We were concerned to read that the government has written to directors of children’s services, urging them to prioritise adoption for children in the care system (Local authorities urged to focus on adoption for children in care, 16 January). From 2016-18 we led an enquiry, commissioned by the British Association of Social Workers, into the role of the social worker in adoption. We heard from those who had been adopted, adoptive parents, birth families, social workers, legal professionals and academics.
While there was a recognition that adoption is suitable for some children, it was considered that it was not suitable for many of those who come into the care system. It is too stark in its severance of the legal relationship between those adopted and their birth family, and out of line with the emotional realities for most involved. The identity needs of adopted people are very important and adoption, in its current form, does not recognise these.
Adoption is not a risk-free panacea, as government policy seems to suggest. It is highly complex, with implications for all concerned that endure for decades. There are other options, such as placements with kinship carers or long-term foster carers, and legal remedies such as special guardianship orders, which can provide safety and stability for children, but do not require such a severe break with key relationships.
Currently, these do not receive the support and policy attention that is needed. Moreover, birth families themselves have suffered greatly under austerity and the research finding that a child in the most deprived part of England is more than 10 times more likely to come into care than a child in the most affluent part vividly illustrates the need to ask a fundamental question about contemporary policies. Are we really promoting the human rights of all children, irrespective of background, to live safely within their families of origin?
Prof Brid Featherstone University of Huddersfield, Prof Anna Gupta Royal Holloway, University of London