When I helped create National Adoption Week in 1997, I never dreamt I would see a little girl who “nobody wants” on the front page of a national newspaper. But that's exactly what happened on Friday, when the story of three-year-old Grace, who suffers from cerebral palsy, made headline news. In an unusual move, the agency First4Adoption has publicly appealed for a family to give her a home for Christmas.
"With her sparkling blue eyes and infectious smile, three-year-old Grace is the picture of happiness," read the piece in The Mirror. "But there is one heartbreaking piece missing from her young life. Despite spending every day waiting to be adopted, Grace has never been able to find the only thing she wants – a new mum to love her."
The intentions of First4Adoption are obviously good, and it looks like their campaign will have its desired effect. But this sort of language is deeply insensitive. To describe a child who needs a home in a way which deliberately pulls on peoples' heartstrings is not ok, even if it leads to a positive outcome for Grace.
Animal charities have worked hard to help people understand that a puppy is for life and not just “for Christmas” yet here we have a reputable agency encouraging people to come forward for just this reason. Years of experience have shown that the worst time to place a child with new adopters is just before Christmas, a time of high emotion when you want to be with the people you know best and whose family traditions are your own. It normally takes six months to create a match, and this timescale will encourage completely unrealistic expectations.
The description goes on to claim Grace has “nothing wrong with her mind” despite serious health problems. This implies that no-one would want all the equally beautiful children who have learning difficulties, and may make it more difficult for the next child to find a family.
Children looking for a permanent family have been featured in the mainstream media before, by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF). However, BAAF, which closed in July after 30 years as the sector leader, took meticulous care over the wording. Their in-house magazine, Be My Parent, which was sent to people who may be interested in adoption as well as approved adopters, worked with social workers to find the most respectful way to describe each child. This was all done knowing that children are likely to find their “advert” later in life. This makes you think about what Grace will see when she grows up: a child that no one wanted for three years, with photo and detailed description all over the web. Wouldn't that be hard to bear?
Felicity Collier was Chief Executive of BAAF 1995-2006
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