BASW’s vice chair Maggie Mellon has described a fall in adoption orders following two landmark family court judgements as an opportunity to stop and think about what is really happening in the lives of our most vulnerable children.
In a response to figures cited in The Independent newspaper showing that while the number of children becoming looked after by English councils had risen by 18%, the rate of adoptions fell from 1,550 in the summer of 2013 to 780 in the summer of 2014, Ms Mellon said adoption was not the answer to rising poverty and inequality, and it was the flow of children into care that needs to be stemmed.
Ms Mellon said recent judgements from both Lord Justice Munby Re B-S and the Court of Appeal decision of W (A Child) v Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council  were a “necessary reminder to government and to local councils that adoption without birth parents consent and against their wishes should be a last rather than a first resort”.
In August 2014 David Cameron gave a speech pledging to “unleash this adoption revolution' in England. He offered “£17 million in the voluntary sector to more than double the capacity of voluntary adoption agencies to recruit adopters and a further £200 million to reform and improve local authority adoption services” as well as a new national Adoption Support Fund worth more than £19 million.
Adopters were also given the same rights as birth parents regarding adoption pay and leave - and a new right for adopters to take leave from work to bond with a child prior to adoption.
Ms Mellon, who also chairs the Association’s Policy and Human rights committee stated families of origin should be the first resort and should be supported to bring up their own children, “Unfortunately, none of the additional funding pledged to adoption will go towards providing support for kinship carers, the family members who step in when birth parents are unable to offer a good enough standard of care”, she said.
“We need to challenge the government’s current thinking on adoption; children from poor families are not the property of the government to give away to the more fortunate.
“Austerity measures that punish the poor, such as the benefits cap, and arbitrary sanctions, coupled with the bedroom tax, are undoubtedly fuelling the rise in care numbers. Family support services have been decimated. So-called austerity measures including benefit sanctions that deprive children as well as their parents of food and warmth are driving parents to despair."
“Media coverage of adoption focuses on the anguish delays cause prospective adoptive parents but not on the grief of biological parents, not to mention grandparents, siblings and the wider family. Children's best interests can not be considered separately from the welfare and rights of their families of origin. Income, housing and other material factors can not be used in a judgement about where a child’s best interests lie; at least not in a civilised society.”
Before submitting evidence to court asking them to dispense with parents’ consent and enforce severing the child's relationship to them and their entire birth family, local authorities are now having to consider judgements from both Lord Justice Munby Re B-S and the Court of Appeal decision of W (A Child) v Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council  and make sure that their actions are compliant and evidenced.
In Re B-S Lord Justice Munby restated the principle as explained by Lord Justice Hale in Re B (A Child) that: "Interventions in the family may be appropriate but the aim should be to reunite the family when the circumstances enable that ... Cutting off all contact between the child ... and their family is only justified by the overriding necessity of the interests of the child. ... Orders contemplating non-consensual adoption ... are a very extreme thing, a last resort only to be made when nothing else will do...".
This is in addition to the existing principle from both the 1989 and 2002 Children Acts that the court should start from "the least interventionist approach ... rather than the more interventionist".
Ms Mellon added "The origins of social work lie in work to support poor communities and families to be able to keep their children, and in the fight for decent work, housing and health care to make that simple right possible. If we forget this, and become merely part of what is a growing market in children separated from their families, we do that history a disservice."
“The government has tended to romanticise adoption as a happy ever after story. It is not. It involves loss and grief, and many people who have been adopted experience lifelong questioning about their worth.
“Today, children who are taken for adoption and their parents and siblings may quite easily find one another using social media. This is yet another factor that makes current thinking and policy out of date."
“There is a need to think carefully about the consequences of taking children into care in the first place and a need to have regard to the principle of 'first do no harm'. It is apparent that many arrangements for children who are looked after are far from acceptable.
“Only the youngest infants are guaranteed an adoptive home, and children in care can be exposed to worse harm than they may have been at risk of in their own family. Multiple placements and separation from siblings is the more common experience than a ‘happy ever after’ adoption.
“The presumption for adoption and not for family support have all played a part in creating a swollen care population of children in limbo. Let us therefore challenge austerity, and challenge the decision that it is services for the poorest that have to be the first to go, with the rights of adopters being privileged over the rights of birth families.”
“Social workers must stand up for preventative services and support for families if we are not to be condemned for failing to protect children from the miserable outcomes of poor care by the state.”