A recent case has left some adopters and kinship carers feeling a sense of sadness and despair. There is, from our perspective, much empathy for B, the 17 year old girl in this heartbreaking case, which you can read about here in the Judgment about the case.
B wished to care for her two youngest sisters to prevent them being removed from the family for adoption, with the very real prospect the two little girls would never be seen again, or at least until adulthood. Now a traumatic severance of siblings and family is on the cards.
The judge’s heart and mind were not in accord in this case – perhaps an indication that something was amiss.
What a great shame the journey to into kinship care is so much harder on the carer than the journey into adoption is for prospective parents. For prospective adopters there is, importantly, a relationship that is built of a common purpose that is often lacking for kinship carers and special guardians – who are most often family members. In adoptions, the adoption agency will wish to see parents approved and matched with a child – if at all possible. Decisions are made by two panels – one to approve the prospective adopter and another to approve the match with the child. What makes these panels so different from courts is firstly they are not inherently adversarial towards the person wishing to make a huge personal commitment to a child, and secondly they include people with lived experience – to assist decision making and help ethical and fair decisions to be reached.
In courts the decision is the judges to make. In cases where a group of respected professionals and experts goes against the respondent – this will be very hard to challenge, whilst one assessment and report will have informed and shaped the next. Professional opinions can and do become more greatly entrenched through the adversarial process of court. As a respondent, facing such opposition, it will be extremely traumatising when the outcome means losing a child. B and her siblings will live with the consequences of this decision for the rest of their lives.
It is little wonder, with such disparities, and with the bereavement issues that birth families are left with, that there is sometimes a high level of anger that spills over onto adoptive parents, from birth families. This can have tragic consequences for adopters and their children. This anger towards adopters is a significant challenge for us in a system that divides – as we try to reach out and find solutions to complex social problems in times of rapid societal change. Until we can come together and appreciate that we are all affected by systemic problems we will make little progress to create a more ethical and fair system.
We hope the review being commissioned by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory from Coram’s John Simmonds, Chair of the Kinship Care Alliance, can explore some of these concerns – and involve those with lived experience in the process. We also hope the All Party Parliamentary Group for Adoption, due to be launched in February, will start to prioritise listening to us as a group. We hope the voices of those with lived experience can be now heard by government, and part of the dialogue about change and reform, as the unravelling of these very complex problems surrounding modern adoption begins.