How to abolish adoption

Adoption Thoughts
5 min readDec 11, 2023

I was tempted to name this post ‘how to stop adoption’ but I think that would be a bit disingenuous. You are never going to stop it happening in an unofficial capacity (just like my grandfather!), but you could prevent it being a legally sanctioned method of transferring parenting rights.

I can only speak about the UK of course; I don’t really have much experience of abroad. The simplest way to get rid of adoption in this country would be to say that social services should never be allowed to place children for adoption. Then you would not even need a law change to remove adoption from the statute books, it is just a policy change. Adoption doesn’t happen in any other way so you will remove adoption from society if you do this.

Of course, if you do it then you will need to reassess the way that social services and the child protection system in general deal with the kind of situation that eventually leads to adoption. If the parents demonstrate malevolent intent towards their offspring, what do we do about it as a society?

At present, we differentiate between being the biological parent and being the legal parent. I’ve seen people really hate those terms, usually because they feel it is demeaning their own self-perceived identity as parent, but it is an important distinction to make. I guess it is similar to the difference between sex and gender in a manner of speaking. Biological parents always retain that role or title because it is just an unarguable fact. There is not much in terms of responsibilities or rights that goes with that other than an expectation (but no obligation) to provide any details on relevant genetic, epigenetic, exposome infomation etc. to the offspring. Not that most biological parents actually do this, mostly because they don’t know that information themselves or aren’t aware of how important it is (or simply don’t care).

Being the legal parent however is a social or cultural construct. This is how your rights over that child and responsibilities towards that child are bestowed. For just about everyone the people named on your birth certificate will be the people that initially will be your legal parents. Historically this certificate was intended to reflect genetic heritage. The named parents are still usually considered to be the biological parents although in an estimated 1–3% of cases the named father on a birth certificate is not the biological father (whether he realises that or not!). In the UK there is currently a slight discrepancy here in that a baby born by surrogacy or donation will not always have that reflected in their birth certificate — the initial birth certificate is replaced by a Parenting Order to remove the surrogate or donor from parenting rights. This is an important omission in my opinion as we now appreciate that the effect of the host mother’s microbiome, epigenetic and exposome history far outweigh the importance of genetic heritage when thinking about foetal and infant development. However a birth certificate is just a legal document really, no longer truly a reflection of biological heritage, which will be recorded separately in the medical records.

As a legal parent you have the right to make the big decisions that affect the direction of the child’s life. Whether a child gets a particular medical treatment, what religion they follow as kids, the school they go to, even if they can go abroad, are all in the right of the parent to decide, and only the parent. Of course you do have some responsibilities to go with that, to make sure the child is looked after in a safe and healthy way.

In a small number of cases each year, maybe 1–2000 at most nationwide, a legal parent will commit deliberately harmful acts against their child that will mean that immediately the child is taken into care. If there are no mitigating circumstances and no improvement in attitude we subsequently (maybe several years down the line) remove the role of legal parent of the child from that person, because they have demonstrated that they are deliberately making dangerous and harmful choices and are therefore unfit to be the legal parent. They have failed their responsibilities. Because we also say that a child has a right to have a legal parent, the state will then start looking for another individual to take on that role, hence adoption.

So if we remove adoption we have a choice with two fundamental options; either we say that the child no longer has that right to a legal parent (leaving them parentless), or we say that the initial people named on the birth certificate will always be the legal parent, no matter what happens.

In the first case the child will remain in care or guardianship, and parenting rights will essentially be transferred to the state. They will have to be able to make decisions for that child, so will delegate that to someone, most likely a social worker. Or probably lots of social workers over that child’s lifetime. This is more or less what happens unofficially in the care system anyway, if the parents are not engaged. After all someone has to make the decisions. It doesn’t feel like a satisfactory solution to me because it isn’t a permanent solution, and there won’t be anyone with parenting rights who is in a position to actually get to know the child, but pragmatically it is probably the only way to do it. I know from experience this approach doesn’t get the best outcomes, no matter how much resource you throw at it.

In the second case you also have a situation where the child will remain in care or guardianship, but the parenting rights remain with the (probable) biological parents. You will then have to accept the decisions they make for the child, whatever they may be. This doesn’t sit well with me, but it is a common narrative on social media, either from those who resent state interference in family rights, or those who think that if the state continues to give support to the parent they’ll eventually be able to perform the role properly so you should never remove their rights. Both seem to be a bit ivory-tower or head-in-sand approach to me, ignoring the basic problem, but what do I know?

Those are broadly the two different ways to replace adoption in the child protection system, and you have to consider these if you also want to abolish adoption. One of those needs to be decided before getting rid of adoption. I don’t really see much appetite for either though. Can we come up with something different? I’ve seen a ‘super guardianship’ proposed which essentially transfers parenting right to an individual but doesn’t call them the parent, and maybe has some constraints around contact with biological parents. So just like being a parent then. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it is a duck. And by the way, that ‘super guardianship’ is exactly what adoption is nowadays anyway. We start off as guardians during placement and parental rights are transferred to us, maybe some years later, with a contact agreement.

It feels like people are tying themselves up in knots trying to abolish something that mainly exists in their head, and replacing it with wholly inadequate alternatives that can only serve to harm the child further. Basing their opinions entirely on ideology and dogma rather than being pragmatic and actually caring about the children in question. Either that or I am just getting old and frustrated and society is progressing without me. Everything will be just fine if we abolish adoption, I’m sure. There’ll be no issues at all.