Deborah Orr: There are some so-called myths about adoption that are all too painfully true

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The Independent Online

The children's minister, Kevin Brennan, has suggested that "myths around the adoption process" provide the reason why there were fewer adoptions in Britain last year than at any time since 1998. Last year there were 4,764 adoptions, when almost double that number of children had been assessed as suitable candidates. They will remain in care instead, or "looked after", as the modern parlance has it, by a system that virtually guarantees them the poorest possible life chances, alongside more than 50,000 other children for whom adoption is not considered an option.

The official line is that people are not coming forward because they believe the process to be long and arduous, when it is not. This false impression, David Holmes, of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering told The Daily Telegraph, has been reinforced by the adoptions from abroad undertaken by a number of celebrities, which imply, wrongly, that a home-grown alternative has proved too difficult. If only the problem were so simple.

There are a number of reasons why adoption is in decline – one of which is that assisted conception is on the increase. But it is quite untrue to say that people are put off adoption by "myths". They are put off adoption because, quite often, they know other people who have looked into it, and not much liked what they saw.

A couple I know have been on the treadmill of qualification as adoptive parents for about a year and a half now, and have become extremely anxious, not least because as time drags on they get closer to the cut-off age for adoption in their area, which is 40.

How ridiculous that age barrier is. People who have tried for for a child of their own are very often pushing 40 when they become sure that it isn't going to happen for them. It would be wrong to say that one is by definition nearly 40 when one starts seriously to consider adoption, but it is certainly a common time to start thinking about it. The rule perversely bars the sort of people who would be most interested.

There are good reasons why vetting procedures for adoptive parents have to be rigorous. Adoptions do fail, more often than is widely acknowledged. Because such great efforts are made to keep even the most dysfunctional of families together, children are often older, and traumatised, before adoption is even considered for them.

But rules whereby people are excluded from the process because of what they are – their age being one of them – disqualify people for rigid bureaucratic reasons rather than for human and sensible ones. It would be great if the existence of such rules were a myth. But it is not.

No rivals to Kirsty and Alan?

All those BBC employees, unwisely coming out as liberals on Facebook, appear to have confirmed long-standing accusations of conspiratorial pinkery within the organisation. I've never quite grasped why such bias shouldn't be understood as part of the nature of the beast. What self-respecting red-blooded neocon would be seen dead working for a public service, when he could be off relishing cut-throat competition in the private sector?

Oddly though, it's those BBC workers who manage to combine "soft left" views with entrepreneurship that cause the most consternation. Kirsty Wark, the redoubtable Newsnight presenter, is being harrumphed about because the police are investigating her independent-producer husband, Alan Clements, after accusations of corporate skulduggery.

Yet suggestions that she and Mr Clements are "Scotland's golden couple" seem themselves to be a politically motivated smear. Faced with trading Posh and Becks or Sharon and Ozzy for Kirsty and Alan, who would not cling desperately to the Union? Especially when it is remembered that the Krankies, who still pop up on Scottish telly, are the only obvious alternative.

Lessons in Englishness on a Saturday night out in Sussex

The gloomiest of predictions about immigration suggest that if we don't act fast, the English way of life will be nothing but a folk memory. One little corner of England appears to be holding firm.

Last Saturday night in Battle, outside Hastings, the streets were thronged, as far as the eye could see, with English people, gathered together to celebrate the confounding of the gunpowder plot, in a magnificent pageant that has been thriving since at least, written records attest, 1646. The venerable Bonfire Societies of East Sussex really know how to make an occasion, with members marching through the local towns in a mix of traditional and modern fancy dress, their drums and ear-splitting thunder-boxes creating a lavish torrent of fire and noise.

The bonfire is sited in the field where the Battle of Hastings took place. This is, the master of ceremonies asserted, the spot where Britain won the war. It's a remarkably inclusive interpretation of the Norman invasion.

Battle is so English you can almost taste it, and foreign visitors still appear to be worthy of note. Our host declared that among the thousands present he had come across a couple from Guatemala, although, he quipped, he of course had not conversed with them in anything so outlandish as Spanish.

Modernity and tradition were brought together during the evening in a happy melange that seemed quintessentially English. After the massive bonfire had been lit, and the guy consumed in the flames, a portrait of Elizabeth II appeared in fireworks, as "God Save the Queen" and "Land of Hope and Glory" belted out.

Then it was explained that there was a special additional guy this year. A huge model of a red-brick house had been erected, which represented the local bogeyman du jour, a threatened development of 290 new houses on a greenfield site near by. This outrage would take place over the dead bodies of the locals, and the evil, horned home was blown up. Not a vow designed to gladden the heart of that great champion of Britons, Gordon Brown. But that's just one of contemporary English life's eccentric little ironies. Who would want to change it?

* Spanish, mind you, appears to cause alarm. A bumptious taxi driver in Airdrie, Lanarkshire, recently proved expansive about his planned move the Costa del Sol, and when my companion recommended a book that might help him to master the language, his response was as follows. "I'm nearly 50. I've got five children, and two ex-wives, and I've never read a book in my life." Our loss, Spain's gain.

* There's a debate over whether Neets (not in education, employment or training) are defined as people aged between 16 and 18 or people aged between 16 and 24. I prefer the latter measure, if only for the reason that it allows one to define newly unemployed Kate Middleton an honorary Neet. OK, she's 25, but her inclusion among the ranks of abject failure is far too pleasing to be dismissed on a technicality.

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