hat should we make of the Prime Minister’s call for higher rates of adoption and the vociferous campaigning by The Times and other newspapers to the same effect?
The person in the street could be forgiven for
concluding that we are failing large numbers of children who could benefit from adoption. What is left unsaid is that, alongside USA colleagues, UK social workers succeed in placing a higher proportion of children in care with adoptive parents who are not previously known to them than is the case anywhere else in the world. Those going beyond the headlines to read the
ministerial statements will find much with which they can agree. The emphasis is on securing a sense of permanence, where possible, but not exclusively via a legal order and exit from being formally looked after, and improving success rates for those whose needs can best be met by long-term alternative families. This broader approach is essential, as is
evident from a closer look at the ages and other characteristics of entrants to care. In England in 2010-11 only 19% of children started to be looked after when under the age of 12 months which is the preferred age for most potential adopters, and 43% were aged 10 or over. Many of the 21% aged one to four when they
Beyond the headlines:
getting closer to the truth about adoption
Does the government’s renewed focus on adoption miss the point? By June Thoburn
14 SOCIALWORKMATTERS JAN12
start to be looked after, and most of the 60% aged five or over, will have established relationships (often ambivalent but not to be easily dismissed) with birth parents, relatives and especially siblings, that have to be nurtured, whatever placement and legal status is chosen. Adoption should be the placement of choice for some children in all age groups who need substitute parents, even for some teenagers. But the reality is that most children who start to be looked after, if they are to find a sense of permanence and family membership, will find it through return to parents or through a planned permanent placement with birth relatives or with a ‘non-kin’ foster family. A small number will need to find it through a high-quality children’s home placement. Recent history shows that the current drive to
increase the percentage of children adopted from care is nothing new. As early as 1984, the ‘Short Report’ concluded that the placement of more children from care for adoption was to be welcomed but warned: ‘Permanence should not have become a synonym for adoption. The search for permanence in our view could be accomplished in many ways’ (DHSS, 1984 pp 75-78).
There was another drive to raise the rate of adoption from care when Tony Blair’s government