A new piece of research written by social workers predicts that forced adoption will come to an end in the UK. The document also offers new research on the impact of adoptions on birth parents and asks whether it is right for the government to pursue adoption at any cost.

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The report, entitled, “The End of Non-Consensual Adoption? Promoting the Wellbeing of Children in Care,” has been co-written by Joe Smeeton, Director of Social Work Education at the University of Salford and Jo Ward, a Principal Lecturer in the Division of Social Work and Professional Practice at Nottingham Trent University.

It’s a brave piece of research which in part goes against the grain in a country where removing vulnerable children without parental consent is seen as an acceptable practice.

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The paper predicts that non consensual adoption will eventually come to an end in the UK, largely due to fierce opposition of the practice, and because fewer and fewer countries are engaging in forced adoptions, preferring instead to get parental consent first before an adoption can take place.

The research itself is balanced and fair. Jo and Joe look at the history behind adoption, the relative benefits it can sometimes offer children, particularly very young children who may not have suffered neglect or abuse for a long period of time, and the arguments against removing children from parents without consent.

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They explain the paradoxes inside the world of adoption, for example, the long held view that adoption is part of our social fabric and a priority in child protection, as set against an emerging view that it must now be a method of last resort. They look too, at the guidelines shortening the time care proceedings must take and by contrast the need to move slowly in some cases. Interestingly, they pinpoint the forced element of adoptions in the UK as an underlying driver for many of these paradoxes.

The researchers also mention the tension between what they perceive to be a child rights versus parental rights paradox – and here, we would disagree with them. Whilst they explain, quite rightly, that sometimes harmful delays inside the system are down to parents trying desperately to exercise their rights with a view to halting an adoption, the research doesn’t fully explore the importance of a child needing a connection with its biological family.

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We have spoken with many adoptees over the years, and several have told us that even when placed with the most loving families they carry a deep hole in their hearts not knowing who their birth parents are, and that this has left them feeling angry, a feeling which they have spent their entire lives trying to manage. It is this important connection which the research doesn’t delve into, and so we warmly invite Jo and Joe to look at this element.

The research also touches briefly upon post adoption contact, which has now become possible since the introduction of a new clause inside the Adoption and Children Act (2002). This section allows the court to make an order in favour of post adoption contact either during the making of the adoption order or any time afterwards. The contact may be in favour of:

(a) any person who (but for the child’s adoption) would be related to the child by blood (including half-blood), marriage or civil partnership;
(b) any former guardian of the child;
(c) any person who had parental responsibility for the child immediately before the making of the adoption order;
(d) any person who was entitled to make an application for an order under section26 in respect of the child (contact with children placed or to be placed for adoption) by virtue of subsection (3)(c), (d) or (e) of that section;
(e) any person with whom the child has lived for a period of at least one year.


There is also a deeply sensitive and insightful discussion on the ethics of adoption, how it affects already vulnerable people, both mothers and fathers, and completely ignores the impact it has on families, to the point where no after-care is offered to the grieving parents or extended family members.

Ultimately, the paper asks us to rethink the ways in which we care for vulnerable children, and invites a discussion on what permanence should look like in the twenty first century.

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For their courageous effort and their determination to start a positive discussion about more humane ways forward in child protection, we would highly recommend reading Joe and Jo’s research. Do also take a look at a paper by Joe which he co wrote with Kathy Boxall, called “Birth parents’ perceptions of professional practice in childcare and adoption proceedings: implications for practice.”

We’d love to hear what you think.

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