A child’s eye view of adoption

Three television programmes about the process trigger an emotional response within British hearts

‘A roller coaster”, “a tear-jerker”, “heart-breaking and heart-warming in equal measure” ... the outpouring on Twitter over Channel 4’s 15,000 Kids and Counting is testament to the impact that responsibly made television can have when allowed to explore society’s most sensitive issues.

It helps explain why the Government’s First4Adoption portal crashed after the second part in the three-programme series as 2,000 prospective adopters came forward to register. A further 1,918 people contacted the site on Thursday night, a phenomenal response given that only 3,500 children are adopted each year.

Two groundbreaking shows on Channel 4, including the earlier Finding Mum and Dad, and a major adoption series that begins on ITV this week are all bringing a new level of public understanding to an issue that has long been afraid to expose itself to public gaze.

One woman has played a central role in this process. Shelagh Beckett, an independent adoption and fostering consultant who advised all three television projects. According to Claire Lewis, series producer of ITV’s Wanted: A Family of My Own, Beckett has been “the bridge between us the media people and the professionals, and her advice is very valuable”.

Nicky Campbell, presenter of ITV’s Wanted: A Family Nicky Campbell, presenter of ITV’s Wanted: A Family Beckett told The Independent on Sunday that the subject was still so delicate that only “a small number” of local authorities were even prepared to consider working with a television team on adoption matters. She said that even though directors of social services departments were generally “much more prepared to work with responsible documentary makers”, it was harder to persuade social workers to go on camera.

“They have to be very brave and be prepared to expose areas of their professional practice. Some social workers are willing to be brave, but they’re a small minority,” she said. She hopes the impact of series like 15,000 Kids and Counting, which was filmed over two years by the production company True Vision, would “gradually help build up more trust and confidence in the sector”.

The series was prompted by the fact that a British child is taken into care every 20 minutes and the total number of 15,000 children put up for adoption in 2013 is double the number of five years ago. At one point in the series, Annette, a social worker, asks a little girl called Lauren to describe her office routine. “Looking on websites to see who wants me,” comes the reply.

A child featured in the show A child featured in the show It wasn’t just the children who needed to give consent for filming. Birth parents, adoptive parents, foster carers, social workers, the managers, heads of social services, local authority councillors, and an almost endless list of interested parties had to be convinced of the merit of the project for it to go ahead. “There are so many people who can stop you at any point,” said Brian Woods, executive producer of 15,000 Kids. “It was an absolute miracle getting the series on air.”

Initially True Vision, which worked with local authorities in Wigan, Warrington and Stockport, lined up 147 potential adoption cases for use in the series – only seven children ended up on air.

The authorities were delighted with the outcome. Jayne Ivory, head of service at the people directorate at Wigan council, said the programme would improve public understanding. “Adoption is not hidden, but it’s highly confidential and complex,” she said. “To have got this level of insight – from the child’s perspective, the professional’s and the adopter’s – gives a really rich account of the whole process.”

Ivory praised Beckett for her intermediary role. “Shelagh as a consultant has been not only an important point of reference for the production company but also for us. I’m hoping to get her back to do some training with us.”

She said the series had shown not only “how wonderful our kids are” but the professionalism of staff such as Annette, who succeeded in placing Lauren and her brother Liam. But, as Woods pointed out, if the two siblings’ adopter had declined to be filmed, then months of filming and three-quarters of a programme would have been scrapped.

The success of 15,000 Kids follows the well-received Channel 4 show Finding Mum and Dad, directed by Amanda Rees for the Welsh company TiFiNi, which highlighted a new approach to adoption: adoption parties where prospective adopters can look for children.

Adoption has emerged as “a bigger issue than people had recognised”, said Nick Mirsky, head of documentaries at C4, who said the shows were inspiring social change through the impact on social media.

“If you go back five or 10 years, a programme that prompted social action was usually headed up by Jamie Oliver or some celebrity and was very ostensibly campaigning,” he said. “These aren’t campaigning programmes, but because of the internet a documentary can prompt quite a lot of social action without wearing a shield and saying, ‘I’m a campaigning programme.’”

ITV’s four-part Wanted: A Family of My Own is hosted by Nicky Campbell, himself adopted. Despite the fact that Claire Lewis is known for her work on the acclaimed series 7 Up, used in the training of social workers, she said the filming process had been “tortuously difficult”.

The makers contacted 90 local authorities and finally partnered with eight. “We had authorities who believed it was unethical to show any part of the process,” she said.

She hopes the series will “shatter myths”, such as the notion that many adopted children are babies (hardly any are) and that older or same-sex couples may not adopt.

Like Woods, she praised the filmmaker Sacha Mirzoeff for the BBC series Protecting Our Children, which has been instrumental in breaking down the mistrust between social services and the media.

Even so, on completion of Wanted: A Family of My Own, one professional approached Lewis and said: “I can’t believe that you have done just what you said you would do.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss