An interesting article recently appeared in Prospect Magazine in the UK about forced adoptions: https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/society-and-culture/the-uk-has-a-forced-adoption-problem
Comments had closed by the time I noticed it, but I thought I’d post my thoughts here instead. The article is primarily about lack of support for birth parents and kinship carers, but it is quite telling and comes with a lot of baggage from the long legacy of adoption both here and around the world. I have to admit to this being a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to that article — it is certainly not my intention to malign or belittle anyone but it is something I need to get off my chest. The title is a bit of clickbait really as most of the article is not really about adoption, but I clicked anyway. Apologies for the rant.
Birth parents will of course feel that having their children being taken into care by social services is forced on them. That’s because it is being forced on them. There isn’t anything going to change that; as one contributor says, you have to get the child out of that environment. It is interesting that adoption is singled out though, after all parents don’t consent to care orders or special guardianships either (they are allowed to nominate someone to be a guardian without consenting to the situation, but the state doesn’t have to agree to that person), and those things also remove a parent’s rights, it is just a matter of degree. People don’t like being told that they are unfit to be a parent. Of course not, who would? They are never going to consent to having their parental rights removed. Why should we expect that they would?
Adoption is technically not ‘forced’ but ‘non-consensual’. A moot point I agree, the effect for the birth parent is the same, but in a sense this differentiation matters. Because by the time the child reaches the point where a decision about future permanence is needed, the birth parent no longer has the right to make that decision anyway. They have already lost their parental rights by demonstrating that they’ve not acted on their parental responsibilities and are not likely to in the future either. That’s why the children are being placed elsewhere. Being a parent is not something that you can do with impunity, you don’t have absolute rights over your child in the UK. Maybe you should, but in this country the state demands things of you that you must comply with in order to remain a parent. You can’t opt out, none of them are optional however much you want them to be. You don’t consent to send your children to school, you must do it. You don’t consent to register your child’s birth, you must do it. You don’t consent to give certain medication, you must do it. You don’t consent to teach your children about all religions, you must do it (although sometimes I wonder how many people know that one). You don’t consent to keep your child safe, you must do it. If you don’t you face consequences and sanctions which can include having parental rights over the child taken away from you and transferred to the state, and it is now for them to decide what is best for the child. Whether giving that right to the state is appropriate is of course another debate, but that is the current situation and I can’t think how else you’d manage it. A family is not as sovereign as is commonly thought, but maybe activists would like it to be more so.
If you ever find yourself in a child protection situation however, then you’ll probably need support and this article (which seems so amazed to find out that a middle-class solicitor needed it that they thought it worth mentioning her profession) suggests that support is not good enough. That may be so, however the same couple of well-known and decades-old examples of ‘poor’ support are wheeled out, as if this is representative of everything that happens in child protection. Of course we all need to be worried about lack of resources, as every government since I’ve been alive has been intent on destroying civic society, but really that is a separate issue to that of the main thrust of the article, which is that currently everything is child centred rather than centered around the birth parent’s support. This is apparently a bad thing. Well, there’s an interesting take on it. Adults will always need support to be parents, but well, they are adults. Unless they are mentally incompetent they do have to contrive to cooperate with that support if they want to continue to be parents. The solicitor said that she only liked one type of support and not another, so as it didn’t suit her she didn’t use that support and therefore fell back into the bad old ways. This is presented as being the system’s problem. Hmm. If I was in that kind of situation (and I’m not saying whether I have been or not), then I’d take what I can get and ask for more to show willing. Yes some things will be better suited for you, but you don’t get to pick and choose where kids are concerned, and just because you think you know what is best doesn’t mean that you do.
There is also the ageless cliché of class warfare; the implication being that as mostly poorer people are being ‘targeted’ for intervention then it must be a class issue. The middle-class assumption that it is external factors such as poverty causing the issue rather than the internal issues causing poverty. Because they can’t conceive it in any other way. Money is what’s important to them. One person in the article calls for money to be given to birth parents directly instead of to social work support. Because that will make all the difference apparently. It may not be intentional, but it is just insulting to all of us who grew up in a poor environment and didn’t either suffer from, or commit, child abuse. And as the article inadvertently illustrates elsewhere, even middle class solicitors can be subject to child protection investigations too.
The reality is that for families that really need it ‘early intervention teams’ literally go into people’s houses to make sure the kids are fed, washed and sent to school etc. They then pick them up from school. They help the parents make good choices. Every effort is made to make sure the parents can change — and that is the point, they must learn and change, this isn’t just free help while they browse Facebook or work in a job elsewhere. And yes, that will be time limited, there shouldn’t be any indignation about that. You can’t keep the children in that situation indefinitely. There’s no point saying that kind of support doesn’t happen. As every adopter or recently adopted child will tell you, it does. Yes there is never enough of this kind of support. That’s because even having someone in the house permanently (suggested in the article and basically as a child’s minder) will often never be enough either, and could themselves be in danger from the parents. The incidents that lead to the children being taken into care will always happen when a social worker isn’t there. Of course. That’s the reality.
Of course you could still argue that even if a parent is unarguably not fit to be a parent anymore that the child still shouldn’t be adopted, because, well, who knows why? This is where the mask slips in this article. They don’t actually tell you what adoption is, it just lets you think that it is the same thing as adoption from the 60s. They say that the ‘statistics’ show that adoption is mainly of babies and very young children, which is an outright lie that anyone can disprove when they look up those same stats. They criticise the trope (that we all get told in this kind of role) that we are ‘breaking the cycle’, claiming that care doesn’t manage to do that, conveniently ignoring the very facts quoted in the article that less than half the kids in care come from backgrounds where their parents were themselves in care. This is quoted as a criticism of adoption despite the fact that the figures are for foster care, not adoption, and in any case actually show the system working, not failing. Most kids coming into the system have not come from backgrounds of previously being in care. Simples. But even if they were, so what? These kind of interventions sometimes take 2 or even 3 generations. It isn’t an instant fix. All this kind of talk just casts even more fear and prejudice towards care experienced people. The idea that they can never change.
Then the article bangs on about ‘mothers’ being hard-done-by rather than all parents. Because, you know, the fathers don’t matter and are never there anyway. I do grind my teeth when I hear such dated nonsense like this.
The alternatives mentioned in the article are care and guardianship. Apparently, care is dysfunctional and costs too much. We can dismiss it out of hand apparently. What an insult to foster carers to say that it would be cheaper to have someone in the house 24/7. How is that better for the child, and what do they think it is foster carers do? Give me a good foster home over a crap birth parent with 24 hours support any time. Yes care shouldn’t be run for profit, but it should be run by the state and money shouldn’t matter — it takes what it takes. Guardianship has no support but is £35000 per child per year cheaper and therefore more preferable according to one person. Words fail me. Which is a shame as I am writing a blog post. But really? Is it all ultimately about how little money you need to spend? Jesus. Trying to persuade people that the only good option for child care is to dump them with a grandparent, just to save money from those people’s wallets, is just about peak neo-liberalism. Some people.