by John Simmonds
Recently there have been several critical, if not condemning, articles published about adoption. Louise Tickle’s piece in the Guardian was headlined ‘Children should not be adopted to meet municipal targets’ and Andy Bilson’s recent piece in Community Care argues that there needs to be a change of policy direction from a dominant focus on blaming individuals/parents to effectively supporting them including addressing poverty and inequality.
There are more examples of recent news coverage being negative about adoption. The Telegraph: ‘There can be few more heart-rending images than that of a new baby being wrenched from its mother’s arms.’ The Sun: ‘Mum who let her two kids sleep in her bed has them taken away and put up for adoption.’
BASW have raised related issues in questioning the ethical position of social workers when it comes to non-consensual adoption.
The one issue that is not raised in these powerfully questioning pieces is the position of children. There is a disturbing image of a powerful State apparatus driven by government targets and incentives unquestioningly removing children and then placing them for adoption.
Nothing in that argument suggests that ethics and values play a part, evidence is always required or that the law drives process and outcomes. Adoption, it is argued, is driven by compliance with targets and tick boxes with real people, particularly highly vulnerable children, having little to do with it.
Children’s social work is positioned between competing perspectives – a commitment to parents who seriously struggle in their lives with a belief that by establishing professional relationships with them and providing services, we can help.
At the same time, we can be seen to be the source of people’s problems – by withholding services and resources, setting impossible standards of behaviour and interfering with the choices that people make in bringing up their children.
Investigating child protection concerns and/or taking children into care undoubtedly can reinforce this profound sense of distrust. Add in the courts and any sense of hope is almost certain to evaporate to be replaced by a trap door through which everybody descends.
Social work and social workers are aligned and committed to a value base rooted in equality, diversity and inclusion at an individual and societal level. But this cannot be easily actioned when there is a conflict between the needs of one person and another, which is hugely amplified when this involves parents and their children.
There are no easy solutions to this fundamental dilemma. But when it comes to children there is an absolute duty to protect and to provide.
Where children cannot be protected or provided for by their parents or family, then it is duty to provide an alternative family life – children require no less. This is not and cannot be about social engineering – the position of the children we are talking about is at the extreme end of the spectrum of abuse and neglect.
The law sets out the framework for addressing these complex issues with the welfare of the child being identified as paramount.
Over a period of 50 years, we have established a robust framework for adoption. This is rights driven and where ‘nothing else will do’ the legal test of proportionality. This framework focusses on the most challenging of societal and professional questions but we abandon it at the peril of children who are and must continue to be its focus.
We cannot be naïve in asserting the achievements of the system we have developed. Resources are significantly stretched with a crisis in the family court system alongside that of local authorities. The professional challenge is huge when we are torn between parents and their children but children come first. Adoption must continue to play its proper part, even with the suspicion and powerful feelings that it stirs up.
John Simmonds is Director of Policy, Research and Development at CoramBAAF