One of the authors of the UK’s Adoption Enquiry has told a BBC programme investigating forced adoptions, that adoption is not a suitable alternative for most children.

Anna Gupta, a professor of social work at Royal Holloway University and co-author of the Adoption Enquiry report also told BBC Sounds that while parents are able to challenge adoptions, the process is so expensive that in practice mounting a legal challenge to an adoption is not available to most families.

The programme aired on 18th October and covered a range of topics, including forced adoption.

The segment on forced adoption began with a call from a grandmother whose daughter had died, after her grandchildren were taken into care. The grandmother explained that her daughter had been a victim of domestic violence, but was aware of the need to step away from her partner and focus on rebuilding her life, which the grandmother said she did with a good deal of success.

The grandmother then told the BBC presenter that the children’s father asked the mother for contact, and when the mother refused, the father went to social services. It was at that point that the children were taken away from the family. The grandmother told the programme that her daughter had given the children to her to look after whilst she got herself back up on her feet, and that this arrangement was working well. She went on to say that the social workers were unwilling to consider her as a carer for the children. The grandmother told BBC Sounds that she believed her daughter had died as a result of the social workers’ involvement in their case. No details were given about how the mother lost her life.

Anna then came on to the programme to speak. She began by telling the presenter that forced adoption was an unhelpful term because it implied that social workers had the right to remove children from parents when they did not, and that judges were the only professionals with the power to remove children from their current families. This is unfortunately not an accurate explanation of the term forced adoption.

Forced adoption refers to a policy which allows the state to remove a child from his or her parents with a view to putting that child up for adoption, without parental consent. As the term focuses on state powers, we can include the roles both social workers and judges have to play, in implementing the policy.

While Anna is right to suggest that only a judge can make an adoption order, legal powers are given to both social workers and judges to forcibly remove a child from his or her parents where a child is considered to be at risk of immediate, or future harm. If parents are considered to be unable to look after their children, long term arrangements to place children in other homes are then discussed by child protection teams.

This order of events, which is set out in our law and policy on child protection, means that the initial call for a child to be adopted is usually always made by a social worker.

The forced element of child removal is a key feature at almost every stage of the process. As social workers are often tasked with the initial removal, which can involve a child going to a care home or to stay with foster carers, removal in the early stages and the end result of that removal, which is often adoption, are interlinked.

Judges rely heavily on social workers’ reports in court, reports which judges expect will contain advice on what should happen to a child. Most of the time, if a social worker suggests that a child should be adopted, a judge will endorse and enforce that recommendation. This is partly because a judge has no other way of assessing the needs of a child in the case. That reliance places social workers in a position of considerable power, with the ability to not only suggest adoption as an option, but to influence the likelihood of an adoption as well. Without social workers’ reports, and expert evidence when it’s used, a judge is almost completely blind. In this way, the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s forced adoption model makes an attempt at separating social workers’ and judges’ roles within forced adoption, pointless.

Anna then goes on to say that whilst some European countries have the ability to use forced adoptions, none of these countries use that power to the same extent as the UK. She also talks about the need to look at the current adoption model in the UK, and the struggle parents face when trying to access support. She blames budget cuts alone for this difficulty, however the truth is more complicated. A defensive attitude towards child protection in the wake of high profile legal cases leading to substantial payouts, as well as a workforce which hasn’t been given robust enough training, all contribute to a tendency to remove children from parents rather than offer support.

Anna then discusses the issue of post adoption contact.  She tells BBC Sounds that post adoption contact for original, or biological families, is not the norm and that the system in relation to that kind of contact is closed. Contact for these families after adoption is rare, but the idea that the system is closed in this context is not right and misrepresents the legal position around post adoption contact. Active legislation offers provisions which not only enable contact, but make it compulsory for the court to consider it.

The Adoption and Children Act 2002, tells us that:

“Pursuant to s.46(6), before making an adoption order, the court must consider whether there should be arrangements for allowing any person contact with the child; and for that purpose the court must consider any existing or proposed arrangements and obtain any views of the parties to the proceedings.”

Added to this, sections 51A and 51B, which were inserted into the Adoption and Children Act 2002, by s.9 of the Children and Families Act 2014, give family judges the power to order contact, both before and after an adoption order is made.

What is also noteworthy, is that there is debate about whether or not the current law makes it harder for parents to apply for that contact. One of the issues with the legislation, is that the right to ask for contact is limited by virtue of who can apply. The law as it stands at the moment means that adopted parents and the children in question have an automatic right to make an application, but everyone else needs permission from the court to do so. The implications of that, when we look at legal costs and court bias, are enormous. Although Anna was not referring to this complication when she spoke, and of course holds different views to our own about the sector, we are grateful to her, and BBC Sounds for offering our campaign exposure and further opening up debate on forced adoption.

You can listen to the segment on forced adoption, on BBC Sounds’ webpage. The conversation runs for seven minutes and starts at 1:35:00.

If you’d like to sign our petition calling on the government to end forced adoption, you can do so here. 

Many thanks to Kellie Cottam for sharing this programme with us.

BBC Sounds 2