'Last resort' that puts children first

Louise Jury talks to the founder of a newly-launched group to promote adoption
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The Independent Online
Adoption is seen as an avenue of last resort but could provide families for many thousands of children, according to a newly launched Adoption Forum yesterday.

As the case of Clare Short and her son, Toby Graham, highlighted the pain and tragedy of children parted from their mothers at birth, Liv O'Hanlon, founder of the Adoption Forum, said that the positive side of adoption should not be forgotten. "It is being viewed as a last resort but we see it as the first resort of a child who needs a new family," she said.

The forum is a group of parents, lawyers and some social workers who want to explain the benefits of adoption. "There's an inclination to see the adopters as a rather convenient group who will do anything to look after children and who should be forgotten as soon as the marvellous blood relation turns up,"Ms O'Hanlon said.

"A lot of adopted parents might feel a bit put out by that notion - that once we've done the difficult bit then it's goodbye and trot off into the sunset. But I don't think that's the way most meetings [of adopted child and birth parent] work."

However, most parents of adopted children expected that their children would one day want to meet their real mother, Ms O'Hanlon said.

She has two adopted children and will encourage them to think about, and respect, where they came from. The days when the children were not told were over, she said. "A huge amount has been learnt."

But with up to 60,000 children in care in Britain, Ms O'Hanlon thought it was sad that adoption was so disregarded as an option. The philosophy of trying to keep families together was "terrific" but there had to be a recognition that sometimes it did not work.

The British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) said that around 3,000 children, including 360 babies, were adopted in 1994, the last year for which figures were available. This was far fewer than in the Sixties and Seventies when the stigma of being a single woman combined with lack of contraception and abortion made adoption more common. About 5,000 babies were adopted in 1976, the year in which a new Adoption Act encouraged more openness and made tracing birth parents easier for adopted children.

A BAAF spokeswoman said their experience was that people often began to search for their parents in their thirties, often - as with Toby Graham - after having children of their own. "The baby will be the first person who the adopted person is related to and that can make them ask questions," she said.

Anyone attempting to find a mother normally starts with the birth certificate which will show the adoption agency. If they approach that agency - usually a local authority - for help, counselling is a statutory requirement. If the parent can be found, the first contact is normally by letter.

BAAF's experience is that even where the reunion is not a happy one, the adopted child rarely regrets looking for their birth parent. "Even if they are then rejected, at least they have done all they can to find the answers to their questions," the spokeswoman said.