Adoption: The Myth and the Reality

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I saw the adoption statistic headlines last week.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I saw the adoption statistic headlines last week. "Number of adoptions plunges to crisis level after Michael Gove reforms" declared the Telegraph. The plunge refers to a dramatic downturn in the number of children being made available for adoption: "The number of initial local authority decisions that a child should be adopted fell from 1830 in the three months to September last year to 960 for the three months to the end of June this year, down 47 per cent."

What do these numbers mean? Are there less children in need in the UK now? Has there been a dramatic reduction in family breakdowns? Are fewer children being removed from their families due to neglect or abuse? Should I be celebrating the good news that fewer children are waiting for adoption or crying over more children not being adopted?

The article did not really do the issue justice, so just to be clear...

1. The number of children coming into care in the UK is still at a record high

A child is still taken into care every 22 minutes in the UK. There are still thousands of children severely affected by family breakdown, drug and alcohol abuse, neglect and physical violence. After the recent spate of child abuse scandals in places like Rotherham I imagine that social workers will err more on the side of caution and remove children at risk more quickly. So how do we explain the downturn in adoption numbers?

2. The decrease in children available for adoption is a result of judges choosing other options for the long term futures of children in care instead of adoption.

There are still large numbers of children in care (68,840 children were in local authority care on 31 March 2014, compared to 68,060 the previous year) and there has been no change in the law. So what is happening? Judges are deciding not to make the orders that authorise that the child can be placed for adoption and opting instead for long term foster care, kinship care or special guardianship. Sir Martin Narey, an advisor to the government on adoption, has expressed concern about this trend and his recommendations are supported by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering.

I have just returned from a speaking tour of Australia and Singapore, both of which have moved almost completely away from adoption. In some Australian states there are virtually no adoptions, with long-term foster care becoming the norm. This trend in those two countries seems to be to give birth parents every last chance to be rehabilitated and ensure the child's primary identity is with their biological family.

I believe in the family; and birth parents are of course in most circumstances the best people to raise their own children. But sadly some troubled families, with the best will in the world, are not going to get better enough to provide a safe and stable home where their children can thrive. While we wait for parents to recover from their addictions, psychological traumas or mental health issues the children inevitably suffer.

This should be the primary concern – the welfare of the children, who are already victims of other people's choices. Their needs should be the priority for our decision-making. Sometimes birth parents are advised to contest the local authority's application that a child should be adopted, opting instead for the children to be taken into foster care. This leaves more options for the birth parents in the future, but the interests of the children are not always given primacy in that process.

3. Adoption is not always the best solution for children and we need more families to step forward for long-term foster care or special guardianship.

Adoption is not the only or best solution for every situation. Long term foster care and special guardianship orders are valid outcomes for many children currently in care. But sometimes those options are set in place because it is deemed 'unlikely' for a child to be adopted. I have heard of several children who are moved from short term to long term foster care because that was the order granted by the judge, when in fact there are families willing to adopt the child – sometimes even the original foster carers, or respite carers who are familiar with the children. Because children with disabilities or uncertain future learning needs, or sibling groups or older children tend to wait longer or indefinitely for an adoptive family to come forward, judges may be disinclined to grant an adoption order in preference for a quicker permanency plan.

However I believe that adoption could be a good option for more children than it is currently available. Home for Good is working to change the culture – showing authorities that 'harder to place' children can find loving permanent homes and more adopters with this vision are beginning to come forward.

As foster parents we have had children moved on to adoption, to Special Guardianship placements and to long-term foster care, as well as returning some to birth families. For those not adopted, there is a huge bonus of being able to maintain contact with birth parents and siblings. The disadvantage of long-term foster care, however, can be that the children have no sense of permanency. There is no obligation on the foster families to care for the children beyond 18 (or in some cases 21) and sadly the life outcomes for young adults that age out of foster care are statistically pretty dire.

Thankfully most of the long-term carers we have worked with have done everything in their power to ensure the children are welcomed, loved and supported beyond the call of duty. However, my hope would still be that judges would not shy away from making the difficult decision to make children available for adoption.

4. Either way there are still a lot of children who need long term loving homes. Can you help?

Our priority has to be the long-term welfare of children and whether children are granted adoption orders or not there are still huge numbers of children needing a home for good. So Home for Good is doing everything we can to recruit more foster carers and adopters to offer the families these vulnerable children need in their lives. If you have space in your life and in your home, and a desire to make a difference in children's lives, then please contact us.

Author:
Krish Kandiah


Date published:
This article was originally published by Christian Today on 18/11/2014. Information correct at time of original publication.


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