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15,000 Kids and Counting, Channel 4, TV review: Empathetic doc tackles adoption

  • @MsEllenEJones

Channel 4's two-part documentary 15,000 Kids and Counting offered a glimpse into the kind of desperate circumstance that lead to a child being taken away from its birth family. The title refers to the number of children put up for adoption by social services last year – twice as many as there were five years ago.

Last night's episode concentrated on some of the most urgent cases – babies who are taken into care shortly after birth, following a successful application for an emergency protection order. In this scenario, social services is often seen as the heartless apparatus of the baby-stealing state, so it was valuable to witness the emotional impact this work has on individuals. "Sometimes that feels like a huge responsibility because it's the rest of someone's life," said Vicky, one of Britain's 30,000 children's social workers. "It's not a parking ticket."

In fact, 15,000 Kids and Counting had empathy for all parties concerned in the adoption process. Ray and Marina were by no means model parents and had already had four children taken into care, but we saw how their efforts to retain custody of their newborn daughter were being thwarted by circumstance outside of their control: both parents were court-ordered to undergo a specific type of therapy, unavailable on the NHS.

Somehow, even more upsetting than Ray's emotional pleas, was the calm resignation of first-time mum Emily. At 18, she looked young enough to be up for adoption herself, but, despite her youth, she saw no future outside of an abusive relationship with an older, violent partner. Ultimately, she decided not to contest the adoption of the six-month old daughter whom she clearly loved. "I hope she gets better GCSEs than I got... never had a job, my life's just rubbish."

Unfortunately, even the heartache of splitting up families cannot guarantee a better future. Next week's episode will focus on the struggle to find adoptive homes for babies like Emily's.