There was a disgraceful letter (£) to The Times published on Wednesday. Written by Andrew Flanagan (CEO, NSPCC) Natasha Finlayson (CEO, The Who Cares? Trust) Robert Tapsfield (CEO, The Fostering Network) it included:
It is critical the Government does not put a desire to increase the number of adoptive parents ahead of thinking how best to find long-term stable homes for all children in care. Adoption will only be the option for a minority of children in care and the needs of the majority must not be neglected.
There is the assumption that reducing the number of children in care and securing better treatment for the remaining number are in some way mutually exclusive. Yet the Government is seeking to secure both. The letter also contains the entirely false implication that the Government's motive in placing more children for adoption is not primarily to advance the interests of the children concerned.
Then we have the casually defeatist assertion, made without evidence, that "adoption will only be the option for a minority of children in care." In Hammersmith and Fulham in 2004 we had 435 children in care. As of March this year it was 223 – with determination to achieve a further substantial fall.
My personal view, having served on the Adoption Panel and met many of the "Looked After Children" as well as prospective adopters, is that we could and should halve the number again. Wandsworth has a "Looked After Children" population, as measured per 10,000 children, that is half ours (40 as opposed to 79.)
Of course there will be lots of different factors and local variations. Yet would anyone who is serious about wanting to achieve as big a reduction as possible in the numbers of children in care start out with this glib claim that adoption for a majority of them is impossible?
The letters' authors also completely distort proposals from the Government on placing siblings for adoption – often this will be in the interests of the children but not always. Often siblings are in care but with different foster carers.
The Government's consultation paper notes:
The Children’s Care Monitor 2011 report indicates that 59% of children and young people in care had at least one brother or sister who was also in care. Nearly three quarters (73%) of those children were placed separately from brothers or sisters. 92% of those who had been placed together with their siblings thought this had been right in their case. 41% of those who had been separated from one or more of their siblings thought that this was right in their case.
In that context it is sometimes in the interest of a child to be placed for adoption even if their siblings are placed with a different family.
The letter writers also complain about the Government's proposals to "reduce contact between children and birth parents." They don't add that what the consultation says is that rather than being a presumption for this contact it "should only be agreed where it is in the best interests of the child." That proposal is quite right. There have been far too many cases of contact arrangements being kept in place despite causing harm. A child being obliged to go along to a social worker's office, and the birth mother not turning up, is a frequent scenario – but by no means the worst.
The Who Cares? Trust (President: Jon Snow) is staffed by a bunch of social workers and claims to represent children in care. They certainly don't seem very interested in representing those Looked After Children who would welcome the chance of a permanent loving home. Various local councils fund the Trust including Redbridge, Wiltshire, Kensington and Chelsea and Hertfordshire.
The claims of the Trust to be representative are based on them producing magazines sent out to Looked After children. But the subscriptions are paid for in bulk by local councils who then send them out unsolicited. A terrible waste of money.
Judging by the Looked After children I have come across, the Trust's anti-adoption stance would not be representative. Certainly, after much emotional turmoil. the children tend to agree they are better off in care than the disastrous arrangement they were rescued from. But they also spot the disadvantages compared to adoption. They don't want the stigma of taxis taking them home from school, or being called out of class for social worker visits. They don't like being shunted from one foster carer to another – then shunted out on their 18th birthday. They don't want social workers visiting them at home every six weeks and their foster carer unable to agree to school trips or sleep overs without higher authority.
So in opposing adoption the Who Cares? Trust is betraying the interests of those they claim to represent.
The Fostering Network again is a state funded "charity" that spends lots of money on lobbying – yet another piece in a depressingly familiar pattern.
The NSPCC does a fine job blowing the whistle on child abuse. Taking children into care is a necessary response to this (indeed should often be done much sooner as the Baby Peter scandal highlighted.) But then placing those children for adoption as fast as possible after that is also key to reducing the level of child abuse – for instance in Rochdale. The NSPCC duly expressed concern – but does it not occur to them that minimising the number of children in children's homes should be one of the responses?
The NSPCC, which receives £19 million a year of taxpayers' money, spends a lot of money on lobbying. Furthermore they are lobbying for some polices that would not be in the interests of the most disadvantaged children in our country.