The push to increase adoption in England is punishing low-income women, who are increasingly losing their children due to poverty, according to research by Legal Action for Women.
A report to be presented at the House of Commons on Wednesday contains new research from the legal service and campaign group, which suggests the policy of increasing adoption has not reduced the number of children in care – as it was intended to – but has increased the number of those separated from their parents.
Dr Andy Bilson, emeritus professor of social work at the University of Lancashire, has been analysing the data gathered between 31 March 2001 and 2016. He found the number of children from care living with adopted parents or special guardians, has increased from 87,090 to 143,440 – a rise of 65%.
His research found adoptions have risen by 40% over the past five years, compared with the five previous years, but over the same period the number of children in care rose by 7.5% to 70,440.
“This is very unlikely to be due to an increase in abuse,” said Bilson. “The vast majority of this is about neglect or emotional abuse, often through witnessing domestic violence.
“Both of these can be better dealt with through family support and responses to poverty and deprivation. We are more willing to spend money on someone else looking after these children than in making sure the parents make a good job of it.”
Bilson’s research is part of the dossier of evidence collected by Legal Action for Women to be presented at the House of Commons on Wednesday. The report, Suffer the Little Children, examines what the group calls “the unjust separation of children from their mothers.”
It finds the number of looked-after children in England is the highest it has been since 1985; one in five children under five are referred to childrens’ services, one in 19 are investigated and adoptions are higher than in any other European country, and now stand at the highest level since data was first collected. More than 90% of adoptions are done without the consent of the family, the report states.
The report examined the cases of 56 women, all of whom came for help to fight for their children. Between them the women had 101 children; 71% of the women had suffered rape and/or domestic violence, 47% did not have a lawyer and 39% had mental health problems.
Anne Neale, one of the report’s authors, said: “Charges of neglect are used to punish, especially single-mother families, for their unbearably low incomes.
“The fundamental relationship between mother and child is dismissed as irrelevant to a child’s wellbeing and development, and the trauma of separation, and its lifelong consequences, are ignored.
“Mothers who are victims of domestic violence are refused help, blamed for ‘failing to protect’ their children, and punished with their removal.”
The report highlights the secrecy of family courts, where adoption decisions are made in private hearings, in which mothers are prevented by law from talking about the loss of their children.
Donna Clarke, whose granddaughter was taken from her teenage mother and handed to adoptive parents, will speak on Wednesday at the launch. She said families were being punished for living in poverty. “It is a form of social cleansing,” she said. “Vulnerable people are having their children taken away. It is all about them judging the risk of significant harm but if they spent the money on putting in the support that was needed many of these families would be able to keep their children.”
Clarke’s granddaughter was adopted when she was 13-months-old after spending the first five months with her biological mother, a teenager with learning difficulties. The baby was sent to a foster parent at five months while adoption proceedings got underway. The baby’s grandparents asked to be considered but none were deemed suitable and the child was given to new adoptive parents.
Clarke is able to write and receive two letters a year from the adoptive parents to keep in touch with her granddaughter. Her son – the baby’s father – and the baby’s mother, have gone on to have other children whom they are successfully caring for.
The drive to increase adoptions began under Tony Blair’s government in an attempt to reduce the numbers of children in long-term care. It was continued under David Cameron, who said that the children and social work bill – currently in parliament – was designed to “tip the balance in favour of permanent adoption where that is the right thing for the child – even when that means overriding family ties.”
In a 2013 high court ruling, Sir James Munby, the president of the high court family division, said the political drive to hasten and increase adoption should not override due process and break up families unnecessarily.