Over the centuries, there have undoubtedly been many fine and brave acts by British men and women which have had beneficial outcomes for a great many people. What is less well known, however, and much less publicised, is that British history is littered with apparently well-intentioned and well-meaning acts which have had tragic and disastrous consequences for the recipients or victims.The latest in this latter group is the new scandal involving the adoption of children from state care.
The adoption of children has a very long history over several millennia and was well known in Roman times. Adoption by stranger families can have many benefits for some children in circumstances where the children have no parents or where their parents are unable to care for them due to severe mental or physical illnesses and where relatives such as grandparents, uncles, aunts and older siblings are also unable to provide care for the child.
But in the last two decades we have seen a rise in what is known as coerced or forced adoptions, where a child is removed from a parent who in normal circumstances is able to look after the child but is temporarily incapacitated, or where it is deemed by child protection workers that the child may be at risk of harm, sometimes only theoretically at some time in the future. In these coerced or forced adoptions, it is quite usual that relatives and other forms of kinship care are not even explored but the child is placed with complete strangers.
Twentieth century practice
Coerced or forced adoptions also have a long history. In Britain in the earlier part of the twentieth century, mother and baby homes were the norm, where young women who conceived a child out-of-wedlock or in some cases married women who conceived a child outside of marriage, were accommodated in large homes, usually run by religious orders and the children were placed for adoption immediately after birth.
There was little or no state help for these mothers to enable them to look after their children and the children were treated as mere commodities in the adoption market, a supply of children to meet the demands of childless couples. There were similar occurrences in America, where this was commonly referred to as the `Baby Scoop Era’ and mothers were denied their inalienable right to raise their infant sons and daughters, often their first-born.
In the years after World War II the supply of children did not, however, match the demands of childless couples and a great deal of coercion occurred to increase the supply, with considerable pressures brought to bear on single women not to keep their babies. A great deal of social stigma was attached to mothers with illegitimate children and it was looked on as a family disgrace.
But worse was waiting for these mothers. They then faced a life of deep regret, grief, bereavement with an acute sense of loss, anxiety, institutionally-induced guilt, and the constantly-nagging and lifelong worry about their children and what had happened to them. Many mothers suffered post-traumatic stress and post-natal and other forms of depression and became psychologically disabled.
Dr John T. Condon Consultant Psychiatrist of the Dept of Psychiatry at Flinders medial Centre S. Australia wrote (Medical Journal of Australia Vol 144 Feb 3 1986) Dept of Psychiatry,
“A grief reaction unique to the relinquishing mother was identified. Although this reaction consists of features characteristic of the normal grief reaction, these features persist and often lead to long-term physical, psychological, and social repercussions. Although the interventions have been proposed, little is known about their effectiveness or alleviating these repercussions.”
The reactions of relinquishing mothers were even more graphically illustrated by Askren and Bloom (1999) in Post Adoptive Reactions of Mothers, who found that,
“Results……demonstrate that mothers relinquishing a child for adoption tend towards more grief symptoms than bereaved parents……” and “show that natural mothers in both open and closed adoptions suffer more denial, atypical responses, despair, anger, depersonalisation, sleep disturbance, somatising, physical symptoms, dependency, vigor”.
As for the children, they had lost forever their emotional, genetic, ethnic, family, and social inheritance and any links to their families of origin and the history of those families and their ancestral roots – in fact the same experiences as the African people abducted to the Americas during the years of slave trading.
Changes began to occur in the 1960s when ‘family preservation’ was recognised as of paramount importance to the life of a child, and in 1963 the Children Act was passed by the British Parliament which placed absolute emphasis on family unity and gave statutory duties and responsibilities to local authorities to take all steps possible to keep children with their natural families and to diminish the need for children to remain in care. This was again emphasised in the Children Act 1989. This meant that local authorities were to direct their resources and to give utmost importance primarily to keeping children out of state care.
In the early 1970s the situation changed dramatically with the introduction of improved methods of contraception, an extension of abortion laws, and more liberal and sensitive attitudes towards mothers keeping and raising their illegitimate children. The supply of children for adoption therefore became greatly reduced whilst the demand for children for adoption increased as the numbers of childless couples increased or couples with children sought to increase the size of their families by adoption rather than by natural means. Such adoptions by celebrity couples increased this trend.
Economists will say that where there is unmet demand for a commodity, then supply will usually increase to meet that demand and this is what began to happen in the 1980s.
In Unmarried Mothers by Clark Vincent (1961) it was stated that,
“If the demand for adoptable babies continues to exceed supply, then it is quite possible that in the near future unwed mothers will be ‘punished’ by having their children taken from them right after birth. A policy like this would not be executed – nor labelled explicitly – as ‘punishment’. Rather it would be implemented through such pressures and labels as ‘scientific findings’, ‘the best interests of the child’, ‘rehabilitation of the unwed mother’ and ‘the stability of the family and society'”.
Child protection workers had been conditioned for over twenty years in psychological theories, particularly of Freud and his often bizarre theories of child-rearing, which reduced the importance of the bond between the natural mother and her child. It also reduced emphasis on the importance of the emotional, genetic, ethnic, and social inheritance of children.
A psychological theory was advanced which was termed ‘permanency planning’, which literally meant that where children were in state care, then long-term plans should be made for their care, education, and health needs, whether they were in foster care, residential care, living at home with parents or relatives, or were suited to placement for adoption.
This was because once children were admitted to state care they were very often forgotten and no action was taken to restore them to their natural families, although many could have been. Alternatively, they were not given the security of knowing that they would be permanently in the care of their foster carers if their parents should suddenly demand their return but were not able to provide adequate care to meet their needs. Many children languished in foster care and were often shuffled between a succession of foster homes. One child is recorded as having experienced 53 foster homes in a twelve-year period.
The Adoption Act of 1976 had also transferred massive rights from the natural parents to foster carers and decisions were often against the best interests of children. Many short-sighted and ill-informed decisions were taken but justified under the creed of the `best interests of the child’ so beloved by well-meaning and well-intentioned child protection workers. Foster carers were able to apply for Custody Orders as a halfway step to adoption.
The theory of permanency planning began to become distorted and misrepresented, and child protection workers began to believe it meant that all children in state care should be placed for adoption and that no action should be taken to rehabilitate children with their natural families.
Research in 1995 conducted under the auspices of the Department of Health expressed concern that child protection measures were being used to remove children in circumstances where family unity could have been maintained if local authority resources had been invested to support and help the family. This led to the then Minister for Health issuing a directive to local authorities that they had to re-focus their resources to the support of families. The Government was, however, replaced at the 1997 election and the Minister’s directive was then simply ignored.
But the biggest boost to the adoption industry came with the directive from the Blair Government that local authorities must take action to place all children in state care for adoption and set annual targets for them to achieve, with financial incentives for achieving those targets.
Unfortunately the Government had been grossly misled by their advisers. At that time there were approximately 70,000 children in state care but most were adolescents with serious emotional and behavioural problems and the rest were children in short-term care who were best returned to their families. So in fact the number of children in state care at that time who were suitable for adoption was infinitesimal.
But the ‘Adoption Incentive Bonuses’ to local authorities had taken hold. Millions of pounds were involved and local authorities were only too keen to get their hands on the central Government funds so readily available to them, and of course the eternal laws of supply and demand applied.
Filling the quotas
So local authorities were faced with seeking to fill their quotas but without the children in their care to meet those quotas. So began the reduction of what were already very poor services in supporting children in need in their own homes and the lowering of the threshold for removing children on the allegations of abuse or neglect.
The first part of this was to convince the Government and the public that there was a huge hidden iceberg of child abuse in the country and many children would have to be protected from abusive parents, and this was done and continues by media campaigns and a gross distortion and manipulations of national statistics on child abuse.
A process began of removing children from their families on the most flimsy of evidence of child abuse and the propagandists in the child protection industry even began to use cases such as Victoria Climbie’s to bolster their argument. Victoria Climbie’s was an extremely rare example of child abuse and illustrated more than anything else the incompetencies and negligence of the child abuse industry but they used it to claim that this was an example of widespread child abuse.
Children for adoption are publicly advertised with their photographs, yet their parents are muted by court orders for fear of disclosing the child’s identity and are thereby unable to bring the injustices and unfairness of court proceedings to public or political notice.
The second stage was to secure the children to meet the quotas and this has been done by reducing the threshold for intervention and by bringing the massive resources of local authorities to arguing the cases in courts whilst denying any semblance of rights to parents to rebut or refute the allegations, either during child protection procedures or the subsequent court proceedings. Parents who have approached the media are stifled and threatened with imprisonment if they disclose the court proceedings. The secrecy of the Family Courts is being used to hide a multitude of improper acts.
The final stage has been the placement of children for adoption. There is no shortage of couples wanting children so it has been merely a process of thinning them out by the exclusion of those who are considered overweight or have criminal records, no matter how minor, or who are deemed not to be in a sufficiently high enough socio-economic group.
Game, set and match to the local authorities – everyone has made money: the child protection workers with large salaries and promotions, the adoptive couples who continue to be paid for looking after the children, and of course the local authorities who add the millions of pounds into their budgets. And the losers, of course, are the children and the parents – left to a life bereft of ever knowing each other and of growing together throughout their lives, although in some future years they may occasionally be able to find each other again and to mourn together the lost years of their absence.
In the USA where a similar incentive system for adopting children applies, the National Center for Policy Analysis have stated,
“The way the Federal Government reimburses States and rewards a growth of the program instead of the effective care of children”.
The concept of an adoption industry which is fed by the child protection system was confirmed in 2003 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights who stated that,
“Regrettably, in many cases, the emphasis has changed from the desire to provide a needy child with a home to that of providing a needy parent with a child. As a result, a whole industry has grown, generating millions of dollars of revenues each year, seeking babies for adoption and charging prospective parents enormous fees to process paperwork. The problems surrounding many inter-country adoptions, in which children are taken from poor families in undeveloped countries and given to parents in developed countries, have become well known, but the Special Rapporteur was alarmed to hear of certain practices within developed countries, including the use of fraud and coercion to persuade mothers to give up children.”
‘The best interests of the child’ has become a perverse pretext for a multitude of atrocities committed against children and parents by well-meaning and well-intentioned employees of state and related agencies but whose acts are leading to immense suffering for children and devastation for their parents and wider families.