news analysis of Children`s Society closures and the right of adopted adults to contact birth parents

The Children’s Society’s decision to axe all its
services in Wales has met with a wave of protest as concerns grow
over how children’s needs can be met.
Dobson reports

Staff and young people have greeted with anger and disillusion
last week’s shock announcement that the Children’s Society is to
make sweeping cuts in its services in England and withdraw
completely from Wales.

In Wales, where the withdrawal is to be absolute, moves are
being made to try to salvage the work funded by the society.
Meanwhile, staff in parts of England are preparing to take
industrial action. According to one source, there are questions
that remain unanswered about the way the charity has handled its
sudden announcement and the direction it is likely to take.

As part of the rescue package, a team of experienced
practitioners in Wales are considering a range of models and are
requesting detailed financial information to help them organise the
transfer of properties and equipment. Much of the work that the
charity does in Wales is also part-funded by local authorities, and
staff say that with adequate support they may be able to takeover
vital projects and keep them alive.

“Part-funding by local authorities and the assembly could
continue,” a statement from staff in Wales insists hopefully.
“Being separate from the society would free us to make applications
to trust funds, to gain access to funding locally and perhaps from
the church in Wales. Our community projects were approved by local
partnerships for Objective One funding, but not by the Wales
European Funding Office. These bids could be resubmitted.”

Staff at Children’s Society Cymru are questioning the basis on
which the trustees made their decision. In particular, they query
whether the trustees had enough information to come to a fair and
considered decision that would best serve the long-term objectives
of the Children’s Society UK.

They stress that as well as speaking for themselves, they are
also determined to represent the thousands of children across Wales
who benefit from services provided by the charity. “Wales is one of
the poorest countries in Europe and we all serve and work with some
of the poorest and most vulnerable children, young people and
families,” the statement adds.

As for the society’s future direction, out-going chief executive
Ian Sparks says it has been decided that the focus should be on
taking the charity forward as a “social justice organisation”, with
a higher public and political profile as a champion of children’s

The Welsh minister with responsibility for social services, Jane
Hutt, has also agreed that a task force bringing together all the
relevant interest groups in Wales should be set up to look at the
issues. In particular, the 13 advocacy projects currently
part-funded by the Children’s Society are seen as a fundamental
part of Welsh child welfare work.

Advocacy projects were specifically called for in the report of
the Waterhouse tribunal that looked at child abuse in children’s
homes in north Wales. Tribunal chairperson Sir Ronald Waterhouse
believes it would be a major blow if the charity’s work is

“The children’s advocacy is a vital part of the general network
of safety that we wanted for children in care and children at risk
generally,” he argues.

Major players in the child welfare field in Wales see the
society’s failure to involve other key agencies before making their
decision as an example of how UK-based charities can sometimes fail
to acknowledge that Wales is now devolved with its own system of

Wales recently took the landmark decision to appoint its own
children’s commissioner, Peter Clarke, who was as surprised and
dismayed as Hutt that no one from the charity had approached them
before the decision to withdraw was taken.

“The large UK charities are struggling to come to terms with
devolution, both in terms of their attitudes and outlooks, and
their structures,” Clarke says.

“For the Children’s Society to act in this way is appalling and
high-handed. It is treating Wales as a sort of sub-post office that
they can close without warning when the going gets tough. There has
been a complete lack of communication and very little understanding
shown of the devolved powers that Wales has. I think there is an
issue that some charities have been able to handle devolution
better than others.”

Clarke adds: “If the organisation had taken key people into
their confidence it is likely that we could have tried to assist
them and explore ways to find a way through the problems. The way
that the Children’s Society has acted reflects a degree of
arrogance that many people in the child care world are finding

But many of the staff working on projects in England and Wales
who are likely to see their work being undermined by the charity’s
cuts argue that good practice leads to social justice in a more
direct way.

Jan Wyllie, project leader of the South Wales child protection
advocacy project Ucan, which receives funding from the Children’s
Society and now faces an uncertain future, says that the charity is
already working as a social justice organisation through good

“By creating an environment where children’s rights are listened
to, they have already made a commitment to greater justice,” Wyllie
says. “Withdrawing from projects that are vital to vulnerable young
people will not enhance social justice. Young people will be
disillusioned by the Children’s Society’s actions when decisions to
withdraw were made without consultation and without looking to
children and young people or anyone else to find solutions.”

Clarke agrees that the charity would be better advised to
continue with the advocacy projects where they have expertise and
where children and young people are given a voice that they would
otherwise be denied. He says there are already several very
effective lobby groups among the children’s charities, and sees no
need for one more.

As well as ending 113 years’ service to young people in Wales,
the society’s plan of action will see cuts totalling £5.1m in
England. As a result, several practitioners based in England, who
did not want to be named at this stage because of uncertainty over
their jobs, have raised queries about the management of the

While acknowledging the difficulties associated with
fund-raising, they say that steps should have been taken at a much
earlier stage to try to halt the decline. On present figures, the
society is likely to end the current financial year with a deficit
of £4m. Over the past four years there have been deficits
totalling £24m, and there is now only £13m remaining in
general reserves – only enough to cover three and a half months’
operating costs, according to society figures.

In Wales, the big question now is whether anything can be
rescued from the winding down of a charity that has been helping
children in Wales for more than a century. For the children’s sake,
the staff, and the Welsh assembly, all hope it can.


Draft legislation currently going through parliament
could undermine the existing right of adopted adults to find their
birth parents.
Terry Philpot

Adoption is about creating a better life for children. We know
that because the government repeatedly says so. But while 3,000 or
so children a year are adopted from care today, there are millions
of people who are still affected by the adoptions of yesterday:
relatives, birth and adoptive parents, and adopted people

Those who passed the Children Act 1975 recognised this when they
gave adopted adults in England and Wales the statutory means to
search for their birth parents (the Scots had won this right in
1930; the Northern Irish gained it in 1989).

Under the 1975 act adopted adults who do not know their real
name can obtain their birth certificate after undergoing the
required counselling. The act’s aim was to pull back the
coverlet of secrets and lies which had often cloaked adoption
before then.

But the new Adoption and Children Bill published last month
seeks to undo all of this. For if the relevant clause goes through
(clause 54:4), it will put adopted people back where they were
before 1975, or even where they were in the more closeted 1950s,
says Natural Parents Network treasurer Veronica Agius.

The clause allows access to birth certificates and other
information which identifies a third party – overwhelmingly the
birth parents – to be restricted if the third party objects. It
appeared in the new bill despite not having featured in the earlier
bill which fell with the dissolution of parliament for the general

The clause not only cancels out the spirit and letter of the
1975 act, but threatens to re-create that state which the 1993
white paper, Adoption – The Future, took as having gone for ever
when it observed that “in the past adoption was often a secretive

In the notes which accompany the bill there is a reference to a
“new right” for an adopted adult to receive from an adoption agency
information collected by it prior to adoption. But this right will
be removed, it implies, if the information to be disclosed
identifies other people and they object.

At the moment, agencies tend to exercise discretion when
imparting third party information. The new provisions about birth
information, though not retrospective, may create a less open
climate, fears Julia Feast, project leader at the Children’s

Those who framed the new legislation are ploughing up old
ground. When the 1975 act was being debated it was said birth
parents would be distressed if approached by their natural children
– arguments that a quarter of a century of experience, practice and
research have proven to be ill-founded.1 The government
shores up its case with reference to “some” unspecified complaints
by birth parents. Yet, according to Agius “ninety-nine per cent of
our members” are in favour of the current position.

But unless the new bill is amended during its passage through
parliament, people adopted after its enactment will have fewer
rights than those adopted before.

As we have come to realise, adoption is not a surgical
separation of the adopted person from their birth family, nor is it
a one-off, sticks-first-time attachment to their adoptive family.
Rather, adopted people have a history which they are entitled to
own as part of their life.

With these new provisions, there is a danger the government is
once again focusing on the present at the expense of the past.

1 D Howe and J Feast, Adoption, Search & Reunion,
Children’s Society, 2000



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