Every Child Matters

So this caused some controversy last week. A quick précis – a local authority refused to allow a Sikh couple the chance to adopt because all the children they currently had were white British. This seems to be in complete contradiction of the law, which now no longer requires ethnic matching of adopters and children. A number of people suggested that this decision was inexplicable. I’m not sure it is.

First of all let me say one thing. In principle I think that the decision of the council is entirely wrong. I don’t agree with it. I think it is premature in the process. However, I do understand why it may have occurred. A general issue is that adoption is a very human process. It is individual. Which inevitably means that it becomes more subjective than many would like. This means mistake occurs. Like this one. But there are also some reasons why this might not have been a mistake, other than the obvious communications errors.

Firstly, some background.

We have two children. Both adopted. One around 11 years ago, the eldest around 15 years ago. Unusually, because of a change in the rules in between, we had to go through the adoption process twice. There was a potential risk that having adopted once under the old rules we could have been turned down as suitable adopters the second time around. That’s how strange the system can get.

The process is long winded. There are courses to go on. Then there are the weeks of assessment meetings with social workers to understand who you are and assure themselves you are a suitable candidate for to adopt. And also for you to assure yourself you are a suitable candidate to adopt. Some of these are held as a couple and some are individual. There are also the interviews with referees you have provided and any long-term partners you may have had. It is an arduous process. It is very personal. This is the stage at which many prospective adopters fall out of the process.

[As an aside our daughter now takes part in an adopters panel which interviews the prospective adopters. I wish we’d had this opportunity.]

At the end of this a recommendation is made to the adoption panel and you are either accepted or rejected as an adopter. Theoretically it is only at this point that any matching to a child can take place (though I understand that in certain circumstances this may have changed now).

All the while this is happening something much more important is going on. Children living in dire circumstances are being removed from their parents, and social workers and courts are having to consider what future lies ahead for them. Some of these decisions are easier than others.

One of the things that is not so well known about this process is the input the child’s birth parents get. Obviously they don’t make decisions as to whether the child is adopted, or who by. But their wishes are noted. Do they want contact? Do they want letterbox contact? Are there religious observances they would like to be continued?

I came at this like I suspect many people would. If the child is being adopted there are very clear reason why that is and so why should such parents get any say in their childs future? Why should such people have a say about anything?

I was wrong. Very, very wrong. For a number of reasons.

Some more background.

When you have been approved as adopter you have been approved based on the information you put forward. This includes having had to think about the type of child you want to adopt. Boy or girl? Religion. Ethnicity. Would you accept a child with disabilities? If so list the ones you would accept. I think I found out more about myself filling in that one page than I did in forty years of living.

Then comes the hardest thing you’ll ever do. You get offered children to consider to adopt.

And some of them you have to turn down.

Initially you get a brief outline about the child. If there is interest then you might get to see more detailed information about the child and their background. And then you’ll get to see the F form (that’s what it was then, anyway). The F form explains why the child was removed from their parents. You learn things you don’t want to know. You learn that some children have lives that make you want to scream and never stop. But I learned something else. Something that was really important for my children. I learned that not all these parents were evil. Not by a long way. Yes, there were often some very bad men involved, but the mothers of these children were as much victims as the children. They were in abusive relationships. As, often enough, were their mothers before them.

Why is this important? We were adopting their child. These mothers loved their children. Of this I am certain. That bit, dear reader, you’re just going to have to take on trust. The law in its wisdom had made the decision they could no longer care for their child. But they still loved them. And that imposed on me a duty. A duty to try and abide by the very minimal list of their wishes regarding their children. So we did that. And we still do.

There is another reason this is important. Our children know they are adopted (another thing I was wrong about – initially I thought that was a bad idea). They also know their life story. And I think it gives them some comfort to know that there were things their birth parents wanted for them, and that we carry out. It maintains a connect that is very important to them.

So whilst I don’t agree with the actions of Windsor and Maidenhead council in this case (I think their decision is premature in terms of the process) I can understand why it may have happened. The council presumably know the histories of the children they have in their system for adoption. They also know the wishes that their birth parent have expressed for them. And harsh as it may seem they have to try and abide by them.

So it’s a difficult thing to sit here and say that a parent who has lost all rights to parent their child has a right to say what religion a child should be brought up in, but we have to accept they do.