Adopting a child in Britain: It's hell - but not for the reasons you think
26 FEBRUARY 2016 • 9:00AM The Telegraph
My husband and I have been in the adoption waiting game for what feels like an age. We were approved in March 2015, having attended our first open evening over two years ago. The funny thing is that just a year in, we’re not even old timers. Many people hoping to adopt have waited far, far longer.
To set things in context, for the 33 inquiries we made about children this year, only one made it to the linking stage (where the child's social worker agrees to take things to the next step) but sadly, things didn't work out.
The myth that thousands of children languish in care, waiting for adopters, is quite simply not true. In fact, it's much the reverse. After a successful push by politicians like Michael Gove and Edward Timpson, who have enjoyed positive experiences of adoption and fostering, local authorities swelled their ranks with thousands of keen, willing adopters.
But here are the facts: between April 2014 and March 2015, just 282 children were matched in the UK. Yes, you read that correctly.
The reasons for this are manifold, but the greatest factor is the judgment passed by Lord Neuberger in 2013, where he ruled that local authorities should make non-consensual adoption the absolute last resort for children who had been removed from their parents. Social workers were instructed to place children with suitable family members wherever possible, regardless of whether the child had ever met said relative or been to their country.
As a result of this ruling, there are only a tiny number of children available for adoption (in proportion to the number of adopters out there) - a large number of whom suffer from complex health and psychological needs that make it impossible for someone in their family circle to look after them.
I’ve watched as strange distortions have started to spring up in the mainstream media. For example, in the Daily Mail and more recently, the Spectator published a feature darkly suggesting that social workers hovered over poorly mothers, waiting to whisk their babies away at the first chance. Repeating an unnamed source’s account they were only interested in removing her child because “chubby, rosy-cheeked babies are easier to find homes for”.
It’s one thing for a frightened, angry mother to express such an opinion, especially from the anonymous sanctity of a web forum, but it’s another thing for respected writers to repeat it as fact, adding to the hysteria and false information surrounding care proceedings, and by circumstance, its distant relative, adoption.
The myth of social workers acting like overzealous baby-snatchers, backed by the indifferent power of the state, couldn’t be further from the truth. It is absurd to suggest social workers are removing children with an eye to meeting financial ‘targets’ (phased out in 2008) or any other selfish motive. What social worker goes into it for the money or for the pleasure of removing children from their birth families, anyway?
I worked in the children and vulnerable adults department of a local authority, albeit in a legal capacity, and the experience opened my eyes to the important work done by social workers, who would face the most horrific of scenes and make important decisions - often in an instant - which had wide-ranging repercussions, all in order to create a safe, nurturing environment for the children they worked with.
Social workers who fought tooth and nail to keep kids out of homes where known paedophiles lived, who encouraged clients to end relationships with violent men who hurt them and their unborn kids.
That’s the reality of domestic adoption in the UK. It’s not Little Orphan Annie. Children in care are born in the most challenging of circumstances, to parents who either acknowledged that they were not able to care for them (a brave thing to do) or parents who inspire so much alarm over the course of lengthy care proceedings that a judge makes the final decision to have them removed from their mothers (not a decision taken lightly).
Social workers play a crucial role in trying to improve their lot often under limited, challenging circumstances, and what is palpably absurd is the insinuation that they are eyeing up 'rose-cheeked babies' for removal. The ugly truth surrounding children in care inspires disbelief and anger – but channeling that rage at social workers, who work to keep these children safe, is as cruel as it is unfair.
The simple truth is that there simply aren’t that many children out there for adoption, and that those who are available will require a great deal of input from parents to help them with the early trauma they have experienced.
An experienced social worker told me that in all her years of practice this current situation in the UK is the worst she has seen. Her advice to anyone contemplating adoption? Go abroad.
Due to the bleak reality of adoption in the UK, it is likely that we are going to have to take her advice on that, albeit with very heavy hearts.