What She Said – Adopting Words on Adoption

David Cameron has stepped into the adoption debate this week, distracting us all from the economic catastrophe with a message of hope for all those children “put up” for adoption who are “languishing” in care as a result of court delay (caused by lawyers, natch and probably ones with a human rights obsession too) and political oversensitivity to cultural and ethnic issues in the matching process (ditto). Don’t start me on the use of terminology in those inverted commas…

I could write more about this topic (previous writing here). But there is some fantastic commentary on this already and I would be merely creating a poor imitation, and a rush job it would be too. So I’m going to give you some links and adopt everything everyone else has said (unless that someone has Minister or Tsar in their job title).

Amanda Bancroft has written a well considered and knowledgeable blog post this week about the current drive to have more babies adopted: Adoption Stories From The Tories: Part I (presumably to be followed with a Part II).

There is also some really good writing on The Justice Gap website by Liz Fisher Frank: Setting Up Kids To Fail. The Justice Gap also has a useful piece on the FDAC (Family Drug & Alcohol Court) Pilot which reminds us that whilst removal and adoption may be the best outcome for some individual children it doesn’t really solve the root problem or the broader societal problem: Uncertain Future For Pioneering Court quotes District Judge Crichton’s haunting description of the cyclical nature of birth and removal (we have all heard our clients utter these words):

He describes his own frustration ‘removing the fourth or fifth child and sometimes the seventh or eighth child from the same mother for exactly the same reasons’. ‘Nothing changes and nothing has been done to help them achieve change,’ he says.

Crichton reckons that a mother who has her child taken away in such traumatic circumstances ‘consciously or subconsciously goes off and seeks comfort’ often leading to another baby. ‘I’ve had women scream at me across the court: “If you take this one away from me I’ll go on having children until you let me keep one”,’ he adds.The judge refers to a recent psychiatric report in which it was said that the mother told the psychiatrist that ‘every time they remove a child the only way that I can deal with the pain of the loss is to get pregnant again’. ‘What a way to begin a life,’ adds Crichton.

There was an interesting interview on Womens’ Hour yesterday with an adoptive parent, which gave some insight into just how difficult it can be to nurture what are often very damaged children.

I despair at the oversimplification of the whole issue of adoption by politicians and those who ought to know better. Rumours abound about a six month longstop on care proceedings – that should keep the appeal courts busy for a while. We can expect to find out a bit more about that tomorrow when the FJR is published (can’t wait).

Oh, and you can also view a flashy PR video of Martin Narey trumpeting the merits of adoption on Family Lore here. I’d rather see the funds spent on projects like FDAC, on front line social work training or on reducing delay in the court process by increasing sitting days.

3 thoughts on “What She Said – Adopting Words on Adoption

  1. i think you have forgotten to blame everything on ‘feminists’.
    tho no doubt that will be remedied by a whole bunch of people.

  2. Your mention ‘I despair at the oversimplification of the whole issue of adoption by politicians and those who ought to know better’ certainly struck a chord with me.

    I have read a recent remark from Martin Narey, so-called adoption ‘tsar’, in a Guardian article: ‘Adoption review to focus on black children in care’, 5 October 2011. In it he is quoted stating: “This is no urban myth. Black children are three times less likely to be adopted than white children. Over time, a practice has developed where there is a great emphasis on finding a cultural and ethnic match for non-white children. This despite the fact that Tony Blair issued guidance to local authorities in 2000 asking for no ethnic considerations to be made.” Maybe this remark was mis-quoted but I have seen no retraction by Narey.

    I remain puzzled by Narey’s remark about Blair’s ‘guidance’ of 2000 that ‘no ethnic considerations are to be made’ because it’s untrue. It would be worrying indeed if Narey’s claim achieved a spurious respectable status in much the same way as another statement – “children’s court proceedings used to be completed within 12 weeks” has developed a mythical relevance to those of us that have been around in children’s proceedings from the seventies onwards, pre Children Act and beyond. That was a target, never an average achievement.

    What Blair said in his White Paper in 2000 ‘Adoption – a new approach’ at Para 6.15 was – “Children’s birth heritage, and religious, cultural and linguistic background are all important factors to consider in finding them a new family. The Department of Health circular LAC (98) 20 states that the best family for a child will be one that best reflects their birth heritage, and all councils should be proactive in monitoring their local population of looked after children to enable them to recruit permanent carers who can meet their needs. However, the child’s welfare is paramount, and no child should be denied loving adoptive parents solely on the grounds that the child and the parents do not share the same racial or cultural background.” The key word here was ‘solely’. No mention that ethnic considerations are not to be made.

    The 2000 White Paper added – “All children need a family, but identity and culture are also important. A white family with a black child should have a responsibility to help the child know their history and to try to make the child’s culture accessible.”

    Later, in 2004, Julie Selwyn et al, in their study: “Finding adoptive families for black, Asian and black mixed-parentage children: agency policy and practice” commented that ‘The difficulties in recruiting minority ethnic adopters and possible solutions have been known about for the last 15 years.’

    Indeed these issues were known to be difficult back in the 70s and 80s when I was family finding – and sometimes placing some black, Asian and mixed-parentage children with white families on a permanent basis. It was much harder to find families from the children’s own minority communities.

    Selwyn also added that, ‘Ethnicity and culture should be clearly described, rather than using ‘black’ as a blanket term to cover all children from a minority ethnic background’. So using the appropriate terminology seems a useful strategy today for a tsar – and a PM trying to re-tread Blair’s former approach. She also made no reference at all to any earlier 2000 guidance to ‘ignore ethnicity considerations’.

    Statements actually made in Blair’s 2000 White Paper were and still are considered to be good practice. Identifying an adoptive family with appropriate identity and culture remains important. It is not just a PC choice as is popularly portrayed ‘by politicians and those who ought to know better.’

    Matching reports give consideration to how adopters would help a child understand their heritage, culture and form a positive sense of self. As Selwyn pointed out in 2004, adoption practice has to respond to the prevalence within minority ethnic communities of large family sizes, poverty, poor housing and language barriers. That does not mean that black, Asian and black mixed-parentage children are just ‘parked away’ in silos but that efforts are made to find the best match that meets their identity needs. Whilst that takes precious time, if that match cannot be found then the long existing guidance and established practice is that their needs for permanence take priority, and swiftly.

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