The real story behind 'forced adoptions'

A story this week about a girl put up for adoption because her grandparents were 'too old' is just one more in a long line of emotive but simplified media tales

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The Independent Online

The British media abounds with highly emotive adoption stories, and this week was no exception. Howls of protest sounded in some areas of the press at the news that a three year old girl was forcibly put up for adoption this week, against the will of her loving grandparents, allegedly because they were judged ‘too old’ to care for her. It was reported that the mother of the child had lost custody of her due to severe mental health problems, but that her parents were willing to take on special guardianship, against the recommendation of social workers.

The UK is the only country in Europe, and one of a tiny minority of countries in the world, that participates in so-called ‘forced adoption’. This fairly self-explanatory procedure means taking a child away from its family without – and sometimes against-  the agreement of all family members. This is very much a last resort in a desperate situation, undergone when there is no safe way for children to stay with their immediate family. However, there’s no denying that it can feel extremely brutal for those involved.

In the last few years, the number of children with an Adoption Order has dramatically fallen. What this means in practice is that there are just as many children in the care system – for instance, being fostered – but fewer who have been recommended by local authorities to be placed for adoption with a new family. This year alone, the number of children in care with an Adoption Plan fell again, by 37 per cent. For many of these children, cast adrift in a sea of uncertainty, this is a depressing state of affairs.

The key reason for this results from judgments made by the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal which reminded local authorities and courts of the huge significance of adoption. Adoption legally and permanently severs the child’s legal relationship with their birth family. Again, the UK is the only country in Europe to do this, however often contact does continue with both siblings, grandparents and sometimes birth parents.  ‘Forced adoption’ is more accurately referred to in the care sector as ‘contested adoption’.

Make no mistake about it: most children who are embroiled in the care system are there because of serious abuse or neglect. One of the reasons that contested adoption is legal here and illegal elsewhere is because UK law puts the welfare and rights of the child first, above those of parents and any associated relatives. It’s not always in the child’s best interests to stay with their birth family.

 

‘Kinship carers’ – defined as relatives and close friends of the birth family - often become special guardians of a child. This allows children to leave the care system and remain within their immediate family, minimising disruption to that child’s upbringing, and can often provide a knowledgeable and loving new home.  By law, kinship carers must be the first port of call for social workers.  However, there are some difficulties with these arrangements.

For instance, kinship carers do not receive access to legal aid, which means it can be difficult for them to contest a child’s adoption through the courts. Neither do they enjoy the same benefits as adopters do if they look after a child, such as the legal right to adoption leave from work. Some have fallen foul of the Bedroom Tax.

Sadly, finding a loving home for a child can often be harder than anyone imagined. What is needed is a more holistic approach to adoption and fostering by the government. The £19.2 million for the Adoption Support Fund providing therapeutic support for adoptive children was recently pledged, but this fund doesn’t extend to children placed with kinship carers.  Meanwhile, too many children remain in the care system without any promise of a permanent and stable home.