Forced Adoption: The demonization of parents in care proceedings
The Children and Families Bill expected to be introduced in 2012/2013 sets out plans to speed up adoption and care proceedings. The Bill will create a six-month time limit for care proceedings in England and Wales. The Government are committed to tackling delays in the system and ensuring that more children than ever are adopted.
These ill thought out reforms fail to recognise children’s and parent’s rights to remain together wherever possible. It is a myth that children who are adopted are not wanted by their families. The vast majority of adopted children are very much loved by their parents. Care proceedings take an average of 52 weeks before a final order is reached because parents refuse to stop fighting for their children.
There is a lack in understanding of the complex problems that many parents in care proceedings suffer with. Often families are from the most impoverished households: 90% live below the poverty line, 60% have been abused as a child, 45% experience mental health problems, and 30% have been through the care system themselves when they were children. Many of their problems are not properly assessed, diagnosed or treated until they are subject to care proceedings based on allegations of neglect of their children. By the time their problems are assessed it is too late to provide them with the support they require and their children are adopted.
But adoption and long-term fostering is not always the most appropriate solution. Statistics show that children removed from their parents are more likely suffer with complex problems than their counterparts. Children are three times more likely to lead chaotic lifestyles associated with alcohol and drug abuse, twice as likely to have their children removed and 53% leave school with no formal qualifications, 49% are convicted of a criminal offence and 45% are assessed as having a mental health disorder.
Considering the problems encountered by parents and children, preventative and supportive steps are needed to ensure that parents are able to care for their children at home. But with 903 applications made by local authorities in January 2012, it is estimated that 10,500 children will be subject to care proceedings by the end of 2012, which indicates a trend towards the removal of children from their parents. A forced adoption culture and silencing of birth mothers has existed across some decades of the 20th century.
Instead local authorities would rather remove children from their parents and place them in foster care at an annual cost of £1.25 billion. Local authorities would rather children were reared by foster parents or adopters, who possess a degree of cultural, social and economic capital, with hope that they will rear troubled children to conform to societal values and contribute to society rather than becoming societal dependants, like their poverty stricken parents – a classic example of social engineering.
Local authorities would rather punish a particular class of parents for their failures than invest in supportive long-term support packages for parents to enable them to gather the parenting skills required to care for their children. The statistical correlation between parents subject to care proceedings and poverty reflects how society punishes the most vulnerable and impoverished. Historically the state punished the poor by incarcerating them in workhouses and removing their children at birth. Little has changed today, as oppressive state power legitimises the removal of children from destitute parents by labelling them as hopeless and undeserving.
In a class structured society it is ingrained in the consciousness of those in positions of power that we punish and stigmatise the poor. As a result, value judgments made by social workers are a reflection of internalised views, norms and morals advocated by society. Social workers demonise parents and label them as hopeless, mad or even bad. Parents internalise this label and it inevitably becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Meanwhile their children are removed by middle class judges and magistrates and placed with middle class foster carers and adopters. With no financial or social power and a reduced family size, working class parents remain powerless and pushed further to the bottom of society with no hope of revolutionary action.
A system biased towards adoption will result in lack of transparency in ensuring adoption targets are reached. In 2008, a Government adoption policy to provide local authorities with financial bonuses to encourage them to meet unrealistic adoption targets was exposed. The pursuit of capitalist goals at the expense of children’s welfare and parent’s rights is once again upheld, this time by the Conservative Government. It seems that no lessons have been learnt.
There are a number of potential solutions that could support children and parents rather than punish them. Such solutions include pre-proceedings intensive support, specialist family support services from child and family mental health services (CAMHS), psychological services, therapeutic support, health visitors, social workers trained not to be judgmental, children’s centres, parent and baby foster placements, financial and housing support and lawyers who fight for parents rather than colluding with local authorities. In the context of a recession these support mechanisms are all suffering a reduction in resources and funding. Rather than supporting an adoption bonus policy, bonuses could be better utilised to support families remaining together – isn’t that what the big society is all about?
Charlotte Proudman and Frances Trevena, Barrister at Garden Court Chambers
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