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Lords back BASW against Gove's adoption plans

BASW has been backed by the House of Lords in refuting suggestions by ministers that “politically correct” social workers are causing delays to the adoption of ethnic minority children in England through an apparent obsession with finding the perfect cultural match.

Education secretary Michael Gove has proposed plans to speed up the adoption of ethnic minority children by reforming the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

The changes would remove the current focus on adoption agencies to give consideration to religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background when matching children with prospective adopters.

A House of Lords Select Committee inquiry was set up to scrutinise the proposed legislative change, and heard evidence from a range of organisations and individuals, including BASW.

The Association stressed that issues of race, ethnicity and language cannot be ignored, but denied social workers routinely place undue focus on this at the expense of finding good matches.

The Select Committee’s pre-legislative review concluded: “We have heard evidence that delay is sometimes caused by the search for a perfect ethnic match, although it is unclear how widespread the problem is.

“Overall, the evidence we have received does not suggest that this is such a significant problem that legislative change is necessary.”

On the issue of ethnic matches, the report concludes: “We share the Government’s belief that children should not experience undue delay whilst a search for a perfect or near perfect ethnic match takes place. We do not, however, believe that considerations of race, religion, culture and language should be neglected altogether, as they are all components of a child’s identity.”

The committee recommended that a “welfare checklist”, including matters of ethnicity, religious and cultural background and language, should be embodied into any reform of the Act.

BASW professional officer Sue Kent welcomed the findings. “It is so refreshing that we have some parts of our system which are listening to us.

“Over the last few months we have heard Mr Gove and his colleagues suggest social workers have been slow in matching children and moving adoptions to completion. He claimed this is putting off prospective adopters and this is why there is a shortage of about seven children per one adopter at present.

“But after hearing evidence from a range of parties, including BASW, the Select Committee concluded that children’s ethnicity is extremely important in developing a successful identity and every effort should be made to ensure adopters can meet these needs.”

Ms Kent said if ministers wanted to speed up the adoption of ethnic minority children, they would be better off putting more resources into the system.

“We need more social workers to allow the time to train and assess prospective adopters; Cafcass workers to address adoption cases in court; better administration; more efficient family courts and increased support both pre-adoption and post-adoption.”

The Select Committee’s findings will come as a blow to ministers pushing for reform.

Unveiling the Draft Legislation on Adoption in November, Mr Gove said: “Edicts which say children have to be adopted by families with the same ethnic background and which prevent other families adopting because they don’t fit leftwing prescriptions are denying children the love they need. This misguided nonsense punishes those who most need our help.”

BASW, in its submission to the Select Committee inquiry, challenged this view, stating: “We are disturbed that recent government comments about this give rise to unhelpful stereotypes of social workers as being overly rigid as a result of ‘political correctness’. This is not the case but certainly plays into the hands of some of our less well informed colleagues in the media.”

BASW professional officer Nushra Mansuri said though it was right for adoption agencies to consider a child’s ethnic and cultural background, this did not mean they could only be placed with adopters with the same ethnicity.

“It means they need to be placed with adopters who are sensitive to all their needs and possess the skills, knowledge and understanding to help them to build positive identities.”

* Look out for an indepth interview with the government’s “adoption tsar” Martin Narey in February’s issue of PSW.