Children respond in different ways to being taken into care. For some it is a painful wrench, for others a bewildering adventure, a trauma or a blessed relief – it all depends, of course, on their individual family backgrounds. But whatever their personalities and perspectives, few such children conclude that children’s homes, however well run or well-intentioned, are the ideal places in which to find themselves growing up.
The government’s current determination to increase adoption, as set out in the recently published Children and Families Bill, looks on the face of it like a very good thing. Far better for children to grow up in the uniquely nurturing dynamics of a family than an impersonal, communal children’s home. It is not difficult either to detect good intentions in the relevant government ministers: Education Secretary Michael Gove was himself adopted as a child, while Children’s Minister Edward Timpson watched his own parents foster more than 90 – yes, 90! – children during his own childhood.
But politicians do love a headline, a simple solution and a snappy soundbite. Is the government’s enthusiasm for adoption actually too black and white, too one-size-fits-all?
There are certainly peers who think so. Earlier this week, the House of Lords Committee on Adoption Legislation claimed the government’s adoption drive risked undermining “other routes to permanence” – for example kinship care, whereby relatives such as grandparents adopt a child. Another arrangement which can work well for some some children is special guardianship. In these arrangements, an adult takes on the care of a vulnerable child but maintains active links to the birth family while doing so.
In the committee’s review of the draft legislation, Baroness Butler-Sloss, a former president of the Family Division, is forthright.
“Children adopted from care have a range of needs due to their early life experiences, often of abuse or neglect, which are not resolved simply by being adopted.”
Quite right. Every child is different and every family is different too – and that goes for the bad ones as well as the good, unfortunately.
The report continues:
“We also need to be satisfied that adoption is the right solution for every child who is adopted. Other routes to permanence, such as special guardianship and kinship care, can provide loving and stable placements for many children for whom adoption is not right; these alternatives must not be neglected in the drive to increase the number of adoptions.”
According to the report, the peers also worry that that the rush for adoption risks diverting focus and resources from efforts to preserve birth families and help them to overcome, wherever possible, the kinds of problems that lead to children being taken into care in the first place.
“We are concerned that the drive to increase adoptions does not undermine efforts to keep birth families together. Where there is capacity to change, early intensive work to address the problems which some parents face, often of drug and alcohol misuse, can enable children to be brought up within their birth families. We urge the Government not to undermine the potential benefit of preventative programmes.”
I wonder if the government will listen to these very sensible perspectives? Campaigns and initiatives driven from the top down are always at risk of being becoming top heavy and I do think there is a real risk that at least some local authorities will respond to this new emphasis on adoption in a rigid, mechanical way, pushing cared-for children into adoption regardless of their individual circumstances and without regard for possible alternatives. If that happens, vulnerable children who have already had the misfortune to find themselves taken into care will end up losing out a second time. And that’s in nobody’s best interests.