David Cameron has recently announced the government's plans to speed up the adoption process. The Prime Minister also encouraged local councils to enable mixed-race adoptions.
The British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) welcomes the publication of the Government's Action Plan on Adoption. “We share the Government's determination to eliminate unnecessary delay in adoption and to make the adoption system in England the best in the world,” said David Holmes, BAAF chief executive.
According to BAAF
the average age at adoption in England is 3 years and 10 months. This means that the child is already used to a different environment by the time he or she is placed with a family. Only 2% (60) of children adopted in England during the year ending 31 March 2011 were under 1 year old. Figures confirm that it is more and more difficult to find an adoptive family for children once they are over the age of five.
Furthermore, only 4% of the children adopted last year in England were from Black and Asian backgrounds. Trying to address this issue, the BAAF encouraged prospective adopters from ethnic minority backgrounds to come forward.
The Prime Minister thinks that the solution of the problem would rather be to enable more mixed-race adoptions. Children could be placed with families of a different ethnic and cultural background in order to cut adoption delays.
Sheffield City Council on the adoption process
Ethnic origin is one of the issues Sheffield City Council takes into account when it comes to placing a child with a family. Children can be placed with a family of a different ethnic background, but adopters of similar racial and cultural origin are usually preferred. According to Sheffield City Council
"Most agencies will initially strive to find adopters who are of similar racial and cultural origin to the child who needs the new family”. However, the Council also mentions that “where this would cause unreasonable delay in placing the child, agencies may be prepared to consider adopters who can demonstrate the ability to value and promote the child’s ethnic and cultural background."
Delays in the adoption process
"Assessment for adoption can be completed within 8 months. Matching can happen very quickly", David Holmes said in a Twitter chat session on adoptions. However, sometimes the adoption process can be delayed, especially when the child is of Black and Asian background. Adopters of different ethnic origin must demonstrate they can accommodate the child. "Important thing is that we focus on what matters - some assessments will need to take longer," said the BAAF chief-executive. Social workers can try to put them off just to ensure that children are placed with the right families. They can also try to induce the idea that the children are damaged. Adopters must prove they are able to accommodate the child in their family and deal with any post-adoption issues.
Paul Blomfield on adoptions
Labour MP for Sheffield Central, Paul Blomfield, said the adoption process is very complex and that ethnicity is one of the issues that have to be taken into account. He also warned that speeding up the process might lead to placing children with wrong families.
“There are a wide range of issues that need to be taken into account to ensure that each adoption is successful in every respect. It’s naive to say that ethnicity is not an issue in ensuring that.
“I don’t think it is helpful for the Prime Minister to play to the populist gallery on this issue. Of course everyone wants to see the adoption process speeded-up, but it’s important that the emphasis is placed on ensuring successful, not hasty, adoptions,” he said.
Process long and intrusive, but rewarding at the same time
Gem, a trained counsellor, specialising in working with young people adopted a two years old girl named Katie in December 2009. Gem runs a blog
sharing her experience as an adopter. She hopes that by telling her story she will encourage more people to adopt and not give up due to the delay in the adoption process. The adoption process in her case lasted nearly two and a half years. Gem said the process was long, but quite straight forward. She advises adopters not to give up even though the process is very intrusive.
Due to the long gaps between the stages adopters sometimes pull out. "There are two sides of the process", explained Gem. On the one hand the more the process is delayed, the more children get attached to their Foster Carers. On the other hand, by speeding up the adoption process, adopters might not be assessed properly and children could be places with wrong families.
"I understand the concerns about culture. Children need access to the culture they come from. In the end 'it is the interest of the child that should come first," added Gem.
Even though sometimes it takes time for children to get used to a new environment, Katie bonded with her adoptive family as soon as she met Gem and her husband. "She was happy we were mom and dad," said Gem. However, she still has memories of being raised by a Foster carer. Gem and her husband have tried to keep in touch with the Foster carer as they did not want Katie to think she had been rejected.
"This will make things worse than they already are"
Whilst speeding up adoptions could benefit both the child and the family, Ian Espriett from Birth Family Support
believes this decision might have a serious impact on the whole adoption process.
Birth Family Support is a Sheffield-based voluntary organisation for parents who have had a child adopted or taken into long-term foster care. The group is run entirely by volunteers and receives no funding from the authorities. "This will make things even worse than they already are," said Mr. Espriett. The adoption process currently takes from six months to one year or one year and a half. Mr. Espriett thinks the adopters must make sure they can accommodate a child of a different ethnical background in their family.
"They need to understand the religion in order to provide adequate information and supply the child with what he or she needs," Mr. Espriett added. He also warns that speeding up the process might have a negative impact on choosing the right family for the child, with wrong information being handed in to the courts.
Precedent and research in social work
Dr. Joanne Britton from Sheffield University explained why social workers tend to place children with families of the same ethnic background. "There has been a long history within social work-usual practice to place mixed race children with a Black family. It is argued Children who are mixed race might need something different," she said. Dr Brittin thinks it is important for social workers to consider the individual child’s background and the context in which have been brought out whilst in Foster Care.
"There are always going to be challenges, it is important that those families are supported, I think that it is important to make sure children are placed with the right family. It is better for those children to be placed with a family and grow in a secure-loving environment rather than stay in Foster care their whole life," she said.