John Simmonds raises two issues in his letter (25 January). First, he questions the “data and its analysis” cited in the article (Rising adoptions penalise poor families but don’t cut numbers in care, says report, 19 January) without outlining his concerns. I have published a spreadsheet showing sources of data, assumptions made, and the calculations (bilson.org.uk/calculations/) so that he, or anyone else, can see them. Second, I make no claim that there is an explicit policy to address poverty through adoption. I do show that a policy of increasing adoption to reduce the number of children in long-stay care leads instead to an increase in care. The government doesn’t provide statistics relating adoptions to levels of poverty, but research shows that children living in the 10% of most deprived communities are almost 11 times more likely to be in care than in the least deprived communities. It is thus highly likely that adoption is concentrated in these poor communities.
My most worrying finding is that if local authorities are grouped into thirds based on high, medium and low levels of children leaving care to be adopted, then high-use authorities increased children in care by 10% in the past five years, middle use increased it 6%, and in low use it fell by 3.2%. We need research to look at the link between increasing numbers of children in care alongside rising use of adoption. But it is already clear that policymakers should not assume that increasing adoption will reduce numbers in care.
Dr Andy Bilson
Emeritus professor of social work, University of Central Lancashire
• I have enormous respect for John Simmonds but I suggest that his response to your article on the rise in adoption from care fails to take account of a key element in the process. Of course, the courts are usually rigorous in their application of the “best interests” test, but they are often applying this months or even years after the crucial decisions about child protection and family support have been made. If those decisions were taken in a climate of (i) pressure to remove children to avoid public criticism, (ii) pressure to consider adoption as the best solution at a relatively early stage, and (iii) serious cuts in family support services, then the courts might well find – and frequently do – that the passage of time has cut off options that might have been better for the child in an ideal world. The clock cannot be turned back, but we should be looking seriously at the consequences of current policy and practice, and at what might be the alternatives. Having been present at the meeting to which John refers, I am aware that the data are being contested, and I hope this process will lead to robust conclusions that we can all get behind.
Dr Nigel Thomas
Professor of childhood and youth research, University of Central Lancashire
• As a former family magistrate I was involved in many cases where we made the decision to remove a child from her parents for adoption. I do not believe that the decision was ever made on the basis of the poverty of the natural parents. However, it was frequently made on the basis of the parents’ or mother’s mental health and/or drug addiction. Intuitively, I suggest that these factors are correlated with poverty and unemployment, and also that their effect is more severe where people are materially deprived.
• While by law adoptions should only happen when “nothing else will do”, as John Simmonds says, by the time of a final court hearing (often months or years later) social services have already shaped the case against the mother in favour of adoption. Judges usually follow their recommendations, and when they don’t social services fight to get their way. A teenage mum we tried to help was taken to court two days after an emergency caesarean so her baby could be removed immediately. When the judge refused, she was isolated from her support network in a mother and baby unit, under constant critical observation. Not surprisingly, although the baby flourished, her mother was deemed unfit and the child was adopted against the family wishes.
CoramBAAF disputes the connection between poverty, increasing levels of adoption and children in care, but offers no explanation. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has just reported worsening ill-health among children in poverty. Yet time and again social services scrutinise working-class mothers, triggering child protection intervention when the obvious problem is poverty.
In our dossier Suffer the Little Children and Their Mothers, the mothers whose children were adopted were all on low incomes, half had been teenage mothers, half were women of colour, half were survivors of rape or domestic violence. One mother with a learning disability had her first baby adopted at birth, never given a chance to care; a young couple who asked for advice about a mark on one of their children’s faces ended up in the high court without a lawyer unable to stop their adoption; a woman raped by the children’s father (who was convicted) was accused of failing to protect them, and the children were adopted by strangers in preference to their grandparents.
Fostering and adoption produce millions in profit for private companies. The children and social work bill now in parliament would extend that lucrative privatisation by removing statutory protection for children in care. The lifelong trauma of separation on children and their birth families is not considered. How is this cruelty in the best interest of children?
Anne Neale and Nina Lopez
Legal Action for Women
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