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Views on adoption from an adoptive mum and Adoption Panel Member

November 2, 2011

We’ve heard a great deal recently about delays in the Adoption
Service.  Much of the press response to
this has been based on myths and misunderstandings.  For example, unless a baby is relinquished by
its parents for adoption at birth, there is a statutory duty on the courts to
carry out procedures which take AT LEAST one year to complete.  It is therefore impossible for contested
adoptions to take less than one year. This is the real reason why so few babies are adopted.

However, the  elephant in this particular room and the chief reason for the delay in placing
children for adoption lies with the courts.  To take a child from its parents is a very serious decision and is,
rightly, treated very seriously by judges.  However, those concerned with adoption are increasingly frustrated by
the courts’ apparent unwillingness to trust the professional judgement of  social workers but instead to commission assessment after assessment of parents
who have clearly failed their children and who show no reasonable prospect of  change within the child’s timescales.

Even when  psychiatric and family centre assessments have been carried out and recommend
the child’s placement for adoption, further assessments are often commissioned
at the behest of the parents’ solicitors when it is clear to all concerned that
these will lead to the same conclusions.

Judges want to  leave no avenue unexplored before terminating parental rights and this is
highly understandable. However, the effect is to leave children in limbo with
no clarity about their future and no real prospect of effective therapy until a  decision is made and their future is clear. Their chance to transfer to a
loving and permanent family is delayed, often beyond the point when the
‘attachment window’ is closing so that therapeutic work and repair is much more
difficult and less sure of success.

Children who are neglected suffer significant harm in the care of their parents. This
harm doesn’t necessarily show in the form of bruises or burns but is none the
less damaging and much longer lasting than physical blows. Failure to attach to
significant adults in the early years of life affects children’s ability to
learn, to make relationships, to empathise with others, to understand causes
and consequences and to live in society as a responsible adult. The burden of
proof that children have suffered and are suffering these consequences is much
too high. This benefits parents, whose rights are taken seriously and who do
not lose their children without due process, but it deeply harms children who
wait too long for justice and for security and stability – the essential
foundation stones of their lives.

These delays are  unnecessary. They flow partly from a culture which does not trust social
workers to do their jobs properly and partly from the deep reluctance of the
courts to take the ‘draconian’ decision to remove children from their parents.
This misunderstanding of ‘the right to family life’ causes immense damage to
children and gives failing parents a wrong understanding of their position. If
children’s welfare is indeed paramount, then their right to family life must be
interpreted as a right to a family which will provide them with the essential
benefits of family life: food, warmth, stimulation, boundaries and
socialisation and, above all, love. Where birth parents cannot provide these
things it is a tragedy for them. It doesn’t have to be a permanent tragedy for
their children if robust decisions are taken at a sufficiently early stage and
with children’s interests truly in focus.

Jan
Burnell,
Independent Member, East Essex Adoption Panel
(in a personal capacity)

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