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BASW responds to allegations of targeting foreign families for adoption

There have been a number of claims made recently by families, notably from Slovakia, that children have been unfairly taken from their parents by authorities in England, culminating in a protest outside the British Embassy in Bratislava last month.

Commenting on recent claims that families who move to England from Slovakia and Russia are being unfairly targeted to satisfy demand from prospective British adopters, BASW professional officer Sue Kent said:

“It is simply not true that social workers swoop in, take a child and have them adopted just because they feel like it, or because the parents have come from another country. It is not only Slovakian or Russian parents who have made these outlandish claims, parents from the UK can, and do, claim that their children have been unfairly removed on a whim from loving homes. The truth is a lot more complex and involves following strict protocols and legal process.

“It is important to note that in England, social workers are legally prevented from publicly discussing the details of each case, which is often why the media report only the family’s side of the story. Without knowing the full details of each case from both sides, it is very difficult for an outside media organisation to decide on the truth.

“Social workers and other professionals working with all children in England, regardless of their or their parents’ country of origin, are governed by legislation and guidance issued from central government, as is the case in many other countries. This legislation puts the welfare of the child first, not the welfare of the parents.

“In England, social work is undertaken by local councils, who employ social workers to investigate allegations of abuse.

“Following a series of child deaths by family members, a revision of legislation took place, and the Children Act 1989 was designed to address all issues relating to children’s welfare, and this legislation deems the welfare of the child to be the most important consideration.

“Within this legislation, there are clear guidelines which dictate the considerations necessary to ensure a child is safe.

“Any decision to remove a child from their family has to be made by a court of law, following thorough consideration of evidence provided by professionals and family members relating to this ‘welfare checklist’. This covers all aspects of a child’s needs and also their wishes and feelings about their lives.

“It is not only social workers who are involved in assessing whether a child should be removed from their family, but a range of different professionals from education, health, police, etc.

“It is these professionals together, who will consider whether a child is at risk prior to any plan to remove them from their family.

“All social workers will try to keep a child at home wherever possible, recognising that this is where children should be and working with the parents to achieve this goal.

“However, if the risks a child faces in the home are too great, and no progress is possible or evident in moving towards providing a safe and caring home, then an application to court will be made.

“Parents, whatever their background, will be included in the processes leading to any such decision, and have the right to legal representation, and to be heard in all stages, especially in the final decision making process in court.

“Occasionally, mistakes can be made, for example a misdiagnosis of a medical problem as abuse, but this is particularly rare.

“In fact, councils and social workers in England are often criticised for not taking action sooner to remove children from what are considered to be dangerous environments. Our members report that they worry that they do not have the resources to remove enough children from abusive parents, not that they are removing too many.

“This is particularly relevant in neglect cases, where children are not being fed, clothed, housed, or educated properly by their parents.

“The councils have a duty to first consider other family members available to care for a child who cannot remain with their parents, and will make great efforts to do this if it is believed to be in the child’s best interests, before a long term and permanent decision is made.

“In this multi-cultural country, professionals have a growing awareness of different cultural perceptions and practices as our population increases through immigration. There will be times when a social worker is not aware of a particular practice or custom and will learn from the family. The most important consideration will always be the child’s safety, regardless of their family’s country of origin.”