December 16, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The uproar in the U.K. over social workers taking children from parents at an unprecedented and increasing rate continues. Now we learn that part of the motivation for breaking up families is that local councils are setting quotas for the adoption of children (The Guardian, 12/13/16).
Writer Louise Tickle sets the stage:
As a result of several years spent reporting on care and adoption cases, I’m now a committee member of the Transparency Project, a Bristol-based charity dedicated to increasing understanding of family law. It was this charity that made the freedom of information requests that led to councils confirming that percentage or numerical adoption targets were being operated for children in care.
Oh, some councils claim to be doing no such thing, but many of them turn out to be lying.
Cambridgeshire council, which said it didn’t set targets, emailed over a document stating that if its target of 40 adoptions was exceeded, it would need to recruit more staff.
Nottingham said it worked to a variety of benchmarks, and didn’t mention numerical targets: however it also sent a progress report submitted to the Department for Education that said: “NCC has set an ambitious target of ensuring 55 children exit care with an Adoption Order by 31 March 2014.
It turns out that at least some of the move to increase adoptions comes from London.
The East Riding of Yorkshire sent documents showing that the government had imposed targets during the year 2012-13 by way of an improvement notice.
The question of course is why councils are suddenly so enthusiastic about having the children they’ve taken from parents adopted by foster carers or others. As usual, the answer may be money.
There are also obligations in case law for councils to put in place support enabling families to stay together. But a number of published judgments have made it increasingly clear that those resources are often squeezed reluctantly out of council coffers, which are down to their last few pennies due to successive rounds of cuts…
In the context of cuts, combined with a sustained government push for more adoption, it is worth remembering that adoption is far cheaper for a council than a foster placement, costing around £35,000 per year – because once adopted, that child is off the council’s books for good.
Now, it appears that the U.K. has so far avoided the U.S. practice of actually offering cash incentives to states to have children adopted. That’s been perhaps the signal feature of the Adoption and Safe Families Act passed during the Clinton Administration and acknowledged by state officials as having been a “game changer.” Once Washington’s money became available to states, kids began being taken from parents at a much increased clip and often with the intention of having them adopted.
The U.K. seems to be relying on the need of councils to save money to spur the adoption boom rather than actually offering them extra cash to do the job.
Needless to say, it’s not just Louise Tickle who’s raising the alarm. Senior members of the British judiciary are too. Here’s my recent piece on the shocking and unsustainable increase in children taken into foster care.
Government statistics show that local authority applications to take children into care are rocketing to record levels. August’s figures showed a total of 1,258 care applications – a 34% increase on August last year. The annual rate of increase is also rising: in March 2014 it was 4% up on the year before; March 2015 was 5% up, and it was 15% up again in March this year. The latest figures [pdf download] show that there were a total of 70,440 looked-after children in England in March this year.
These figures prompted an unprecedented warning from Sir James Munby, president of the family division of the high court. In a statement entitled Care Cases: The Looming Crisis, Munby describes a “relentless” rise that is stretching the family court system to breaking point, not to mention the care system’s finances – the cost of looking after a child in care is estimated at £35,000 per year. Assuming a conservative yearly increase of 10% in the next three years, Munby calculates that by 2020 annual care applications will have trebled from 2007 levels, to nearly 20,000.
So, given the rise in foster care placements that’s been called by the president of the family division of the high court as “relentless” and “stretching the family court system to the breaking point,” is it any surprise that councils are compensating by ginning up the adoption mill? The one begets the other.
But that only defers the question, “why are so many children being taken into care?” Of course one reason is that there’s always a horrifying case of parental abuse that results in the call from the press and advocates for social workers to do more, i.e. more readily take children from parents. Bad cases make for bad policy and for some reason, the policy of taking children from parents only goes in one direction – that of taking more not fewer. After all, there are plenty of children damaged in foster care, but seldom is the cry raised to keep them with their parents.
Another reason is that the government camel got its nose under the tent flap long ago and, as per legend, the beast is now fully inside. The logic of governmental intervention into family life invariably tends toward more of the same, not less. Once given the brief to protect children, more and more children are seen to be at risk and from “dangers” that, within recent memory wouldn’t have been considered problems worth mentioning. Like real horror stories, reports of governmental overreach can be seen in the news media any day of the week.
And of course bureaucrats who get paid to protect children aren’t often going to threaten their own livelihoods by admitting that many of the kids in care don’t need to be there. After reading the Guardian article, go to the comments and scroll down to the comment by “Susan Elizabeth.” She quotes recent articles pointing out that judges often simply rubberstamp the recommendations of social workers without conducting a meaningful hearing about whether to take a child from its parents.
Within all that context, quotas for adoptions come as no surprise. They’re as much a part of the system as the rest. And yet, it clearly doesn’t need to be that way. It seems that, in the U.K., over 4,000 kids are adopted out of foster care in a given year. In the Netherlands, for example, the number last year was 28. Are Dutch parents so much better than British ones? Or do the Dutch pay attention to the science on children’s welfare and draw the obvious conclusion that, in most cases, parental care is better than any other kind.
And, speaking of parents, Tickle doesn’t, at least not fathers. According to her article, fathers don’t exist at all and certainly can’t be considered as a placement for children when mothers are found to be abusive, neglectful or unfit. This being The Guardian, I suppose that’s no surprise. But the erasure of fathers from the narrative on children, their well-being and the right to family life calls into question the sincerity of the article. After all, if Tickle really wants us to believe she cares about kids, why not mention dads and the fact that they often stand ready to be exactly the type of parents we want kids to have if mothers and the state would only allow it?
Thanks to Malcolm for the heads up.
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