Peter Hitchens, in his book The Abolition of Britain, says:
“The spread of central heating and double glazing has allowed even close-knit families to avoid each other’s company in well-warmed houses, rather than huddling round a single hearth forced into unwanted companionship, and so compelled to adapt to each other’s foibles and become more social, less selfish beings.”
Some thought this meant he advocated the abolition of central heating. This was a misinterpretation. But certainly, the traditional stereotype of the family is less likely to be reflected in reality. Not just due to technological change – but also, of course, divorce and family separation. Christmas is when that sentimental vision is most likely to be measured against our contemporary lives.
What will Christmas be like for the children in care? Naturally, experiences will vary. I’m sure foster carers will generally make an effort to provide some festive cheer. But the typical experience for children in care is being shunted about. From foster carer, back to the “birth mother”, and when that doesn’t work out, it’s off to a new foster carer. Clothes and belongings chucked into a couple of black plastic bin bags and off in a minicab to yet another new quarters. An endless cycle of “placements”. Many of these children (I would argue the large majority of them) could and should be provided with the permanent, loving home that being adopted would mean. Instead, for these children, Christmas will often mean a cruel reminder of their status – and yet more disruption and conflict.
When Michael Gove served as Education Secretary, there was no doubting his sincerity in wishing to see the adoption rate increase. For him, it was personal. As he said when seeking to become Prime Minister a couple of years ago:
“The first four months of my life were spent in care, before I was adopted by my wonderful parents – my mum and dad – Ernie and Christine.
They went on to adopt my sister, who is profoundly deaf, and invested both of us with a love and support that informs everything I do today.
I remember my mum explaining to me what adoption meant when I was still at primary school. “Son,” she said to me, “you didn’t grow under my heart, you grew in it.”
Whatever else I know, I know that if you invest love and care in any individual you can help them to make a difference, to write their own life story.”
Yet I’m afraid that Gove, and his successors as Education Secretary, have failed in this respect. After some very modest progress, the situation is actually getting worse. The blob has triumphed. The latest statistics make for grim reading:
“At 31 March 2018, there were 75,420 looked after children in England, up four per cent on 31 March 2017….3,820 children ceased to be looked after due to adoption, a decrease of 13% on 2017, continuing the drop in numbers seen last year and down from a peak of 5,360 adoptions in 2015.”
Most of these children in care (or “looked after” children) are with foster carers. About 11 per cent are in institutional care, Children’s Homes, which is much worse for them and much more expensive for the taxpayer.
Three years ago, I concluded that the Government’s mission to champion an increase in adoption had not succeeded. Since then, it would seem to have given up even trying.
This does not mean that the miserable trend must inevitably continue. But any transformational change will not be achieved if arrangements are left to the discretion of social workers. The social work establishment is quite open in its ideological hostility to adoption. What is required is a change in the law so that there is a presumption in favour of adoption, rather than the massive presumption against which operates at present. This is provided the law is clear that the prejudices of social workers and judges can be overcome.
Keeping so many children trapped in care is not just a tragedy for them. It is a national tragedy. It should not be regarded as a fringe issue. One of most effective ways to defeat crime would be to boost adoption. A quarter of prisoners spent their childhoods in care. That equates to children in care being 50 times more likely to end up in prison when they grow up than other children. Only six per cent of children in care will go to university. Apparently, that means that these children are more likely to end up in prison than university. That is a disastrous outcome not just for them, but for the rest of us. One might call it a “burning injustice”. But it is not something the Prime Minister has shown much interest in. I hope that her successor will give it greater attention.