Wednesday, 3 November 2010

30 years of adoption

As we celebrate our 30th birthday our Chief Executive, David Holmes, reflects over the changes in adoption over the past three decades.

Today we celebrate our 30th anniversary, fittingly during National Adoption Week. Over the years that we have been in existence we have seen some major changes in adoption, from the way we understand the child’s experience, to the role and contribution of adopters as well as the particular needs of birth families.

In the past the focus of adoption work tended to be more on helping people who had not been able to have their own children to build a family. This has completely changed. Although infertility remains an important reason why people come forward to adopt, we now view adoption as primarily a service for children. Over the last 30 years we have seen this understanding really take hold and adoption has become a very child-centred service. In a recent survey with adopters and prospective adopters subscribing to BAAF's Be My Parent service, nearly two-thirds said they felt the adoption process has the child’s best interests at its heart.

We have also seen a massive shift in the reasons why children become adopted. Changes in society mean that these days young or unmarried mothers rarely feel forced to relinquish their babies. Today adoption is not about finding families for healthy babies but about children who have experienced significant early adversity. Sadly, of the 4000 children who require adoption every year in the UK, around two-thirds have been removed from their birth families because of abuse and neglect.

At the same time it is now widely recognised that adoption is a key route to recovery from early adversity. We understand how damaging delay can be, and that finding a family as early as possible is essential. It is vital to match the children with adoptive parents and other support services who can both meet their assessed needs.

Despite the difficulties many of these children experience, we know they can grow up to be happy and resilient adults. There are so many examples of adopted children who have flourished due to the wonderful quality of care provided by their adoptive parents. And it is now recognised that in order for adoptive parents to meet their children’s sometimes complex needs they must be properly supported themselves. This understanding led to the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which gave adopters the right to ask to be assessed for post adoption support. Sadly these services remain under resourced, and parents can sometimes find themselves in a postcode lottery when it comes to accessing appropriate support.

One of the biggest changes we have seen over the last 30 years is the recognition of the needs and entitlements of birth relatives. Adoption is no longer a secret to be swept under the carpet, with birth parents left forgotten, isolated and ashamed. And adopters are now actively encouraged to be open and honest with their adopted child about their adoption. This has resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of adoptees left shocked, angry and confused when they discover the truth about their origins in later life.

Today adoption is an open process. We know the importance of access to information about genetic origins, and most children are aware of their ‘life story’ from an early age. In addition most will have some form of contact with their birth relatives - either direct, in the form of visits; or indirect, in the form of an occasional card or letter. While resources to support birth relatives may not have kept pace with this change, it is a drastically different picture from the days when birth relatives were left to struggle alone.

We hope that the next 30 years will see even more investment in the resources needed to support everyone involved in adoption; as well as more being done to find adopters for those children who still wait the longest. This is especially true for older children, sibling groups, disabled children and children from some black and minority ethnic backgrounds who still often wait too long for a family. We know that adoption works and we must ensure that every child who needs adoption is helped to achieve it without unnecessary delay.

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