‘Under-pressure social workers are blamed for ill-thought-out and oppressive policy’

Amanda Boorman writes about the debates around social workers prompted by BASW's Adoption Enquiry

Photo: Jenny Sturm/Fotolia

by Amanda Boorman

This week is the northern UK launch of The BASW Adoption Enquiry findings. As an adoptive parent, foster carer, charity worker and having once qualified as a social worker, I welcomed the enquiry on several levels. It set out to bring together those affected by adoption and to look at some of the issues and themes of modern adoption and in particular the role of the social worker and social work practice in relation to ethics and human rights.

Individuals, professionals and charitable organisations have been highlighting over many years that some adoption practices appear to breach human rights and may not be ethical or in the best interests of children. Alongside these valid concerns and research findings adoption reforms were launched in 2011 that aimed to make adoption ‘easier’.

Reforms that included launching multi million pound adoption support initiatives and recruitment drives that used early intervention money previously used for supporting vulnerable families to thrive.

During the BASW Adoption Enquiry research period, working groups made up of parents who have had children removed, adopted people, parents who have adopted and adoption social workers sat around tables and communicated both similar and opposing views.


The enquiry findings launch was held in London in January. I was invited to speak as an adoptive parent on the panel of folk affected by adoption and it was a powerful event. As always the words that really stood out came from those most personally affected, in particular mums whose children were not living with them anymore and an adopted adult. These people are usually the least represented on adoption reform boards or in government led consultation groups on adoption.

When consulting other professionals about launching a peer support charity in 2012 I was told by a senior government advisor not to focus on supporting birth parents rights as there was no money in it, nobody was interested in that issue and nobody would fund it.

As the most recent adoption reforms were pushed through, with little public consultation by the Conservative government and set amongst a landscape of austerity, rightly or wrongly adoption has become highly political.

To consider human rights and ethical practice in times of austerity is especially tricky for social workers, some of whom may even feel their own working environments are unethical and unsupportive. As a grass roots charity worker I can certainly empathise with adoption social workers who often get a bashing during debates on adoption support. Particularly amongst vocal adopters.

Shooting of the messenger on social media is common as under pressure adoption social workers are blamed for what is essentially ill-thought-out and oppressive government policy. 

Human rights and ethics

Following the launch of the enquiries findings I was surprised at some of the defensive reporting and opinions about it. It was as if it was somehow polarising or divisive. It was as if adoption social workers considering their practice in terms of human rights and ethics was somehow a bad thing for children and families. It was publicly accused of using emotive language to make points. There in lies the cultural problem with current adoption policy and practice. The lack of empathy is shocking.

Imagine the emotions as a parent when you see your child’s photo as they are put up for adoption on twitter or Facebook. Imagine the emotions as you say goodbye forever to your child in front of strangers in a council building. Imagine the emotions when a child you adopted is hugely struggling and receives no positive or meaningful support with mental health issues or important life story gaps.

Imagine the emotions as an adopted adult as you are excluded from the public debate unless you report only positive experience. Imagine the emotions as an adopted adult to always be infantilised and considered last in adoption policy. Imagine being a child removed from all you know and placed in an arranged contract with strangers forever. It’s uncomfortable and emotional stuff that fortunately BASW were brave enough to consider and the authors were empathic and professional enough to facilitate healthy and safe discussion around.

Positive and motivational

My personal and professional experience of the Enquiry was that it was hopeful and validating for people. It brought people together from all sides of the debate. It felt positive and motivational. One of the most powerful things about it was the way in which people found common ground in telling their personal stories and experiences. It treated people as equals in the debate. It truly looked at the bigger picture of adoption in the best interest of children, not budgets or privatisation potential or cost cutting or the needs of middle class voters.

Its not a time for political fence sitting. It may be that we look back upon this period of adoption reform in the context of austerity in the future and The Adoption Enquiry will be the seminal if not the only research project that questioned practices and policies that breached human rights and were questionable in terms of ethics. For that reason it should be welcomed by anybody interested in children’s rights.

Amanda Boorman is the founder of The Open Nest

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5 Responses to ‘Under-pressure social workers are blamed for ill-thought-out and oppressive policy’

  1. Tom J June 8, 2018 at 1:23 pm #

    Great article- couldn’t agree more 🙂

  2. Wendy Hinton June 9, 2018 at 9:03 pm #

    I am a grandparent who has one of my grandchildren and his younger brother has been adopted I feel my story would be good because my human rights and the child’s did not exit I am fighting the social services at the moment and would except any advice I can get

  3. looked_after_child June 10, 2018 at 9:21 am #

    Thank you Amanda for a great article. I’ve had some dealings with the DfE and I identify with the off the record advice you were given. Sometimes I get mistaken for an adopter for various reasons and it is both stunning/shocking how much warmer/open/kinder professionals are to me in these contexts.
    Put simply it can feel like
    Adoption is good. Adopters are heroic ( if demanding, bless ’em)
    Birth parents a nuisance even if not bad. Most are though.

  4. June Thoburn June 10, 2018 at 8:23 pm #

    Thank you Amanda for so undefencibly and from your lived experience coming to the defence of the BASW inquiry. I also was privileged to be at and moved by the London launch. It is good that it has stirred debate but I hope those who are expressing concerns will read the full report

  5. Debra Gentle June 20, 2018 at 2:39 am #

    There is a growing field of critical adoption studies and grass roots survivor movements which shed light on the historical and contemporary abuses of power implicated in the adoption process for women and children. The simplistic child rescue narrative used in contemporary adoption policy denies the power relations involved in the transfer of children. It is crucial to develop a critical examination of the neo-liberal market philosophy that is being applied to child welfare issues, such as advertising children who “wait” for adoption. Within such a marketing framework, prospective adopters are positioned as consumers and children are increasingly objectified and commodified by the state. The “waiting children” who are being ‘parented’ by the state are denied a right to privacy and are valued differently depending on numerable factors within the adoption market. The majority of children who are advertised for adoption are children of the poor. We have to acknowledge the economic factors involved in order to avoid further abuses of power in the name of “best interests of the child.”