Forced adoption : the truth behind the headline

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Forced adoption is a term that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It’s a term that’s been developed by the media to describe adoptions in England and Wales where birth parents don’t agree to the local authority’s care plan for adoption.

Media coverage
The topic has been sensationalised to portray local authorities as uncaring, ruthless and just interested in splitting families up. This article recently published in the Guardian sums it up. The article isn’t based on fact. It’s based on opinion. It portrays the English adoption system as one which steals children from parents and places them with strangers.

I’m sure the lady featured in the article is giving an honest account from what she can recollect. Her children were removed over 10 years ago and there is little or no detail about her circumstances. It’s understandable that she doesn’t want to go into a lot of detail. I’m sure it’s a hideously painful memory for her. I can’t begin to imagine how any parent feels when they’re told their child isn’t coming home, whatever the circumstances.

My issue with the article is not her story. It is the way it is reported. The reporter makes no attempt to write a balanced article. It is a headline grabbing story that gives a very one sided view of English adoption. There is no explanation of the process a local authority has to go through to get a court to make a care order with a plan for adoption. Adoption has to be sanctioned by a court.

There are always 2 sides to every story. The side the media often choose not to portray is the one where children are physically or sexually abused by their parents or are living in conditions of hideous neglect. Clearly, there is no detail in the Guardian article, or it’s follow up about the circumstances that lead to a child being removed from their parents care. The follow up article is more balanced, but still doesn’t give an accurate picture.

Forced adoption isn’t a topic I had intended to write about. However, a comment about it left on one of my social media pages following my blog about sibling contact sibling, really got to me. The blog is about how we feel let down because the local authority haven’t done what they said they would in terms of contact with our daughter’s youngest sibling. The person who commented said that banning forced adoption was a better way of dealing with the problem in the first place. Without knowing anything about our daughter’s history, the person’s view is she shouldn’t be adopted. That would mean she could have contact with her siblings.

I was disappointed that someone who knew nothing about our daughter felt it was appropriate, firstly to assume that hers was a “forced adoption” and secondly that it was an appropriate comment to make. There were many things I wanted to say in response, but in the end I said nothing. I decided that the best way of responding is to try and educate and explain the process.

Court Proceedings
There is no such thing as “forced adoption” in law. If birth parents don’t agree with the plan as to where their child should live throughout their childhood, it is a contested adoption.

It’s similar situation when someone is arrested and charged with an offence and deny that they carried it out. It would be a non-sense if all you had to do is deny you carried out an offence and that would be the end of it. A court decides whether someone is guilty of committing the offence after they’ve heard and considered all of the evidence.

It is the same type of process when a local authority believes that a child is at risk of, or is suffering, serious harm due to the care being given to them by their parents. The local authority have to put all of their evidence before a court for it to decide whether the child is at risk of suffering serious harm. They have to do that for the child to be removed initially if parents don’t agree, and then for a final order to be made. Even if parents initially agree to the child being taken into care, they can’t be adopted without the court’s approval.

The court process doesn’t happen overnight. Ideally, the proceedings should conclude within 26 weeks of them being issued at court. A child may have been in care for some time before that if parents agree.

Those who feel “forced adoption” should be abolished from the English legal system criticise the fact that there is no statutory definition of what serious harm is. I worked in family courts for over 10 years and couldn’t disagree more with that view. To me it shows the complete lack of understanding those who have jumped on the band wagon of sensationalising the term “forced adoption” have of care proceedings.

Serious Harm
It is impossible to define exactly what serious harm is because it depends on the circumstances of each individual case. People act in different ways. They react to situations differently.

A person who has used heroin once while they had their baby in their care, immediately realised it was completely unacceptable behaviour, sought help and ensured it never happened again, is unlikely to be at risk of causing their child significant harm.

Someone who has a history of drug misuse, has previous convictions for drug related offences and whose eldest child suffered injuries whilst in their care due to drug use, is likely to be placing their new baby at risk of serious harm if they use drugs once whilst the baby is in their care.

Birth parents are offered a lot of help and support to put right where they’ve gone wrong with their parenting. Assessments are done to look at the causes of the problems and what needs to change. If needs be, courses are available for parents to improve their parenting skills. Contact sessions are arranged so that the bond between parent and child isn’t broken.

As with all things, some local authorities are better than others. Some social workers are better than others at identifying what help and support is needed by a particular family. If the court feels that a piece of work is needed, it can direct that it is done. An independent reviewing officer is appointed as an impartial professional to ensure that everything is done that needs to be. The child is represented by a Children’s Guardian who is their voice in the court room. The Guardian’s role is to make sure that everyone has the child’s best interests as the paramount consideration.

Lack of engagement
Unfortunately, the sad truth is that a lot of parents don’t engage with the process. They don’t turn up for assessment appointments. I’ll take an educated guess and say that’s what happened with the mum in the first Guardian article. Attendance at contact sessions becomes less and less frequent. They don’t keep in touch with the social worker or their solicitor. Unfortunately they often continue to use drugs or alcohol or associate with people who are a risk.

This is likely to lead a court to conclude that the parents are unable to provide good enough parenting. That in turn means that the child is likely to suffer significant harm. That harm is due to the parenting they would be given if they lived with their parents. The child’s welfare is the court’s paramount consideration. It has to be satisfied that the level of parenting is good enough. Every child deserves that so that they can grow and reach their potential.

The starting point is for a local authority to look to place a child with their wider birth family if they can’t go to parents. Assessment of any suitable family members are done as soon as possible. It’s only where these are not positive that a placement outside the birth family is sought.

If the local authority have a care plan for adoption, it is far from a rubber stamping exercise by the court. They scrutinise all of the evidence and may come to a different view than the local authority. I have sat on many cases where the court has disagreed with the local authority and not granted the order they were seeking.

Scrutinising the evidence
One case sticks in my mind because it happened when we were thinking about fostering to adopt. Baby had been placed from birth with foster carers who were also approved to adopt. Mum’s history meant that the local authority felt there was too much of a risk if baby lived with her. She agreed to baby being in care following it’s birth. At the final hearing, mum contested the local authority’s care plan for adoption. The Guardian and the court disagreed that the evidence showed that mum still remained a risk. The care order with a plan for adoption wasn’t granted. After further work, baby went to live with mum who had completely turned her life around. In the end a supervision order was made to support mum and her child.

If the media are to be believed, stories like that don’t happen. Once a local authority has a plan for adoption, that is it. Child is adopted, end of story.

The granting of a care order with a plan for adoption following a contested hearing is something which courts don’t do lightly. They consider the evidence very carefully and are acutely aware of the implications for everyone if they conclude it isn’t safe for a child to live with it’s birth family throughout their childhood. It’s a decision which is often made with a heavy heart.

The system isn’t perfect, but it is constantly being improved. There is no doubt it is a draconian order to grant an adoption order against the wishes of birth parents. What is the alternative though? Placing a child with their birth family who are putting them at risk and can’t provide good enough parenting? Or leave them in foster care for the entirety of their childhood? Long term foster care is the best option for some children, but not for all. Younger children in particular need to be part of a forever family to enable them to thrive and reach their potential.

Contact
Direct contact with the birth family is always considered as part of the court proceedings. That is where siblings meet up on a regular basis. For most children, however, the conclusion is that this wouldn’t give them the best possible chance of forming lasting and strong attachments with their forever family. I don’t think this is explored enough and is an area where improvements can be made.

The statistics show the number of children placed for adoption is very small compared to the number in care. 70,440 children were in the care of a local authority in March 2016. Of those, 2940 were placed for adoption.

It seems that whatever a local authority does, it is wrong in the eyes of the media. Leaving a child with unfit parents can have fatal consequences for a child. There are far too many cases where this is the heartbreaking truth. However, when children are placed in care and ultimately adopted because of the level of risk, that is wrong too.

Of course the media should report about newsworthy cases. We live in a democracy and freedom of speech is a key part of that. My point is, make sure what is reported is accurate and gives a balanced view.

The worst part about how “forced adoption” is portrayed by media is the impact it can have on adopted children. They are completely innocent in all of this. The decision as to where they live throughout their childhood isn’t theirs to make. Inaccurate reporting of what leads to adoption can give them and their peers the wrong information. It can also give an unrealistic view of what their birth family is like.

In an ideal world, we would all be good enough parents. Unfortunately, the sad reality is a long way from that which means contested adoption is necessary. It is necessary to protect children who are at risk and give them the best chance of reaching their potential.

21 COMMENTS

  1. I’m really sorry about that comment on your blog. I think some people have a hard time accepting responsibility for their role in the process (i.e. Having a child removed due to abuse or neglect then failing to follow a plan to get better) This is a great post!

      • i disagree with what is said i have been through it with my daughter social services lied in court. my daughter as been a good mother to all her children a social worker told court she had been done for knife crimes and gun crimes in past and had hit her son over head with hammer. they took her children she had all the evidence it was false allegations but was not aloud to show it in court so you tell me how is this justice them poor children have suffered by the hands of social services even now they are still telling all authorities she hit her son with hammer how is that right

  2. I love this blog post. Sometimes people make insensitive comments without trying to realise other’s perspectives. I would not take it to heart and remember that you have all of us supporting you 🙂 Your post has been thoroughly informative as before this I knew nothing of the adoption system. I agree that the media really do put a spin on certain things (I even wrote an entire dissertation on media bias!) and it is sad to see how much our perspective is coloured by the media presented to us!
    Aneeq

  3. My baby boys were adopted through a contested adoption and appeal, can I just point out the paragraph in which u comment about it being like a criminal trial and that if the judge “finds us birth parents guilty ” adoption is granted, what you failed to mention is that family courts are secret and there is no jury unlike criminal courts !!!!!

  4. I have no doubt in my mind that local government social work departments are getting far to many of the most important facts in life very wrong and that Many loved and loving children are being forcibly adopted away from loved and loving parents FACT.

  5. What a very interesting perspective. I have often wondered exactly what adoptive parents are being told.

    I was in a Mother and baby placement for 7 months. The ex manager of the LA I was assessed by was my ISW, she stated that I should go home with my Son, and that if that were not allowed to happen, the SS themselves became the risk to my Son. I had two good psych reports. Then my Mum died whilst I was being supervised, and the judge called me a victim of circumstance due to the effect my Mums death had on my case. My Auntie is an SW and said that if I were to leave the placement, that she could have me at her home 3-4 times a week when she had her Grandchildren. My Sister was also approved (as a back up option) by another ISW who stated my Son should live with her. Yet he has still been adopted. The SW said my sister at a size 16, was too fat to care for my Son, yet his adoptive female parent was so large, she had to heave herself up off the sofa when we met. You can imagine my confusion that my Sister who was half her size was refused for her weight, and the female adopter wasn’t.

    Lucky for me I kept the entire court bundle, and all the covert recordings I made of the SW and foster carers bullying of me. I also recorded my meeting with the adopters where I sit and cry to them ‘please don’t take my baby, I love him. I haven’t done anything wrong, he’s mine, I want him back’, the SW couldn’t wrap the meeting up quick enough, but at least the adopters never get to pretend that I didn’t tell them I had done nothing wrong.

    I wonder how you explain to a child that they were adopted, not for abuse or neglect. but for a vague prophecy that there is a risk that in the future they will be ’emotionally harmed’. Even more so for my Son, who gets to read the ex manager of the team who assessed my saying categorically that he should remain with me, and furthermore the report that states categorically he should live with my Sister if not I.

    The adoptive parents, like a lot of them, lied and said that they would consider contact, and when I asked for it, it was refused. That however is okay, because I get to add the recording of the SW telling me that they refused, and even asked how to prevent me from seeing him after he is 18, to all the evidences that I have to give to him.

    ‘Forced adoption is a term that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up’ – mine too.

  6. Makes me sick!!! Iv had three children forcibly adopted .. and social services lied to me and did it and once they were legally adopted the rash i took my son to hospital for on his ears ( accordin to them i pulled and pinched his ears) absolute bs! Turns out it was actually a mild form of msa and salmonella… they have proof bit because they are already legally adopted i cant get my children back!!!! Its ir reversable!!! So my children have to grow up without their biological family all because social servi es had targets to meet and chose my children to help fulfill there targets through lies and twisting things that never even happened.. i had my 2 year old remove at birth !!! You people are so gullable ..

  7. i would very much welcome the lady who writes these articles to get in touch with me so maybe in future you could write one from the birth parents point of view , just so tour readers get a balanced view from all angles of the process of a contested adoption, I am not a hostile mum out for revenge on adopters or ss, and I am all for adoption for children that GENUINELY need it , but please readers don’t always be so gullible in believing everything ss write or tell u about us is always true!

      • @ Amy Oglaza
        There are millions of parents and relatives in the Real World affected by Forced Adoption, all sharing the same heartache, you are certainly not alone. Years ago we the people of Middlesbrough,Cleveland and the False sex abuse accusations, being uncovered sd totally wrong, had no idea this would be re-placed by probability/possibility accusations and the explosion of such a corrupt system ending in the largest ‘INDUSTRY’ drain on this countries wealth

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