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BASW rejects Daily Mail fears about the trouble with baby Chardonnays

BASW has responded to media stories about social workers standing in the way of adopted parents being able to change the name of the children they adopt by emphasising the importance of maintaining identity to a child who has been through significant upheaval. The Association also highlighted concern that the issue of class is a notable factor in a media storm which focused particular attention on children with original birth names that potential middle class adopters may not like.

The story emerged from a Daily Mail story, on 7 May, headlined ‘Scandal of the babies parents won’t adopt because they’re called Chrystal and Chardonnay . . . and the social workers who won’t let them change their names’. It centred on a ‘whistleblower’, a member of an adoption board who cited the instance of a baby called Chardonnay who, the anonymous source suggested, ‘will struggle to be placed’ because social workers won’t let the name be changed.

BASW professional officer Sue Kent said the story was hugely overstating the potential significance of the issue. “The idea that an unwillingness to change adopted children’s names is the cause of delay is just silly,” she argued. “As an adoption order replaces the child’s birth certificate there is always the opportunity to change the name but quite rightly most adopters respect the child’s identity and the only thing they can often salvage from their childhood with their birth family – their name.

“This article focuses on the adults concerns, as opposed to the child’s emotional welfare, and recognition of their need to feel a valued individual at the point of adoption. A baby at the age of one will usually respond to their name and identify with it. Children whose names have changed in the past have often gone back to find out their birth names and it is not unusual for them to revert back to it when able to do so.”

The source in the Mail story indicated, however, that the issue was a major problem for would-be middle class adopters. The source stated: “In the past few years it has become standard practice for social workers to recommend that the birth name be retained, a suggestion which is then rubber-stamped by the judge at adoption.”

The source added: “Changing the name is something adoptive parents almost always want to do, especially if they already have birth children of their own. Naturally you want a new child to blend in with your existing family – but will Chardonnay ever fit in with Henry, James and William? No.”

BASW’s Nushra Mansuri offered a stinging attack on the article’s implication that children from poor social circumstances “should be ‘cleansed’ of their backgrounds, rescued by their social betters and be able to offer a ‘blank canvas’ for their adoptive families”.

A frustrated BASW member contacted the Association to add her views to a story which was subsequently picked up elsewhere in print and broadcast media. “What we need to focus on is helping adopters understand that supporting a child’s longer term stability and permanence with them is about looking to preserve and appreciate aspects of their past. The name is one which should be preserved.”

Sue Kent pointed to Article 8 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the right to an identity, and emphasised that “many adoption breakdowns have been seen to be associated to identity confusion”.

She continued: “There has always been, and remains, the scope to include other names to enable adopters to embrace their belonging to the child and vice versa but research shows that children’s emotional resilience is better promoted if they are able to make sense of their past and understand the dilemma their family were in that resulted in them coming into care. Sometimes the dilemma is a difficult story to tell. Not doing so can result in a child regarding the issue as personal, as if it was because of them and who they were that they had to be adopted.

“A change of name may well lead to the creation by the child of a self-inflicted story of blame and rejection for being themselves.”