Adoption Debate

Yesterday I participated in the Adoption Debate at the Bristol Civil & Family Justice Centre, hosted and chaired by His Honour Judge Wildblood QC, Designated Family Judge for the Bristol area. You can see a few tweets on #adoptiondebate, although in fact, due to Olympic tweeter Sarah Phillimore’s absence (stuck in distant court) there was less twitter frenzy than usual.

The speakers were randomly selected to speak for or against the motion : Kathryn Skellorn QC and Zahid Hussain spoke for non-consensual adoption (10m then 5 m speeches), and Frances Judd QC and myself spoke against. Then there were contributions from a pretty amazing panel including journalist Louise Tickle, Annie of Surviving Safeguarding, a representative of The Potato Group June, who spoke both as an adoptive parent and who read contributions from adopted young people, and Alistair Crine a local Guardian from CAFCASS. We also heard briefly from visiting Danish judges about how things operate there (very very little adoption, although from discussions with them after the event it seems pretty clear that their version of foster care, which is quite common, is much closer to adoption than ours).

The debate was well attended by a mix of journalists, parents, campaigners, lawyers, social workers and guardians, students, judges and academics – and contributions from the floor and panel were respectful, varied, heartfelt and listened to with respect. It was a genuinely interesting discussion, and I only wish we could have arranged a little more time for contributions from the floor, (this is difficult because of the time the court building has to close). There were a lot of points raised, particularly about post-adoption contact, that warrant a whole event of their own.

Although it was of course a bit artificial to call for a vote on non-consensual adoption or none at all, because of course this does not capture the complexity and difficulty of the issue – we did hold a vote. The vote was about 2/3 “for” non-consensual adoption – as an option to be available to the court, whilst about 1/3 said no to non-consensual adoption at all. When the audience were asked (at my suggestion) whether they thought adoption orders were made too easily the overwhelming majority of attendees raised their hands.

I’m really proud to have participated in this event, which in spite of the difficult subject matter, was good fun and thought provoking. Although it does not represent entirely my personal view, I thought you’d like to see the notes of my speech against non-consensual adoption (not quite as delivered, not least because I got cut off in my prime by the ruthless chair at the 5 minute mark!). The other three speeches were really excellent (Kathryn pulled no punches and wiggled her glasses impressively, Zahid and Frances were models of calm, measured delivery), whilst I’m just glad I didn’t fall off the dais in a Lemsip induced stupor – but for what it’s worth, here is my bit :


Adoption debate

Junior speech AGAINST


When children are adopted, a life story book is often prepared for them : An account of why they could not live with their birth family and how they came to live with their forever family. Naturally such narratives are made manageable – to protect a child against upsetting information, information that may make them wonder if they are like the parents who hurt them?


Whatever a life story book tells a child, that child – later adult – will imagine, hope, worry and wonder about who and where they came from. They may build their own story. And we know that parents whose children have been removed have their own narratives.


All of us have a profound need for a story that explains things in a manageable way. A narrative arc, with structure and resolution. A tidy, palatable version of a messy and complicated world. This is how we process events and survive in the world – we repeat our stories for comfort and by repeating them, reinforce and adjust them.


So I want to look at the narratives around non-consensual adoption. We can use this debate as a metaphor. Kathryn and Zahid give you one narrative : Frances and I another. We are pitted against one another in a classic adversarial contest. One or the other. You choose. We all know life is more complicated than those simplified, black and white stories– but we are suckers for easy choices between a good thing and a bad thing: inadequate, neglectful and abusive parents are bad, adoption is good. But of course even abusive parents are still part of the story of an adopted child.


I want to suggest that when we talk about non-consensual adoption in this country we struggle to acknowledge and keep hold of the fact that adoption is not easy. That the stories don’t all end happily and that they neither begin nor end at the point of adoption – they continue. In our impoverished public debate and in government announcements adoption is talked of as if it is in itself A GOOD THING. There is official dismay when absolute numbers of adoptions fall. Why? What if the numbers have fallen because less children needed to taken away from their birth families forever – because we are getting better at supporting parents to develop their skills and resilience? The child rescue narrative is really powerful, and there are a number of prominent happily adopted ministers and leaders in the FJS who push it hard to motivate child protection professionals. Because professionals also need a narrative to help us feel that we are morally justified – that we are helping children.


For example : in Nov 2015 David Cameron said this (I’ve edited it but you can view the whole speech on conservative home website): I’m a huge fan of adoption…we’ve had some good successes. The number of children adopted is up 72%… … at the moment LAs haven’t got enough choice of children to be adopted…I’m a great fan of adoption and this government has big ambitions to help make sure we adopt more children.


You can see in this Cameron extract the easy slippage between an ambition to do adoption better, faster, more successfully where it is the only option into too-easy over simplifications : adoption as a good thing and stops being merely a means to an end and becomes an end in itself. In that speech David Cameron categorically says adoption is better than foster care. But other countries don’t have these narratives about adoption – for example they use foster care with or without contact.


So the way we frame it matters a lot. As the Court of Appeal reminded us in Re B-S it’s NOT just about ruling out the parents and going straight to adoption – the court AND PROFS must holistically evaluate all the other realistic options in between – foster care, SGO, really supporting parents to make change over time to prevent the cycle of repeat removals and intergenerational adoption.


This is human nature. Debate becomes polarized, stripped of nuance. Newspapers do it. Professionals do it. Parents do it. Children do it. And courts were doing it too – hence B-S.


The danger of our rosy narratives about the unmitigated positives of adoption is that we don’t explore or appreciate the potential of other options to be chapters in the complicated stories we construct for children – and we don’t invest in them. And if we don’t invest in fixing and supporting families or alternative care options like stable long term foster care, they wither as realistic options for children.


In his inaugural speech this month the new President of ADCS, Dave Hill said this: “There remains effectively an underclass of families often repeating intergenerational cycles of deprivation, lack of opportunity and poor outcomes and we need to focus harder and do better,” he said. “Improving outcomes for children means breaking the cycle of adult disadvantage. Good social work for adults also helps children.”


Adoption is no solution to this. Our focus on adoption and the comforting idea of a forever family, distracts us from the real and bigger social problem – and for as long as we allow ourselves to be distracted from tackling those intergenerational cycles we are driving up adoption numbers sibling after sibling – not rescuing children but condemning them. Our child rescue narrative is a false narrative.


And so I would urge you to vote against non-consensual adoption – in order that we may refocus on options for children that allow them to build a rich but coherent, complicated but real story to take forward as adults – a story that combines both stability and the continued link with their birth family to which they are entitled.


21 thoughts on “Adoption Debate

  1. Winston Smith

    I am concerned a euphemism for Forced Adoption has been invented – “non-consentual adoption” and the phrases “forever family” and “lifestory book” of the movement are used.

    Forced Adoption is a racket , to produce a supply of desirable commodities for the adoption market and the powerful adoption industry and lobby. It is in fact trafficking in children.

    It arose 40 years ago because BAAF and children’s charities wished to promote adoption – transfer of children to middle class homes where they would receive a middle class education and ultimately have professional careers, How could you refuse ?

    But the supply of children was vanishing because of the Abortion Act and single mothers – who kept their babies [ had been invented.

    So they could be supplied from children in Care.

    “Children Who Wait” 1973 is the key report.

    Now we have the “Chlidren’s Pimpernel” and Underground Railroads to smuggle out children and mothers to Safe Houses in Ireland or Belgium.

    Parents are advised to flee Britain at once.

    Then there are the International Incidents with Eastrn European governments with the mandarins of the FCO hearing the chants of demonstrators over the phone “Britain the Thief of Children”, “Britain Return Our Children” as our ambassador phones in to say demonstrators are surrounding the embassy.

    It is clear however that the Forced Adoption Lobby have not learnt.

  2. The agony of a mothers whose newborn baby is snatched for risk of futureemotional harm and later adopted was perhaps Worth a mention……………

    • That agony is very real, but it is not I’m afraid in itself a reason to abolish non-consensual adoption.

      • But surely reason enough to abolish the confiscation of newborn babies for ” future risk of emotional harm”? All that agony for risks of non violent ,non physical,non criminal, non sexual, events that may well never occur…………….

        • I disagree. Where there are proven facts on which that risk is properly based the state should act to protect children – of course depending on the risk it may not require removal or adoption, but in some cases it will. It would be as wrong to wait until harm has taken place as it would be to remove children without any evidence.

          • NAME REMOVED - AGAIN!

            I agree somewhat,
            In all honesty can you 100% tell me everyone case is real danger?

            It’s based on mere prediction.
            If a parent is found guilty of causing a criminal offence against a child they should be removed.

            By proven fact on the balance of probability BIG NO

            risk of Future emotional Harm or risk of Future Harm

            No adoption no removal.

            These are the cases where innocent Parents have false allegations against them.

            I’m not going away I’m in this for change,
            You will see me about a lot more I will not go away.
            I will be speaking up for the wrongdoings of the government agencies involved.

            Including the legal profession that does not fight in the families best interest.

            Ask any barrister to swear on the king James bible and tell me that they swear to tell the truth and they have represented the children and families with the same passion to win as they for for the La.

            Having had permission to appeal this system is in need of change.

            If a mistake or miscarriage of Justice has happened the case needs full investigation same as the La and people need to be punished not promoted.
            The children immediately returned. Without the lies they are settled.

            They were originally settled in my case until stolen by the state for forced adoption for financial gain of the La and Fostering Agency.

            Better still pay the foster carers and social workers and barristers minimum wage soon the decision will change for the best interests of children in the UK.

            Daddy of Baby No Name.

          • Name removed again! I’d certainly affirm that I represent children and families with the same passion as with the LA. Personally my passion is for getting the right outcome more than “winning”, whatever that means. I wouldn’t swear on the bible or any other holy book ‘cos that’s not my thang.

  3. Sabine McNeill

    What a REFRESHING style of reporting, Lucy! Thank You!!!


    Even though I don’t have children myself, I do remember longing for my parents and suffering from being separated from them.



    • Sabine,
      As I am aware of the outstanding criminal proceedings I have removed the links in your comment. In any event much of the information on Ian’s site that you quote is factually inaccurate.


    Great debate as was discussed their are far too many adoptions as the government are legislative about the amounts of children taken.

    The whole industry is based on money like the question that I raised why is so much money being placed into adoption instead of helping families.

    The barrister wins either way.
    A good barrister I know said quote” I win some cases and loose some”
    My response was all the la cases you win and the family cases on behalf of parents you loose.

    Too many things covered up.
    Everyone has a right to their own views and opinions.

    The system is in need of a huge overhaul, the children that need taking social services are not interested in this is fact how many have died in parents care and also foster care?

    These figures need to be public knowledge same as how many adoption breakdown the percentage discussed is not a true figure.
    I’m sorry I’m a realist.

    When an adoption breaks down the figures need to be released not hidden and also the birth parents need to be informed this is what is hidden to protect and industry driven by money.

    Experts are paid off [edited]

    Every case the Judge should ask the people involved in child protection industry to write a detailed report to show beyond reasonable doubt what they have done to support and help the family instead of looking at their bank balance and going for adoption.

    Also every social worker that has a limited company in Fostering and adoption to be charged under criminal law same as the judges.

    This is something that is hidden.

    Also social workers when they fail up sticks move to a different location carry on working getting paid.

    Having worked for a number of big companies if you fire someone or sack someone they can never work for that company again. Where as social workers can break the law and do anything. Even with bogus qualifications.

    All social workers should be under scrutiny and Wear body cameras that record sound any social worker that commits perjury should face criminal trial. If found guilty Sign the sex offender’s list as there is no seperate list and stay away from all vulnerable adults and children and animals and be stripped of all their money under proceeds of crime. Sent to Jail same terms as murderers.

    By doing the above we would have the best child care industry in the world and save billions of pounds.

    I stand on the side of not all adoptions are legal and have been fraudulently put through with untruths and fraud.

    When a case of miscarriage of Justice the adoption should be immediately overturned and the children returned.

    The people involved should face criminal trial and face jury.

    The only way for transparency and truth and justice.

    Daddy of Baby No Name

    • I’ve edited your comment to remove identifying details and specific details that appear to relate to your case.

    • Sarah Phillimore

      I am the barrister you are talking about. And I can reassure you that the majority of my humiliating losses have come when I represent Local Authorities.

      If anyone wants to say that I fail to act according to my professional obligations for ANY client I reject that entirely.

      Sometimes I win for parents. Sometimes I don’t. And when I don’t, sometimes that is due to the massive damage they have done to their cases by their reliance on some very dubious ‘advice’ from some very dubious people.

  5. How can any parent defend themselves against a so called expert who predicts that one day they might hurt their child? You can disprove allegations relating to the past and the present but not the future which is why so many parents lose their children in this dreadfully unfair and cruel way.
    Worse still if they have a barrister like Lucy who admits being more concerned at ensuring the “right outcome” rather than winning the case for her client !Barristers like her who represent parents but who believe that the “right outcome” for their children is a care order followed by adoption make sure of that “right outcome” by conducting the process in court so that the parents they represent lose their case and also their children;Great stuff barrister Lucy for you and all the other Professional losers!

    • Ian you misunderstand me (wilfully) again. When I say I am more interested in the right outcome I had in mind those cases where I act for the LA and advise them of the weakness of their case / heavy handedness of their approach, encouraging them towards a more sensible position. Part of my role is to advise clients (be they big bad LAs or parents) of when they are adopting a stupid, unattractive or evidentially weak position. Sometimes that results in a change of position, to their ultimate advantage (call that a win if you like), sometimes not. Either way, once I’ve advised I act on instructions and I do so strongly. What I don’t do is accept ANY client’s position hook line and sinker without giving them robust advice if I think they need it. I don’t make moral judgments, I advise. And then I do as instructed. If I am acting for a LA where I have steered them against for example hopeless pursuit of removal, or even in some cases towards withdrawal of an application, I consider it is a “win” for all involved if we achieve that outcome by consent. It might not be a “Win” in the sense of getting the orders originally sought but that isn’t the point. Of course in some cases the client does not need such firm advice because their position is manifestly strong and justifiable – this applies to both parents and LAs (and guardians when I act for them). I adopt the same approach to all clients.

      In the last couple of weeks I’ve given hard advice to a number of parents, fought damned hard and then lost as I predicted – not because of anything I did or failed to do but because of the inherent weakness in the case / strength of evidence against them (yes, all challenged where possible). In one I gave hard advice, fought like a dog and although I didn’t get the child back did get that child into the care of some relatives. A professional who sometimes loses, yes. NOT a professional loser.

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