A social worker choosing to remain anonymous, has produced a brilliantly intelligent and deeply sensitive piece looking at the human rights conflicts within adoption.

The social worker, writing for Community Care, describes his own personal struggle with involuntary, or forced, adoption, the way in which decisions are made and most importantly, the threshold used to remove a child from his or her parents.

In the piece, the social worker observes several problems with the current practice of adoption, which will be familiar to families and children who have experienced the process:

“I am required to assess the possible risk, which is hard when the child has not yet been born.”

“I have reflected and realised I do not think history equates to threshold for permanent adoption.”

“The parents [in the case] have a good awareness of the severity of the situation but I can’t help thinking that things have already been decided.”

“The possible lack of opportunity for the parents to evidence change when thinking about the timescales of the child does not sit well with me.”

“I think the decisions or recommendations social workers must make in sometimes short space of times are scary.”

“I have realised that the better social care organisations are the ones with joint working, co working, group supervision and curious practice.”

The controversy around the threshold for removing children from parents, which includes assessing the risk of future harm to any children involved, has only increased with time. This is partly due to the fact that the quality of social work practice, which is highly variable across the country, is still not good enough, leaving children vulnerable to being wrongly removed from parents, whether through professional error or failure to offer effective support to these families.

The notion that a parent’s history is a definitive way in which to assess risk is, as the social worker notes, far too simple, and coupled with the short processing times for these cases, creates an environment which sets parents up to fail. There are of course, sound reasons for the fast processing of cases, which revolve around the need to ensure that children are not left in limbo for long periods of time, but the current set up does nothing to shield children from experiencing further trauma.

Although the social worker is not quite sure how to square up these obstacles with his own beliefs about adoption, we have always taken the view that a step forward would be to remove all those aspects which make the process seem punitive and disempowering. We would start by removing involuntary adoption as a policy, and like the majority of countries around the world, applying a voluntary adoption model. We would ensure for example, that services were running and ready to offer support immediately, so that parents could have the chance to face their own challenges with others at their side, and keep their children close where circumstances allow.

Whilst the social work sector has been largely resistant to critiques of its day to day running, the rise in curiosity and interest in the system has allowed for a much wider debate to take place. That debate has been responsible for a new outlook blossoming inside the child welfare sector, which has begun to allow its own professionals to voice dissenting opinions and disagree with accepted social work norms. Far from destroying the sector, it has given aspirational and passionate social workers a renewed determination to improve practice. This engagement has also ingratiated the sector to the public, who are for the first time, seeing a sector willing to better itself.

We hope this insightful social worker’s comments will be welcomed by social work stakeholders, highlighting as they do, the hugely sophisticated elements within social work practice and the pressing need to address these issues well before qualification, at the training stage.

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