It may no longer be possible to create an “impermeable seal” around adoption, a High Court Judge has suggested.
In a lecture given to the Family Justice Council yesterday, Appeal Court Judge Lord Justice McFarlane said the high rate of adoption in the UK, particularly amongst older children, combined with the pervasive nature of social media posed real challenges to the care system. Older adopted children carried stronger memories of their birth families and were more likely to be traumatised as a result he noted.
“The difficulties facing adopters and adopted children in this regard have been made significantly more difficult … with the ever-increasing facility to trace and make contact, in an uncontrolled way, with individuals over the internet or via social media”.
Facebook and similar sites have caused, the Judge claimed, an “erosion in the hitherto impermeable seal around the adoptive placement”.
As a result, His Lordship suggested, it may be necessary to “raise the question of whether our model of adoption continues to be as valuable to each of the individuals concerned as we have hitherto held that it is”.
The Judge was critical of adoption practices in the UK, which has a high rate of forcible adoption when compared to other countries.
“Magistrates and judges up and down the country on every day of the week are making these highly intrusive draconian orders removing children permanently from their natural families on the basis that to do so is better for the child and that ‘nothing else will do’. But, I ask rhetorically: ‘How do we know this is so?’”
Approximately 20 per cent of all adoptions involve children over the age of four, he noted, and some involve eight year-olds or even older youngsters. Adoptions at an older age leads to a higher rate of placement breakdown and such youngsters are also more likely to spontaneously try and make contact with their birth families via Facebook and similar services, and experience disruption and upset as a result. This, said the Judge:
“…seems a long cry from the sunny upland of a happy, settled, secure future with a ‘forever family’ which has been the traditional goal of those making adoption orders to date”.
His Lordship also cited widespread ignorance about the nature of the family court system, believing this leads “some parents to disengage entirely from the process, refuse to be assessed by independent experts, dispense with the expert lawyers freely provided by the state and, in some extreme cases, flee with their children to Ireland, France or further afield.”
Lord Justice McFarlane’s speech was entitled Holding the risk: the balance between child protection and the right to family life. Read it in full here.
The Family Justice Council is a legal advisory body sponsored by the Ministry of Justice.