Social workers 'biased against adoption'

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SOCIAL workers allow political correctness to cloud their judgement when it comes to adoption, ruling out many prospective parents for inadequate reasons, the Institute of Economic Affairs said today.

It calls for adoption to be taken away from local authorities and handed over to voluntary organisations.

Adoption agencies and social services departments, however, reacted with anger to the report calling it "one-sided" and "over-simplified", arguing that the first family of choice for any child is his or her own family.

Adoptions have fallen from 21,000 in 1975 to fewer than 6,000 20 years later with baby adoptions down from 4,500 to 322. Around half of these adoptions are by step parents. Only 3.5 per cent of children in care - where parents are unable or unwilling to look after them - are adopted.

The author of the study, Patricia Morgan, claims that prejudice against adoption is so great amongst childcare professionals that they will find a reason to disqualify many parents.

"Adoption has never been fully acceptable and women have been ambivalent about it," says Ms Morgan. "But there is always a problem with children who are not wanted by their original families, or who can't care for them. These things still occur and we still have a problem of what to do with children who are socially displaced."

Adoptions tend to be successful, she says, with studies showing a great deal of attachment between adoptees and their adoptive parents, and high self esteem for adoptees. A study of long-term outcomes for adoptees born between 1948 and 1951 found that 60 per cent were very satisfied with their experience of growing up and a third had acquired higher educational qualifications.

In comparison, outcomes for those in care are extremely poor. A quarter of adult prisoners were in local authority care before the age of 16.

Ms Morgan thinks that many social service departments are so prejudiced against adoption, seeing preservation of ties with the child's natural family as paramount, that they find a reason to disqualify many applicants to be parents.

This comes to a head with trans-racial adoption - adoption by parents of one race of a child of another race. "Trans-racial adoption, according to accepted wisdom amongst social workers, destroys a child's sense of identity," she says. "There is in fact no research evidence to support the claim that trans-racial adoption harms children."

She argues that the care system presently focuses on temporary placements such as short-term foster care or local authority care. "These things are not permanent, the social workers think that somehow the children will go back to their original families. This is simply not realistic. Large numbers of children will never go back because of neglect or abuse. We need to have an alternative." She adds that if parents whose children have been taken into care are not fit to have their children back after a year, the child should be free for adoption.

But the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering was highly critical of the report. "We understand that there are many prospective adopters who wish to adopt young children but their wishes should not come before what is best for the child," said Felicity Collier, BAAF director. "If an adoption does not work out the effect on the child can be deeply traumatic. Matching families to children is a critical process; it is facile to call this 'political correctness'.

"We are aware that some children wait for too long for families and this is not acceptable. But the fault lies not in ideology but in the failure of some authorities to plan effectively for children in their care and to make resources for recruiting the very special adoptive families needed."

Moira Gibb, chair of the children and family committee, said that the suggestion that adoption should be taken away from local authorities was "daft". "Adoption services are mainly for children in local authority care and adding another agency would only add to delays. We have had massive success in reducing the population of children in care."