The latest trends in thinking on family policy have been diverse over the last couple of years, diverse, exciting, at times downright brilliant and sometimes, to our mind, a complete disgrace. We feel this latest offering from Martin Narey, whom we felt let Barnardo’s down terribly as its CEO, fits into the disgraceful category and we’ll explain why.

Martin Narey, who has been appointed by the government to oversee all things related to adoption, has, off the back of what has been termed ‘evidence’ decided that the presumption to keep siblings in care together once they are moved to foster homes or adoptive ones, must be removed, to ensure that children who can be placed, are placed, where only one space in a family is available, or cannot accommodate all the siblings.

The arguments look cogent on the surface: it is better to give one child a home, than have two remaining in care; it is sometimes in a child’s best interests to remove troublesome siblings from their environment or vice versa and the old adage of the downfalls of delay crops up, again.

Let us take Martin Narey’s assertions, one at a time. In the exclusive interview he gives the stellar on-line publication Children and Young People Now, he says (albeit paraphrased by the magazine), of his reasons for the U-turn on the presumption:

“Sibling groups have to wait on average a year longer to be adopted than individual children, due to a shortage of adopters willing and able to adopt groups of children”. This really begs the question – shouldn’t our care homes be so superb that children in care can wait, until they find a home which will accommodate siblings? Shouldn’t our care homes be more like proper homes, where children are not just cared for, but loved, in a safe environment, where they could learn to trust and communicate with adults and the world around them? The delay itself then, would not be an issue. These children could thrive in care homes, until the right family came along. And if they didn’t, they would have had the benefit of growing up and being part of a community that loved and understood them. In Martin Narey’s haste to hasten adoption, he has forgotten that children don’t start living once they are adopted – they start living, once they are born.

Another assertion Mr Narey makes is about older siblings who take on the role of carer, for the younger siblings:

“One of the instances where separation of siblings is probably wise, is where a particular child has started to parent a younger child, where they have compensated for the neglect and abuse they have received by a parent, essentially becoming a parent for the younger child”.  Probably wise? How many older siblings, ourselves included, feel that protective instinct over our younger siblings, taking them under our wing and sheltering them when life seems insurmountable? And we did not come from a home where anything untoward ever happened to us – except for the occasional chocolate bar that would go missing and which we would find in our father’s desk drawer….. and whilst there are of course levels and degrees of intensity for this kind of behaviour, once again, separation cannot be the answer.

Siblings form bonds, whether bad or good and it is up to us as adults to ensure the bonds work, as fas as is possible and enough to allow each child to function normally. To suggest that removing siblings who exhibit unhealthy behaviour towards one another is a solution, to us seems risible. And although we appreciate that some of these siblings may have aggravated mental health conditions, which may well require siblings to be separated, this must be the exception to the rule, a minority who surely cannot rule the many, normal children who are simply in need of TLC and time.

Narey goes on to say:

“That older child is bound to say that he or she wants to stay together with their brother or sister, but the evidence shows that it’s bad for that brother or sister and it’s bad for the older child who needs to be allowed to be a child themselves and learn that adults can be depended upon and can love them and give them stability.”  What we suspect the ‘evidence’ suggests is not that it is bad for siblings in this scenario to stay together (imagine the trauma of being separated versus the need to establish some boundaries and allow the older child the chance to love carefree rather than love with a heavy burden) but rather that the behaviour itself is the problem. Behaviour which can be modified, with lots of love and if necessary some counselling.

We are not impressed by the logic, although we are not experts in the field. But we are a sibling, mother and we have been, believe it or not, a child and those things never leave you. If there was one thing I could say to Mr Narey, it would be this: separation is never the answer – it will simply create a chasm in that child’s heart. Perhaps it’s time to infuse some magic into the system. Here at Researching Reform, we call it love.

You can have your say and get involved with the papers currently being put forward, by emailing adoption.reform@education.gsi.gov.uk by Friday 31 August. The article tells us that ‘both discussion papers call for views from professionals, foster carers, children in care, adopted children and adoptive parents. The government also wants views on how it can attract more adoptive parents willing to adopt groups of siblings’.

So, what do you think? Are we being too hasty or is removing such a presumption just perpetuating the more opaque corners of our family justice system?

Martin Narey