I wrote one blog post last week which I thought was about one thing – the irritating promotion of a dangerous untruth that the UK is the ‘only’ country in Europe or even the World that permits ‘forced adoption’. Interestingly, the focus of my concerns soon shifted after it was pointed out to me that the article in the Independent which made much of this ‘fact’ was actually written by Caroline Selkirk, the Chief Executive of the British Association of Adoption and Fostering (BAAF).
This is clearly someone who will have an interest in adoption. Her identity should have been set out loud and clear before the article even got started. I didn’t know who she was until someone else told me, so what chance would a general member of the public have?
The response of the BAAF when I complained about this was disappointing and defensive. As I replied ‘not good enough’.
I then recalled an earlier article in the Independent ‘Adoption rates in freefall after court rulings leave children in unsuitable homes’ on 12 May 2015 by Emily Dugan who at least here is identified as ‘Social Affairs Editor’ – and according to Google is actually affiliated to the Independent and not to – for example – an organisation which is on the face of it about promoting adoption as a good thing.
At the time, I thought this May article a disappointing and clumsy attempt at creating some fear around the recent court decisions which highlighted the need for decisions made on proper evidence and recognition of the demands of Article 8 of the ECHR.
But in November 2013 the President of the Family Court, Sir James Munby, made a ruling that left many local authorities convinced they must try every extended family member before putting a child up for adoption. The judge said that six-month targets for adoptions should not be allowed to break up families unnecessarily and that grandparents and other extended family members should be considered before placing children for adoption.
It had been hoped that a second ruling last December from the same judge, clarifying he had not changed the law in the original judgment, would curb the freefall in adoption numbers. But instead further rulings from Sir James and other judges have exacerbated the problem.
What the judgments most certainly did not say was ‘they must try every extended family member before putting a child up for adoption’. This is, without very much respect, a stupidly inaccurate attempt to precis court rulings about the need to respect due process and investigation of all realistic options, given the draconian nature of an adoption order. If adoption rates are in ‘freefall’ just because the courts are insisting on the rule of law, it does rather make you wonder what was going on before these court decisions and just how many rulings were made about adoption that would not now survive more careful scrutiny.
But what really raised my eyebrows was the utterly bizarre attempt to garner sympathy for potential adopters who were ‘suffering’ given the recent fall in adoption rates and slowing down of the court process. We were given the utterly tragic tale of ‘Tim’ and ‘Sarah’ from the Home Counties who were distraught that their plans to collect a playmate for their birth child now had to be put on hold:
In January we went to panel and were successful and started looking for a child. You’re looking on websites and you can see the number of adopters going up and the number of children staying the same. It’s really frustrating. We’re looking for a child aged 0-3 because we have a six-year-old birth child. But only one or two have come up and they can’t be placed with another child.
It was a real eye-opener discovering about the court case. I can’t believe one person’s decision has had that much of an impact so quickly. In a year we’ve gone from thinking we’d have a child placed with us around now to thinking it could go on for months or years now.
Given that a large number of those who are critical of the current child protection system say it is social engineering, set up to ‘steal’ children from the poor working classes and to redistribute them among the middle classes, this was an unfortunate case study. There are certainly many other better examples of when the demands of fair process have collided with the interests of adoptive parents and no doubt enormous misery has ensued. See for example A and B v Rotherham MBC where a child was moved from a potential adoptive placement where he was settled, to live with his aunt.
Of course something needs to be done to counter the ridiculous and partial reporting of the likes of the Daily Mail and the Telegraph. But what on earth is going on here? Clumsy and cloth eared attempts at propaganda ‘for the other side’ are not going to do anything other than further obfuscate proper debate about what we need to do to help vulnerable children, who are part of vulnerable families.
There is clearly now some considerable tension between what the government plainly wants – more adoptions and more quickly – and what the courts will demand in terms of due process. This mix is even more toxic given the current climate of austerity and decreasing support available for those who are struggling. We desperately need adult, informed, honest debate about what we are doing.
The sad irony about Caroline Selkirk’s article was it that if only she had bothered to ask a lawyer (but perhaps not Mostyn J) she could have learned that the UK is very far from the ‘only’ European country to permit ‘forced adoption’ and she wouldn’t have had to try to shoehorn her argument into a very odd assertion that the UK is the ‘only’ country to force through its adoptions, because we are the ‘only’ country that really cares about children.
One of the reasons that contested adoption is legal here and illegal elsewhere is because UK law puts the welfare and rights of the child first, above those of parents and any associated relatives. It’s not always in the child’s best interests to stay with their birth family.
BAAF sets out its role as ‘supporting, advising and campaigning for better outcomes for children in care for over 30 years’. And that’s great. Who wouldn’t want that? What a real shame and pity therefore if BAAF are allowing themselves to be used as the monkeys set to dance by some government organ grinder with an agenda, at the expense of honest and open debate.
I really hope this isn’t happening. But if that isn’t the explanation for these articles, what is?
Sarah Phillimore is a barrister who specialises in family law
This post originally appeared on the Transparency Project blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks