their children. From my own children’s’ experiences it felt like the right debate to be having, the problem was once the order was made adopted families were supposed to shut up and get on with it.

Strange confluence of left and right

I suspect that had a Labour government proposed some funding for trauma therapies, everyone would be ripping off their clothes and running into fountains. We might also be talking about how trauma therapies for adopted children could be a foot in the door for all traumatised children, no matter who cares for them.

The debate has now swung in the opposite direction. According to some newspapers, social workers are apparently being encouraged to remove children as quickly as possible and are behaving like child-trafficking social engineers of the worst kind. There is a strange confluence of left and right. The social worker hating right-wing newspapers find themselves in agreement with the Gove-detesting left. Somewhere amongst it all is the truth and a sensible middle way.

I’m not saying adoption is suitable for all children in the care system (why it feels necessary for me to spell out that truism in the current climate is interesting in itself), but for those for whom it is it can be transformative.

A step in the right direction

It is more acceptable right now to hold the view that the state can keep together and mend chaotic and broken families, allowing children to stay where they ‘naturally’ should be, with their birth parents. This is true too, in some cases, but even with massive state intervention, some parents abuse and neglect their children.

In my dreams, adoption support as well as support for all trauamtised children is delivered locally, with skill and without question. The government’s adoption support fund may not deliver what I dream of, but it’s a step in the right direction.

So, at the risk of sounding like the uncoolest kid in school, I commend Michael Gove, Edward Timpson and the Department of Education for the adoption support fund. Sometimes a handbag is nice, irrespective of who’s carrying it.

Camilla Pemberton, journalist,

About Camilla Pemberton, journalist,

Camilla Pemberton is Community Care's children's editor