Birmingham City Council have published a survey of adoption applicants. There are some sensible recommendations on some of the criticisms raised. So it is an interesting document and it is to the credit of the council that the research was undertaken and that it was published. Let's hope that action indicates a desire to change. Many of the concerns raised will not be unique to Birmingham.
But I'm afraid it does show the most widespread and horrendous prejudice in the council against adoption – at least hitherto. Those wishing to adopt a child seek to provide that child with a permanent loving home rather than being shunted around the care system. Those offering to adopt should be given every possible welcome and encouragement. Their applications should be pursued as a matter of urgency. I fear, to put it mildly, this has not been the experience in Birmingham.
As the Daily Mail has highlighted the report says:
There were several reports of adopters being told they would need to give up work. One participant left the process because of this.
We often hear about black children being kept in care rather than be placed with white couples – the refusal to allow "transracial adoption." In Birmingham children are also kept in care if there isn't a religious match. The report says:
One participant spoke of their experience of rigid matching on religious criteria. The adopter from an Asian origin, was very open to a trans-religious adoption (e.g. would adopt a Muslim child), knowing their own religion – Hindu – is not common amongst children waiting. However, they were told there was a low chance of a trans-religious adoption and an adopter of the same religion as a Muslim child (e.g. Somali) would have more chance of adopting them.
The adopter found this experience very frustrating, particularly given the low level of Asian adopters in the city, and stressed the similarities between their culture and that of many Asian Muslim children.
At the time of the Research, this adopter was still waiting to be matched after over two years in the process.
So far as the Kafkaesque preoccupation with "ethnic matching", the report said:
A white couple who reported they had no ethnicity preference ticked ‘white’ on the ‘preference form’. They said this was subsequently highlighted in a negative manner by different members of staff during the process. They felt judged but pointed out there was nowhere on the form to select ‘no preference’.
There were also several examples of participants who felt they experienced rigid matching and felt the Service would not consider them for transracial adoptions: “We feel we were quite broad minded … However we were effectively barred from … adopting non-white children by the system?!” “…suggested I was not going to be able to adopt…given my rather unusual ethnicity. I was basically told they did not have many X children to be adopted. I had not asked for X children” “We are now in the matching stage. Despite our NOT stipulating a preference for white UK children. These were all we were considered for … although my husband and I have the skills and ability to help a child understand their heritage”
In one case, a mixed White/Black African applicant, who appeared physically white, wanted to be matched with a mixed ethnicity child. On ‘paper’ they said they generated a lot of interest, but once photographs were exchanged interest often declined. “…on paper, I think lots of social workers thought, ‘Oh that’s good’ and sent stuff through and whenever they got a photo of us, they all went quiet and in the end our social worker didn’t send a photo”.
The general message from this report was of social workers being as negative and obstructive as possible. They would be intrusive, hostile and use delay to push applicants into giving up. Of course it is right to ensure those wishing to adopt are aware of the challenges. But imagine if antenatal classes adopted the same tone?
Several referred to a form listing 42 conditions (or needs) children might have, against which they were asked to indicate whether they would, would not, or may consider adopting children you don’t know what it means to have a child with those symptoms so you are initially sceptical about saying yes to anything – either said no, or maybe”
It was seen as an abstract decision, with little or perhaps no knowledge of the conditions listed and no other information about that potential child they would be adopting, e.g. their wider needs and personality.
“[Its] only when you get to matching process, when you know the child’s needs that you might research it, you can’t study every condition”
Very few participants in the focus groups and interviews felt the children they had adopted had additional needs. This seemed surprising given the messages adopters reported about the high number of children waiting with additional needs. However, some adopters did say they had
been presented with Child Permanency Reports (CPRs) for children with more significant needs and had not agreed to the match, often because they did not feel capable of caring for the child.
Over-emphasis on ‘attachment disorder’, to the point of almost putting people off
Waiting for the required training courses often meant delays of six to nine months. When they occured participants found them unpleasant:
They felt they were being observed and had to watch what they said and did. A staff member was reported to have said:
“…yeah, you are being watched…”
The commenting participants could not recall being told the training was part of the assessment. Two participants said staff had made comments on their suitability to adopt, drawing on ‘observations’ from the training.
One applicant even got a black mark for using her phone to make work calls during the tea break. "They asked if I was sure if I could fit in a child as well as doing my day job.”
So far as being visited by social workers many found the questioning unduly intrusive. For instance one couple were asked:
“How many times a week do you have sex?”
I wonder what the "right answer" is in terms of being allowed to adopt. "Mind your own business," would probably not have helped progress the application.
Among the many who gave up trying to adopt, one commented:
“Realised the impact of allowing social services into our lives [would] impact on our existing children potentially damaging…Adoption process too intrusive and over cautious”
What an terrible catalogue of how vulnerable children in the city are being betrayed. After the abuse and neglect from their own parents they are being thwarted from the fresh start they need.
But don't just blame the Council. They have been given mixed messages. In February an Ofsted report said:
The service does not recruit sufficient adopters to meet the needs of Black children and those of a minority ethnic group. Consequently, this causes delay for these children in finding appropriate adoptive families.
So an endorsement of keeping a child in care unless and until an ethnic match can be found. A disgraceful practice that will soon be illegal.