Adoption Enquiry

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has established a UK-wide enquiry to consider the role of social work in adoption.

The questionnaire for the enquiry’s call for evidence is now online. Please read the associated briefing document and consent form before completing the questionnaire – to find out more about the purpose of the enquiry, what we are asking of you and how we will use and safeguard the information you give to us. We look forward to hearing from as many of you as possible. Please email your completed consent forms and questionnaires to:

Policy developments across the four countries of the United Kingdom differ in the emphasis on adoption as a placement option for children for care. Whilst adoption can provide safe, secure and loving care for some children, the current focus has raised questions, particularly in relation to the non-consensual nature of many adoptions, and its promotion in the context of austerity and cuts to early help, and family support.

Social workers are central to the implementation of adoption policy. They are involved in initiating care proceedings, recommending adoption as a care plan, assessing adopters, matching children and providing post-adoption support. Much attention in social work has been focused on these ‘practice’ issues, and on meeting government-led targets and outcomes. There has been a relative absence of discussion within the profession of the issues of rights and ethics, in what is an increasingly contested and complex area of work.

Adoption entails a profound and permanent change for all those affected: adopted children and adults, birth parents and families, adoptive parents and families. Social workers have a central role in decisions that lead to adoption – in assessing and working with birth parents and with children, in recruiting and assessing adoptive parents, in matching and in post-adoption support. In most cases today, adoption is non-consensual and involves removing the rights and responsibilities of birth parents, and severing the relationship of a child with his or her birth parents and families, most of whom are among the most disadvantaged people in society. Adoption also bestows enormous responsibilities on adoptive families, which many families call for help and resources to meet after adoption orders have been made.

The BASW Code of Ethics for Social Work states:

‘Ethical awareness is fundamental to the professional practice of social workers. Their ability and commitment to act ethically is an essential aspect of the quality of the service offered to those who engage with social workers. Respect for human rights and a commitment to promoting social justice are at the core of social work practice throughout the world.

Social workers have a responsibility to apply the professional values and principles … They should act with integrity and treat people with compassion, empathy and care.’

As the professional association representing social work and social workers it is incumbent on us to ask how should our professional values and ethics guide us in this work? How should our understanding of the unique and equal worth and human rights of everyone involved in an adoption guide us in working in an area where rights are contested and perhaps in conflict?

This enquiry will examine the role of the social worker in adoption, with a particular focus on how ethical issues and human rights legislation are understood and inform practice, and how these relate to pursuing good long-term outcomes for children and their families. It will gather evidence from families and young people involved in the adoption process, social workers and managers, family justice professionals, policy makers and academics using a variety of methods.

The enquiry is about ensuring the best outcomes and experiences for children in care and their families, not just today, but for generations to come.

Independent enquiry team

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

The team will be led by:

Their work will be 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 will include:

An end-of-enquiry report will be published containing a comprehensive literature review, the evidence considered and the findings of the enquiry.

The inquiry will commence in May 2016. For further information and to express an interest please contact:

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 new 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.