Adoption is not a ‘second prize’ or a ‘solution to childlessness’, say parents

09 November 2018

Parents challenge claim that rising success-rate of IVF has impacted adoption rates

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PARENTS have challenged a claim that the rising success-rate of IVF is the cause of a fall in adoptions, emphasising that adoption is not a “second prize” or a “solution to childlessness”.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, the chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS), Anthony Douglas, said that “IVF used to be around seven per cent successful and now it’s around 30 per cent. So as a choice, adoption is competing with lots of other ways of having children.”

The number of children adopted in Britain has fallen from about 12,000 in 1978 to 4350 in 2017, down from 5460 two years earlier.

The founder of the charity Home for Good, Krish Kandiah, described the comments as “a misunderstanding of the very essence of adoption. Ultimately it is not about family completion but the flourishing of vulnerable children.”

On Tuesday, the Fertility Network’s regional organiser for London, Anya Sizer, said that adoption numbers had declined “for a variety of reasons, but at the heart of it is that adoption is not where it was 40 years ago. . . It is much more complex in terms of the type of child and needs of that child, so people are rightly being cautious about going forward for adoption.”

She expressed concerns that “people going through infertility are being handed adoption as a sort of second prize, almost, to having their own biological children. Adoption, at the heart of it, is about the child, not the parents. It is about finding placements with a strong family unit for a child with a traumatic background.”

She warned: “To say to people that have been through the trauma of infertility, by default, to take on a traumatised child is not just unhelpful, but unwise, because actually you are then adding one set of loss to another, with the potential of real damage all round.”

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Martin Barrow, a foster parent and campaigner, described as “toxic” the “assumption that somehow adoption is a solution to childlessness . . . and also that people who can’t have children somehow have a responsibility to adopt. I find that really quite complicated and wrong.”

Most of the children whom his family had fostered were not adopted, he said, and for many children in care — who tended to be older — this was not what they wanted. There had been “big demographic changes” since the 1970s, he said.

The number of looked-after children is at its highest since the Children Act 1989: 75,480 children are in the care system, compared with 60,000 a decade ago. This week, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services said that the number of children subject to child-protection plans had increased by 87 per cent over the past ten years, with domestic violence involved in almost half of cases.

The number of adoptions dipped in the mid-2000s, but rose again after the Baby P case (News, 26 November 2008). As Education Secretary, Michael Gove, who was adopted as a baby, championed adoption (News, 16 March 2012). But two court cases in 2013 emphasised that, with the child’s best interests paramount, adoption should only be considered as a last resort. The then President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, expressed concern about the “inadequacy” of analysis conducted by social workers and family judges, condemning “sloppy practice”. One adoption is “special guardianship orders”, under which relatives care for children.

In his interview, Mr Douglas described the adoption process as “far too slow”.

“Every child deserves a family to live and grow up in, but adoption still takes twice as long as it should, which puts people off,” he said. “Most children will come with some damaging experience that needs therapeutic support and they may have difficulties through their childhood. To assess and train for that . . . does take some months, but it’s still taking too long.”

Citing the Department for Education, The Daily Telegraph reports that it takes about 15 months for a child to be adopted; of the 2470 children in line to be adopted as of March 2017, 27 per cent had been waiting for 18 months or more.

Earlier this year, the Care Crisis Review noted significant regional variations in the number of children being taken into care, and strong links with levels of deprivation, warning that cuts to family support services “affect ability to intervene early” (News, 22 June).

Sibling relationships. More attention should be paid to sibling relationships, when decisions are made about placements for children in care, the Nuffield Foundation says.

The Foundation’s report — Siblings, Contact and the Law: An overlooked relationship? — draws on interviews with legal professionals, guardians, social workers, and young people. It notes that while there is “strong recognition” of the importance of sibling relationships, this is “easily and routinely outweighed by other considerations” when decisions are made about placement, including adoption.

It notes a “lack of clarity and consistency” about the definition of a sibling and highlights three “powerful assumptions” at play: “that expectations of direct contact will deter potential adopters; that post-adoption contact should and can only take place with the agreement of adopters; and, that the security and stability of placements will be undermined by contact with siblings living with or in contact with birth relatives.”

Judges expressed concern that sibling assessments were often “hastily commissioned after separation has been determined as the likely outcome”. A barrister observed that concerns about direct contact were often ‘led by the interests of the adopters rather than the interests of the children”.

Among the recommendations is more “rigour” in assessments, and efforts to ensure that children and young people are “aware of, and more able to exercise, their rights to make applications for contact orders with their siblings”.

There are no statistics about how many children in the care system are placed with their siblings, but the report says that a “substantial proportion” are separated.

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