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Runaway train, never going back

The British Association of Social Workers, BASW, commissioned an independent report to look at adoption. The report has just been published.

There’s a summary piece at the Guardian about it

In summary of the summary, concerns about a lack of ethics and human rights approach, concerns that adoption has been politically pushed and dominates thinking, concerns about lack of support for families and adopters, concerns that there’s rigidity in thinking about contact (and the report compares the English approach of an assumption of no direct contact with Northern Ireland where the assumption is that there should be direct contact four to six times per year) and critically that there’s not enough attention being paid to poverty (and austerity) being the driving force behind children being removed from families.

The impact of austerity was raised by all respondents to different extents but was a particular
concern for social workers. Cuts to family support and social work services were a recurring
theme, with the decreasing availability of early help highlighted. Very costly resources are being
used in care proceedings. As a result, less is available for earlier interventions that could support
children to stay at home safely.
Most respondents wanted a better balance between support and assessment, with families
currently too often subject to repeated assessments rather than actually helped. A number felt
social work had become increasingly risk averse and fearful of blame, with the high rates of care
applications one key example given of the impact this has on practice.
A lack of resources once children had come into care or been adopted was similarly seen as
impacting on the effectiveness of services. There were many observations about decision-making
being impacted by the lack of resources and examples given of the results, such as siblings not
being placed together.

Having read the report, I think the summary is a fair one – the report does raise all of those issues. The report is careful to say that just as treating adoption as a perfect solution for all families is not realistic or helpful, demonising all social workers is not realistic or helpful either. Adoption is the right outcome for some children, and some adoptive families thrive and prosper. But there needs to be a genuine debate about whether it is being sought too frequently.

The report is here

Click to access basw_55841-1.pdf

I’m not going to attempt to critique it or deconstruct it – it’s a long and thoughtful piece, taking on board views of a wide variety of people involved in the process, notably hearing from both birth parents and adoptive parents who had very similar viewpoints on some issues. I have had the opportunity to read it twice, but I honestly feel I want more time with it and to reflect on it. So I don’t know whether I agree with it all, but it says things that I genuinely think needed to be said and need to be discussed and thought about. And I wanted to alert people to its existence and hopefully get people to read it and have those conversations.

Nothing in family justice ever exists in a vacuum though – for every person who reads the report and agrees with it, there will be ten who think it doesn’t go far enough and that adoption should be burned to the ground, and ten who think it is ridiculously anti-adoption and goes far too far. That polarisation about adoption is, itself, part of the problem. The stakes are so high, the emotional devastation caused to those on the wrong side of adoption so great, the political capital invested in it, that it is hard to have the conversations that need to be had.

A particular issue that comes up within the report is the self-labelling by the social work system of social workers being ‘the social worker for the child’ rather than a social worker for the family.

The definition of the social worker role as being ‘the social worker for the child’ was a source of
concern, as it often led to a lack of support for birth parents:
‘Children are part of families – a social worker cannot only be the child’s social worker.’ (birth mother)

A lot of the respondents talked about the importance of the relationship that existed between the social worker and the family – and how the quality of that relationship can transform cases (for good or ill)

Repeatedly, across the range of family members, the importance of the relationship that was
developed with a social worker was stressed.
Birth family members gave accounts of both poor and good relationships. They related experiences of feeling deceived by social workers who they considered had not been honest with them. They described not understanding or being helped to understand why their child(ren) were
permanently removed; being unfairly judged/ labelled (‘the report said I was ‘hostile’ so he could not stay, but I was not hostile – I am ‘loud’’ – birth grandmother from a traveller background); and
generally being treated in what they perceived were inhumane ways.
Birth family members emphasised the importance of social workers listening to their views, being
respectful and honest, recognising strengths and displaying acts of kindness. It was considered
that the nature of the relationship could influence what happened with the child. Examples were
given of differing outcomes for children in the same family (i.e. adoption or remaining with the
parents) and these were, at least in part, attributed to the quality of the relationship with the
individual social worker. It was considered vital that social workers have the time to get to know
and work with the family in non-judgmental ways.

Many of the responses from adoptive parents repeated the themes found in the birth parents’
accounts. The relationship between the social worker and adoptive parents was considered to be
key, with the importance of professional but caring social workers highlighted. Adoptive parents
and adopted people also spoke about the importance of good communication, honesty, being
listened to and treated as an individual human being.

The use and misuse of power was a key issue

Families stressed that social workers have a great deal of power in relation to assessment, the
provision of help and decision-making. There were many examples given by birth families,
adoptive parents and adopted people of how they had experienced the exercise of social workers’
power, both positive and negative.
Birth family members repeatedly mentioned the lack of attention by social workers to the social
contexts in which they lived. A number of respondents reported that housing, or the lack of it,
was used as evidence against them in assessments.
The importance of practical support was stressed; ‘a washing machine for example would have made a big difference’ (birth parent). One birth mother spoke of the lack of adequate interpreting facilities in her contact with social workers and legal professionals. Other birth family members also felt discriminated against because of their cultural practices (e.g. a traveller background) or for being working class or having a lack of secure immigration status.
There were many examples provided by birth parents of feeling powerless in a climate that was
seen as very risk averse. Risk of future emotional harm was described as being frequently used,
and was seen as a particularly unjust basis for permanent separation. Birth mothers reported high
levels of domestic abuse and suggested they were being punished for having a violent partner
and/or having experienced domestic abuse in childhood.
Fear of an unsympathetic and punitive response was seen as inhibiting families from asking for
help when it was needed. Parents with mental and physical health problems and learning
difficulties all reported concerns about asking for help because of the emphasis on risk. They
reported receiving an assessment rather than support and feeling they were being scrutinised
rather than helped.
Being judged and stigmatised simply for having a history of care and/or abuse was an issue. Care
proceedings, involving newborn babies, were identified as being particularly traumatic, with a
lack of attention, in particular, to the impact of having just given birth on the mother. Residential
settings were described as being too often focused on monitoring risk rather than providing help
or therapeutic support. Women with disabilities highlighted the disabling environments in which
assessments were carried out.

The report concludes with recommendations (I suggest reading them in detail, but I’ll just put the bullet points here, for reasons of space)

Recommendation 1: The use of adoption needs to be located and discussed in the context
of wider social policies relating to poverty and inequality
Recommendation 2: UK governments should collect and publish data on the economic
and social circumstances of families affected by adoption
Recommendation 3: The current model of adoption should be reviewed, and the
potential for a more open approach considered
Recommendation 4: There needs to be further debate about the status of adoption and
its relationship to other permanence options.
Recommendation 5: BASW should develop further work on the role of the social worker
in adoption and the human rights and ethics involved

About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

17 responses

  1. Can I summarise the summary of the summary?

    Its a totally crap system that could not stand the glare of proper ‘public’ scrutiny!

  2. Well without having read the report I shall assume your summary includes most points, based on what you have said, despite the fact that the need for honesty was highlighted in many places, no emphasis seems to have been put on the fact that social workers are actively lying. Perjuring. And getting away with it.

    The Guardian article also says: “Adoption has become a “runaway train” impossible for individual social workers to stop” and this is a ludicrous statement to make and clearly absolutely untrue. Adoptions are sought by councils, applications made on the basis of reports by social workers, written up to make the best case possible for adoption, which means rubbishing the parent(s). Councils also often pay for “expert witnesses” who sometimes have never even met the parents, to make false psychiatric diagnoses such as personality disorders on the basis of what SWs have written, which avoids any positives about the parents and negatively distorts/exaggerates in many cases and sometimes fabricates information, for the sole purpose of backing up their case for adoption. The courts use that information and trust it as honest in making the decision. If councils didn’t put adoption applications to the courts they couldn’t pass judgments on them, so how is it a runaway train that social workers are powerless to stop when they write all the information to obtain the adoption!

    This is a farce. I feel sure many parents submitted information to BASW pointing out the lies told, this consultation was advertised on social media and there are many, many parents who are devastated by forced adoptions made on the basis of lies or punitive measures for minor things.

    In a forced adoption, adopters have no right to complain about lack of support because they will often have adopted those children on the basis of lies and fabrications about which they asked no questions or believed at face value. Had many of those parents been provided support their children would never been removed so they are the ones who have the right to complain about lack of support.

    Blaming the Government is a red herring. Yes the law does need changing, but social services are the ones abusing those laws in the first place.

    • Spot on EJ

      I have yet to see a case with out: fabrication, false and misleading allegations and damn right criminal activity from harassment and much worse.

      Parents do not even get the proper processes to answer or refute, before, during or after court. They have no right of independent assessments and will be treated extra specially bad if they even suggest unfairness, the whole body of the rest of the law is ignored and the only way I have found to deal with these things is to threaten them with the law in various forms from mandamus to private prosecution.

      Its a star chamber system and should be abolished like the original one was.

  3. ashamedtobebritish

    Not forgetting ITV news covered the issue comprehensively

  4. What took them so long? The definition of a profession, for me, is a group which has ethical
    standards which they will uphold above political demands (unlike doctors in Nazi Germany or
    psychiatrists in Soviet Russia) By this definition, social workers became no longer a profession when they accepted the demands of two successive governments to prioritise adoption, and many of us have seen the resulting devastation in birth families. They should be ashamed. Above all, the screening of pregnant women for their suitability to see if they were fit to keep the babies they were carrying (even their first) was immoral. When I asked the National Screening Committee if they would approve such screening standards, they said it could not be done.
    Jean Robinson President Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services

  5. 1:- Forced adoption must be ABOLISHED ;Adoption is a wonderful thing when voluntary but should be classed as a crime against humanity when forced.

    2:-,Never take a child from a law abiding parent to be put into care because of “risk” (predictions that can be very wrong);No punishment without crime.

    3:- Never gag parents or children.They should be allowed to say what they like about themselves or others at contact ,in the court,on the internet,or to the media .

    4:-Never break contact between parent and child unless the parents has committed a serious crime against that child or other children.

    Simplistic maybe but these 4 reforms would change everything !

  6. Also did I miss something? The “Report ” said that judges in N.Ireland have the authority to order contact after adoption but I never saw that it was the norm or that there was any presumption that they would do that

  7. This report fails to deal with a serious systemic failing in the family justice system, and we all play our part in it. I am talking, of course, about the overuse of the word concerned.

    I am concerningly concerned that we use the word “concerns” a concerning amount which is a concern that should concern us all.

    Nobody is making this a priority. And we are all poorer because of it

  8. Family law blog: “This is a nuanced, thoughtful and reflective piece which ought to provide useful material for discussion and which really isn’t suitable for off the cuff criticism”

    Family law blog comments: “Nazi Germany”, “Star Chamber”, “abolish the whole thing” “all social workers are liars”

    I’m going to bed

  9. Any change in policy and any opinion on the merits of adoption is meaningless unless, as your piece suggests, there is a fundamental rethink about poverty, inequality and social justice. It seems to be total anathema to the political belief systems of most of the electorate to be able to accept i) that what poor people need is money and ii) that inequality damages everyone, including the top 1%. The New Economics Foundation is doing sterling work on the former and the research of those including Mullainathan address the latter e.g. as set out below:

    Until vox populi votes for a political system of public and national health, education and social welfare such as even Margaret Thatcher took as a given, anything else is rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.


    • I’d agree, with the caveat that you can be a parent who is poor without being a poor parent, it is inevitable that if you drastically increase poverty you will increase the numbers who are sadly both


  11. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    Paraphrasing New Report: Time for root and branch reform of a rotten system, unfit for purpose, which causes harm to the very people it is beholden to serve!

  12. Even poor parents are a lot better than State parents;only brutal or cruel parents can be worse !

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