Facebook users were left furious last week after discovering that a local authority had been advertising children for adoption on the social media site. The page offers full length descriptions and links to photos of the children.

Suffolk Fostering and Adoption Agency, which is run by Suffolk County Council, is advertising children for adoption on Facebook through its business page Suffolk Adoption Agency.  The move prompted Facebook users to leave negative reviews on the page, which has a rating of 2.3 stars out of 5.

Families were shocked by Suffolk Council’s Facebook page, calling the strategy deeply insensitive to parents who had had their children removed through care proceedings. Many of these parents are active on the social media platform. Seeing children being marketed online by Suffolk Council led to one mother leaving a scathing review on the page:

“This page is disgusting, sharing children like animals… how do you think their birth parents would feel? It’s wrong and disgusting…. If I ever see my children on here all hell will break loose… disgusting the lot of you…. children… are human beings and deserve better than this.”

Reacting to an advert featuring a newborn baby on the Facebook page, a family law activist said, “Hang your head in shame Britain… up for sale like puppy farming, except these babies are worth £33,000 once they find adopters, #SS you disgust me.”

Another poster left a plea for help on the review section, asking the council to give her parents a second chance.

The adoption agency’s Facebook page was shared by Facebook users over the weekend, with dozens of private comments left under the shared content.

Concerns over a child trafficking epidemic in the UK do not seem to have stopped adoption agencies from marketing children online, despite the level of detail being offered by these agencies which is visible to everyone around the world. Pages and sites offer the names of councils and the whereabouts of agencies, making it easy for offending paedophiles to locate and target children, placing not only those children advertised at risk, but every child within the agency’s location. The ability to like and subscribe to Suffolk County’s adoption page also means that offending paedophiles could be tracking the adverts without the council knowing.

Allowing councils – who are responsible for assessing parents in child protection proceedings – to run adoption and fostering agencies creates a sharp conflict of interest. The dual role gives councils every incentive to remove children from parents so that the government can take advantage of adoption and fostering placements, which are big business inside the sector.

Suffolk Council’s Facebook page has over 800 likes, though it is not clear whether the engagement is organic, or has been paid for by the council. The page also mentions that the agency received an Outstanding rating from Ofsted in 2011. In 2016, the agency was rated Good, by the inspection body.

The current policy of protecting children’s identities during child welfare proceedings and then making their identities public to secure adoption and fostering placements is also ineffective, and in several instances, illegal. Parents are being contacted by friends who are seeing their children being advertised online, causing the families even greater distress. There is also no evidence to suggest that the strategy of advertising children online is working – a significant percentage of placements break down, and in January 2018, it was revealed that placement breakdown was on the rise.

Councils also do not have a legal right to advertise children where parents still have parental responsibility, which is the position in the vast majority of cases where a child has been placed in foster care.

Very many thanks to the wonderful Michele Simmons and the very generous posters who gave Researching Reform permission to quote them.