I attended the launch of the results of a 2 year internal inquiry by the British Association of Social Workers, into the role of social workers in adoption.The inquiry raises serious concerns that adoption is being favoured over other options that would keep children with their birth families.

It was one of those moments that make you stop and think really hard about how we’re supporting the most vulnerable people in the UK.  

My organisation, Adoption UK, works with adoptive families, social services and government to transform the adoption system so that it works better for everyone involved. Adoption is a moral and political minefield, and it’s a really good thing that the BASW inquiry is bringing some of the challenges to light. 

The report of the inquiry rightly points out that there is a dearth of government research and data about adoption, something which Adoption UK is consistently raising with the Department for Education. Lack of a factual evidence base makes highly emotional issues even more difficult to tackle.

The BASW report blames austerity for pushing increasing numbers of vulnerable British families over the edge, and links that to increased rates of adoption. The report states that so-called ‘forced’ adoptions – where children are placed into care and subsequently adopted without the birth families’ consent – are breaching the human rights of those families.

As the CEO of an adoption organisation, there is no question in my mind that children must stay with their birth families where there is confidence that the children’s basic needs will be met, and where they will be raised in a safe and loving way.

As the BASW report points out, good support for vulnerable families is being gradually and dangerously eroded as children’s centres close their doors every day and social services and health budgets dwindle. We must find a way of protecting essential family support services from ideological policy shifts and funding cuts. We must also get better at supporting mothers and fathers who suffer the tragedy of losing children to care or adoption. We’re dealing with human beings here, in highly complex and emotional circumstances.

In every case, social workers should have assessed all realistic options for the child’s future. The courts will then have agreed each step of this decision-making process. There are rights to appeal along the way. But the system is far from perfect, and the inquiry has shone a light on some of the serious failings that need to be addressed.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that nearly three quarters of adopted children come into care because of serious abuse or neglect in their birth families. Literally every day my staff talk to adoptive families whose children are still living with the legacy of the trauma meted out upon them in early childhood. The report refers to a ‘dominant happy ever after narrative.’ This is something that few adoptive families would recognise. The impact on them and their adoptive families is often profound and very difficult to live with. Parenting adopted children is usually very far from a fairy story. And as the BASW report says, post-adoption support is hard to come by. England is the only country in the UK with an Adoption Support Fund, and even that is seriously under-funded.

But adoption can transform children’s lives. It can offer the best chance to permanently break a cycle of neglect and abuse and give a child a second chance of a positive future. According to the Department for Education, despite a rise in the numbers of children in care, the numbers of children adopted from care has fallen for the second year in a row. And last year the number of children needing an adoptive home outnumbered those coming forward to provide a home. It is time for those of us on all sides of this debate to come together and start finding solutions, for the sake of the most vulnerable children in the UK.