Last week the Transparency Project, an organisation which seeks to promote the transparency of proceedings within the family courts, published findings from a Freedom of Information request into adoption targets. It found:
“Significant numbers of councils in England are setting local numerical targets for how many children (or what percentage of their care population) should be adopted from care”.
As a Mum having had a baby removed at birth with an ultimate plan of forced adoption; this leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
I have heard this argument for years; babies being stolen to order by the state, adoption targets, bonuses paid to those who took the most children. I did not subscribe to it. I couldn’t; it was too close to home.
Now there is irrefutable evidence to support that some councils do set adoption targets.
I don’t think anyone disagrees that once the decision has been made for a child to be adopted, and the birth parents have been given, and have taken, all legal avenues available to them, that the adoption should happen quickly. I don’t think anyone wants to see children stuck in the care system.
However, adoption is not right for every child, just as returning home to their family is not right for every child. I am certainly not anti-adoption and do believe non-consensual adoption to be right in some limited circumstances.
The decision on where a child should live permanently should surely be led by the needs of each individual child based on their own circumstances and not by targets set by the state. Even the notion of ‘adoption scorecards’ seems distasteful. When did Key Performance Indicators become a factor in the future of a family, or in the best interests of the child?
It worries me greatly, this drive from the government for more adoptions, done quicker. My – albeit limited and self-taught – understanding of English family law is that adoption should be a last resort.
When you’re pressured to do things quickly, it doesn’t always make you more efficient. Mistakes can be made, particularly if you then add targets into the mix. Adoption shouldn’t be a quick-fix, or a go-to. It shouldn’t be adoption-by-numbers, with the number pre-defined. What it should be is one option, to be balanced and judged on its strengths and weaknesses.
What also struck me whilst reading the Transparency Project’s piece is the lack of “published national rankings” or, more importantly, “national target figures” regarding the rehabilitation of a child home from care.
It really made me think – why are there targets for adoption, but not for children to return home to their families? What does this tell birth parents about a social worker’s motivation to keep their family together?
My 8-year-old daughter’s class have a target set by their schoolteacher to read at home four times a week. If she hits her target, she is rewarded with points. Whoever has the most points in her class at the end of the school year is given a prize. Thus, my daughter reads at least four times a week. I, as her mum, feel the pressure and encourage her to read to me or her brothers every day. The analogy may be a simple one, but this is no different to how targets could work in any setting, including in social work.
The Transparency Project’s research documented in previous posts also highlights the sheer volume of money and services dedicated to adoption. I am certainly not suggesting that this money is not needed, nor deserved, but I do wonder why there is not money ring-fenced to support a child’s return home from care following proceedings.
When my baby came home from care on a Supervision Order, there was no money made available to help or support us, despite the fact that I and my eldest son had been hugely traumatised. In fact, we pretty much got left to it, aside from the social worker’s statutory visits.
One could argue that the money ploughed into statutory services for family support and preventative work before it gets to proceedings somewhat balances the scales. But as a mum having experienced the system, when you get to that point of proceedings it does feel like adoption is prioritised. I vividly remember – while contesting my son’s adoption proceedings – walking through a metro station in North Tyneside on my way to a hearing seeing posters with pictures of smiling children, heralding how wonderful adoption was. It made me feel sick to my stomach.
It feels to me like adoption has been held up as the “gold standard” of parenting.
You feel, as a birth mum in proceedings, that you are competing with a whole other life being offered to your child. This not helped by media depictions of poor bedraggled children being rescued from hideous living conditions to be welcomed by ruddy cheeked, smiling adopters into a well-kept home with soft glow lighting, a Labrador and a wooden playhouse in the garden.
I’m generalising, and stereotyping, I know. But I, like many others, was a mum reliant on state benefits living in desperately poor conditions who had experienced mental health problems and domestic violence. How could I possibly measure up?
When I was fighting to have my new-born returned to my care it felt like my local authority were entirely against me. They had no intention of returning my child, despite the Guardian recommending rehabilitation home and even the Judge had to intervene before they would do so. These people were resolute. Adoption was my son’s “gold standard”.
Did they have a quota to fill? Was my son a ‘target’? I’m now less sure than I was.