Not all News International journalists will have reason to feel very proud today but those at The Times are entitled to do so. The paper has published as a supplement (£) a report from Martin Narey, the former Chief Executive of Barnado's, making the case for more children to be placed for adoption and full of ideas for how to bring that about.
There is a wealth of interesting material. One of the greatest scandal is that the supposedly "anti racist" policy of insisting on an ethnic match in placements has led to the most astonishingly damaging racial discriminsation against black children left in the care system.
White children in care are three times more likely to be adopted than black children.
Black as opposed to BME children fare particularly badly. When a child is taken into care, the decision on whether to pursue adoption should be taken after six months. It is troubling enough that for white children that decision is not taken for 11 months. It is indefensible for black children to wait 17 months for that decision. For those who are eventually adopted, being black extends the time lag to adoption by almost a year (345 days). Worst of all, the option that we know offers the best prospects for a child’s future, adoption, is extended to only about 10 per cent of black children leaving care and only about 15 per cent of Asian children, while 35 per cent of white children leaving care become adopted.
Narey suggests that data be published so that councils be named and shamed for the gao in outcomes according to children from different ethnic groups. I suspect that would not be enough and that there needs to be a legal prohibition on seeking an ethnic match in circusmstances where it would be likely to cause delay.
He also tackles the myth that adoption has a high failure rate.
Over some years, and as chief executive of Barnardo’s, I was told frequently of the tragic experiences of children adopted from Romanian orphanages and the very high breakdown rates as damaged children wore out parents unable to compensate for the harshness of the treatment experienced by these babies and young children while in public care in Romania.
These children’s treatment in Romania was certainly harsh. As Professor Michael Rutter described in 1998, this was the experience of children in Romanian orphanages which was exposed by the fall of
Ceausescu in 1989:
In most instances the children were mainly confined to cots; there were very few toys or playthings, and sometimes none at all; there was very little talk from caregivers; no personalised caregiving; children were fed gruel by bottles using teats with large holes, often left propped up without any caregiver being involved; and there was a variable, but sometimes harsh, physical environment. The children were often washed down by being hosed with cold water.
Professor Rutter followed the fortunes of 165 of these children adopted into the UK and aged up to three and a half years old, but concentrated on those (98 of the sample) who had lived in these appalling conditions until at least the age of six months. They were followed until they reached their 14th birthday.
It is significant to point out that at the time these adoptions took place their failure was widely predicted. Many local authorities did all they could to prevent them from taking place and in the event some of these children, immensely challenging as they were, became adopted by parents who would not have been approved for the adoption of a UK child, perhaps because they were too old or they had children already. This encouraged the dire predictions of catastrophe and — as I experienced subsequently — confident assertions that the predicted breakdowns had indeed occurred.
When arriving in the UK the children provided an immense challenge. Rutter described the children as having a developmental level that was severely impaired. But while other studies followed the fortunes of those children who remained in Romanian institutions and whose psychological impairment did continue, Rutter found that in all cases the children adopted into the UK caught up developmentally, and of the 165 children studied there were only two breakdowns.
It is a serious piece of work. Lots of areas are covered. There is criticism of Special Guardianships (where children are placed with relatives when a clean break would be in their interests). Why are not women planning abortion encouraged to consider adoption instead? I don't agree with all of it. There is too much emphasis placed on child being placed in the care system being better than left with a disastrous heroin addict birth mother. (That is true but both scenarios are pretty disastrous, That is why adoption needs to be pushed.) Narey has some anti localist ideas about the answer being for councils to be told it is a "priority" for the Prime Minister – but incentives would probably be more effective.
However taken as a whole this is a really important. Narey is optimistic that a "dramatic increase" in adoptions can be achieved. His report will help make that a reality.