Debate: adoption

The new Adoption and Children Bill will result
in more adoptions, but who will the adopters be? Social workers
should embrace the role that single adopters can play.
Felicity Collier, chief executive, British Agencies for
Adoption and Fostering

Recent focus on adoption, including the new
Adoption and Children Bill, is resulting in a significant increase
in children for whom adoption is the plan. We know that there are
many children who may never find adoptive families – these children
are more likely to be older, disabled, black or have mixed
parentage and siblings, than children represented in the adoption

It was therefore encouraging that a Mori
study, commissioned by British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering
for National Adoption Week, revealed that 12 per cent of the adult
population might consider adopting. Single people and unmarried
couples are much more interested in adopting than married couples,
and families with children are more interested than child-free
families. These figures are surprising, considering that those
people who actually adopt have very different profiles – only 5 per
cent of adopters are single and 75 per cent do not have birth
children of their own.

There has been some very positive research on
single adopters, finding them to be committed, personally mature,
and linked with more complex children who are generally older, more
likely to be disabled, and who have experienced less placement
stability than those adopted by married couples.

Single adopters often believe they are less
eligible to be adopters and that, if approved, they will still be
regarded as “second best” and may only be approached after lengthy
unsuccessful efforts to find married adopters for specific
children. And evidence backs their claim. For example, the social
workers who regularly stipulate to BAAF’s Be My Parent publication
that they are looking for a two-parent family for a specific

Why is this so? Are there some agencies or
social workers too heavily influenced by their own model of the
“ideal” family, believing that only a traditional two-parent
family, with a mum at home and preferably no other children to
compete with for love and attention, can meet the needs of their

The time has come to recognise that all of us
have our own prejudices about family life and that social workers
are far less “politically correct” than their critics would
believe. We cannot tolerate allowing our most disadvantaged
children to wait a day longer than is necessary for the commitment
and love of an adoptive parent. If it is single adopters who are
waiting and willing, then we must welcome them warmly and look
carefully at what they have to offer.

Prospects for finding new adoptive families are not as good as new
poll findings suggest. Indeed, the poll may be used as a weapon
against social workers.
Jim Richards is director, Catholic Children’s Society

One in four people has considered or would
consider adopting a child, according to the Mori survey
commissioned by British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering. How
solid is this figure?

Not very, is my conclusion, because we first
need to remove the 11 per cent who have considered it but did not
take it any further, the 1 per cent who have adopted but would not
do so again, and those in the sample aged between 15 and 20 who are
too young to adopt.

I know I will lose PC brownie points for this
next one, but I would also remove those over 60 who expressed an
interest. It should be noted that about a third of the sample were
over 55. Additionally, nearly half expressing an interest said they
wanted to adopt babies.

Furthermore, one sub-group said they would
adopt if they had the support of their partner.

I am not sure we should be beating one half of
a union so that they can agree with the other, even if it may mean
we meet our Quality Protects targets.

Some of the sample were also unmarried. If a
couple are co-habiting, only one of them can make an application to
adopt, leaving the non-adopting partner the option of applying for
a residence order under the Children Act 1989. How is this choice
made? How do you explain to your adopted child that one of you is a
second-class parent? This did not figure in the Mori poll.

We also know that co-habiting couples have a
much higher breakdown rate than married couples, with co-habiting
same-sex couples having even higher rates. Pushing too fast in
these directions seems to me to be a recipe for children’s

What was interesting though, and extremely
encouraging, was the fact that black people are twice as likely as
white people to see themselves as potential adopters.
Significantly, they expressed a much greater need for financial
help but even this is something that we have known about for a long

This last finding, however, takes us to the
government. Even though, at long last, the Adoption and Children
Bill has been published, it is unlikely to give people the
financial support they require to adopt the sort of children
needing families today. What the government is far more likely to
do is to grab this poll’s headline 25 per cent figure and use it to
beat the profession over the head when we don’t meet the increases
in adoption that they have imposed.

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