Adoption Enquiry

We are delighted to share the report of the BASW Enquiry into the role of the social worker in adoption – ethics and human rights. Adoption is a life changing event – for the children concerned, their birth parents, siblings, grandparents, extended family and adoptive families – and has been promoted strongly by governments across the UK in recent years, in England most of all.

However, adoption is also one of the most controversial areas of social policy. Around 5000 children are currently adopted annually from care across the UK but the number has varied significantly in recent years.

The higher rate of care proceedings and adoption involving children from families that are particularly disadvantaged – by poverty, social trauma, mental health difficulties or learning disability, for instance – is an ethical and practice concern for social workers, not least because it raises questions about the adequacy of support and protection of human rights of parents.

Against this backdrop, in 2016 BASW commenced this Enquiry into adoption in all four jurisdictions of the UK, enabling important comparisons between the different care and judicial systems.

This Enquiry into sensitive and complex areas of practice is a start to further discussions and debate about improvements, not an end.

The Enquiry aimed to create safe spaces to hear the experiences and views of everyone involved. We invite readers to respond to the messages in this report in the same spirit and keep the open debate going amongst all who have a stake in adoption.

Read the full report

Read BASW's response to the report

Background documents

Briefing paper 1

Briefing paper 2

Briefing paper 3

Briefing papers - references

Methodology sections

Questionnaires, interviews and focus groups

Reaction to the Adoption Enquiry

Adoption has been a particularly politicised and contentious area of public policy for many years, so an Enquiry as extensive as this was always likely to attract strong, sometimes opposing, views. BASW are pleased that the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) have recognised the importance of this report, as well as highlighting one of the main findings in austerity policies worsening the outcomes from all involved in adoption.

Alison Michalska, President of ADCS, said: “This report raises some important questions worthy of further debate, not least in relation to the cumulative impact of wider government policies, exacerbated by financial austerity, on our most vulnerable children and families…it is imperative that the Adoption Support Fund is sustainable in the long term to ensure the funding of vital support services to meet the needs of children and their families.”

ADCS comment can be found here.

The launch of the Adoption Enquiry in relation to the negative impact of austerity policies on the most vulnerable in society was picked up by ITV 10pm news on Friday 20th January, available to see here for a limited time.

The Guardian have also reported on the Enquiry, while Community Care's coverage has focused on ethics-based practice and the Enquiry’s call for a review of the current model of adoption.

Independent enquiry team

BASW commissioned a distinguished independent enquiry team to conduct this work.

The team was led by:

Their work was supported by an advisory group representing key voices and interests, including a birth parent, adult adoptee, adoptive parent, a senior member of the legal profession, and expert social work practitioners and academics.

BASW has appointed a steering group to oversee the work, reporting to the Policy Ethics and Human Rights Committee and to BASW Council. We are grateful to Dr Ruth Allen, Dr Lauren Devine, Janice McGhee, Maggie Mellon and Allan Norman for undertaking this work.

The Enquiry gathered evidence using a mixed methodology, which included:

PhD, MA (Social and Community Work Studies), BA (Hons), CQSW, Diploma in Applied Social Studies.

Professor of Social Work, School of Human and Health Sciences, University of Huddersfield (2015 to present)

Professor Featherstone worked as a social worker and team manager in the areas of youth offending and child protection for ten years before becoming an academic. She has been a respite foster carer since 2003.

Her research has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Nuffield Foundation, local authorities and a wide range of charities. Her research interests include: families’ perspectives on child protection and family support services, engaging fathers, and the challenges for services and the impact of deprivation on children’s chances of becoming looked after.  Her publications include eleven books, forty-five peer-reviewed articles and twenty-five chapters.

She has been an adviser to a wide range of charities and local authorities in the UK and Ireland on child protection and family support. She has been invited to lecture in a range of countries including: Australia, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Malta, Spain and New Zealand.

Professor Featherstone was confirmed as a Fellow of the Academic of Social Sciences in 2014 in recognition of her esteemed contribution to the social sciences.

PhD, MA in Child Protection Studies, BSW (distinction) and BA (Hons)

Anna Gupta is a Senior Lecturer in Social Work at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she teaches on the MSc in Social Work and post-qualifying programmes. She is a registered social worker and throughout her academic career has maintained a link to practice in the family courts, initially as a Children’s Guardian, and then as an ISW/expert witness. Ms Gupta has undertaken research and published articles on a range of subjects linked to child care and protection practice, including work in the family courts, poverty and social work, and practice with black and minority ethnic children and families.

EhD, PGDip Applied Systemic Theory, CCETSW Approved Social Worker Training, MA Social Work (distinction), BA (Hons)

Prior to her role as BASW Chief Executive Dr Allen served as the Director of Social Work at South West London and St Georges’ Mental Health NHS Trust (2007-2016), as the Head of Social Care for Hertfordshire Partnership NHS Trust (2004-2007) and as Integration Manager for Tower Hamlets and the local Health Trust (2002-2004). Her career to date demonstrates values-based leadership in social work and social care with a commitment to transforming social work practice at both a national and local level.

Dr Allen’s ongoing dedication to social work practice has led her to co-chair the Practice Advisory Group to the Chief Social Worker for Adults (for the continuation of the work of the mental health and adults faculties of The College of Social Work), to chair the Social Care Strategic Network for Mental Health and to be the co-developer and facilitator for the Excellence in Social Work Leadership programme, alongside being a recognised author in social work and a practice development consultant.

Dr Allen holds a Master's degree in Social Work, with distinction, from the University of Sussex and a Professional Doctorate in Education, also awarded by the University of Sussex. She is also actively involved in current social work research through her research fellowship with St George’s University.

Dr Lauren Devine is a Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of the West of England, Bristol and is project lead for the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) transformative funded project Rethinking Child Protection Strategy. Her forthcoming book The Limits of State Power & Private Rights: Exploring Child Protection & Safeguarding Referrals & Assessments will be published by Routledge in 2016.

Dr Devine was called to the Bar in 1998.  She subsequently completed an M.Phil in Child Protection and Adoption Law and Policy at the University of Bristol before completing an MA (Research Methods) and a PhD at the University of Birmingham.

Dr Devine researches and writes on questions of child protection, safeguarding and social welfare and has a particular interest in adoption.

Janice McGhee is Senior Lecturer in Social Work in the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh and has substantial social work practice experience within social services for children and adults.

Ms McGhee’s, primary teaching responsibilities are in relation to social work law and child development. Her longstanding research interests relate to child welfare policy and law and child protection. She has written extensively on the Scottish children's hearings system. Current research interests are focused on the use of administrative data for research in child welfare and protection and she leads the social work strand of the Administrative Data Research Centre.

Together with a longstanding collaborator she continues to explore practitioner-parent relations from social science and philosophical perspectives. Recent publications explore the contribution of longitudinal research in considering how best to meet the needs of children for care and protection, McGhee, J., Mitchell, F., Daniel, B., and Taylor, J. (2015), Taking a Long View in Child Welfare: How Can We Evaluate Intervention and Child Wellbeing Over Time? Child Abuse Rev., 24: 95–106 doi: 10.1002/car.2268 and an edited collection considers new directions in safeguarding children, Waterhouse, L. and McGhee, J. (2015) Challenging Child Protection. New Directions in Safeguarding Children, London: Jessica Kingsley.

MSc, CQSW, Dip SW, Dip Child Protection

Maggie Mellon is a registered social worker with extensive experience in Scotland and in England, mainly in children and family work. She works independently as an expert witness, case reviewer, in supporting parents and families to have a say and to defend their best interests. She writes and presents widely on social and criminal justice, and is actively involved in criminal justice reform initiatives particularly on women and young people.

Ms Mellon is a member of the editorial board of Scottish Justice Matters and has held senior and practitioner posts in Edinburgh and London since qualifying in 1977. She was BASW UK Vice Chair, April 2014-16 and chaired the Policy, Ethics and Human Rights Committee, Ms Mellon remains a BASW member.

Ms Mellon was formerly Director of Services with Children 1st in Scotland (2005-9), during which time she promoted and extended the use of family group conferencing in Scotland, and Head of Public Policy for Children Action in Scotland (1999-2004).

MA (distinction), BSocSc, RSW

Allan Norman, independent social worker and non-practicing solicitor was formerly Principal Solicitor and Social Worker at Birmingham Law Centre, and then in his own practice, Celtic Knot. He qualified as a social worker 25 years ago, and as a solicitor ten years later. Celtic Knot is now his independent social work practice, from where he specialises in the interface of social work and the law. He writes and blogs as Celtic Knot, and has written and lectured widely in this area. He is an Associate at the University of Birmingham. Allan is a member of BASWs Policy Ethics and Human Rights Commitee. He is currently writing a book on Human Rights due to be published in 2016.