It’s been a week of significant moments, and not just for me. I am delighted to see that Martin Narey, a man who has displayed an unswerving commitment to highlighting children’s issues and campaigning, has been appointed as the government’s adoption czar. There has been much talk about children in care this year and while I have felt positive, I have never been completely convinced. The news of Martin Narey’s appointment however, filled me with hope. Cautious hope, but hope nonetheless.
Martin’s work in the criminal justice and prison system for twenty years convinced him that putting children in care was the moment a child’s life turned for the worse. He believes the problem with unwanted or neglected children lies not only in the current processes used to deal with them but also the general attitude surrounding adoption. Fundamentally it is not accepted in society. The idea of middle class people parenting working class children is not seen as inherently good but something to be pitied – a kind of last resort even when it all works out successfully. .
In The Times, Martin sums it up: “There is bad use of the research. There is the system itself — hopelessly slow — and there is some troubling confusion in both the legal system and among social workers about the Human Rights Act and how that affects the rights of parents and children.
“On Day One I want to persuade Tim Loughton, Michael Gove and David Cameron to lay down the line that children’s interests have primacy when it comes to intervention, to make clear that the Children’s Act puts children first and the Human Rights Act does not undermine that.”
Martin believes we can double the number of adoptions over the next two years and his report contains 19 recommendations which you can read here.
His proposals include performance league tables for local authorities to avoiding an often followed route where case workers place the child with a member of the extended family. As Narey says in the piece, this is, “often just another branch of the same dysfunctional family.”
In what is bound to be a major talking point he recommends that adoption be offered, as part of counselling, to pregnant women who do not want their child. I can see his thinking, especially as his research indicated that services which ‘help’ women with unwanted pregnancies, do not offer adoption as an option. He is scathing about the way social services appear to go with the flow, telling teenagers they will make good mothers and leaving them alone.
From The Times: “For six months we are all over her telling her how well she is doing and then she is on her own. What we are doing is cowardly. Adoption should be a third option to abortion or keeping the child. It is an attitude that must be allowed to grow. In the US mothers who give up their children for adoption believe they are giving them a great start. Here it is viewed as a success if we talk them out of it.”
After years of muddy compromise that leave children with a minimal shot at a decent life at best, I welcome his recommendations. They are clear, concise and go to the heart of what is wrong. I support the idea of allowing pregnant women to decide for themselves if they would like to have their child adopted as soon as it is born. This would certainly assist in cutting down the time (and misery) for children. Instead of languishing for years in foster care during which their chances of becoming dysfunctional and therefore unattractive for prospective adoptees, they would literally start life from the beginning in a better place.
Bruce Oldfield made this point in the foreword to my book Mexican Takeaway, saying that children do pass their ‘sell by-date.’ People find it harder to adopt older children and when they have been shunted through the system for years, they become more challenging as time goes on. And that’s the main cause of adoption failure, not colour or religious differences as the authorities would have the public believe. If we can make this dramatic change it will be literally life-saving.
I’m behind Martin and congratulate him. He is brave and no nonsense. I am also grateful to The Times for their relentless campaign and commitment to the children in care in this country. We have a target: doubling the number of children adopted out of the care system into loving homes regardless of creed, colour or culture. The government needs to grasp these recommendations and make things happen. Whether they are brave enough to take more than baby steps remains to be seen.