Over the past year or two there has been a lot of governmental attention given to adoption and the adoption process. Most significantly the decision to streamline the approval process has greatly reduced the amount of time it takes for a prospective adopter to be approved.
This was billed as being necessary because there weren’t enough adopters coming through in order to place the children requiring permanent homes, and those that were were taking too long to be approved. In part this was due to the sheer level of bureaucracy involved and, in my opinion, the lack of structure to the old process.
On the face of it this seems brilliant, prospective parents could become approved quicker, and the children in care will get ‘forever families’ faster. This came at a great time for us as we were just about to begin the process to become approved to adopt.
But then something else happened. In an adoption case named “Re B-S” the judge heavily criticised social services for not “ticking all the boxes” before pursuing adoption as the best course of action for the child. As it happened the adoption still went through but it seemed to cause a seismic shift in the attitude of social services towards adoption. Rightly or wrongly, they appeared to have interpreted the judge’s criticism as telling them that adoption should not be pursued and other courses of action should be taken.
As a result of all this, there was a fall in the number of children coming up for adoption: http://www.adoptionuk.org/news/significant-fall-adoption-decisions-and-placement-orders-latest-figures-show
So, the country as a whole had prospective adopters becoming available at a pace faster than ever before, but the number of children able to be adopted was falling. The preferred route for the children was to keep them with their birth parents with support available, or to place them with a relative via a Special Guardianship Order (SGO).
Again, on the face of it this seems like it could lead to the best for the children, staying within their biological family, and some of the time it most definitely is. However, the level of parental assessment for SGOs is nowhere near the level that prospective adopters go through, and much of the time these children will need specialised support to help them through the emotional and physical trauma that they have already endured – being biologically related to someone doesn’t necessarily give you the tools to help with this. The level of support given by social services to birth families seems to vary across the country, and not all birth families will accept their help – after all what parent likes to be told how to parent their own children?
Often children only come to the attention of social services because they have been abused whilst under the care of their parents, by them or by someone within their close friends/family. So to keep them within this environment even with extra support from social services certainly doesn’t seem ideal.
As things currently stand SGOs are on the increase and adoptions are on the decrease. Every child’s case is different and I think both SGOs and adoption should be assessed for being the best possible outcome for a child. Getting the balance right seems to prove very difficult, if not enough action is taken to remove a child from their birth family then we end up with very sad cases such as Baby P. Take away too many children without enough cause and everyone starts to lose faith in social services. The pendulum seems to continually swing between two extremes and never settles at that ‘just right’ point to get the right balance.
During our approval process we were already aware of the reduction of children waiting to be adopted, but this was only because I had read up on it. We weren’t told by social services until after we were approved to adopt, and this seems to be an ongoing communication failure. Prospective adopters are starting to get disheartened and generally fed up with being told at the beginning of the process how needed they are, only to find out at the end of it that there are no children needing adoption.
When we came through our approval panel there were so few children requiring adoption that the local authority actually cancelled their family finding event which we had been invited to because they had no reason to run it. All profiles of children we saw were from other authorities.
The type of child/children our adoption criteria covered was very wide in age range and included sibling groups. Sibling groups, we are told, are harder to place because there are fewer adopters ready to take them on and as a consequence we were matched relatively quickly with our children and the rest is now history.
Ultimately whether you’re a birth parent, a social worker, an adopter, a foster carer, or the judge making the final decision, if you are directly involved in the welfare of a child then the safety and security of that child should be paramount. If it’s not… you’re doing it wrong.